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N ATHANIEL HAWTHORNE WAS BORN in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804. His family
descended from the earliest settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony; among his
forebears was John Hathorne (Hawthorne added the “w” to his name when he began to
write), one of the judges at the 1692 Salem witch trials. Throughout his life, Hawthorne
was both fascinated and disturbed by his kinship with John Hathorne. Raised by a
widowed mother, Hawthorne attended Bowdoin College in Maine, where he met two
people who were to have great impact upon his life: Henry Wadsworth Long-fellow,
who would later become a famous poet, and Franklin Pierce, who would later become
president of the United States.
After college Hawthorne tried his hand at writing, producing historical sketches and an
anonymous novel, Fanshawe,that detailed his college days rather embarrassingly.
Hawthorne also held positions as an editor and as a customs surveyor during this period.
His growing relationship with the intellectual circle that included Ralph Waldo Emerson
and Margaret Fuller led him to abandon his customs post for the utopian experiment at
Brook Farm, a commune designed to promote economic self-sufficiency and
transcendentalist principles. Transcendentalism was a religious and philosophical
movement of the early nineteenth century that was dedicated to the belief that divinity
manifests itself everywhere, particularly in the natural world. It also advocated a
personalized, direct relationship with the divine in place of formalized, structured
religion. This second transcendental idea is privileged in The Scarlet Letter.
After marrying fellow transcendentalist Sophia Peabody in 1842, Hawthorne left Brook
Farm and moved into the Old Manse, a home in Concord where Emerson had once
lived. In 1846 he published Mosses from an Old Manse, a collection of essays and
stories, many of which are about early America.Mosses from an Old Manse earned
Hawthorne the attention of the literary establishment because America was trying to
establish a cultural independence to complement its political independence, and
Hawthorne’s collection of stories displayed both a stylistic freshness and an interest in
American subject matter. Herman Melville, among others, hailed Hawthorne as the
“American Shakespeare.”
In 1845 Hawthorne again went to work as a customs surveyor, this time, like the
narrator of The Scarlet Letter, at a post in Salem. In 1850, after having lost the job, he
published The Scarlet Letter to enthusiastic, if not widespread, acclaim. His other major
novels include The House of the Seven Gables(1851), The Blithedale Romance (1852),
and The Marble Faun (1860). In 1853 Hawthorne’s college friend Franklin Pierce, for
whom he had written a campaign biography and who had since become president,
appointed Hawthorne a United States consul. The writer spent the next six years in
Europe. He died in 1864, a few years after returning to America.
The majority of Hawthorne’s work takes America’s Puritan past as its subject, but The
Scarlet Letter uses the material to greatest effect. The Puritans were a group of religious
reformers who arrived in Massachusetts in the 1630s under the leadership of John
Winthrop (whose death is recounted in the novel). The religious sect was known for its

intolerance of dissenting ideas and lifestyles. In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses the
repressive, authoritarian Puritan society as an analogue for humankind in general. The
Puritan setting also enables him to portray the human soul under extreme pressures.
Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth, while unquestionably part of the Puritan
society in which they live, also reflect universal experiences. Hawthorne speaks
specifically to American issues, but he circumvents the aesthetic and thematic
limitations that might accompany such a focus. His universality and his dramatic flair
have ensured his place in the literary canon.
Plot Overview
T HE SCARLET LETTER opens with a long preamble about how the book came to be
written. The nameless narrator was the surveyor of the customhouse in Salem,
Massachusetts. In the customhouse’s attic, he discovered a number of documents,
among them a manuscript that was bundled with a scarlet, gold-embroidered patch of
cloth in the shape of an “A.” The manuscript, the work of a past surveyor, detailed
events that occurred some two hundred years before the narrator’s time. When the
narrator lost his customs post, he decided to write a fictional account of the events
recorded in the manuscript. The Scarlet Letter is the final product.
The story begins in seventeenth-century Boston, then a Puritan settlement. A young
woman, Hester Prynne, is led from the town prison with her infant daughter, Pearl, in
her arms and the scarlet letter “A” on her breast. A man in the crowd tells an elderly
onlooker that Hester is being punished for adultery. Hester’s husband, a scholar much
older than she is, sent her ahead to America, but he never arrived in Boston. The
consensus is that he has been lost at sea. While waiting for her husband, Hester has
apparently had an affair, as she has given birth to a child. She will not reveal her lover’s
identity, however, and the scarlet letter, along with her public shaming, is her
punishment for her sin and her secrecy. On this day Hester is led to the town scaffold
and harangued by the town fathers, but she again refuses to identify her child’s father.
The elderly onlooker is Hester’s missing husband, who is now practicing medicine and
calling himself Roger Chillingworth. He settles in Boston, intent on revenge. He reveals
his true identity to no one but Hester, whom he has sworn to secrecy. Several years pass.
Hester supports herself by working as a seamstress, and Pearl grows into a willful,
impish child. Shunned by the community, they live in a small cottage on the outskirts of
Boston. Community officials attempt to take Pearl away from Hester, but, with the help
of Arthur Dimmesdale, a young and eloquent minister, the mother and daughter manage
to stay together. Dimmesdale, however, appears to be wasting away and suffers from
mysterious heart trouble, seemingly caused by psychological distress. Chillingworth
attaches himself to the ailing minister and eventually moves in with him so that he can
provide his patient with round-the-clock care. Chillingworth also suspects that there
may be a connection between the minister’s torments and Hester’s secret, and he begins
to test Dimmesdale to see what he can learn. One afternoon, while the minister sleeps,
Chillingworth discovers a mark on the man’s breast (the details of which are kept from
the reader), which convinces him that his suspicions are correct.
