Ideas that connect the stories

Final Essay Exam for English 2328
There is no grace period for the final essay.
please turn your final in to me in the assignment area in an attached file.
Be sure to read all of the instructions (the entire file). PLEASE LET ME KNOW IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS.

General Instructions:

  • For your final essay, you will be looking at general topics/themes—ideas that connect the stories and poems in Volume E: American Literature since 1945. All reading selections must come from the textbook. Here is a link to the table of contents (in case you don’t have the book): http://media.wwnorton.com/cms/contents/NAAL8_VE_TOC.pdf
  • Before writing your essay, please read either the introduction to Volume E or the briefer online introductions (copied below). As you will see, one of the introductions is to the 7th edition; the other is from the 8th. You should read both of these and use various statements as support for your essay. You will find the part called “Literary Developments” and the timeline very useful.
  • In your essay (750-1000 words or more), you will trace one of these general ideas through at least four pieces of literature by different writers (poets, playwrights, fiction writers–no essays, speeches, or non-fiction prose) from this time period.
  • In other words, you will be discussing the work of four writers; you may include more than one work by each of the four writers.
  • The paper should be in essay form with an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion rather than a collection of reading responses. Please do not use sub-headings.
  • You must use quotations from the reading selections as support for your general ideas.
  • You should not use the same works that you used in your reading responses for Volume E or the novel or short story that you wrote about in your research paper. 
  • Please do not choose long reading selections for this paper.
  • If you have questions or need suggestions, please let me know.

The final should show me that you have read selections from various parts of Volume E.

Here are some possible ways to group the reading selections (choose one):

  1. Reading selections that show the increasing diversity in America literature during this time period
  2. Reading selections that show how writers viewed significant social issues (especially in the area of civil rights, including women’s rights and gay rights)
  3. Reading selections that reveal something about relationships between parents and children (especially adults looking back on their relationships with their parents)
  4. Reading selections that reveal something about relationships between men and women
  5. Reading selections that reveal the effects of historical events on individuals (including events that occurred before this time period) (Note: If you are using the 7th edition, you may use one poem or story  from the September 11 section, but not all. I want you to find poems or stories that relate to a variety of historical events.)

If you consult sources for the paper, you must cite the source, even if you paraphrase the author’s words rather than quoting directly from the source. If you don’t cite these sources, you are plagiarizing. The final is a test of your ability to use critical thinking skills as you discuss the stories and poems, so you should use sources sparingly.

You will find the following overviews and timelines helpful in writing your paper.

Overview of Volume E (7th edition)

The following information comes directly from the website for the 7th edition:

After World War II, the United States emerged as the strongest world power and assumed the role of speaking on behalf of liberal democratic ideals. Having fought until Germany and Japan had unconditionally surrendered, the triumphant Allies attended to their war-ravaged economic infrastructures, but only the United States had the wherewithal to build on its success in the conflict. The overseas empires of Britain and France began to dissolve, often violently. And the Soviet Union, weakened by the German assault of 1941, eventually could not sustain the investment necessary to vie militarily with the Americans. The Cold War (1946–89) between the United States and the USSR involved an ideological struggle between capitalist and communist states worldwide, which erupted into proxy fights in Korea and Vietnam, but eventually confirmed American military preeminence. At home, these political struggles resulted in three major aesthetic reactions. First, the period immediately following World War II was characterized by cultural conformity and nationalist ambition, as artists responded to the Cold War by closing ranks and writing on behalf of an assumed collective identity. Second, in the 1960s and 1970s, the unfulfilled promise of the Kennedy administration along with the turmoil of the Vietnam War prompted cultural introspection, as more and more artists rejected conformity and searched for ways to represent previously excluded minority voices. Third, from the 1980s to the present, artists consolidated the progress made in the previous years, until diversity and inclusivity became aesthetic ideals as well as political goals.

