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Mr. Trammell - Literature (Semester 1)

Terms in this set (71)

When the poet goes to bed one night, she is not expecting any sorrow. However, she awakens to a thundering noise and screams of "Fire!" She leaps up and cries out to God, asking him not to leave her helpless. She goes outside and watches flames engulf her home. When she can no longer watch her house burn, she gives thanks to God, who has reduced her house and possessions to dust. It is just, she believes, for those things are His, not hers, and she knows He has the right and ability to take things from humans when He wants. Now, whenever she passes the ruins, she looks at all of the places where she once sat and relaxed. She sees her old trunk and the chest that was filled with the things she loved best. No guests will ever come under the roof again, no dinners will be eaten at the table, no candles will ever shine in the window. The house will forever lie in silence. She bids the house goodbye, for "All's Vanity." She knows that she has a better house waiting for her in Heaven, built by the "mighty Architect" Himself. It will be richly furnished and will stand permanently. The price He paid for the house is unknown, but it will be His gift to her. She bids farewell to her money and the ruins of her things, satisfied with the fact that her "hope and Treasure lies above."

The poem is made up of rhyming couplets. This form expresses tension between the poet's attachment to earthly things and her awareness that she is supposed to dissolve her ties to the world and focus on God. The poem begins with the poet going to bed, not expecting anything terrible to happen in the night. Unfortunately, cries of "Fire!" wake her, and she has to run outside. She then sees her house burning, taking all of her worldly possessions with it. Once she sees that she cannot do anything to rectify the situation, she tries to reorient her thoughts, saying that she blesses Him who is taking from her, and "laid [her] goods now in the dust." She accepts that everything she owns belongs to God, and she chastises herself gently for forgetting this fact. She reminds herself that He can take anything he wants from His children at any time. Despite her exhortations to herself, the next lines reveal the poet's ambivalence about relinquishing all of her possessions to God. She describes being filled with memories every time she passes the property where her house once stood. She remembers the trunk and the chest, and everything she "counted best." All of her "pleasant things" are gone. There will be no dinners or visiting guests or conversation around the table. Candles will not shine in the window, and no bridegroom's voice will ever be heard. In these lines, Bradstreet not only expresses her attachment to her home, but also to the memories that occurred within it. She tries to shake off this mindset by reminding herself that "All's Vanity," and that she has an even grander home, built by God, waiting for her in Heaven. This new home will be permanent and not subject to fire or any other vicissitudes of earthly existence. She bids farewell to her home and reminds herself that her "hope and Treasure lie above." Despite the poet's last words, critics believe the she is not as reconciled to her loss as she suggests. Her despair is manifest. Her home has been profoundly important to her, not only for the possessions it housed but because it was a symbol of her entire life with her husband and children. It was the seat of her role as a woman. Critic Kenneth A. Requa identifies the house as an "emblem" with which the poet has developed an emotional relationship; "the poet finds that the house-fire has emblematic significance: from it she can learn that only one home should have meaning for her - the heavenly mansion." Robert J. Richardson agrees with Requa's point of view, writing, "The human level - the fear of fire, the sense of loss - is what genuinely moves the poet, while her submission to the will of God is a somewhat forced acknowledgment of an arrangement that is not really satisfactory." Overall, Richardson believes, "the sense of loss outweighs, at least at times, the potential comfort promised by Puritan theology." This is not supposed to imply that Bradstreet displays a loss of faith or a desire to relinquish Puritanism, but it does reveal her humanity. She shows that she is a real person who feels doubt and sorrow and must be constantly be active in her faith in order for it to remain meaningful.
Edwards sought to correct in the 1730's through a revival movement called the Great Awakening. His sermons were intended as a wake-up call for those who underplayed the majesty of a holy God and overemphasized their own worthiness as decent, hard-working, successful citizens. Edwards believed strongly that only a genuine conversion experience should qualify a person for church membership. Revivalist preachers, therefore, sought not only to address the intellect but also to engage the emotions so as to convince the listeners of the seriousness of their sin and activate them to seek salvation from the punishment they could expect from a righteous God. The results were encouraging, but one congregation, that in Enfield, Connecticut, seemed to be immune to the call for radical conversion. Edwards was therefore invited to preach there. On July 8, 1741, at the height of the Great Awakening, he delivered a revival sermon in Enfield that became the most famous of its kind. He followed the traditional three-part sermon structure: a scripture text, which is the foundation for the sermon, and an exposition of its implications; discussion of the doctrine that is derived from the text; and the application of the doctrine to the personal situation of the listeners. Edwards carefully selected the text for this occasion, for it was his single-minded intent to disturb profoundly the comfortable members of his audience. He found the words he wanted in Deuteronomy 32:35: "Their foot shall slide in due time." This short sentence was taken from a long passage, undoubtedly read in its entirety to the congregation, that enunciates God's anger toward the perversity and the unfaithfulness of the people of Israel. Edwards obviously wished to establish a close connection between those addressed in the biblical passage and those whom he addressed in his sermon. He begins his sermon by pointing out four features of walking on a slippery slope: The threat of destruction is constant, the destruction is imminent, it is self-generated, and the delay of that destruction is due to God's restraining hand. He is clearly establishing here the foolhardiness of those who choose to walk in such slippery places and the fact that a fatal slide into the yawning abyss is an inescapable certainty. He speaks to both the head and the heart in leading his hearers to recognize the nature of such foolishness and to fear the consequences. The warning leads Edwards to his theme: "There is nothing that keeps wicked men, at any moment, out of Hell, but the mere pleasure of God." In a ten-point elaboration that makes up one-third of the sermon, Edwards pursues his purpose of awakening the spiritually somnolent. Many of his points are interrelated, but cumulatively they persuade the hearers that God's power is terrifying, that his wrath burns hot against the wicked, that the wicked stand condemned by the law and are deserving of hell, and that nothing will save them from such eternal punishment except a saving faith in Christ. Edwards knows, of course, that a cognitive persuasion does not necessarily lead to action. True religion should be a matter of both head and heart, and the emotions, too, must be engaged and moved to reinforce the will to turn to God for mercy and to a spiritually transformed life. What distinguishes this most famous example of Puritan revival sermons is its use of imagery so vivid that it left people in the pews trembling and weeping. The imagery in the first part of the sermon graphically underscores the theme of the lot of the unregenerate. They should not deceive themselves about their status or their strength. Their vaunted trust in their own wisdom, prudence, care, and caution is but a self-delusion and will not save them. Before God's almighty power, they are but "heaps of light chaff before the whirlwind" and "dry stubble before devouring flames." They are like worms that crawl on the earth and are easily crushed underfoot; they are hanging as by a slender thread that is easily singed or cut. The glittering sword of justice is whetted and is brandished over their heads. The flames of the fiery pit below them rage and glow, hell's gaping mouth is ready to swallow them, the devils like hungry lions are straining to get at their prey, the arrows of death are poised at them. What Edwards tries to pound into his listeners is the notion of life's uncertainty: Death is always but a breath away. For the unconverted, therefore, and for the unredeemed sinner and those who have not embraced Christ as savior, perdition is but a breath away. They are "walking over the pit of hell on a rotten covering" that cannot be trusted to bear their weight. Only faith in Christ will bear them up. That may not save their life, for they are mortal still, but it will save their soul and awaken the deluded souls in their sinful condition to the wonders of divine grace. That is Edwards's sole concern. The third part of the sermon, the application, makes up the largest and, to Edwards, the most important part. If up to this point he describes the plight of the unsaved in general, he now turns directly to the congregation of Enfield and to the unconverted persons before him. The use of the third person in the sermon's second part changes to the second person in the third part. All of the Bible's warnings about the fate of the unrepentant sinner apply to them, Edwards says: the "lake of burning brimstone, . . . Hell's gaping mouth, . . . the dreadful pit of glowing flames. . . ." He goes on to attack the reasoning of the unconverted, who try to persuade themselves that it is not God but their own care and caution that preserve their life. They may point to their religiosity, their ritual of family devotions and church attendance, and the uprightness of their moral life, but Edwards reminds them that unless they experience a "great change of heart by the power of the spirit of God" and unless they are made "new creatures" they are still sinners in the hands of an angry God, standing on the slippery slope of disaster, at any moment apt to be "swallowed up in everlasting destruction." To break down the will's resistance and reinforce the notion of impending doom, Edwards unleashes a powerful arsenal of metaphorical weapons aimed at the emotions. Through metaphors and images, Edwards links the spiritual world to the physical world of the listeners. Images of weight and tension dominate. Sinners "heavy as lead" with their wickedness will "plunge into the bottomless gulf" as surely as a falling rock would plunge through a spider's web. The floods of God's wrath will sweep them off their feet with all the fierce power of a bursting dam. The "bow of God's wrath is bent," the arrow of justice aims at the heart. The God whose hand is yet staying this ultimate doom is a righteous God of fury to all who reject him. In his sight such are like a loathsome insect that he holds over the fire of Hell, like a spider hanging by a slender thread above the leaping flames of the "great furnace of wrath." Edwards wants to ensure that no one takes the wrath of this holy and infinite God lightly, and he frequently refers to biblical passages that support the point. He stresses that God's wrath is much more terrible than that of the fiercest human warrior, and that no one can endure it. Moreover, it will be inflicted without pity upon all who "remain in an unregenerate state." It is, however, Edwards's passion to lead the unregenerate to salvation. All of his dire warnings lead up to what now follows: the announcement of God's grace. Having mercilessly proclaimed the imminence of God's wrath without pity, Edwards now shifts dramatically to the theme that "Now God stands ready to pity you; this is a day of mercy." Woe to those who neglect this opportunity, however. God will show them both how excellent his love is and how terrible his wrath is; the God whose hand of wrath will destroy the wicked is the same God whose hand of mercy will save the repentant. In the concluding part of the sermon, Edwards addresses his invitation to receive salvation to everyone in the audience before him—the old, the young, and the children. This, says Edwards, is the time of God's gathering in, the pouring out of his spirit, and now is the time "to fly from the wrath to come" and to "hearken to the loud calls of God's word and providence." This emphasis on immediate response reflects Edwards's conviction that, though emotions can move the will to act, emotions are transient; therefore it is necessary to act before spiritual sloth returns and the door of mercy is forever shut. This sermon is not typical of the preaching of Edwards, but it is typical of revivalist preaching during the Great Awakening. Such sermons were meant to appeal to the head and the heart and to destroy vain rationalization and to deter delay. According to historical sources, this sermon was not without the desired effect in Enfield. Nevertheless, the Great Awakening movement did not succeed finally in saving Puritanism.
The Crucible takes place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. The action begins in the home of Reverend Parris, whose daughter Betty lies unconscious and appears very ill. Around midnight the night before, Parris had discovered Betty, his niece Abigail, and Tituba, his black slave, dancing in the woods, causing Betty to swoon. The local physician is unable to determine the cause of Betty's illness. Mr. and Mrs. Putnam arrive and reveal that their daughter Ruth is also ill. There is talk in the village of an unnatural cause. Abigail warns her friend Mercy Lewis and the Proctors' servant Mary Warren, not to reveal that they were all casting spells in the woods. Betty wakes, and Abigail threatens the other girls with violence if they tell anyone that she drank blood and cast a spell in order to kill Goody Proctor. Betty loses consciousness again. John Proctor and Abigail talk privately about their former relationship. Prior to the opening of the play, Abigail worked as a servant in the Proctor home. Elizabeth Proctor was ill at the time and Abigail took on more responsibility within the Proctor household. When Elizabeth discovered the affair, she dismissed Abigail. During their discussion, Abigail becomes angry with Proctor because he refuses to acknowledge any feelings for her. Betty wakes again and is hysterical. The well-respected Rebecca Nurse is visiting the Parris household and calms her. Prophetically, Rebecca warns Parris that identifying witchcraft as the cause of Betty's illness will set a dangerous precedent and lead to further problems in Salem. Mr. Putnam asks Rebecca to visit Ruth and attempt to wake her. Ruth is the only Putnam child to survive infancy, and Mrs. Putnam is jealous of Rebecca because all of Rebecca's children are healthy, whereas Mrs. Putnam had lost seven infant children. Putnam, Proctor, and Giles Corey argue with Parris about his salary and other expectations. Parris claims that a faction is working to drive him out of town, and he disputes their salary figures. Putnam, Proctor, and Corey then begin arguing over property lines and ownership. Putnam accuses Proctor of stealing wood from land that he does not own, but Proctor defends himself, stating that he purchased the land from Francis Nurse five months ago. Putnam claims Francis had no right to the land and, therefore, could not sell it. Reverend Hale arrives from another town to investigate the strange events in Salem. The people of Salem have summoned him as an expert in witchcraft to determine if witchcraft is behind the children's illnesses. Hale learns that the girls were dancing in the woods with Tituba, and that Tituba can conjure spirits. Abigail blames Tituba for enticing her to sin. Hale then questions Tituba, and she admits that she has seen the Devil, as has Goody Good and Goody Osburn. Abigail also confesses to witchcraft, stating that she had given herself to the Devil, but that she now repents. Betty wakes up, and she and Abigail name individuals that they say they have seen with the Devil. Eight days later, Elizabeth discovers that Proctor spoke to Abigail privately while in Salem. Elizabeth and Proctor argue over this. Mary Warren comes home from Salem where she is serving as an official of the court, and gives Elizabeth a poppet (doll) that she made for her while sitting in the courtroom. Mary Warren tells Proctor that some of the girls accused Elizabeth of witchcraft, but the court dismissed the charge because Mary Warren defended her. Hale arrives at the Proctor house and questions Proctor about his poor church attendance. He asks Proctor to name the Ten Commandments. Proctor names nine successfully, but he forgets the commandment forbidding adultery. Hale questions Elizabeth as well. Proctor reveals that Abigail admitted to him that the witchcraft charges were false. Marshal Herrick then arrives and arrests Elizabeth. Earlier that evening, Abigail feels a needle-stab while eating dinner, and she accuses Elizabeth of attempted murder. The authorities of Salem search the Proctor house and discover the poppet, along with a needle. Hale questions Mary Warren and learns that she sewed the poppet and stored the needle inside. Mary Warren also tells him that Abigail saw her sew the poppet and store the needle. Nevertheless, Elizabeth is arrested. The court convicts Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse of witchcraft. Giles Corey tells the court he has proof that Putnam is accusing his neighbors of witchcraft in order to gain their land. Judge Danforth asks the name of the witness who gave Corey the information, but Corey refuses to cooperate. The court arrests him. Judge Danforth informs Proctor that Elizabeth is pregnant. Mary Warren tells the court that she pretended to see spirits and falsely accused others of witchcraft. She reveals that Abigail and the other girls are also lying. Abigail denies Mary Warren's charge, however, and she and the others claim that Mary Warren is sending out her spirit against them in the court.Proctor denounces Abigail's charge against Mary Warren, stating that Abigail is a lying *****. Proctor informs the court of his affair with Abigail and states that she is lying in order to have Elizabeth executed, thereby providing herself with the opportunity to become his wife. After Proctor agrees that Elizabeth would never lie, the court summons Elizabeth and questions her about the affair. Not knowing that her husband has confessed it, Elizabeth lies about the affair and is returned to jail. Abigail resumes her claim that Mary Warren is attacking her until Mary Warren recants her confession that she lied about the witchcraft and charges John Proctor as the Devil's man. Several months pass. Proctor is in prison, scheduled to hang, along with Rebecca Nurse. Elizabeth is also in prison, although the court has delayed her execution until after she gives birth. Hale attempts to convince the prisoners to confess rather than hang, but all refuse. Proctor confesses and signs a written affidavit, but he destroys the document rather than have it posted on the church door. Proctor is taken to the gallows.
