During the semester you will write three short essays about U.S. literature. In a classical sense, “essay” is a verb meaning “to attempt” or “to test the depth or mettle of,” and it therefore has an exploratory sense and carries with it the spirit of a challenge. The purpose of this assignment is to test the depth of a text from The Norton Anthology of American Literature and to test your own mettle as an essayist: that is, as a write


During the semester you will write three short essays about U.S. literature. In a classical sense, “essay” is a verb meaning “to attempt” or “to test the depth or mettle of,” and it therefore has an exploratory sense and carries with it the spirit of a challenge. The purpose of this assignment is to test the depth of a text from The Norton Anthology of American Literature and to test your own mettle as an essayist: that is, as a writer who can explore the complexities of a text and make interesting, informed, claims about its themes. Please choose one text and one theme from the lists below and write an essay of 3-5pp, 12-point Times New Roman font (or equivalent). Include your name and a title for your essay and submit it on Canvas by class time next Tuesday, Sept 20. You do not need to cite outside sources or include a Works Cited page.

Choose one text…
● Christopher Columbus, “Letter of Discovery” (1493)
● Pope Alexander VI, “Demarcation Bull” (1493)
● Hernán Cortés, “Second Letter to the Spanish Crown” (1520)
● Thomas Harriot, “A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia” (1588)
● John Smith, “The General History of Virginia” (1612)
● William Bradford, “Of Plymouth Plantation” (1630-50)
● John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity” (1630)
● Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672), any one of her poems

Choose one theme…
● Difference . What is the status of similarity and difference in the text? How does the author approach, or think about, issues of similarity and difference, unity and diversity?
● Gender. Where and what is gender in your text? Consider complex ideas like dress, clothing,
description of bodies, child-rearing, and the division of labor, and try to avoid oversimplifying gender into binary terms like masculine or feminine.
● Genre. What is the genre of the text, and how does the genre shape what the author has written, or perhaps more boldly, what the author can or cannot write?
● Land. Based on the text’s description of land (for instance, landscape imagery, ideas of mapping land, etc.), what can you say about the author’s concept of land?
● Power. I love the quote from novelist Toni Morrison, “If you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.” What is the meaning of power in the text you chose?


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