In the aftermath of the economic and cultural reorganizations of World War II, American society became fascinated by cultural homogeneity and political unity. The war effort had shifted industrial production to military ends and recruited women to replace factory workers fighting overseas. When those workers came home, many women found returning to domesticity only temporarily acceptable. Similarly, African Americans who had been drafted into a fully integrated army found their return to second-class citizenship difficult to accept. But for the majority of the 1950s, most Americans dedicated themselves to stability at home in order to bolster the American cause abroad. During the Cold War, American competition with the Soviet Union took the form of political “containment” of the Russians, Chinese, and their satellite states through international organizations like the United Nations (for the Korean War) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (in the case of the Eastern European Warsaw Pact). Once the USSR developed nuclear weapons, both sides formulated policies that favored deterring their adversaries economically rather than deploying the weapons. In light of the struggle between capitalist and socialist economies, Americans treated materialism (which valued wealth as a good in itself) as patriotic. The G.I. Bill, which granted college educations to returning soldiers, ensured a highly skilled workforce, and the developing network of American-owned international corporations resulted in prosperity and the creation of a managerial class. Interstate highways connected suburbs with urban hubs to allow businessmen to shuttle between work and home, but this increased mobility underscored the homogeneity of these interchangeable zones of commerce.

The literature of the 1950s reflects the cultural preoccupations of stability and conformity as it responded to the aesthetic project of modernism. Many artists sought to depict what they took to be common or essential to all Americans regardless of gender, class, ethnicity, or regional identity. Such striving for representativeness derived in part from the grand ambitions of modernist novelists like Ernest Hemingway, whose lingering macho challenge to write the “Great American Novel” pushed writers to universalize or generalize so that their works could speak to any reader. Other novelists were inspired by William Faulkner to use regional specificity to make major statements about race, history, and national identity. By the end of the decade, fiction writers began to suspect that novelistic conventions were inadequate to the task of representing essential Americana, much less contemporary reality. The “Death of the Novel” controversy, as it was called, pointed to the dependence of novels on stable assumptions about character, plot development, and symbolism. During the 1960s, novelists like Philip Roth were increasingly skeptical of such assumptions. Poetry followed a course similar to that of prose in these years. Starting with finely wrought, intricate, personal lyric meditations, which were stylistic holdovers from modernist influences, poets in the Fifties began to experiment with formal openness and thematic inclusiveness of non-mainstream perspectives. Two books that symbolized poetry’s break with modernist form are Allen Ginsberg’s Howl (1956), with its wandering, oral rhythms and energetic rejections of conformity, and Robert Lowell’s Life Studies (1959), featuring a less difficult, more direct style and an autobiographical intensity. Ginsberg’s and Lowell’s works helped prepare for the “confessional” poetry of the 1960s, which stressed the distinctiveness rather than the representativeness of the lyric voice.

The inevitable collision of conformity and individuality was foreshadowed in the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960. Kennedy’s “New Frontier” challenged the prosperous and complacent to provide for the underprivileged and socially marginalized through the desegregation of the South and government programs like the Peace Corps. Many of Kennedy’s civil and voting rights proposals were realized by Lyndon Johnson in the late 1960s as part of his “Great Society.” The assassination of Kennedy in 1963 began a dozen years of cultural revolution in which intellectual unrest over the Vietnam War resulted in urban and campus violence, but also gave rise to movements for the betterment of women, blacks, and Native Americans. The feminist movement, which encouraged women to promote their collective legal, political, and cultural interests, made strides in equality for women not seen since suffrage; similarly, the civil rights movement made advances in awareness and combating racial discrimination, unfinished business since Reconstruction one hundred years earlier. But the good will earned by the Great Society was largely squandered by escalation in Vietnam under Johnson and Nixon and the government’s often deceitful handling of information about Southeast Asia. Cynicism and activism in universities resulted in riots on campuses and deaths at Kent State and Jackson State in 1970; unrest did not cease until Nixon resigned in 1974 under threat of impeachment for abuse of power during the Watergate scandal and American troops withdrew from Vietnam in 1975.