Dimmesdale’s psychological anguish deepens, and he invents new tortures for himself.
In the meantime, Hester’s charitable deeds and quiet humility have earned her a reprieve
from the scorn of the community. One night, when Pearl is about seven years old, she
and her mother are returning home from a visit to a deathbed when they encounter
Dimmesdale atop the town scaffold, trying to punish himself for his sins. Hester and
Pearl join him, and the three link hands. Dimmesdale refuses Pearl’s request that he

acknowledge her publicly the next day, and a meteor marks a dull red “A” in the night
sky. Hester can see that the minister’s condition is worsening, and she resolves to
intervene. She goes to Chillingworth and asks him to stop adding to Dimmesdale’s selftorment. Chillingworth refuses.
Hester arranges an encounter with Dimmesdale in the forest because she is aware that
Chillingworth has probably guessed that she plans to reveal his identity to Dimmesdale.
The former lovers decide to flee to Europe, where they can live with Pearl as a family.
They will take a ship sailing from Boston in four days. Both feel a sense of release, and
Hester removes her scarlet letter and lets down her hair. Pearl, playing nearby, does not
recognize her mother without the letter. The day before the ship is to sail, the
townspeople gather for a holiday and Dimmesdale preaches his most eloquent sermon
ever. Meanwhile, Hester has learned that Chillingworth knows of their plan and has
booked passage on the same ship. Dimmesdale, leaving the church after his sermon,
sees Hester and Pearl standing before the town scaffold. He impulsively mounts the
scaffold with his lover and his daughter, and confesses publicly, exposing a scarlet letter
seared into the flesh of his chest. He falls dead, as Pearl kisses him.
Frustrated in his revenge, Chillingworth dies a year later. Hester and Pearl leave Boston,
and no one knows what has happened to them. Many years later, Hester returns alone,
still wearing the scarlet letter, to live in her old cottage and resume her charitable work.
She receives occasional letters from Pearl, who has married a European aristocrat and
established a family of her own. When Hester dies, she is buried next to Dimmesdale.
The two share a single tombstone, which bears a scarlet “A.
Analysis of Major Characters
Hester Prynne
Although The Scarlet Letter is about Hester Prynne, the book is not so much a
consideration of her innate character as it is an examination of the forces that shape her
and the transformations those forces effect. We know very little about Hester prior to
her affair with Dimmesdale and her resultant public shaming. We read that she married
Chillingworth although she did not love him, but we never fully understand why. The
early chapters of the book suggest that, prior to her marriage, Hester was a strong-willed
and impetuous young woman—she remembers her parents as loving guides who
frequently had to restrain her incautious behavior. The fact that she has an affair also
suggests that she once had a passionate nature.
But it is what happens after Hester’s affair that makes her into the woman with whom
the reader is familiar. Shamed and alienated from the rest of the community, Hester
becomes contemplative. She speculates on human nature, social organization, and larger
moral questions. Hester’s tribulations also lead her to be stoic and a freethinker.
Although the narrator pretends to disapprove of Hester’s independent philosophizing,
his tone indicates that he secretly admires her independence and her ideas.
Hester also becomes a kind of compassionate maternal figure as a result of her
experiences. Hester moderates her tendency to be rash, for she knows that such behavior
could cause her to lose her daughter, Pearl. Hester is also maternal with respect to
society: she cares for the poor and brings them food and clothing. By the novel’s end,
Hester has become a protofeminist mother figure to the women of the community. The
shame attached to her scarlet letter is long gone. Women recognize that her punishment
stemmed in part from the town fathers’ sexism, and they come to Hester seeking shelter
from the sexist forces under which they themselves suffer. Throughout The Scarlet

he was a difficult husband. Many believe his confession was a symbolic act. However. He is interested in revenge. the leech has no choice but to die. Given his background and his penchant for rhetorical speech. Having lost the objects of his revenge. His twisted. In his death. Ultimately. Ironically. and his resultant mental anguish and physical weakness open up his mind and allow him to empathize with others. It is the extraordinary circumstances shaping her that make her such an important figure.Letter Hester is portrayed as an intelligent. whereas Chillingworth reaps deliberate harm. and his congregation is able to receive meaningful spiritual guidance from him. Any harm that may have come from the young lovers’ deed was unanticipated and inadvertent. He ignored his wife for much of the time. Dimmesdale has an unusually active conscience. From what the reader is told of his early years with Hester. yet expected her to nourish his soul with affection when he did condescend to spend time with her. the kind of man who would not have much natural sympathy for ordinary men and women. Chillingworth’s death is a result of the nature of his character. and he seeks the deliberate destruction of others rather than a redress of wrongs. Pearl Hester’s daughter. He is associated with secular and sometimes illicit forms of knowledge. but not necessarily extraordinary woman. The reader is told that Dimmesdale