On March 23, 1775, less than a month before the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Patrick Henry addressed the House of Burgesses in Richmond, Virginia. He gave a speech that has been remembered popularly as the "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech.The motivation behind the speech was to incite the determination of the Virginia House members to raise a militia, or voluntary army, that would fight against the British army. Henry begins by addressing the men who spoke before him that day in the House. These men had argued against staging a war against Britain; they are against the proposal Henry was about to make for the colony of Virginia to form a militia, as many of the northern colonies had already done. Henry compliments those who had spoken against the plan by calling them patriots, but he presents the idea that it is possible that different people could see the same subject in different ways. Henry then apologizes for speaking against these men's ideas. He feels compelled to do so, he tells them, for he considers the subject a matter of choice between living in freedom or suffering as slaves. If he did not speak out on this topic, he says, he would consider himself guilty of treason. Henry then warns the assembly against closing their eyes to the truth. Although it might be painful, he says, it is the duty of wise men to look unblinking at what is happening around them in their struggle for liberty.
-In his speech, Henry points to the presence of British soldiers in the colonies, asserting that they're not there for the protection of the colonists. They're there to enforce British colonial rule.
-He insists that the colonies have already been subjugated and that the only way to free their country is to start a revolution. He then famously declares, "I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"
The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson and adopted by the Second Continental Congress, states the reasons the British colonies of North America sought independence in July of 1776.
The declaration opens with a preamble describing the document's necessity in explaining why the colonies have overthrown their ruler and chosen to take their place as a separate nation in the world. All men are created equal and there are certain unalienable rights that governments should never violate. These rights include the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When a government fails to protect those rights, it is not only the right, but also the duty of the people to overthrow that government. In its place, the people should establish a government that is designed to protect those rights. Governments are rarely overthrown, and should not be overthrown for trivial reasons. In this case, a long history of abuses has led the colonists to overthrow a tyrannical government. The King of Great Britain, George III, is guilty of 27 specific abuses. The King interfered with the colonists' right to self-government and for a fair judicial system. Acting with Parliament, the King also instituted legislation that affected the colonies without their consent. This legislation levied taxes on the colonists. It also required them to quarter British soldiers, removed their right to trial by jury, and prevented them from trading freely. Additionally, the King and Parliament are guilty of outright destruction of American life and property by their refusal to protect the colonies' borders, their confiscation of American ships at sea, and their intent to hire foreign mercenaries to fight against the colonists. The colonial governments tried to reach a peaceful reconciliation of these differences with Great Britain, but were continually ignored. Colonists who appealed to British citizens were similarly ignored, despite their shared common heritage and their just cause. After many peaceful attempts, the colonists have no choice but to declare independence from Great Britain. The new nation will be called the United States of America and will have no further connections with Great Britain. The new government will reserve the right to levy war, make peace, make alliances with foreign nations, conduct trade, and do anything else that nations do.
Douglass' Narrative begins with the few facts he knows about his birth and parentage; his father is a slave owner and his mother is a slave named Harriet Bailey. Here and throughout the autobiography, Douglass highlights the common practice of white slave owners raping slave women, both to satisfy their sexual hungers and to expand their slave populations. In the first chapter, Douglass also makes mention of the hypocrisy of Christian slave owners who used religious teachings to justify their abhorrent treatment of slaves; the religious practice of slave owners is a recurrent theme in the text. Throughout the next several chapters, Douglass describes the conditions in which he and other slaves live. As a slave of Captain Anthony and Colonel Lloyd, Douglass survives on meager rations and is often cold. He witnesses brutal beatings and the murder of a slave, which goes unnoticed by the law or the community at large. Douglass argues against the notion that slaves who sing are content; instead, he likens singing to crying — a way to relieve sorrow. Douglass also draws attention to the false system of values created by slavery, in which allegiance to the slave master is far stronger than an allegiance to other slaves. When he is seven or eight years old, Douglass is sent to Baltimore to live with the Auld family and care for their son, Thomas. Mrs. Auld gives Douglass reading lessons until her husband intervenes; Douglass continues his lessons by trading bread for lessons with poor neighborhood white boys and by using Thomas' books. Soon, Douglass discovers abolitionist movements in the North, including those by Irish Catholics. Several years later, as a result of his original owner's death, Douglass finds himself being lent to a poor farmer with a reputation for "breaking" slaves. Douglass spends a year with Covey, who cruelly and brutally whips the slave until Douglass finally fights him. From that day on, Covey leaves Douglass alone. Douglass lives for a time with William Freeland, a kind master, and Douglass finds a family among the other slaves there. Douglass becomes a Sunday school teacher to other slaves, a position he enjoys. Although this situation is better than any he has experienced, it is still a far cry from freedom, so Douglass attempts to escape by canoeing up the Chesapeake Bay. He is caught and eventually finds himself working again for Hugh Auld in Baltimore. First, he runs errands for shipyard workers, but he after some of the workers heckle and strike Douglass, he fights back and is nearly beaten to death. Working at a different shipyard after the fight, Douglass becomes proficient at ship caulking, but he is forced to turn his wages over to Auld. Douglass soon makes an arrangement with Auld to hire himself out and give Auld a set amount of wages each week. Douglass is allowed to pocket the rest, thus saving enough for his escape to New York. After his escape, Douglass is advised to move to New Bedford, Massachusetts, and he settles there with his new wife, Anna Murray. Douglass makes a living doing odd jobs; he is unable to find work as a caulker, however, because the white caulkers refuse to work with blacks, fearing the former slaves will take over their jobs. Although he still fears being caught and returned to the South, Douglass attends an anti-slavery convention, where he is encouraged to speak. This forms the beginning of his life in the public eye, speaking and writing in favor of the abolition of slavery.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl opens with an introduction in which the author, Harriet Jacobs, states her reasons for writing an autobiography. Her story is painful, and she would rather have kept it private, but she feels that making it public may help the antislavery movement. A preface by abolitionist Lydia Maria Child makes a similar case for the book and states that the events it records are true. Jacobs uses the pseudonym Linda Brent to narrate her first-person account. Born into slavery, Linda spends her early years in a happy home with her mother and father, who are relatively well-off slaves. When her mother dies, six-year-old Linda is sent to live with her mother's mistress, who treats her well and teaches her to read. After a few years, this mistress dies and bequeaths Linda to a relative. Her new masters are cruel and neglectful, and Dr. Flint, the father, soon begins pressuring Linda to have a sexual relationship with him. Linda struggles against Flint's overtures for several years. He pressures and threatens her, and she defies and outwits him. Knowing that Flint will eventually get his way, Linda consents to a love affair with a white neighbor, Mr. Sands, saying that she is ashamed of this illicit relationship but finds it preferable to being raped by the loathsome Dr. Flint. With Mr. Sands, she has two children, Benny and Ellen. Linda argues that a powerless slave girl cannot be held to the same standards of morality as a free woman. She also has practical reasons for agreeing to the affair: she hopes that when Flint finds out about it, he will sell her to Sands in disgust. Instead, the vengeful Flint sends Linda to his plantation to be broken in as a field hand. When she discovers that Benny and Ellen are to receive similar treatment, Linda hatches a desperate plan. Escaping to the North with two small children would be impossible. Unwilling to submit to Dr. Flint's abuse, but equally unwilling to abandon her family, she hides in the attic crawl space in the house of her grandmother, Aunt Martha. She hopes that Dr. Flint, under the false impression that she has gone North, will sell her children rather than risk having them disappear as well. Linda is overjoyed when Dr. Flint sells Benny and Ellen to a slave trader who is secretly representing Mr. Sands. Mr. Sands promises to free the children one day and sends them to live with Aunt Martha. But Linda's triumph comes at a high price. The longer she stays in her tiny garret, where she can neither sit nor stand, the more physically debilitated she becomes. Her only pleasure is to watch her children through a tiny peephole, as she cannot risk letting them know where she is. Mr. Sands marries and becomes a congressman. He brings Ellen to Washington, D.C., to look after his newborn daughter, and Linda realizes that Mr. Sands may never free her children. Worried that he will eventually sell them to slave traders, she determines that she must somehow flee with them to the North. However, Dr. Flint continues to hunt for her, and escape remains too risky. After seven years in the attic, Linda finally escapes to the North by boat. Benny remains with Aunt Martha, and Linda is reunited with Ellen, who is now nine years old and living in Brooklyn, New York. Linda is dismayed to find that her daughter is still held in virtual slavery by Mr. Sands's cousin, Mrs. Hobbs. She fears that Mrs. Hobbs will take Ellen back to the South, putting her beyond Linda's reach forever. She finds work as a nursemaid for a New York City family, the Bruces, who treat her very kindly. Dr. Flint continues to pursue Linda, and she flees to Boston. There, she is reunited with Benny. Dr. Flint now claims that the sale of Benny and Ellen was illegitimate, and Linda is terrified that he will re-enslave all of them. After a few years, Mrs. Bruce dies, and Linda spends some time living with her children in Boston. She spends a year in England caring for Mr. Bruce's daughter, and for the first time in her life she enjoys freedom from racial prejudice. When Linda returns to Boston, Ellen goes to boarding school and Benny moves to California with Linda's brother William. Mr. Bruce remarries, and Linda takes a position caring for their new baby. Dr. Flint dies, but his daughter, Emily, writes to Linda to claim ownership of her. The Fugitive Slave Act is passed by Congress, making Linda extremely vulnerable to kidnapping and re-enslavement.
Emily Flint and her husband, Mr. Dodge, arrive in New York to capture Linda. Linda goes into hiding, and the new Mrs. Bruce offers to purchase her freedom. Linda refuses, unwilling to be bought and sold yet again, and makes plans to follow Benny to California. Mrs. Bruce buys Linda anyway. Linda is devastated at being sold and furious with Emily Flint and the whole slave system. However, she says she remains grateful to Mrs. Bruce, who is still her employer when she writes the book. She notes that she still has not yet realized her dream of making a home for herself and her children to share. The book closes with two testimonials to its accuracy, one from Amy Post, a white abolitionist, and the other from George W. Lowther, a black antislavery writer.
Wollstonecraft doesn't waste a whole lot of time in getting to the point in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman . She says from the get-go that humanity's greatest gift is its ability to reason. And since men and women are born with the same ability to reason, women should enjoy just as much education, power, and influence in society as men do. The only reason women don't seem as smart as men, she says, is because they aren't given the same education. The one thing she's willing to admit is that men might have an advantage in physical strength. But in a modern civilization, this advantage shouldn't really mean anything. For a gentleman living in Wollstonecraft's time, there were very few (if any) occasions in life where he would be called upon to use all of his strength. Once she gets into her argument, Wollstonecraft goes after some writers who have claimed that women's education should focus solely on making young women pleasing to men. In other words, popular opinion in Wollstonecraft's time states that women shouldn't busy themselves with too much reading or studying. They should focus on dressing nicely and being quiet. Wollstonecraft tears these arguments to shreds, saying that they end up causing a lot of social problems. For example, how can people expect a woman to raise children well if she has no education and no ability to reason? Further, how can women be moral and virtuous if all they're ever taught is how to look moral and virtuous? This kind of education focuses only on appearances and makes women totally superficial. As the book continues, Wollstonecraft argues that education should be available equally to both boys and girls regardless of how wealthy their families are. That's why she thinks that there should be a national public school system that is free for children up to a certain age. That probably sounds familiar; it's a lot like today's public school system.
Wollstonecraft closes the book with one last flurry, summing up all the arguments she's made and showing once and for all that there's no possible way to support the oppression of women without being a bully and a tyrant. In the end, Wollstonecraft states that a future with educated women will be much brighter than a future without them.
In "A Psalm of Life," the speaker addresses the psalmist who claims that life is an empty dream. He implores readers to live in the present, let go of the past, and enjoy life in the awareness that it is in some ways a slow march to the grave.
-A young man disagrees with a psalmist who alludes to Genesis 3:19: "For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." The young man states that this line was spoken only of the human body and never referred to the soul.
-The speaker exhorts the reader to make life sublime in spite of the knowledge that death will come for them one day. He tells them to act like heroes in the struggles of day to day life.
-At the end of the poem, the speaker hopes that the reader will take heart in his assertions that life isn't just an empty dream. He calls upon the reader to strive and achieve in spite of the promise of death.\