The political divisions, disruptions, and uncertainties of the 1960s were mirrored in the literature of the decade, in which writers came to terms with changing attitudes toward social involvement, government and corporate power, individual and minority rights, drug use, and technological advances like television and consumer air travel that lent themselves to a global perspective but disrupted normal ways of thinking about time and space. The Death of the Novel debates in fiction and the increasingly provisional, momentary nature of poetry emphasized the fragility of language. In literary theory, the school of deconstruction, starting in about 1966, examined the fundamentally unstable quality of all utterances and how any statement depends on often unspoken and arbitrarily constructed assumptions. Still, some writers like the novelists John Updike and Ann Beattie and poets like Elizabeth Bishop and Stanley Kunitz remained committed to realistic description and traditional connections between text and represented world. Others, like those in the “Minimalist” school of prose fiction, labored to create a rigorously believable and philosophically acceptable aesthetic. While some mainly white voices responded to the 1960s by accounting for their aesthetic privilege, others took the decade as an opportunity to add their voices to American ideas of distinctive identity. Large platforms like literary feminism and the Black Arts Movement allowed individual authors to render particular experiences without having to feel they spoke for their race, ethnicity, or gender: Philip Roth and Bernard Malamud were American writers participating in this trend, and Adrienne Rich and Ursula Le Guin are good examples of powerful women writers. In the case of Native American literature, for which historical and cultural contexts did not exist to combat lingering stereotypes, the 1960s saw a parallel movement of critical writings to supplement creative works by Native authors.

After the Vietnam War, Americans voted on their cynicism about government intervention and nostalgia for traditional values by electing Ronald Reagan president in 1980. Reagan presided over the demise of the Soviet Union thanks to a massive buildup in American military spending that the Russians could not match. His economic policies hearkened back to the personal quest for wealth of the 1950s rather than the social activism of the early 1960s. Under Reagan and Clinton, industries downsized and were made more efficient for competition in a globalized marketplace. Instead of a monolithic communist threat, the United States faced a succession of smaller challenges in Grenada, Panama, Somalia, and Iraq that it could dispatch handily. The new shape of American influence materialized with the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; instead of large states, Americans now face radical fundamentalist cells, and U.S. culture has only begun to respond to this antagonist.

As the Cold War ended, writers worked to broaden the cultural achievements of the 1960s, widening the scope of American experience and casting diversity and plurality as aesthetic ideals. African American women like Toni Morrison, Lucille Clifton, and Rita Dove wrote in national, racial, and ethnic terms; likewise, Sherman Alexie and Louise Erdrich succeeded in writing in the often ignored or suppressed tradition of Native American literature. Immigrant writers like Maxine Hong Kingston and Jhumpa Lahiri augmented national dialogues of assimilation and ethnic identity for Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian Americans. Perhaps the most telling emblem of this contemporary acceptance of new perspectives into conceptions of American experience is the Internet. Online, new hypertext realities need only be imagined to exist virtually, all users may join online communities, and writing exists in open-ended and interactive relationships with its readers.

The following comes from the website for the 8th edition.
Overview of Volume E, 8th edition