was a scholar of some renown at Oxford University. This drives Dimmesdale to further internalize his guilt and selfpunishment and leads to still more deterioration in his physical and spiritual condition. Roger Chillingworth is a man deficient in human warmth.” or doctor. the townspeople do not believe Dimmesdale’s protestations of sinfulness. is fitting. which had love. as its intent. is an individual whose identity owes more to external circumstances than to his innate nature. like Hester Prynne. stooped. functions primarily as a symbol. His past suggests that he is probably somewhat aloof. Pearl. Dimmesdale’s congregation generally interprets his sermons allegorically rather than as expressions of any personal guilt. . Consequently. Chillingworth’s decision to assume the identity of a “leech. as his chemical experiments and medical practices occasionally verge on witchcraft and murder. Similarly. not hate. he feeds on the vitality of others as a way of energizing his own projects. His desire to hurt others stands in contrast to Hester and Dimmesdale’s sin. deformed shoulders mirror his distorted soul. he becomes an eloquent and emotionally powerful speaker and a compassionate leader. Roger Chillingworth As his name suggests. She is quite young during most of the events of this novel—when Dimmesdale dies she is only seven years old— and her real importance lies in her ability to provoke the adult characters in the book. Chillingworth no longer has a victim. Chillingworth represents true evil. Dimmesdale’s revelation that he is Pearl’s father removes Hester from the old man’s clutches. The town’s idolization of him reaches new heights after his Election Day sermon. The fact that Hester takes all of the blame for their shared sin goads his conscience. not justice. Arthur Dimmesdale Arthur Dimmesdale. Dimmesdale becomes even more of an icon than he was in life. capable. which is his last. Unable to engage in equitable relationships with those around him. while others believe Dimmesdale’s fate was an example of divine judgment. After Dimmesdale dies.

Chillingworth. As for Dimmesdale. at Dimmesdale’s death she becomes fully “human. and understanding of others. Once her father’s identity is revealed. The Puritan elders. they view sin as a threat to the community that should be punished and suppressed. the “Black Man” is associated with Dimmesdale. Knowledge. sin results in expulsion and suffering. Pearl is no longer needed in this symbolic capacity. that which separates them from the divine and from other creatures. Paradoxically. The experience of Hester and Dimmesdale recalls the story of Adam and Eve because. Themes.She asks them pointed questions and draws their attention. and the reader’s. and most penetrating. on the other hand. and Mistress Hibbins.” leaving behind her otherworldliness and her preternatural vision. she inquires about the relationships between those around her—most important. in both cases. children in The Scarlet Letter are portrayed as more perceptive and more honest than adults. The characters also try to root out the causes of evil: did Chillingworth’s selfishness in marrying Hester force her to the “evil” she committed in Dimmesdale’s arms? Is Hester and Dimmesdale’s deed responsible for Chillingworth’s transformation into a malevolent being? This confusion over the nature and causes of . Hester and Dimmesdale contemplate their own sinfulness on a daily basis and try to reconcile it with their lived experiences. Once expelled from the Garden of Eden. Yet. The Nature of Evil The characters in the novel frequently debate the identity of the “Black Man. comments about the letter raise crucial questions about its meaning. to the denied or overlooked truths of the adult world.” the embodiment of evil. in knowledge of what it means to be human. But it also results in knowledge—specifically. Over the course of the novel. Sin. insist on seeing earthly experience as merely an obstacle on the path to heaven. they are forced to toil and to procreate—two “labors” that seem to define the human condition. As a result of their knowledge. Thus. For Hester. Their answer to Hester’s sin is to ostracize her. judgment of Dimmesdale’s failure to admit to his adultery. Pearl’s innocent.” His eloquent and powerful sermons derive from this sense of empathy. Puritan society is stagnant. so that his heart vibrate[s] in unison with theirs. and the Human Condition Sin and knowledge are linked in the Judeo-Christian tradition. or perhaps intuitive. the relationship between Hester and Dimmesdale—and offers perceptive critiques of them. the scarlet letter functions as “her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Similarly. The Bible begins with the story of Adam and Eve. Motifs & Symbols Themes Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. and Pearl is the most perceptive of them all. and little Pearl is thought by some to be the Devil’s child. the “burden” of his sin gives him “sympathies so intimate with the sinful brotherhood of mankind. sympathy. Pearl makes us constantly aware of her mother’s scarlet letter and of the society that produced it. she fixates on the emblem. From an early age. Pearl provides the text’s harshest. Adam and Eve are made aware of their humanness. In general. who were expelled from the Garden of Eden for eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” leading her to “speculate” about her society and herself more “boldly” than anyone else in New England. while Hester and Dimmesdale’s experience shows that a state of sinfulness can lead to personal growth. these qualities are shown to be incompatible with a state of purity.