"A Psalm of Life," by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), was once very widely read and just as widely admired. Today, however, the poem is often mocked for its allegedly incoherent imagery and its supposedly empty rhetoric. In the poem, the speaker responds to Biblical (specifically, Old Testament) teachings that all human life is vain and that human beings, made of dust, eventually return to dust. The poem's subtitle, "What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist," is significant. First, the subtitle implies that the speaker of the poem is willing to question traditional wisdom, or at least some interpretations of that wisdom. Second, the subtitle identifies the speaker as a person in an early stage of life, so that his apparent rejoinder to parts of the Bible can be read (if one so chooses) as a reflection of his youth, particularly given the passion and enthusiasm with which his views are expressed. In any case, the poem was widely read, often memorized, and broadly influential, particularly in the nineteenth century. The opening lines of the poem can seem somewhat daring. The young man seems explicitly to reject portions of the Bible that teach that human life is merely vain or empty. Perhaps the young man is thinking, for instance, of such verses as Psalm 39:5, where the psalmist says to God (in the King James translation), "Behold, you have made my days as a handbreadth; and my age is as nothing before you: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity." Longfellow's speaker dismisses such "mournful numbers" (that is, such gloomy, depressing ideas expressed in the "numbers," or metrical feet, of poetry). Already in its first three words, the poem is confrontational. Ironically, then, a poem that is often interpreted today as a reiteration of tired clichés can be read, in some ways, as courageously argumentative.
In lines 3 and 4, the speaker seems to suggest that the spirit is truly dead only in those who slumber, failing to take advantage of the possibilities of life. These possibilities, as the poem will later argue, include possibilities for virtuous and noble actions. Thus the poem can be read more as a rejection of tired passivity and of spiritual defeatism than as a rejection of Biblical teachings as a whole. The young speaker seems most concerned that human beings will interpret Biblical teachings about the vanity of human life as excuses to be indolent and apathetic. He seems concerned that people will be focused so much on the next world that they will forget and neglect their responsibilities while they are living. He accepts the Christian idea that the flesh is merely dust
Longfellow was one of the so-called "fireside poets," a group of five nineteenth-century American poets who were about as popular in their day as Katy Perry is today. We're serious, folks. These guys sold a lot of books. They were called the "fireside poets," or sometimes the household or schoolroom poets, because their poetry sounded like stuff you would read aloud by the fire. It was memorable, easily to memorize, and dealt with common subjects that most Americans could relate to. You could say that the fireside poets wrote poetry for the people.

In 1879, near the end of his life, Longfellow wrote "The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls," a short poem that is now one of his most famous. Longfellow had to know he was getting on in years and, after having already witnessed the death of two of his wives, it's no surprise that he would write a poem about death.
It's also no surprise that the last collection Longfellow published in his lifetime and the one which contained "The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls," was called Ultima Thule (1880). It's certainly a strange choice for a title, that's for sure. In old European maps and atlases, Thule was a region in the very north of the known world (often identified as Norway), with "Ultima Thule" often referring to the extreme limit or edge of the known world. By calling his final volume Ultima Thule, Longfellow was very clearly suggesting that he had reached the limit or end of his time on earth.

Life is a roller coaster. There's no doubt about that. Things go up, and then things go down. Just like a roller coaster, life can be bumpy, rocky, and scary, but it can also be fun, thrilling, even exhilarating. Sometimes, it's the bumps along the way that actually make it fun. Seriously folks, those bumps can be fun, just wait. In the end, though, and just like life, a crazy roller coaster ride eventually comes to an end. We know it's sad, but life goes on, right?
Well, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow knew that better than anybody. At least, he knew it well. A guy who managed to keep writing even after losing two wives (one to a miscarriage, the other in a fire) has got to know something about how the tide rises and the tide falls. That's really what he's driving at in this poem. That's what we were getting at with our little roller coaster story. Life is a roller coaster, and life is like the ocean tides: it goes up, and it goes down. You are born, live, and then die (hopefully at a ripe old age like... 156). Good things happen, bad things happen, but—through it all—life goes on.
Even though this is a poem about the ups and downs of life, it's about the circle of life. It is a poem about death. It's pretty clear, after all, that the mysterious traveler in the poem who leaves the shore behind is leaving life behind as well. The roller coaster ends, and that's a sad, sad fact. But life continues even after death—if not in a spiritual sense in the afterlife, definitely in a natural sense.
Whittier wrote this work of high nostalgia shortly after the death of his beloved sister, Elizabeth, who had long taken care of him. This carefully crafted genre piece opens with a long, elegiac description of a December day in New England and the chores performed on his boyhood farm. The east wind brings a heavy snowstorm that roars on through the long night. The sunless morning reveals a transformed landscape of unfamiliar shapes and contours, and the call of "our father" to the "boys" (Whittier and his brother) to cut a path from house to barn. Whittier evokes both the shriek of "the mindless wind" and the silence of the usually babbling brook now encased in ice. With the first night comes the fire that transforms the tiny and isolated world inside the house. The gathered family with warmed bodies and hearts and mugs of hot cider bask in the glow, "What matter how the night behaved?" Whittier the narrator then indulges in a reflection on the past-ness of the scene:"with so much gone; . . . The voices of that hearth are still." His family is largely dead and gone, but "Life is ever lord of Death,/ And Love can never lose its own!" In the poem's second part, stories are told to "sleepy listeners as they lay," by father, mother, uncle, aunt, and elder sister, now lately gone to the "holy peace of Paradise," and subject of a second reflective interlude. A schoolteacher and an annoyingly religious woman appear and share the warmth, which lasts until the fire crumbles to embers and ash. In the third part, teamsters arrive carving a public path, a doctor calls for help, and the poet's once snowbound world gives way to the world at large, best encapsulated in the newspaper with its tales of war and "the pulse of life that round us beats." Whittier ends in an elegiac postlude calling for a pause to reflect in the midst of the bustle of a changing world
Kidd:A famous pirate who buried his treasure in the Charles River Bay. Kidd made a deal with the devil to protect his bounty, but never returned for it; instead, it remained undisturbed until the devil offers it to Tom Walker much later.