Since 1945

Overview

The United States and World Power

  • After the Allies defeated Germany and Japan in World War II, The United States emerged as the only world power with a strong economy.
  • The nation’s participation in World War II had reorganized the American economy in ways that changed the lifestyles and expectations of its citizens. Women and African Americans, in particular, broadened their expectations of economic and social opportunities after their participation in the war effort.
  • The United States exploded two atomic bombs in Japan in August 1945—the first and only atomic bombs that have ever been deployed. The effect was so horrific and catastrophic that the United States shifted to a policy of amassing military strength for deterrence rather than combat. This strategy was known as “cold war.”
  • America’s cold war was directed at containing the political, economic, military, and ideological influence of Communism around the globe. The Soviet Union and, eventually, China emerged as the main cold war adversaries of the United States.
  • Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, social critics perceived a stable conformity to American life, as well as a dedication to an increasingly materialistic standard of living enabled by the strong economy and by the abundance of job opportunities.
  • American life became increasingly mobile as the population began a westward shift and more and more people relied on automobiles. The interstate highway system was begun in 1955.
  • Conflicts within and resistance to this way of life purportedly based on stability and conformity emerged in the 1960s, or “the Sixties,” as this period is known. This tumultuous period of American history, beginning with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, was characterized by its countercultural revolt against the status quo.
  • The Sixties ushered in a combative period in civil rights, climaxing with the most sustained and effective attempts to remedy the evils of racial discrimination since Reconstruction.
  • Women began to organize in the Sixties to pursue their legal, ethical, and cultural interests, a position now defined as “feminism.”
  • Active dissension within the culture emerged in response to military involvement in Vietnam.
  • The nation was shocked in 1974 by the Watergate scandal: a revelation of President Richard Nixon’s abuses of governmental privileges that led to his resignation.
  • By the end of the 1970s some characteristics that had seemed countercultural in the Sixties had been accepted in mainstream American culture, including informalities of dress, relaxation of social codes, and an increased respect for individual rights.
  • The 1980s witnessed a call for a return to traditional values, interpreted as a return not to community and self-sacrifice but to the pursuit of wealth. During Ronald Reagan’s presidency income disparities grew while taxes fell, and Americans began to focus on personal acquisition. The economy boomed but shifted away from manufacturing and into service and financial speculation.
  • The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 after American economic might had depleted its ability to compete.
  • The attack on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon by terrorists on September 11, 2001 shifted the nation’s political agenda to a seemingly open-ended conflict with revolutionary Islamic forces.

Literary Developments

  • The ideal of homogeneity and conformity so prominent in the 1950s and early 1960s led many writers to aspire to the creation of a single work—short story, novel, poem, or play—that could represent the experiences of an entire people, and that could attempt to represent a common national essence that lay beneath distinctions of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or region.
  • Novelists hoped to write the so-called “great American novel” that would characterize the larger aspects of the national experience. Playwrights, too, aspired to write plays that would be nationally representative, embracing otherwise mundane characters as universal types that could speak to monumental national issues.
  • In the 1950s and 1960s, poets acquired a new visibility in American life through writers’ conferences and workshops, recordings, and published and broadcast interviews and readings. Despite this increase in poetry’s visibility, its relatively marginal position in the nation’s culture, when compared to that of prose fiction, may have allowed it more diversity from the ideal of homogeneity.
  • In the 1950s, the poetic standard was a short lyric meditation on an object, landscape, or observed encounter that clarified or epitomized a feeling. The period also supported poets who gave voice to previously marginalized social groups and poets who experimented with new rhythms.
  • The notion that any single piece of literature could represent an entire people or nation fell out of favor in the Sixties, as the nation itself fractured over such issues as the uses of industrial and military power; the institutions of marriage and the family; the rights of racial minorities, women, and homosexuals; the use of drugs; and alternative states of consciousness.
  • Some writers felt that social reality had become too unstable to serve as a reliable anchor for their narratives, and some critics believed that fiction, and particularly the novel, was “dead,” having exhausted its formal possibilities.
  • Poetry was transformed by the appearance of two poems in the late 1950s: Allan Ginsberg’s Howl (1956), with its antiestablishment message, open, experimental form, and strong oral emphasis, and Robert Lowell’s Life Studies (1959) with its directness and autobiographical intensity.
  • Technological advances such as the advent of television and air travel challenged boundaries of time and space and brought a global awareness that made the concept of all-encompassing expressions of the world through literature seem impossible.
  • “Confessional” poetry and literature in the 1960s—pieces that involved autobiographical revelations about difficult, personal subject matter such as sex, divorce, alcoholism, and insanity—began to focus on the distinctness of individual experience, not its representativeness.
  • “Deconstruction,” a literary theory first developed by French linguists and philosophers, questioned assumptions about the stability of language, the ability of words to represent reality, and the extent to which “facts” might be constructed by intellectual operations.
  • The idea of literature as a form of self-expression was complicated by deconstructionists’ skepticism about the very idea of a coherent or essential “self.”
  • The political dissent of the 1960s opened up spaces for a range of voices in literature representing, in new and varied ways, the experiences and views of African Americans, Southerners, Jews, feminists, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latina/Latino Americans, and others. This development produced a rich legacy in American literature.
  • The contemporary literary period values heterogeneity in its forms and pluralism in its cultural influences.
  • Contemporary literature is also increasingly preoccupied with questions about what constitutes “artificiality” and what constitutes “authenticity.”
  • A burgeoning genre known as “creative nonfiction” reflects contemporary literature’s impatience with the opposition between fact and fiction. Combining aspects of the essay, memoir, reportage, criticism, and autobiography, creative nonfiction uses the techniques of fiction to make a claim to the real.
  • The Internet has produced a contemporary literary culture that is keenly aware that reality is hybrid, with constant input from multiple sources. Contemporary literature reflects this insight with its proclivity for combining, editing, altering, and rearranging existing materials.