While this allows for misbehavior— Mistress Hibbins’s midnight rides. too. is found in the carefully plotted and precisely aimed revenge of Chillingworth. nor even in the cruel ignorance of the Puritan fathers. She is not physically imprisoned. Civilization Versus the Wilderness In The Scarlet Letter. Except for Chillingworth. of one’s assigned identity. for example—it also permits greater honesty and an escape from the repression of Boston. upon another. in its most poisonous form. running away or removing the letter would be an acknowledgment of society’s power over her: she would be admitting that the letter is a mark of shame and something from which she desires to escape. Unfortunately. is a space of natural rather than human authority. society’s rules do not apply. it is a place where she can create for herself a life of relative peace.” because her father. . significantly. Hester stays. Perhaps Pearl is not entirely wrong when she thinks Dimmesdale is the “Black Man. those around the minister willfully ignore his obvious anguish. he is more symbol than human being. embodies both orders. is located on the outskirts of town and at the edge of the forest. and leaving the Massachusetts Bay Colony would allow her to remove the scarlet letter and resume a normal life. Her past sin is a part of who she is. As the community’s minister. will not even publicly acknowledge her.evil reveals the problems with the Puritan conception of sin. which ties it to the authoritarian town. for a few moments. who should love Pearl. To her. Identity and Society After Hester is publicly shamed and forced by the people of Boston to wear a badge of humiliation. As the narrator points out in the novel’s concluding chapter. Hester’s behavior is premised on her desire to determine her own identity rather than to allow others to determine it for her. misinterpreting it as holiness. has perverted his love. they become happy young lovers once again. each renders one individual dependent . Instead. It is her place of exile.” Evil is not found in Hester and Dimmesdale’s lovemaking. Dimmesdale also struggles against a socially determined identity. His cruel denial of love to his own child may be seen as further perpetrating evil. Surprisingly. and alternate identities can be assumed. but because it lies apart from the settlement. whose love has been perverted. Evil. The forest. In the forest. a rule-bound space where everything one does is on display and where transgressions are quickly punished. The book argues that true evil arises from the close relationship between hate and love. Hester reacts with dismay when Chillingworth tells her that the town fathers are considering letting her remove the letter. . refiguring the scarlet letter as a symbol of her own experiences and character. The town represents civilization. the town and the surrounding forest represent opposing behavioral systems. Hester very determinedly integrates her sin into her life. on the other hand. Motifs Motifs are recurring structures. to pretend that it never happened would mean denying a part of herself. not a rejection. Night Versus Day . When Hester and Dimmesdale meet in the woods. which. Dimmesdale. and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. both emotions depend upon “a high degree of intimacy and heart-knowledge. Hester’s cottage. her unwillingness to leave the town may seem puzzling. Thus. Dimmesdale never fully recognizes the truth of what Hester has learned: that individuality and strength are gained by quiet self-assertion and by a reconfiguration. contrasts.

Symbols Symbols are objects. These notions of visibility versus concealment are linked to two of the book’s larger themes—the themes of inner versus socially assigned identity and of outer appearances versus internal states. it becomes indeterminate: the Native Americans who come to watch the Election Day pageant think it marks her as a person of importance and status. the “A” eventually comes to stand for “Able. and thus helps to point out the ultimate meaninglessness of the community’s system of judgment and punishment. The Meteor As Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold with Hester and Pearl in Chapter 12. symbols are taken to mean what the beholder wants them to mean. But. Like Pearl. compared with a human child. The Scarlet Letter The scarlet letter is meant to be a symbol of shame. however. and lack of will. and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.” while “Dimmesdale” suggests “dimness”—weakness. characters. Daylight exposes an individual’s activities and makes him or her vulnerable to punishment. The Puritans commonly looked to symbols to confirm divine sentiments. or at least from nature. conceals and enables activities that would not be possible or tolerated during the day—for instance. the instability of the letter’s apparent meaning calls into question society’s ability to use symbols for ideological reinforcement. which thinks that it stands for “Angel” and marks Governor Winthrop’s entry into heaven. . the novel organizes the plot’s events into two categories: those which are socially acceptable. The meteor is interpreted differently by the rest of the community. The name “Pearl” evokes a biblical allegorical device—the “pearl of great price” that is salvation. interiority is once again hidden from public view. the letter seems insignificant.By emphasizing the alternation between sunlight and darkness. The child has been sent from God. During the day. Night. lack of insight. Night is the time when inner natures can manifest themselves. and those which must take place covertly. a symbol becomes a focal point for critical analysis and debate. “Prynne” rhymes with “sin. but the letter is merely a human contrivance. In this narrative. and secrets remain secrets. indeterminacy. the meteor implies that he should wear a mark of shame just as Hester does. The incident with the meteor obviously highlights and exemplifies two different uses of symbols: Puritan and literary. a meteor traces out an “A” in the night sky. Additionally. linking it to other allegorical works of literature such as The Pilgrim’s Progress and to portions of the Bible. It also aligns the novel with popular forms of narrative such as fairy tales. Dimmesdale’s encounter with Hester and Pearl on the scaffold. figures. Chillingworth is cold and inhuman and thus brings a “chill” to Hester’s and Dimmesdale’s lives.” Finally. To Dimmesdale. on the other hand. but instead it becomes a powerful symbol of identity to Hester. Evocative Names The names in this novel often seem to beg to be interpreted allegorically. Originally intended to mark Hester as an adulterer. But “Angel” is an awkward reading of the symbol. The letter’s meaning shifts as time passes. all of which characterize the young minister. This system of naming lends a profundity to the story. More often than not. the letter functions as a physical reminder of Hester’s affair with Dimmesdale.