Tom Walker: The protagonist of this story, Tom Walker is a common man with miserly tendencies, living an unhappy life with his wife, who is just as miserly as he is. As he is known for his greed, he is strongly tempted by the devil's tantalizing deal, which ultimately results in his downfall.

wife: The wife of Tom Walker. She is unpleasant and miserly, just like her husband, with a fierce temper and a quick tongue. Like Tom she is enticed by the devil's promise and brings all her valuables to bargain with him, but all does not end well.

narrator: The story is narrated the fictional Geoffrey Crayon. He has presumably heard the story of Tom Walker many times before.

Old Scratch: The devil incarnate, manifested in the form of a tall black man who guards the old Indian fort. Old Scratch is extremely manipulative and cunning. He was hired to watch over Kidd's treasure, but he sneakily offers it up to Tom -- for a price.

Deacon Peabody: The rightful owner of the land on which the fort sits, where Old Scratch haunts.

Crowninshield: A rich man who made a vulgar display of his wealth, acquired by buccaneering; his name is one of the many rich colony residents' names scored onto a tree by Old Scratch. After his first visit to the devil, Tom's wife informs him that Crowninshield has died.

Governor Belcher: During the time when Blecher governed the colony, money was extremely scarce and paper credit became more widespread.

land-jobber:He begs Tom to grand him a few months of pardon before foreclosing his mortgage, because he borrowed a large sum of money from Tom and could not pay it back.
countryman: Reports the sight of Tom Walker being carried away on the devil's horse.

a fictional character named Geoffrey Crayon, begins the story. He tells us that, years ago, a few miles from Boston, Massachusetts, Kidd the Pirate buried a great amount of treasure. He made a deal with the devil to protect the treasure, but was never able to return to it, as he was captured and taken to England to be hanged as a pirate. Much later, in the year 1727, a miserly man named Tom Walker lives near the area with his wife, who is equally as money-crazed. They are not popular with their neighbors, as they often fight. After spending the day in a distant part of the neighborhood, Tom Walker takes a shortcut back home through a swamp. He reaches an abandoned Indian fort, and after kicking a nearby skull left over from the Indian wars with colonists, angers a tall man covered in soot who had apparently been watching him. Tom realizes that this is the man commonly called Old Scratch, and after a long conversation on the way home, Old Scratch announces that he has taken a liking to Tom and will allow him to acquire Kidd the Pirate's treasure on certain conditions. As a promise to stand by his word, Old Scratch presses his finger into Tom's forehead, leaving a black, burned mark that he calls his "signature." Tom can't help but share the secret with his wife, who is immediately enticed by the promise of gold; only to contradict her, however, Tom tells her he isn't planning on taking the deal. Determined to follow through on the deal herself, she takes all the valuables in their house as bribes for Old Scratch and sets off to find him. She never returns. Tom sets out to find both his wife and the valuables she disappeared with, and instead finds her heart and liver tied up to a tree in her checked apron. Tom is more upset by the loss of the valuables than the loss of his wife; in fact, he uses the latter as consolation, and acknowledges that Old Scratch has actually done him a service by getting rid of her. Finally Tom decides he wants the treasure he was promised, and he sets out to find Old Scratch once again. The two haggle for a while, and Old Scratch insists that if he is to give Tom the money, Tom must use it in service to the devil. He first suggests Tom should fit out a slave ship, but Tom outright refuses to be turned into a slave trader. Then he proposes that Tom become a usurer, or corrupted money-loaner; this is right up Tom's alley, so he agrees. Tom takes the money and sets up as a usurer in Boston, becoming popular with adventurers, speculators, and merchants looking to borrow money to begin their ventures. He loans to them and then soaks them dry with his interests rates, and builds with his wealth a lavish house for himself (but doesn't finish or furnish it, since he's still his stingy old self). As he grows older, though, he worries that the bargain he made with Old Scratch will result in being damned in the afterlife, so he becomes a religious zealot, attending church and praying to get back in the good graces of God. But it is too late for redemption. When a poor land-jobber visits Tom and asks him to please give him more time to pay off his loan before foreclosing his mortgage, Tom refuses. The man says that Tom has made so much money off him already, and when Tom says "the devil take me if I have made a farthing!" a black man on a black horse knocks on his door, come to take him away. Tom Walker is gone for good, and when trustees go to claim his assets, they find that all his possessions—including his house—have gone up in flames.
Goodman Brown says goodbye to his wife, Faith, outside of his house in Salem Village. Faith, wearing pink ribbons in her cap, asks him to stay with her, saying that she feels scared when she is by herself and free to think troubling thoughts. Goodman Brown tells her that he must travel for one night only and reminds her to say her prayers and go to bed early. He reassures her that if she does this, she will come to no harm. Goodman Brown takes final leave of Faith, thinking to himself that she might have guessed the evil purpose of his trip and promising to be a better person after this one night. Goodman Brown sets off on a road through a gloomy forest. He looks around, afraid of what might be behind each tree, thinking that there might be Indians or the devil himself lurking there. He soon comes upon a man in the road who greets Goodman Brown as though he had been expecting him. The man is dressed in regular clothing and looks normal except for a walking stick he carries. This walking stick features a carved serpent, which is so lifelike it seems to move. The man offers Goodman Brown the staff, saying that it might help him walk faster, but Goodman Brown refuses. He says that he showed up for their meeting because he promised to do so but does not wish to touch the staff and wants to return to the village. Goodman Brown tells the man that his family members have been Christians and good people for generations and that he feels ashamed to associate with him. The man replies that he knew Goodman Brown's father and grandfather, as well as other members of churches in New England, and even the governor of the state. The man's words confuse Goodman Brown, who says that even if this is so, he wants to return to the village for Faith's sake. At that moment, the two come upon an old woman hobbling through the woods, and Goodman Brown recognizes Goody Cloyse, who he knows to be a pious, respected woman from the village. He hides, embarrassed to be seen with the man, and the man taps Goody Cloyse on the shoulder. She identifies him as the devil and reveals herself to be a witch, on her way to the devil's evil forest ceremony. Despite this revelation, Goodman Brown tells the man that he still intends to turn back, for Faith's sake. The man says that Goodman Brown should rest. Before disappearing, he gives Goodman Brown his staff, telling him that he can use it for transport to the ceremony if he changes his mind. As he sits and gathers himself, Goodman Brown hears horses traveling along the road and hides once again. Soon he hears the voices of the minister of the church and Deacon Gookin, who are also apparently on their way to the ceremony. Shocked, Goodman Brown swears that even though everyone else in the world has gone to the devil, for Faith's sake he will stay true to God. However, he soon hears voices coming from the ceremony and thinks he recognizes Faith's voice. He screams her name, and a pink ribbon from her cap flutters down from the sky. Certain that there is no good in the world because Faith has turned to evil, Goodman Brown grabs the staff, which pulls him quickly through the forest toward the ceremony. When he reaches the clearing where the ceremony is taking place, the trees around it are on fire, and he can see in the firelight the faces of various respected members of the community, along with more disreputable men and women and Indian priests. But he doesn't see Faith, and he starts to hope once again that she might not be there. A figure appears on a rock and tells the congregation to present the converts. Goodman Brown thinks he sees his father beckoning him forward and his mother trying to hold him back. Before he can rethink his decision, the minister and Deacon Gookin drag him forward. Goody Cloyse and Martha Carrier bring forth another person, robed and covered so that her identity is unknown. After telling the two that they have made a decision that will reveal all the wickedness of the world to them, the figure tells them to show themselves to each other. Goodman Brown sees that the other convert is Faith. Goodman Brown tells Faith to look up to heaven and resist the devil, then suddenly finds himself alone in the forest. The next morning Goodman Brown returns to Salem Village, and every person he passes seems evil to him. He sees the minister, who blesses him, and hears Deacon Gookin praying, but he refuses to accept the blessing and calls Deacon Gookin a wizard. He sees Goody Cloyse quizzing a young girl on Bible verses and snatches the girl away. Finally, he sees Faith at his own house and refuses to greet her. It's unclear whether the encounter in the forest was a dream, but for the rest of his life, Goodman Brown is changed. He doesn't trust anyone in his village, can't believe the words of the minister, and doesn't fully love his wife. He lives the remainder of his life in gloom and fear.

Goodman Brown - A young resident of Salem and the story's protagonist. Goodman Brown is a good Christian who has recently married Faith. He takes pride in his family's history of piety and their reputation in the community as godly men. His curiosity, however, leads him to accept an invitation from a mysterious traveler to observe an evil ceremony in middle of the forest, one that shocks and disillusions him.

Faith - Goodman Brown's wife. Faith is young, beautiful, and trusting, and Goodman Brown sees her as the embodiment of virtue. Although Goodman Brown initially ignores Faith's claims to have had disturbing nightmares, seeing her at the evil ceremony in the forest prompts him to question his wife's righteousness.
Read an in-depth analysis of Faith.

The Old Man/Devil - The man, possibly the devil, who tempts Goodman Brown into attending the ceremony in the forest. The man intercepts Goodman Brown in the middle of the dark road, then presides over the ceremony. He sees through the Salem villagers' charade of Christian piety and prides himself on the godly men he has been able to turn to evil.

Goody Cloyse - A citizen of Salem Village who reveals herself to be a witch. Goody Cloyse is a Christian woman who helps young people learn the Bible, but in secret she performs magic ceremonies and attends witch meetings in the forest. Goody Cloyse was the name of an actual woman who was tried and convicted of witchcraft during the historical Salem Witch Trials of 1692; Hawthorne borrows her name for this character.

The Minister - The minister of Salem. The minister, a respectable pillar of the community, appears to be a follower of the devil.

Deacon Gookin - A member of the clergy in Salem who appears to be a follower of the devil. The deacon is an important man in the church of Salem, and Goodman Brown thinks of him as very religious.
A disease known as the Red Death plagues the fictional country where this tale is set, and it causes its victims to die quickly and gruesomely. Even though this disease is spreading rampantly, the prince, Prospero, feels happy and hopeful. He decides to lock the gates of his palace in order to fend off the plague, ignoring the illness ravaging the land. After several months, he throws a fancy masquerade ball. For this celebration, he decorates the rooms of his house in single colors. The easternmost room is decorated in blue, with blue stained-glass windows. The next room is purple with the same stained-glass window pattern. The rooms continue westward, according to this design, in the following color arrangement: green, orange, white, and violet. The seventh room is black, with red windows. Also in this room stands an ebony clock. When the clock rings each hour, its sound is so loud and distracting that everyone stops talking and the orchestra stops playing. When the clock is not sounding, though, the rooms are so beautiful and strange that they seem to be filled with dreams, swirling among the revelers. Most guests, however, avoid the final, black-and-red room because it contains both the clock and an ominous ambience. At midnight, a new guest appears, dressed more ghoulishly than his counterparts. His mask looks like the face of a corpse, his garments resemble a funeral shroud, and his face reveals spots of blood suggesting that he is a victim of the Red Death. Prospero becomes angry that someone with so little humor and levity would join his party. The other guests, however, are so afraid of this masked man that they fail to prevent him from walking through each room. Prospero finally catches up to the new guest in the black-and-red room. As soon as he confronts the figure, Prospero dies. When other party-goers enter the room to attack the cloaked man, they find that there is nobody beneath the costume. Everyone then dies, for the Red Death has infiltrated the castle. "Darkness and Decay and the Red Death" have at last triumphed.