 

Texts and Contexts

American Literature Since 1945

Texts Contexts
1941 Eudora Welty, “Petrified Man
1944 Stanley Kunitz, “Father and Son
1945 Randall Jarrell, “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
  • 1945 U.S. drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Japan surrenders, ending World War II • Cold War begins
1947 Tennesse Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire
  • 1947 Jackie Robinson becomes the first black Major League ballplayer
1948 Theodore Roethke, The Lost Son
1949 Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman
1950 Richard Wilbur, “A World without Objects Is a Sensible Emptiness” • Charles Olson, “Projective Verse
  • 1950 Senator Joseph McCarthy begins attacks on communism
  • 1950-53 Korean War
1952 Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
1953 Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March • Charles Olson, “Maximus, to Himself
  • 1953 House Concurrent Resolution 108 dictates government’s intention to “terminate” its treaty relations with the Native American tribes
  • 1954 Brown v. Board of Education declares segregated schools unconstitutional • Beat Generation poets begin to gather at San Francisco’s City Lights Bookshop
1955 Flannery O’Connor, “Good Country People
1955-68 John Berryman composes The Dream Songs (pub. 1964, 1968, 1977)
1956 Allen Ginsberg, Howl
  • 1956 Martin Luther King Jr. leads bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama
1958 Bernard Malamud, “The Magic Barrel
1959 Philip Roth, “Defender of the Faith” • Robert Creeley, “Kore” • Robert Lowell, Life Studies • Frank O’Hara, “Per­ sonism
  • 1959 Fidel Castro becomes communist leader of Cuba
1960 Thomas Pynchon, “Entropy” • Gwendolyn Brooks, “We Real Cool” • Robert Duncan, “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow
  • 1960 Woolworth lunch counter sit-in in Greensboro, N.C., marks beginning of Civil Rights Movement
1961 Denise Levertov, “The Jacob’s Ladder
1962 Jack Kerouac, Big Sur • Robert Hayden, “Middle Passage
  • 1962 United States and Soviet Union close to war over Russian missiles based in Cuba; missiles withdrawn
1963 James Wright, “A messing” • Martin Luther King Jr., “I Have a Dream
  • 1963 King delivers “I Have a Dream” speech • black church in Birmingham, Alabama, bombed, killing four girls • Pres­ ident John F. Kennedy assassinated
1964 John Cheever, “The Swimmer” • Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) “An Agony. As Now.” • Frank O’Hara, “A Step Away from Them
1965 James Baldwin, “Going to Meet the Man” • A. R. Ammons, “Corson’s Inlet
  • 1965 Riots break out in Watts section of Los Angeles • Malcolm X assassinated • hippie culture flourishes in San Francisco
  • 1965-73 Vietnam War
1966 James Merrill, “The Broken Home” • Sylvia Plath, Ariel
  • 1966 National Organization for Women (NOW) founded • Hayden and Brooks crit­ icized at Black Writers’ Conference, Fisk University, for composing “academic” poetry
1967 A. R. Ammons, “A Poem Is a Walk” • W. S. Merwin, “For a Coming Extinction
1968 Donald Barthelme, “The Balloon” • Edward Abbey, “Havasu
  • 1968 King assassinated • Senator Robert F. Kennedy assassinated • photo of Earthrise by Apollo 8
1969 N. Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain • Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five • Galway Kinnell. “The Porcupine” • Robert Penn Warren, Audubon
  • 1969 U.S. astronauts land on the moon • Stonewall riots in New York City initiate gay liberation movement • Woodstock Festival held near Bethel, New York
1970 Ishmael Reed, “Neo-HooDoo Manifesto
  • 1970 National Guard kills four students during antiwar demonstration at Kent State University, Ohio
1971 Audre Lorde, “Black Mother Woman
1972 Rudolfo A. Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima • Anne Sexton, The Death of the Fathers • Letter from Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell objecting to use of personal letters in manuscript of The Dolphin