When the family business failed at the end of the1820s.Pearl Although Pearl is a complex character.” Until then. however. She is the physical consequence of sexual sin and the indicator of a transgression. as a merchant sailor on a ship bound for Liverpool. drove his father to an early grave. eighteen months after setting out from New York. across the Pacific Ocean. Thus. driven to desperation at twenty-one. she functions in a symbolic capacity as the reminder of an unsolved mystery HERMAN MELVILLE. is a generalized and allegorical account of life at sea aboard a warship. An indeterminate mixture of fact and fiction.” Pearl is more than a mere punishment to her mother: she is also a blessing. Melville committed to a whaling voyage of indefinite destination and scale on board a ship called theAcushnet. and to the South Seas. Life among these natives and other exotic experiences abroad provided Melville with endless literary conceits. He returned to America the next summer to seek his fortune in the West. or The World in a Man-of-War. England. Lamed with a bad leg. Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life. His next novel. a prosperous importer of foreign goods. Melville made his first sea voyage at nineteen. It is only after Dimmesdale is revealed to be Pearl’s father that Pearl can become fully “human. .White-Jacket. the third of eight children born to Maria Gansevoort Melville and Allan Melville. Melville wrote a series of novels detailing his adventures and his philosophy of life. bolstering her spirits when she is tempted to give up. Melville became separated from his companion and spent a month alone in the company of the natives. is a fictionalized account of Melville’s first voyage to Liverpool. Redburn. Typee was followed byOmoo (1847) and Mardi and a Voyage Thither (1849). Running out of alternatives on land. Armed with the voluminous knowledge obtained from constant reading while at sea. Melville left school at eighteen to become an elementary school teacher. and the young Melville was forced to start working in a bank at the age of thirteen. he went back east in the face of continuing financial difficulties. the Melvilles relocated to Albany in an attempt to revive their fortunes. She represents not only “sin” but also the vital spirit and passion that engendered that sin. where they accidentally wandered into the company of a tribe of cannibals. where he abandoned ship with a fellow sailor in the summer of 1842. published in 1846. Pearl is a sort of living version of her mother’s scarlet letter.“MOBY DICK” Context H ERMAN MELVILLE WAS BORN in New York City in 1819. Yet. Pearl’s existence gives her mother reason to live. published in 1850. Finally. This career was abruptly cut short and followed by a brief tenure as a newspaper reporter. After settling briefly in Illinois. This journey took him around the continent of South America. her primary function within the novel is as a symbol. even as a reminder of Hester’s “sin. This experience later formed the core of his first novel. two more novels about his Polynesian experiences. also published in 1849. After a few more years of formal education. Melville’s fanciful travel narrative remained the most popular and successful of his works during his lifetime. The two men found themselves in the Marquesas Islands. A string of further bad luck and overwork.

and the literary and political figures of the day. drive a hard bargain in terms of salary. By the 1850s. author of The Scarlet Letter. Soon the ship is in warmer waters. Moby-Dick remained largely ignored until the 1920s. Melville had long admired Hawthorne’s psychological depth and gothic grimness and associated Hawthorne with a new. balancing gingerly on his false leg. THE NARRATOR. Despite its range of cultural references and affiliation with popular genres. as Melville satirizes by turns religious traditions. Ross Browne. No sacred subject is spared in this bleak and scathing critique of the known world. ANNOUNCES his intent to ship aboard a whaling vessel. It stands alongside James Joyce’s Ulysses and Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandyas a novel that appears bizarre to the point of being unreadable but proves to be infinitely open to interpretation and discovery. Melville relied on Thomas Beale’s encyclopedic Natural History of the Sperm Whale and the narrativeEtchings of a Whaling Cruise. They also mention the ship’s mysterious captain. and a radically experimental anachronism that anticipated Modernism in its outsized scope and pastiche of forms. moral values. the traditional capital of the whaling industry. They take a ferry to Nantucket. when it was rediscovered and promoted by literary historians interested in constructing an American literary tradition. the Pequod’s Quaker owners. such as religion. Moby-Dickwas a failure. He drew on sources from popular culture as well. fate. were popular in the nineteenth century. distinctively American literature. whaling was a dying industry. and economic expansion. At first repulsed by Queequeg’s strange habits and shocking appearance (Queequeg is covered with tattoos).Through the lens of literary history. Plot Overview I SHMAEL. There they secure berths on the Pequod. He announces his desire to pursue and kill Moby Dick. Its reception led Melville to defy his critics by writing in an increasingly experimental style and eventually forsaking novels in favor of poetry. because he sees this whale as the . Whales had been hunted into near extinction. for example. or The Whale. these first five novels are all seen as an apprenticeship to what is today considered Melville’s masterpiece. He has made several voyages as a sailor but none as a whaler. He died in 1891. the legendary great white whale who took his leg. Ishmael eventually comes to appreciate the man’s generosity and kind spirit. Melville didn’t look exclusively to celebrated cultural models. a savage-looking ship adorned with the bones and teeth of sperm whales. Massachusetts. by J. To these critics. Peleg and Bildad. He travels to New Bedford. and substitutes for whale oil had been found. Moby-Dick was both a seminal work elaborating on classic American themes. Melville was influenced in the writing of Moby-Dick by the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Though the works of Shakespeare and Milton and stories in the Bible (especially the Old Testament) influencedMoby-Dick. The Pequodleaves Nantucket on a cold Christmas Day with a crew made up of men from many different countries and races. whom he met in 1850 and to whom he dedicated Moby-Dick. Since the inn is rather full. whaling narratives. which is made from a sperm whale’s jaw. he has to share a bed with a harpooner from the South Pacific named Queequeg. where he stays in a whalers’ inn. and the two decide to seek work on a whaling vessel together. A story of monomania aboard a whaling ship. which first appeared in 1851. Moby-Dick is a tremendously ambitious novel that functions at once as a documentary of life at sea and a vast philosophical allegory of life in general. Moby-Dick. Ahab. and Ahab makes his first appearance on deck. who is still recovering from losing his leg in an encounter with a sperm whale on his last voyage.