"The Masque of the Red Death" is an allegory. It features a set of recognizable symbols whose meanings combine to convey a message. An allegory always operates on two levels of meaning: the literal elements of the plot (the colors of the rooms, for example) and their symbolic counterparts, which often involve large philosophical concepts (such as life and death). We can read this story as an allegory about life and death and the powerlessness of humans to evade the grip of death. The Red Death thus represents, both literally and allegorically, death. No matter how beautiful the castle, how luxuriant the clothing, or how rich the food, no mortal, not even a prince, can escape death. In another sense, though, the story also means to punish Prospero's arrogant belief that he can use his wealth to fend off the natural, tragic progress of life. Prospero's arrogance combines with a grievous insensitivity to the plight of his less fortunate countrymen. Although he possesses the wealth to assist those in need, he turns his wealth into a mode of self-defense and decadent self-indulgence. His decadence in throwing the masquerade ball, however, unwittingly positions him as a caged animal, with no possible escape. The rooms of the palace, lined up in a series, allegorically represent the stages of life. Poe makes it a point to arrange the rooms running from east to west. This progression is symbolically significant because it represents the life cycle of a day: the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, with night symbolizing death. What transforms this set of symbols into an allegory, however, is the further symbolic treatment of the twenty-four hour life cycle: it translates to the realm of human beings. This progression from east to west, performed by both Prospero and the mysterious guest, symbolizes the human journey from birth to death. Poe crafts the last, black room as the ominous endpoint, the room the guests fear just as they fear death. The clock that presides over that room also reminds the guests of death's final judgment. The hourly ringing of the bells is a reminder of the passing of time, inexorable and ultimately personal. As in many Poe stories, the use of names contributes to the symbolic economic context of the story and suggests another set of allegorical interpretations. For example, Prospero, whose name suggests financial prosperity, exploits his own wealth to stave off the infiltration of the Red Death. His retreat to the protection of an aristocratic palace may also allegorize a type of economic system that Poe suggests is doomed to failure. In the hierarchical relationship between Prospero and the peasantry, Poe portrays the unfairness of a feudal system, where wealth lies in the hands of the aristocracy while the peasantry suffers. This use of feudal imagery is historically accurate, in that feudalism was prevalent when the actual Bubonic Plague devastated Europe in the fourteenth century. The Red Death, then, embodies a type of radical egalitarianism, or monetary equality, because it attacks the rich and poor alike. The portrayal of the masquerade ball foreshadows the similar setting of the carnival in "The Cask of Amontillado," which appeared less than a year after "The Masque of the Red Death." Whereas the carnival in "The Cask of Amontillado" associates drunken revelry with an open-air Italian celebration, the masquerade functions in this story as a celebratory retreat from the air itself, which has become infected by the plague. The masquerade, however, dispels the sense of claustrophobia within the palace by liberating the inner demons of the guests. These demons are then embodied by the grotesque costumes. Like the carnival, the masquerade urges the abandonment of social conventions and rigid senses of personal identity. However, the mysterious guest illuminates the extent to which Prospero and his guests police the limits of social convention. When the mysterious guest uses his costume to portray the fears that the masquerade is designed to counteract, Prospero responds antagonistically. As he knows, the prosperity of the party relies upon the psychological transformation of fear about the Red Death into revelry. When the mysterious guest dramatizes his own version of revelry as the fear that cannot be spoken, he violates an implicit social rule of the masquerade. The fall of Prospero and the subsequent deaths of his guests follow from this logic of the masquerade: when revelry is unmasked as a defense mechanism against fear, then the raw exposure of what lies beneath is enough to kill.

Prince Prospero - A wealthy nobleman and the ultimate victim of the Red Death. Prince Prospero's wealth turns out to be irrelevant in the natural cycle of life and death.

Mysterious guest - The embodiment of the Red Death. Donning the gruesome marks of the plague as his costume, the mysterious guest brings death to those who deny their own mortality.
Roderick Usher - The owner of the mansion and last male in the Usher line. Roderick functions as a doppelganger, or character double, for his twin sister, Madeline. He represents the mind to her body and suffers from the mental counterpart of her physical illness.
Read an in-depth analysis of Roderick Usher.

Madeline Usher - Roderick's twin sister and victim of catalepsy, a mysterious incapacitating illness. Because the narrator is surprised to discover that Madeline is a twin, she signals the narrator's outsider relationship to the house of Usher.

Unnamed narrator - Roderick's best boyhood friend. Contacted by Roderick during his emotional distress, the narrator knows little about the house of Usher and is the first outsider to visit the mansion in many years.

An unnamed narrator approaches the house of Usher on a "dull, dark, and soundless day." This house—the estate of his boyhood friend, Roderick Usher—is gloomy and mysterious. The narrator observes that the house seems to have absorbed an evil and diseased atmosphere from the decaying trees and murky ponds around it. He notes that although the house is decaying in places—individual stones are disintegrating, for example—the structure itself is fairly solid. There is only a small crack from the roof to the ground in the front of the building. He has come to the house because his friend Roderick sent him a letter earnestly requesting his company. Roderick wrote that he was feeling physically and emotionally ill, so the narrator is rushing to his assistance. The narrator mentions that the Usher family, though an ancient clan, has never flourished. Only one member of the Usher family has survived from generation to generation, thereby forming a direct line of descent without any outside branches. The Usher family has become so identified with its estate that the peasantry confuses the inhabitants with their home. The narrator finds the inside of the house just as spooky as the outside. He makes his way through the long passages to the room where Roderick is waiting. He notes that Roderick is paler and less energetic than he once was. Roderick tells the narrator that he suffers from nerves and fear and that his senses are heightened. The narrator also notes that Roderick seems afraid of his own house. Roderick's sister, Madeline, has taken ill with a mysterious sickness—perhaps catalepsy, the loss of control of one's limbs—that the doctors cannot reverse. The narrator spends several days trying to cheer up Roderick. He listens to Roderick play the guitar and make up words for his songs, and he reads him stories, but he cannot lift Roderick's spirit. Soon, Roderick posits his theory that the house itself is unhealthy, just as the narrator supposes at the beginning of the story. Madeline soon dies, and Roderick decides to bury her temporarily in the tombs below the house. He wants to keep her in the house because he fears that the doctors might dig up her body for scientific examination, since her disease was so strange to them. The narrator helps Roderick put the body in the tomb, and he notes that Madeline has rosy cheeks, as some do after death. The narrator also realizes suddenly that Roderick and Madeline were twins. Over the next few days, Roderick becomes even more uneasy. One night, the narrator cannot sleep either. Roderick knocks on his door, apparently hysterical. He leads the narrator to the window, from which they see a bright-looking gas surrounding the house. The narrator tells Roderick that the gas is a natural phenomenon, not altogether uncommon. The narrator decides to read to Roderick in order to pass the night away. He reads "Mad Trist" by Sir Launcelot Canning, a medieval romance. As he reads, he hears noises that correspond to the descriptions in the story. At first, he ignores these sounds as the vagaries of his imagination. Soon, however, they become more distinct and he can no longer ignore them. He also notices that Roderick has slumped over in his chair and is muttering to himself. The narrator approaches Roderick and listens to what he is saying. Roderick reveals that he has been hearing these sounds for days, and believes that they have buried Madeline alive and that she is trying to escape. He yells that she is standing behind the door. The wind blows open the door and confirms Roderick's fears: Madeline stands in white robes bloodied from her struggle. She attacks Roderick as the life drains from her, and he dies of fear. The narrator flees the house. As he escapes, the entire house cracks along the break in the frame and crumbles to the ground.