  • 1972 Watergate Scandal • military draft ends
1973 Alice Walker, “Everyday Use” • Adrienne Rich, Diving into the Wreck
  • 1973 Roe v. Wade legalizes abortion • American Indian Movement members occupy Wounded Knee, South Dakota
1974 Grace Paley, “A Conversation with My Father” • Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
1975 John Updike, “Separating” • John Ashbery, “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” • Michael S. Harper, “Nightmare Begins Responsibility
  • 1974 President Richard Nixon resigns in wake of Watergate, avoiding impeachment
1976 Elizabeth Bishop, Geography III • Maxine Hong Kingston, “No Name Woman” • Barry Lopez, “The Raven
1977 Audre Lorde, “Poetry Is Not a Luxury
1978 Ann Beattie, “Weekend” • Jamaica Kinkaid, “0”
1979 Philip Levine, “Starlight” • Mary Oliver, “The Black Snake” • Robert Hass “Meditation at Lagunitas
  • 1976 U.S. bicentennial
1980 Toni Cade Bambara, “Medley” • Sam Shepard, True West
1981 Leslie Marmon Silko, “Lullaby” • Lorna Dee Cervantes, “The Body as Braille” • James Dickey, “Falling” • Simon J. Ortiz, “From Sand Creek
1982 Raymond Carver, “Cathedral” • David Mamet, Glengarry Glen Ross
  • 1982 Equal Rights Amendment defeated • antinuclear movement protests manufacture of nuclear weapons • AIDS officially identified in the United States
1983 Toni Morrison, “Recitatif” • Joy Harjo, “Call It Fear
1984 Louise Erdrich, “Dear John Wayne
1985 Ursula K. Le Guin, “She Unnames Them” • Stanley Kunitz, “The Wellfleet Whale
1986 Louise Erdrich, “Fleur” • Art Spiegelman, Maus I • Rita Dove, Thomas and Beulah • Li-Young Lee, “Eating Together
1987 Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera • Sharon Olds, “I Go Back to May 1937
1988 Yusef Komunyakaa, “Facing It
1989 Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club
  • 1989 Soviet Union collapses; Cold War ends • oil tanker Exxon Valdez runs aground in Alaska
1990 Robert Pinsky, “The Want Bone
  • 1990 Congress passes Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act
1991 Sandra Cisneros, Woman Hollering Creek
  • 1991 United States enters Persian Gulf War • World Wide Web introduced
1993 Gary Snyder, “Ripples on the Surface” • A.R. Ammons, Garbage • Sherman Alexie, “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona
1994 Cathy Song, “Lost Sister” • Stephen Dixon, “Flying
  • 1995 Federal building in Oklahoma City bombed in a terrorist attack
1995 Jorie Graham, The Dream of the Unified Field
1996 W. S. Merwin, “Lament for the Makers” • Sherman Alexie, “The Exaggeration of Despair” • J unot Dfaz, “Drown
1997 Julia Alvarez, jYo! • Fanny Howe, “[Nobody wants crossed out girls around]
  • 1997 Pathfinder robot explores Mars
1998 Billy Collins, “I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey’s Version of ‘Three Blind Mice’
1999 Jhumpa Lahiri, “Sexy” • Charles Simic, “Arriving Celebrities
2000 Charles Wright, “North American Bear” • Lucille Clifton, “Moonchild
2001 Charles Simic, “Late September
  • 2001 Execution of Timothy McVeigh, convicted of 1995 Oklahoma City bombing • September 11 terrorist attacks on Pentagon and World Trade Center
2002 Dorothy Allison, “Stubborn Girls and Mean Stories” • Alberto Rfos, “Refugio’s Hair
  • 2003 United States and Great Britain invade Iraq
2004 Louise Glück, “October
2005 Kay Ryan, “Home to Roost” • Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
2006 Thomas McGuane, “Gallatin Canyon” • Richard Powers, The Echo Maker • John Crawford, “The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell
2007 Edwidge Danticat, Brother, I’m Dying
  • 2007 Advent of worst economic recession since the Great Depression.
  • 2009 Inauguration of Barack Obama as U.S. President
  • 2010 Massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico
  • 2011 Death of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, architect of 9/11 attacks