The men’s leader is an exotic-looking man named Fedallah.embodiment of evil. After the storm ends. On the third day. has lost an arm in an encounter with Moby Dick. Queequeg saves Tashtego by diving into the ocean and cutting into the slowly sinking head. Starbuck must maneuver the Pequod between Ahab and the angry whale. falls into the whale’s voluminous head. One of the ships. The Pequod approaches the equator. The harpoon boats are launched. He goes insane as the result of the experience and becomes a crazy but prophetic jester for the ship. Ahab always demands information about Moby Dick from their captains. jumps from a whaleboat and is left behind in the middle of the ocean. the Pequod’s black cabin boy. A typhoon hits thePequod. trapped in the harpoon line. The men can see Fedallah’s corpse lashed to the whale by the harpoon line. and the mad Pip is now his constant companion. one of the sailors falls from the ship’s masthead and drowns—a grim foreshadowing of what lies ahead. The ship encounters two more whaling ships. Moby Dick rams the Pequod and sinks it. Ahab interprets these words to mean that he will not die at sea. He baptizes the harpoon with the blood of the Pequod’s three harpooners. The Pequod kills several more whales. and the boats are lowered once more. the second of which will be made only from American wood. Boomer. but Starbuck. carries Gabriel. The whale is harpooned. and that he will be killed by hemp rope. He recovers. The next day. takes it as a bad omen and considers killing Ahab to end the mad quest. the boats are once again sent after Moby Dick. none of whom anyone on the ship’s crew has seen before on the voyage. While trying to drain the oil from the head of a captured sperm whale. During the hunt. however. From time to time. The Pequod rounds Africa and enters the Indian Ocean. Ahab is then caught in a harpoon line and hurled out . Tashtego. whales are sighted and unsuccessfully hunted. These men constitute Ahab’s private harpoon crew. the ship encounters other whaling vessels. the Rachel and the Delight. Ahab finally sights Moby Dick. a whaling ship whose skipper. Ahab’s fervent desire to find and destroy Moby Dick continues to intensify. During another whale hunt. Issuing a prophecy about Ahab’s death. Ahab takes this occurrence as a sign of imminent confrontation and success. Pip. the Jeroboam. the ship’s first mate. Queequeg falls ill and has the ship’s carpenter make him a coffin in anticipation of his death. As the Pequod sails toward the southern tip of Africa. as those aboard his ship who have hunted the whale have met disaster. and Moby Dick attacks Ahab’s harpoon boat. where Ahab expects to find the great whale. Fedallah. but Moby Dick again attacks Ahab’s boat. destroying it. emerges from the hold. smuggled aboard in defiance of Bildad and Peleg. Ahab orders a harpoon forged in the expectation that he will soon encounter Moby Dick. cannot understand Ahab’s lust for vengeance. happy simply to have survived his encounter. one of the Pequod’s harpooners. both of which have recently had fatal encounters with the whale. and the coffin eventually becomes the Pequod’s replacement life buoy. Soon after. Captain Boomer. Ahab hopes that their skills and Fedallah’s prophetic abilities will help him in his hunt for Moby Dick. a crazed prophet who predicts doom for anyone who threatens Moby Dick. The two captains discuss the whale. the Pequod meets the Samuel Enderby. a group of men. Fedallah declares that Ahab will first see two hearses. is dragged overboard to his death. which then rips free of the ship and begins to sink. His predictions seem to carry some weight. who once again attacks them. Not long after. A few whales are successfully caught and processed for their oil. illuminating it with electrical fire. Ahab nails a gold doubloon to the mast and declares that it will be the prize for the first man to sight the whale. where there are no hearses and no hangings. Moby Dick is sighted again.