"The Fall of the House of Usher" possesses the quintessential -features of the Gothic tale: a haunted house, dreary landscape, mysterious sickness, and doubled personality. For all its easily identifiable Gothic elements, however, part of the terror of this story is its vagueness. We cannot say for sure where in the world or exactly when the story takes place. Instead of standard narrative markers of place and time, Poe uses traditional Gothic elements such as inclement weather and a barren landscape. We are alone with the narrator in this haunted space, and neither we nor the -narrator know why. Although he is Roderick's most intimate boyhood friend, the narrator apparently does not know much about him—like the basic fact that Roderick has a twin sister. Poe asks us to question the reasons both for Roderick's decision to contact the narrator in this time of need and the bizarre tenacity of narrator's response. While Poe provides the recognizable building blocks of the Gothic tale, he contrasts this standard form with a plot that is inexplicable, sudden, and full of unexpected disruptions. The story begins without complete explanation of the narrator's motives for arriving at the house of Usher, and this ambiguity sets the tone for a plot that continually blurs the real and the fantastic. Poe creates a sensation of claustrophobia in this story. The narrator is mysteriously trapped by the lure of Roderick's attraction, and he cannot escape until the house of Usher collapses completely. Characters cannot move and act freely in the house because of its structure, so it assumes a monstrous character of its own—the Gothic mastermind that controls the fate of its inhabitants. Poe, creates confusion between the living things and inanimate objects by doubling the physical house of Usher with the genetic family line of the Usher family, which he refers to as the house of Usher. Poe employs the word "house" metaphorically, but he also describes a real house. Not only does the narrator get trapped inside the mansion, but we learn also that this confinement describes the biological fate of the Usher family. The family has no enduring branches, so all genetic transmission has occurred incestuously within the domain of the house. The peasantry confuses the mansion with the family because the physical structure has effectively dictated the genetic patterns of the family.
The claustrophobia of the mansion affects the relations among characters. For example, the narrator realizes late in the game that Roderick and Madeline are twins, and this realization occurs as the two men prepare to entomb Madeline. The cramped and confined setting of the burial tomb metaphorically spreads to the features of the characters. Because the twins are so similar, they cannot develop as free individuals. Madeline is buried before she has actually died because her similarity to Roderick is like a coffin that holds her identity. Madeline also suffers from problems typical for women in -nineteenth--century literature. She invests all of her identity in her body, whereas Roderick possesses the powers of intellect. In spite of this disadvantage, Madeline possesses the power in the story, almost superhuman at times, as when she breaks out of her tomb. She thus counteracts Roderick's weak, nervous, and immobile disposition. Some scholars have argued that Madeline does not even exist, reducing her to a shared figment Roderick's and the narrator's imaginations. But Madeline proves central to the symmetrical and claustrophobic logic of the tale. Madeline stifles Roderick by preventing him from seeing himself as essentially different from her. She completes this attack when she kills him at the end of the story. Doubling spreads throughout the story. The tale highlights the Gothic feature of the doppelganger, or character double, and portrays doubling in inanimate structures and literary forms. The narrator, for example, first witnesses the mansion as a reflection in the tarn, or shallow pool, that abuts the front of the house. The mirror image in the tarn doubles the house, but upside down—an inversely symmetrical relationship that also characterizes the relationship between Roderick and Madeline. The story features numerous allusions to other works of literature, including the poems "The Haunted Palace" and "Mad Trist" by Sir Launcelot Canning. Poe composed them himself and then fictitiously attributed them to other sources. Both poems parallel and thus predict the plot line of "The Fall of the House of Usher." "Mad Trist," which is about the forceful entrance of Ethelred into the dwelling of a hermit, mirrors the simultaneous escape of Madeline from her tomb. "Mad Trist" spookily crosses literary borders, as though Roderick's obsession with these poems ushers their narratives into his own domain and brings them to life. The crossing of borders pertains vitally to the Gothic horror of the tale. We know from Poe's experience in the magazine industry that he was obsessed with codes and word games, and this story amplifies his obsessive interest in naming. "Usher" refers not only to the mansion and the family, but also to the act of crossing a -threshold that brings the narrator into the perverse world of Roderick and Madeline. Roderick's letter ushers the narrator into a world he does not know, and the presence of this outsider might be the factor that destroys the house. The narrator is the lone exception to the Ushers' fear of outsiders, a fear that accentuates the claustrophobic nature of the tale. By undermining this fear of the outside, the narrator unwittingly brings down the whole structure. A similar, though strangely playful crossing of a boundary transpires both in "Mad Trist" and during the climactic burial escape, when Madeline breaks out from death to meet her mad brother in a "tryst," or meeting, of death. Poe thus buries, in the fictitious gravity of a medieval romance, the puns that garnered him popularity in America's magazines.
Emerson prefaced the prose text of the 1836 first edition of Nature with a passage from the Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus. The 1849 second edition included instead a poem by Emerson himself. Both present themes that are developed in the essay. The passage from Plotinus suggests the primacy of spirit and of human understanding over nature. Emerson's poem emphasizes the unity of all manifestations of nature, nature's symbolism, and the perpetual development of all of nature's forms toward the highest expression as embodied in man. Nature is divided into an introduction and eight chapters. In the Introduction, Emerson laments the current tendency to accept the knowledge and traditions of the past instead of experiencing God and nature directly, in the present. He asserts that all our questions about the order of the universe — about the relationships between God, man, and nature — may be answered by our experience of life and by the world around us. Each individual is a manifestation of creation and as such holds the key to unlocking the mysteries of the universe. Nature, too, is both an expression of the divine and a means of understanding it. The goal of science is to provide a theory of nature, but man has not yet attained a truth broad enough to comprehend all of nature's forms and phenomena. Emerson identifies nature and spirit as the components of the universe. He defines nature (the "NOT ME") as everything separate from the inner individual — nature, art, other men, our own bodies. In common usage, nature refers to the material world unchanged by man. Art is nature in combination with the will of man. Emerson explains that he will use the word "nature" in both its common and its philosophical meanings in the essay. At the beginning of Chapter I, Emerson describes true solitude as going out into nature and leaving behind all preoccupying activities as well as society. When a man gazes at the stars, he becomes aware of his own separateness from the material world. The stars were made to allow him to perceive the "perpetual presence of the sublime." Visible every night, they demonstrate that God is ever-present. They never lose their power to move us. We retain our original sense of wonder even when viewing familiar aspects of nature anew. Emerson discusses the poetical approach to nature — the perception of the encompassing whole made up of many individual components. Our delight in the landscape, which is made up of many particular forms, provides an example of this integrated vision. Unlike children, most adults have lost the ability to see the world in this way. In order to experience awe in the presence of nature, we need to approach it with a balance between our inner and our outer senses. Nature so approached is a part of man, and even when bleak and stormy is capable of elevating his mood. All aspects of nature correspond to some state of mind. Nature offers perpetual youth and joy, and counteracts whatever misfortune befalls an individual. The visionary man may lose himself in it, may become a receptive "transparent eyeball" through which the "Universal Being" transmits itself into his consciousness and makes him sense his oneness with God. In nature, which is also a part of God, man finds qualities parallel to his own. There is a special relationship, a sympathy, between man and nature. But by itself, nature does not provide the pleasure that comes of perceiving this relationship. Such satisfaction is a product of a particular harmony between man's inner processes and the outer world. The way we react to nature depends upon our state of mind in approaching it. In the next four chapters — "Commodity," "Beauty," "Language," and "Discipline" — Emerson discusses the ways in which man employs nature ultimately to achieve insight into the workings of the universe. In Chapter II, "Commodity," he treats the most basic uses of nature — for heat, food, water, shelter, and transportation. Although he ranks these as low uses, and states that they are the only applications that most men have for nature, they are perfect and appropriate in their own way. Moreover, man harnesses nature through the practical arts, thereby enhancing its usefulness through his own wit. Emerson quickly finishes with nature as a commodity, stating that "A man is fed, not that he may be fed, but that he may work," and turns to higher uses. In Chapter III, "Beauty," Emerson examines nature's satisfaction of a nobler human requirement, the desire for beauty. The perception of nature's beauty lies partly in the structure of the eye itself, and in the laws of light. The two together offer a unified vision of many separate objects as a pleasing whole — "a well-colored and shaded globe," a landscape "round and symmetrical." Every object in nature has its own beauty, which is magnified when perspective allows comprehensive vision of the whole. Emerson presents three properties of natural beauty. First, nature restores and gives simple pleasure to a man. It reinvigorates the overworked, and imparts a sense of well-being and of communion with the universe. Nature pleases even in its harsher moments. The same landscape viewed in different weather and seasons is seen as if for the first time. But we cannot capture natural beauty if we too actively and consciously seek it. We must rather submit ourselves to it, allowing it to react to us spontaneously, as we go about our lives. Secondly, nature works together with the spiritual element in man to enhance the nobility of virtuous and heroic human actions. There is a particular affinity between the processes of nature and the capabilities of man. Nature provides a suitably large and impressive background against which man's higher actions are dramatically outlined. Thirdly, Emerson points out the capacity of natural beauty to stimulate the human intellect, which uses nature to grasp the divine order of the universe. Because action follows upon reflection, nature's beauty is visualized in the mind, and expressed through creative action. The love of beauty constitutes taste; its creative expression, art. A work of art — "the result or expression of nature, in miniature" — demonstrates man's particular powers. Man apprehends wholeness in the multiplicity of natural forms and conveys these forms in their totality. The poet, painter, sculptor, musician, and architect are all inspired by natural beauty and offer a unified vision in their work. Art thus represents nature as distilled by man. Unlike the uses of nature described in "Commodity," the role of nature in satisfying man's desire for beauty is an end in itself. Beauty, like truth and goodness, is an expression of God. But natural beauty is an ultimate only inasmuch as it works as a catalyst upon the inner processes of man. In Chapter IV, "Language," Emerson explores nature's service to man as a vehicle for thought. He first states that words represent particular facts in nature, which exists in part to give us language to express ourselves. He suggests that all words, even those conveying intellectual and moral meaning, can be etymologically traced back to roots originally attached to material objects or their qualities. (Although this theory would not be supported by the modern study of linguistics, Emerson was not alone among his contemporaries in subscribing to it.) Over time, we have lost a sense of the particular connection of the first language to the natural world, but children and primitive people retain it to some extent. Not only are words symbolic, Emerson continues, but the natural objects that they represent are symbolic of particular spiritual states. Human intellectual processes are, of necessity, expressed through language, which in its primal form was integrally connected to nature. Emerson asserts that there is universal understanding of the relationship between natural imagery and human thought. An all-encompassing universal soul underlies individual life. "Reason" (intuitive understanding) affords access to the universal soul through the natural symbols of spirit provided by language. In language, God is, in a very real sense, accessible to all men. In his unique capacity to perceive the connectedness of everything in the universe, man enjoys a central position. Man cannot be understood without nature, nor nature without man. In its origin, language was pure poetry, and clearly conveyed the relationship between material symbol and spiritual meaning. Emerson states that the same symbols form the original elements of all languages. And the moving power of idiomatic language and of the strong speech of simple men reminds us of the first dependence of language upon nature. Modern man's ability to express himself effectively requires simplicity, love of truth, and desire to communicate efficiently. But because we have lost the sense of its origins, language has been corrupted. The man who speaks with passion or in images — like the poet or orator who maintains a vital connection with nature — expresses the workings of God. Finally, Emerson develops the idea that the whole of nature — not just its particulate verbal expressions — symbolizes spiritual reality and offers insight into the universal. He writes of all nature as a metaphor for the human mind, and asserts that there is a one-to-one correspondence between moral and material laws. All men have access to understanding this correspondence and, consequently, to comprehending the laws of the universe. Emerson employs the image of the circle — much-used in Nature — in stating that the visible world is the "terminus or circumference of the invisible world." Visible nature innately possesses a moral and spiritual aspect. Man may grasp the underlying meaning of the physical world by living harmoniously with nature, and by loving truth and virtue. Emerson concludes "Language" by stating that we understand the full meaning of nature by degrees. Nature as a discipline — a means of arriving at comprehension — forms the subject of Chapter V, "Discipline." All of nature serves to educate man through both the rational, logical "Understanding" and the intuitive, mystical "Reason." Through the more rational understanding, we constantly learn lessons about the similarities and differences between objects, about reality and unreality, about order, arrangement, progression, and combination. The ultimate result of such lessons is common sense. Emerson offers property and debt as materially based examples that teach necessary lessons through the understanding, and space and time as demonstrations of particularity and individuality, through which "we may know that things are not huddled and lumped, but sundered and individual." Each object has its own particular use, and through the understanding we know that it cannot be converted to other uses to which it is not fitted. The wise man recognizes the innate properties of objects and men, and the differences, gradations, and similarities among the manifold natural expressions. The practical arts and sciences make use of this wisdom. But as man progressively grasps the basic physical laws, he comes closer to understanding the laws of creation, and limiting concepts such as space and time lose their significance in his vision of the larger picture. Emerson emphasizes the place of human will — the expression of human power — in harnessing nature. Nature is made to serve man. We take what is useful from it in forming a sense of the universe, giving greater or lesser weight to particular aspects to suit our purposes, even framing nature according to our own image of it. Emerson goes on to discuss how intuitive reason provides insight into the ethical and spiritual meanings behind nature. "All things are moral," he proclaims, and therefore every aspect of nature conveys "the laws of right and wrong." Nature thus forms the proper basis for religion and ethics. Moreover, the uses of particular facets of nature as described in "Commodity" do not exhaust the lessons these aspects can teach; men may progress to perception of their higher meaning as well. Emerson depicts moral law as