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Making Connections

  1. After World War II, America turned outward politically but inward culturally; new ideals of conformity and homogeneity developed that are best seen in works that argue against that conformity, like Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman; Saul Bellow’s Adventures of Augie March; Allen Ginsberg’s Howl; and Philip Roth’s “Defender of the Faith.”  Other works of nonconformity and rebellion against convention throughout American literature include William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation (in which the Pilgrims record their reasons for sailing from England); Jonathan Edwards’s “Personal Narrative;” Henry David Thoreau’s “Resistance to Civil Government;” Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener;” Henry James’s “Daisy Miller;” Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Edwin Arlington Robinson’s “Miniver Cheevy;” and William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning.”
  2. One interesting feature of postwar literature is the theme of cross–cultural mixtures and hybrid perspectives that result from globalized contemporary life. Works like Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Sexy;” Rita Dove’s “Parsley;” Gloria Anzaldúa’s “How to Tame a Wild Tongue;” and Li–Young Lee’s “Persimmons” all have to do with translations of customs or language from another culture into American English. The vexed issue of translation has been part of the American tradition from its inception: see Cabeza de Vaca’s and Thomas Harriot’s descriptions of Native “orature;” and Roger Williams’s A Key into the Language of America.
  3. A major shift in American literature after World War II was the inclusion of new immigrant voices in the spectrum of national perspectives. Examples of works that maintain ties to a previous culture while establishing links to America include Sandra Cisneros’s “Woman Hollering Creek;” Cathy Song’s “The White Porch” and “Lost Sister;” Maxine Hong Kingston’s “No Name Woman;” and Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Sexy.” But the process of naturalization and the salvaging of ethnic identity were not always accepted by the majority of Americans. The best place to start examining the nation’s growing pains is the “Americanization” cluster in the 1865–1914 section of the anthology, especially in Twenty Years at Hull-House by Jane Addamsand Jose Martí’s “Our America.”  Other works that deal with the inclusion or exclusion of minority groups include William Bradford’s “Dealings with the Natives” and “The First Thanksgiving” from Of Plymouth Plantation; Philip Freneau’s “An Indian Burying Ground;” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Jewish Cemetery at Newport;” Emma Lazarus’s “In the Jewish Synagogue at Newport” and “The New Colossus;” and Carlos Bulosan’s “Be American.”
  4. The publication in the late 1950s of poetry in the “confessional” mode helped authors break some conventions of formality and universality in the lyric voice in favor of an autobiographical intensity. Examples of confessional poets include Allen Ginsberg; Robert Lowell; Sylvia Plath; and Anne Sexton. Earlier works that allowed for more individual expression include John Woolman’s Journal; Thomas Jefferson’s Autobiography; Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography; the slave narratives of Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass; Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself; and the slightly fictionalized autobiographical accounts in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”
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