or intentions. Indeed. Ishmael represents the fundamental contradiction between the story of Moby-Dick and its setting. replaced by dramatic dialogues and soliloquies from Ahab and other characters. was far enough away to escape the whirlpool. It is apparent from Ishmael’s frequent digressions on a wide range of subjects—from art. but he moves us also to fear. the Pequod’s obsessed captain. which popped back up from the wreck. All of the remaining whaleboats and men are caught in the vortex created by the sinking Pequod and pulled under to their deaths. and he disappears from the story for long stretches. H. in his case both psychological and physical. until he is picked up by the Rachel. No one else aboard the Pequod possesses the proper combination of intellect and experience to tell this story. yet he claims that a whaling ship has been “[his] Yale College and [his] Harvard. According to the critic M. leads him to defy common sense and believe that. such a tragic hero “moves us to pity because. Analysis of Major Characters Ishmael Despite his centrality to the story. seems less a real character than an instrument of the author. Ahab suffers from a single fatal flaw. it is perhaps fitting that its narrator should be an enigma: not everything in a story so dependent on fate and the seemingly supernatural needs to make perfect sense. like a god. We know that he has gone to sea out of some deep spiritual malaise and that shipping aboard a whaler is his version of committing suicide—he believes that men aboard a whaling ship are lost to the world. Additionally. good at everything but committed to nothing. He considers Moby Dick the embodiment of evil in the world.” He seems to be a self-taught Renaissance man. he can enact his will and remain immune to the forces of nature.of his harpoon boat to his death. and he alone survives. which is still searching for the crewmen lost in her earlier encounter with Moby Dick. thus. Given the mythic. since he is not an evil man. an . and the symbolic opposition that he constructs between himself and Moby Dick propels him toward what he considers a destined end. Ishmael. Ishmael. Ahab Ahab. represents both an ancient and a quintessentially modern type of hero. Moby Dick is not a character. Abrams. and he pursues the White Whale monomaniacally because he believes it his inescapable fate to destroy this evil. feelings. Ahab suffers from a fatal flaw that is not necessarily inborn but instead stems from damage. however. romantic aspects of Moby-Dick.” Unlike the heroes of older tragic works. He floats atop Queequeg’s coffin. He is as much a victim as he is an aggressor. one that many critics have interpreted as an allegorical representation of God. Melville has created a profound and philosophically complicated tale and set it in a world of largely uneducated working-class men. Moby Dick In a sense. and anatomy to legal codes and literature—that he is intelligent and well educated. as the reader has no access to the White Whale’s thoughts. his misfortune is greater than he deserves. His tremendous overconfidence. or hubris. at times even Ishmael fails Melville’s purposes. Moby Dick is an impersonal force. who was thrown from a boat at the beginning of the chase. because we recognize similar possibilities of error in our own lesser and fallible selves. Like the heroes of Greek or Shakespearean tragedy. inflicted by life in a harsh world. Ishmael doesn’t reveal much about himself to the reader. geology. Instead. one he shares with such legendary characters as Oedipus and Faust.

When it comes to Moby Dick himself. coupled with his compulsive need to assert his authority as a narrator and the frequent references to the limits of observation (men cannot see the depths of the ocean. however. the first mate. is a religious man. Moby Dick thwarts free will and cannot be defeated. Themes. Ishmael’s narrative contains many references to fate. Flask simply enjoys the thrill of the hunt and takes pride in killing whales. A fatalist. Unlike Stubb. Stubb. Many of the sailors believe in prophecies. The multiplicity of approaches that Ishmael takes. In this way. is jolly and cool in moments of crisis. he cannot localize the essence of the whale. as Ishmael points out. Unlike Starbuck. he believes that things happen as they are meant to and that there is little that he can do about it. in the opening pages of Moby-Dick. Each of these systems of knowledge. breathing creature. Starbuck. and Flask The Pequod’s three mates are used primarily to provide philosophical contrasts with Ahab. while its depths conceal unknown and unknowable truths. and thus trying to interpret them. The Limits of Knowledge As Ishmael tries. are unknowable to man. even when Ishmael does get his hands on a “whole” whale. he discovers that. throughout history. . He has worked in the dangerous occupation of whaling for so long that the possibility of death has ceased to concern him. suggest that human knowledge is always limited and insufficient. and some even claim the . creating the impression that the Pequod’s doom is inevitable. this limitation takes on allegorical significance. and phrenology. only accommodated or avoided. The Deceptiveness of Fate In addition to highlighting many portentous or foreshadowing events. the whale has taken on an incredible multiplicity of meanings. the second mate. the skin—offers the best understanding of the whole living. . Indeed. he thinks and interprets. Unlike Flask. like those of the Christian God. Sober and conservative. for example). He doesn’t stop to consider consequences at all and is “utterly lost . All three of these perspectives are used to accentuate Ahab’s monomania. he is unable to determine which part—the skeleton. to offer a simple collection of literary excerpts mentioning whales. the majority of a whale is hidden from view at all times. Ahab reads his experiences as the result of a conspiracy against him by some larger force. the head. Ishmael tries a plethora of approaches to describe whales in general. The ways of Moby Dick. Stubb. as Ahab does. Furthermore. he believes that he can alter his world. to all sense of reverence” for the whale. Over the course of the novel. including art. he relies on his Christian faith to determine his actions and interpretations of events. a whale mirrors its environment. fails to give an adequate account. taxonomy. only the surface of the ocean is available for human observation and interpretation. This conundrum can be read as a metaphor for the human relationship with the Christian God (or any other god. he makes use of nearly every discipline known to man in his attempts to understand the essential nature of the whale. he places himself rather than some external set of principles at the center of the cosmic order that he discerns. for that matter): God is unknowable and cannot be pinned down. Motifs & Symbols Themes Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. Starbuck. Like the whale. is inevitably futile and often fatal.inscrutable and all-powerful being that humankind can neither understand nor defy. but none proves adequate.