lying at the center of the circle of nature and radiating to the circumference. He asserts that man is particularly susceptible to the moral meaning of nature, and returns to the unity of all of nature's particulars. Each object is a microcosm of the universe. Through analogies and resemblances between various expressions of nature, we perceive "its source in Universal Spirit." Moreover, we apprehend universal order through thought — through our grasp of the relationship between particular universal truths, which are related to all other universal truths. Emerson builds upon his circle imagery to suggest the all-encompassing quality of universal truth and the way it may be approached through all of its particulars. Unity is even more apparent in action than in thought, which is expressed only imperfectly through language. Action, on the other hand, as "the perfection and publication of thought," expresses thought more directly. Because words and conscious actions are uniquely human attributes, Emerson holds humanity up as the pinnacle of nature, "incomparably the richest informations of the power and order that lie at the heart of things." Each human example is a point of access into the universal spirit. As an expression of nature, humanity, too, has its educational use in the progression toward understanding higher truth. At the beginning of Chapter VI, "Idealism," Emerson questions whether nature actually exists, whether God may have created it only as a perception in the human mind. Having stated that the response to this question makes no difference in the usefulness of nature as an aid to human comprehension of the universal, Emerson concludes that the answer is ultimately unknowable. Whether real or not, he perceives nature as an ideal. Even if nature is not real, natural and universal laws nevertheless apply. However, the common man's faith in the permanence of natural laws is threatened by any hint that nature may not be real. The senses and rational understanding contribute to the instinctive human tendency to regard nature as a reality. Men tend to view things as ultimates, not to look for a higher reality beyond them. But intuitive reason works against the unquestioned acceptance of concrete reality as the ultimate reality. Intuition counteracts sensory knowledge, and highlights our intellectual and spiritual separateness from nature. As the intuition is increasingly awakened, we begin to perceive nature differently, to see the whole, the "causes and spirits," instead of individual forms. Emerson explores idealism at length. He first points out that a change in perspective is caused by changes in environment or mechanical alterations (such as viewing a familiar landscape from a moving railroad car), which heighten the sense of the difference between man and nature, the observer and the observed. Altered perspective imparts a feeling that there is something constant within man, even though the world around him changes, sometimes due to his own action upon it. Emerson then discusses the way in which the poet communicates his own power over nature. The poet sees nature as fluid and malleable, as raw material to shape to his own expressive purposes. Inspired by intuition and imagination, he enhances and reduces facets of nature according to his creative dictates. He provides an ideal interpretation of nature that is more real than concrete nature, as it exists independent of human agency. The poet, in short, asserts "the predominance of the soul" over matter. Emerson looks to philosophy, science, religion, and ethics for support of the subordination of matter to spirit. He does not uniformly approve of the position assigned to nature by each of these disciplines, but nevertheless finds that they all express an idealistic approach to one degree or another. He points out that although the poet aims toward beauty and the philosopher toward truth, both subject the order and relations within nature to human thought in order to find higher absolutes, laws, and spiritual realities. Scientists, too, may elevate the spiritual over the material in going beyond the accumulation of particulars to a single, encompassing, enlightening formula. And although they distrust nature, traditional religion and ethics also promote the spiritual and moral over the physical. In "Idealism," Emerson again takes up the capacity of all men to grasp the ideal and universal. Intellectual inquiry casts doubt upon the independent existence of matter and focuses upon the absolute and ideal as a higher reality. It encourages approaching nature as "an appendix to the soul" and a means of access to God. Although these complex ideas are expressed by specialists in "intellectual science," they are nevertheless available to all. And when any man reaches some understanding of divinity, he becomes more divine and renews himself physically as well as spiritually. Knowledge of the ideal and absolute brings confidence in our existence, and confers a kind of immortality, which transcends the limitations of space and time. Emerson points out that in the quest for the ideal, it does not serve man to take a demeaning view of nature. He suggests nature's subservience merely to define its true position in relation to man, as a tool for spiritual education and perfection (as discussed in "Discipline"), and to distinguish the real (that is, the ideal) from the unreal (the concretely apparent). He concludes the chapter by advocating the ideal theory of nature over more popular materialism because it offers exactly the kind of view of the world that the human mind craves and intuitively wants to adopt. It subordinates matter to mind, places the world in the context of God, and allows man to synthesize a mass of details into a whole. Emerson deals with nature's spiritual qualities and purpose in Chapter VII, "Spirit." He states that a true theory of nature and man must allow progressive, dynamic comprehension. In its fidelity to its divine origin and its constant illumination of spirit and of the absolute, nature allows satisfaction of this condition. Emerson writes of the difficulty of visualizing and expressing the divine spirit. The noblest use of nature is to help us by representing God, by serving as the medium "through which the universal spirit speaks to the individual, and strives to lead the individual back to it." Emerson then addresses three questions: What is matter?; Where does it come from?; and What is its purpose? The first question — What is matter? — is answered by idealism, which holds that matter is a phenomenon (in Kantian philosophy, something that appears to the mind independently of its existence outside the mind) rather than a substance. This theory both underscores the difference between the incontrovertible evidence of human existence in the intellect and the questionable existence of nature as a distinct reality outside the mind, and at the same time allows us to explain nature in terms other than purely physical. But it is not enough to say that nature does not have independent existence. The divine spirit and human perception must also form part of the equation. Emerson adds that the very importance of the action of the human mind on nature distances us from the natural world and leaves us unable to explain our sympathy with it. He then turns to the questions of where matter comes from, and to what end. He refers to the "universal essence," an all-encompassing creative life force, which God expresses in nature as it is passed through and invigorates man. Man's capabilities are unlimited in proportion to his openness to nature's revelatory and transforming properties. Nature affords access to the very mind of God and thus renders man "the creator in the finite." The world is thus explained as proceeding from the divine, just as man does. Emerson describes it as "a remoter and inferior incarnation of God, a projection of God in the unconscious." Nature possesses a serenity and order that man appreciates. His closeness to God is related to his appreciation of and sympathy with nature. Emerson closes the chapter by referring to the difficulty of reconciling the practical uses of nature, as outlined in "Commodity," with its higher spiritual meaning. In "Prospects," the eighth and final chapter of Nature, Emerson promotes intuitive reason as the means of gaining insight into the order and laws of the universe. Empirical science hinders true perception by focusing too much on particulars and too little on the broader picture. "Untaught sallies of the spirit" advance the learned naturalist farther than does precise analysis of detail. A guess or a dream may be more productive than a fact or a scientific experiment. The scientist fails to see the unifying principles behind the bewildering abundance of natural expressions, to address the ultimately spiritual purpose of this rich diversity, to recognize man's position as "head and heart" of the natural world. Emerson points out that men now only apply rational understanding to nature, which is consequently perceived materially. But we would do better to trust in intuitive reason, which allows revelation and insight. He cites examples of intuition working in man (Jesus Christ, Swedenborg, and the Shakers among them), which provide evidence of the power of intuition to transcend time and space. Emerson refers to the knowledge of God as matutina cognitio — morning knowledge. He identifies the imbalance created by man's loss of an earlier sense of the spiritual meaning and purpose of nature. By restoring spirituality to our approach to nature, we will attain that sense of universal unity currently lacking. If we reunite spirit with nature, and use all our faculties, we will see the miraculous in common things and will perceive higher law. Facts will be transformed into true poetry. While we ponder abstract questions intellectually, nature will provide other means of answering them. Emerson concludes Nature optimistically and affirmatively. He asserts that we will come to look at the world with new eyes. Nature imbued with spirit will be fluid and dynamic. The world exists for each man, the humble as well as the great. As we idealize and spiritualize, evil and squalor will disappear, beauty and nobility will reign. Man will enter the kingdom of his own dominion over nature with wonder.
The essay's epigraphs will vary according to which edition of Nature is anthologized. In the 1836 edition, for example, Emerson introduced the essay with a quotation from the Roman philosopher Plotinus, but when he reprinted the essay in 1849, he omitted Plotinus' poetic line and inserted one of his own poems. Some of today's literary anthologies do not include either epigraph; others include both.
The 1836 epigraph from Plotinus reads: "Nature is but an image or imitation of wisdom, the last thing of the soul; Nature being a thing which doth only do, but not know." This poetic line emphasizes a theme that runs throughout the essay: Nature does not have a personality of its own. When we say, for instance, that nature is upset because a storm is violently raging outside, we are projecting a human emotion onto nature that it itself does not possess. Emerson's six-line poem that he uses as the epigraph for the 1849 edition asserts the interconnectedness of all things:
A subtle chain of countless rings
The next unto the farthest brings;
The eye reads omens where it goes,
And speaks all languages the rose;
And, striving to be man, the worm
Mounts through all the spires of form.
Nature, in the images of a rose and a worm, speaks directly to individuals. Within these six lines, Emerson introduces various themes found in the essay, including the theme of the chain that binds together all of nature. Often referred to as the Great Chain of Being, this concept outlines the theory of evolution — another theme of his — that would shock the world when Darwin published his Origin of Species in 1859. Note that the worm in Emerson's poem strives to become a perfect form, a human being. Unlike many of Emerson's essays, Nature is extremely long and is divided into an introduction and eight chapters, or sections. Readers should number each paragraph in pencil for easy reference throughout these Notes and in the classroom.
Walden opens with a simple announcement that Thoreau spent two years in Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts, living a simple life supported by no one. He says that he now resides among the civilized again; the episode was clearly both experimental and temporary. The first chapter, "Economy," is a manifesto of social thought and meditations on domestic management, and in it Thoreau sketches out his ideals as he describes his pond project. He devotes attention to the skepticism and wonderment with which townspeople had greeted news of his project, and he defends himself from their views that society is the only place to live. He recounts the circumstances of his move to Walden Pond, along with a detailed account of the steps he took to construct his rustic habitation and the methods by which he supported himself in the course of his wilderness experiment. It is a chapter full of facts, figures, and practical advice, but also offers big ideas about the claims of individualism versus social existence, all interspersed with evidence of scholarship and a propensity for humor. Thoreau tells us that he completed his cabin in the spring of 1845 and moved in on July 4 of that year. Most of the materials and tools he used to build his home he borrowed or scrounged from previous sites. The land he squats on belongs to his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson; he details a cost-analysis of the entire construction project. In order to make a little money, Thoreau cultivates a modest bean-field, a job that tends to occupy his mornings. He reserves his afternoons and evenings for contemplation, reading, and walking about the countryside. Endorsing the values of austerity, simplicity, and solitude, Thoreau consistently emphasizes the minimalism of his lifestyle and the contentment to be derived from it. He repeatedly contrasts his own freedom with the imprisonment of others who devote their lives to material prosperity. Despite his isolation, Thoreau feels the presence of society surrounding him. The Fitchburg Railroad rushes past Walden Pond, interrupting his reveries and forcing him to contemplate the power of technology. Thoreau also finds occasion to converse with a wide range of other people, such as the occasional peasant farmer, railroad worker, or the odd visitor to Walden. He describes in some detail his association with a Canadian-born woodcutter, Alex Therien, who is grand and sincere in his character, though modest in intellectual attainments. Thoreau makes frequent trips into Concord to seek the society of his longtime friends and to conduct what scattered business the season demands. On one such trip, Thoreau spends a night in jail for refusing to pay a poll tax because, he says, the government supports slavery. Released the next day, Thoreau returns to Walden. Thoreau devotes great attention to nature, the passing of the seasons, and the creatures with which he shares the woods. He recounts the habits of a panoply of animals, from woodchucks to partridges. Some he endows with a larger meaning, often spiritual or psychological. The hooting loon that plays hide and seek with Thoreau, for instance, becomes a symbol of the playfulness of nature and its divine laughter at human endeavors. Another example of animal symbolism is the full-fledged ant war that Thoreau stumbles upon, prompting him to meditate on human warfare. Thoreau's interest in animals is not exactly like the naturalist's or zoologist's. He does not observe and describe them neutrally and scientifically, but gives them a moral and philosophical significance, as if each has a distinctive lesson to teach him. As autumn turns to winter, Thoreau begins preparations for the arrival of the cold. He listens to the squirrel, the rabbit, and the fox as they scuttle about gathering food. He watches the migrating birds, and welcomes the pests that infest his cabin as they escape the coming frosts. He prepares his walls with plaster to shut out the wind. By day he makes a study of the snow and ice, giving special attention to the mystic blue ice of Walden Pond, and by night he sits and listens to the wind as it whips and whistles outside his door. Thoreau occasionally sees ice-fishermen come to cut out huge blocks that are shipped off to cities, and contemplates how most of the ice will melt and flow back to Walden Pond. Occasionally Thoreau receives a visit from a friend like William Ellery Channing or Amos Bronson Alcott, but for the most part he is alone. In one chapter, he conjures up visions of earlier residents of Walden Pond long dead and largely forgotten, including poor tradesmen and former slaves. Thoreau prefers to see himself in their company, rather than amid the cultivated and wealthy classes. As he becomes acquainted with Walden Pond and neighboring ponds, Thoreau wants to map their layout and measure their depths. Thoreau finds that Walden Pond is no more than a hundred feet deep, thereby refuting common folk wisdom that it is bottomless. He meditates on the pond as a symbol of infinity that people need in their lives. Eventually winter gives way to spring, and with a huge crash and roar the ice of Walden Pond begins to melt and hit the shore. In lyric imagery echoing the onset of Judgment Day, Thoreau describes the coming of spring as a vast transformation of the face of the world, a time when all sins are forgiven. Thoreau announces that his project at the pond is over, and that he returned to civilized life on September 6, 1847. The revitalization of the landscape suggests the restoration of the full powers of the human soul, and Thoreau's narrative observations give way, in the last chapter of Walden, to a more direct sermonizing about the untapped potential within humanity. In visionary language, Thoreau exhorts us to "meet" our lives and live fully.

Henry David Thoreau - Amateur naturalist, essayist, lover of solitude, and poet. Thoreau was a student and protégé of the great American philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, and his construction of a hut on Emerson's land at Walden Pond is a fitting symbol of the intellectual debt that Thoreau owed to Emerson. Strongly influenced by Transcendentalism, Thoreau believed in the perfectibility of mankind through education, self-exploration, and spiritual awareness. This view dominates almost all of Thoreau's writing, even the most mundane and trivial, so that even woodchucks and ants take on allegorical meaning. A former teacher, Thoreau's didactic impulse transforms a work that begins as economic reflection and nature writing to something that ends far more like a sermon. Although he values poverty theoretically, he seems a bit of a snob when talking with actual poor people. His style underscores this point, since his writing is full of classical references and snippets of poetry that the educated would grasp but the underprivileged would not.
Read an in-depth analysis of Henry David Thoreau.

Ralph Waldo Emerson - Essayist, poet, and the leading figure of Transcendentalism. Emerson became a mentor to Thoreau after they met in 1837. Emerson played a significant role in the creation of Walden by allowing Thoreau to live and build on his property near Walden Pond. There is an appropriate symbolism in this construction site, since philosophically Thoreau was building on the Transcendentalist foundation already prepared by Emerson. The influence of Emerson's ideas, especially the doctrine of self-reliance that sees the human soul and mind as the origin of the reality it inhabits, pervades Thoreau's work. However, whereas Thoreau retreated to his own private world, Emerson assumed a prominent role in public life, making extended overseas lecture tours to promote the view expressed in his renowned Essays. The two often disagreed on the necessity of adhering to some public conventions, and the heated tensions between the two may perhaps be felt in the minimal attention Emerson receives in Walden. Thoreau utterly fails to mention that Emerson owns the land, despite his tedious detailing of less significant facts, and when Emerson visits, in the guise of the unnamed "Old Immortal," Thoreau treats him rather indifferently.

Alex Therien - A laborer in his late twenties who often works in the vicinity of Thoreau's abode. Thoreau describes Therien as "a Canadian, a wood-chopper and post-maker," asserting that it would be difficult to find a more simple or natural human being. Although he is not a reader, Therien is nevertheless conversant and intelligent, and thus he holds great appeal for Thoreau as a sort of untutored backwoods sage. Thoreau compares the woodcutter to Walden Pond itself, saying both possess hidden depths.

John Field - A poor Irish-American laborer who lives with his wife and children on the Baker Farm just outside of Concord. Thoreau uses Field as an example of an "honest, hard-working, but shiftless man," someone who is forced to struggle at a great disadvantage in life because he lacks unusual natural abilities or social position. The conversation that Thoreau and Field have when Thoreau runs to the Field home for shelter in a rainstorm is an uncomfortable reminder that Thoreau's ideas and convictions may set him apart from those same poor people that he elsewhere idealizes. Rather than converse casually with Field, Thoreau gives him a heated lecture on the merits of cutting down on coffee and meat consumption. Overall, his treatment of Field seems condescending. His parting regret that Field suffers from an "inherited" Irish proclivity to laziness casts a strangely ungenerous, even slightly racist light over all of Thoreau's ideas.

Amos Bronson Alcott - A friend whom Thoreau refers to as "the philosopher." Alcott was a noted educator and social reformer, as well as the father of beloved children's author Louisa May Alcott. In 1834 he founded the Temple School in Boston, a noted progressive school that spawned many imitators. Affiliated with the Transcendentalists, he was known for a set of aphorisms titled "Orphic Sayings" that appeared in The Dial. Alcott also had a hand in the utopian communities of Brook Farm and Fruitlands, and went on to become the superintendent of the Concord public schools.

William Ellery Channing - Thoreau's closest friend, an amateur poet and an affiliate of the Transcendentalists. Channing was named after his uncle, a noted Unitarian clergyman. His son, Edward Channing, went on to become a noted professor of history at Harvard University.

Henry Clay - A prominent Whig senator from Kentucky. Clay ran unsuccessfully for president on three occasions. He was a supporter of internal improvements as a part of his American System, and is well known as "the Great Compromiser" for his role in the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850. Thoreau was a staunch critic of Clay and of the expansionism that Clay advocated.

Lidian Emerson - Emerson's second wife. Lidian Emerson was somewhat distressed by her husband's frequent absences from home. During her husband's tours of Europe, Thoreau stayed with her, and the two developed a close friendship.

Confucius - A Chinese sage of the sixth century B.C., known for his sayings and parables collected under the title Analects. His teachings gave rise to a sort of secular religion known as Confucianism, which served as a model for the Chinese government in subsequent centuries. Confucius also had a significant effect on the Transcendentalist movement, and was one of Thoreau's favorite authors.

James Russell Lowell - A Harvard-trained lawyer. Lowell eventually abandoned his first vocation for a career in letters. His poetic satire The Bigelow Papers was well received, and he went on to become a professor of modern languages at Harvard and the first editor of the Atlantic Monthly.

Mencius - A Chinese sage of the fourth century B.C. and a disciple of Confucius. Mencius was best known for his anthology of sayings and stories collected under the title The Book of Mencius, and did much to promote the reputation of Confucius, although he himself was not widely venerated until more than a thousand years later. Like his master's work, Mencius's combination of respect for social harmony and the inward reconciliation with the universe exerted a powerful influence on Thoreau.
John Thoreau - Elder brother to Henry David Thoreau. The two brothers oversaw and taught at the Concord Academy, a progressive independent school, from 1838 to 1841. John Thoreau's failing health was a contributing factor in the demise of the school, and he died in 1842 from complications related to lockjaw.
Thoreau's Civil Disobedience espouses the need to prioritize one's conscience over the dictates of laws. It criticizes American social institutions and policies, most prominently slavery and the Mexican-American War. Thoreau begins his essay by arguing that government rarely proves itself useful and that it derives its power from the majority because they are the strongest group, not because they hold the most legitimate viewpoint. He contends that people's first obligation is to do what they believe is right and not to follow the law dictated by the majority. When a government is unjust, people should refuse to follow the law and distance themselves from the government in general. A person is not obligated to devote his life to eliminating evils from the world, but he is obligated not to participate in such evils. This includes not being a member of an unjust institution (like the government). Thoreau further argues that the United States fits his criteria for an unjust government, given its support of slavery and its practice of aggressive war. Thoreau doubts the effectiveness of reform within the government, and he argues that voting and petitioning for change achieves little. He presents his own experiences as a model for how to relate to an unjust government: In protest of slavery, Thoreau refused to pay taxes and spent a night in jail. But, more generally, he ideologically dissociated himself from the government, "washing his hands" of it and refusing to participate in his institutions. According to Thoreau, this form of protest was preferable to advocating for reform from within government; he asserts that one cannot see government for what it is when one is working within it. Civil Disobedience covers several topics, and Thoreau intersperses poetry and social commentary throughout. For purposes of clarity and readability, the essay has been divided into three sections here, though Thoreau himself made no such divisions.
transcend (v.): to go beyond the range or limits of something (usually an abstract idea, conceptual field, or barrier

what is it?
A spiritual belief system - NOT a religion, even if it seems like one.
A philosophical movement
A literary movement that began in the 1830s in Concord, Massachusetts
Considered the first truly "American" philosophical and literary movement.

Transcendentalists were a group of philosophers and writers who believed that, in order to understand the true meaning of life, one had to transcend (or go beyond) one's senses, and that one could do so by following their deepest intuition.
They believed there was another world, beyond our perception, a spiritual world that could be discovered if only people could learn to look and listen in the right way.
essential beliefs:
Transcendentalists explore the idea that intuition and experience are the best guides to understanding the Truth (with a capital T) of life.
The Transcendentalists believe in a Universal Spirit, called the Oversoul, that binds and unites everything.
They value the importance of self-reliance and independence in one's relationship with society.
They abandon traditional religion, but rather believe in a direct relationship with God and Nature, and that such spirituality could be found outside the Church.
Human beings are naturally good; when left to their own devices, people will generally do good in the world.
If human beings trust in their own power to know God directly, they will see that they, too, belong to the Universal Spirit. The God within them will connect them to the peace and beauty of the Universe.
The physical world is a gateway to the spiritual world. People can use intuition to sense God in nature, or in their own souls.
Feeling and intuition are superior to reason and intellect. Always.

Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Explores the nature of man's relationship with Nature
Explains the benefits of a close relationship with the natural world
Examines the curative effects that Nature can have on a man's soul.

Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Determine the truth for yourself; reject the rest
Know thyself - become a person of principle, and live by your principles, even if society doesn't agree.
Be yourself - march to the beat of your own drum; don't let anyone tell you who you are.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau:
Contains Thoreau's meditations and memoirs from his time at Walden Pond
Explains the benefits of living close to Nature.
Investigates the need for and importance of personal time and growth
Extolls the value of living a physically, spiritually, and intellectually active life

Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau:
Less government is better; have courage to protest non-violently if the law violates your principles, even if you suffer for it.
Civil Disobedience means:
Knowing the law
Appealing to a higher law
Knowing the consequences of breaking the law
Choosing to suffer the consequences