it hides much of its body underwater. noting that only the surfaces of objects and environments are available to the human observer. Each of the Pequod’s mates. head—offers the best understanding of the entire animal. However. waves breaking against rocks. to Ishmael. hierarchically structured world. but he quickly realizes that it is better to have a “sober cannibal than a drunken Christian” for a shipmate. the prophesies of Fedallah and others seem to be undercut in Chapter 99. however. demonstrating that humans project what they want to see when they try to interpret signs and portents. the Pequod seems like an island of equality and fellowship in the midst of a racist. for example. it is impossible to determine what constitutes the whale’s skin. on a dead whale. Whiteness conveys both a lack of meaning and an unreadable excess of meaning that confounds individuals. the conditions of work aboard thePequod promote a certain kind of egalitarianism. The ship’s crew includes men from all corners of the globe and all races who seem to get along harmoniously. and Melville’s characters cannot objectively understand the White Whale. Moreover. that characters are actually deluding themselves when they think that they see the work of fate and that fate either doesn’t exist or is one of the many forces about which human beings can have no distinct knowledge. Ahab. Ishmael is initially uneasy upon meeting Queequeg. and no one knows where it goes or what it does. The sea itself is the greatest frustration in this regard: its depths are mysterious and inaccessible to Ishmael. blubber. On a live whale. Moby Dick is the pinnacle of whiteness. for example. the work of whaling parallels the other exploitative activities—buffalo hunting. A number of things suggest. is horrible because it represents the unnatural and threatening: albinos. clearly exploits the sailors’ belief in fate to manipulate them into thinking that the quest for Moby Dick is their common destiny. This motif represents the larger problem of the limitations of human knowledge. his African harpooner. and is thus reminded that his value as a slave is less than the value of a whale. The Exploitative Nature of Whaling At first glance. Flask actually stands on Daggoo. Surfaces and Depths Ishmael frequently bemoans the impossibility of examining anything in its entirety. is entirely dependent on a nonwhite harpooner. contrasts. while Ishmael fails in his attempts to determine scientifically the whale’s fundamental nature. creatures that live in extreme and inhospitable environments. Humankind is not . Moreover. or which part— skeleton. Ahab is depicted as walking over the black youth Pip. Ahab. who are white. These examples reverse the traditional association of whiteness with purity. who listens to Ahab’s pacing from below deck. when various individuals interpret the doubloon in different ways. only the outer layer presents itself. for instance. Additionally.ability to foretell the future. gold mining. believes that Moby Dick represents evil. unfair trade with indigenous peoples—that characterize American and European territorial expansion. Whiteness Whiteness. and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. and nonwhites perform most of the dirty or dangerous jobs aboard the ship. in order to beat the other mates to a prize whale. away from the human gaze. Motifs Motifs are recurring structures. since men are promoted and paid according to their skill. as the whale swims.

goes to great lengths to show that the color white is everything. marked for death. but when he recovers. emphasizes how Hester is the outcast from society and forced to live on the fringes. it fits into the scheme of white economic expansion and exploitation in the nineteenth century. and continue to function. Adorned like a primitive coffin. In its inscrutable silence and mysterious habits. and thus only acquire knowledge about. Both authors use symbols to develop the effects of evil on society. Nathaniel Hawthorne. 1966. Symbols Symbols are objects. 12) The author of Moby Dick. As a profitable commodity. the author of The Scarlet Letter. for example. and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. the Pequodbecomes one. on the other hand. literally bristling with the mementos of violent death. tales about the whale allow them to confront their fear. It is. it becomes a chest to hold his belongings and an emblem of his will to live. and he feels that it is his destiny to eradicate this symbolic evil. when it replaces thePequod’s life buoy. in fact. The Pequod Named after a Native American tribe in Massachusetts that did not long survive the arrival of white men and thus memorializing an extinction. Herman Melville. To thePequod’s crew. it represents the destruction of the environment by such hubristic expansion. As a part of the natural world. that fraction of entities—both individuals and environments—to which we have access: surfaces. Ahab. manage it. He perpetuates the knowledge tattooed on his body by carving it onto the coffin’s lid. figures. saving not only his life but the life of the narrative that he will pass on. When the Pequod sinks. the coffin becomes Ishmael’s buoy. (Roberts. Queequeg’s Coffin Queequeg’s coffin alternately symbolizes life and death. It is painted a gloomy black and covered in whale teeth and bones. thePequod is a symbol of doom. the White Whale can be read as an allegorical representation of an unknowable God. the legendary White Whale is a concept onto which they can displace their anxieties about their dangerous and often very frightening jobs. Because they have no delusions about Moby Dick acting malevolently toward men or literally embodying evil. 2000. believes that Moby Dick is a manifestation of all that is wrong with the world. Moby Dick Moby Dick possesses various symbolic meanings for various individuals. Queequeg has it built when he is seriously ill. 43) Moby Dick and Ahab personify each other through vengeance. Melville paints the white of Moby Dick as a symbol of the world’s evils to Ahab. on the boundary between the town and the woods – the border of good and evil. characters. in a morbid way. Comparing the Writing of Hawthorne and Melville “But the point which drew all eyes…was that Scarlet Letter.” (Hawthorne.all-seeing. . we can only observe. including the greatest Evil embodied in Moby Dick. The coffin further comes to symbolize life. Moby Dick also bears out interpretations not tied down to specific characters. so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom.

And our hearts. that each tomorrow Find us farther than today. The theme is. Still. The paint of whiteness also appears on Ahab. Gray also reflects the color of hiding something.“A Psalm of Life” Tell me not in mournful numbers. like muffled drums. (Roberts. And things are not what they seem. Art is long. are beating Funeral marches to the grave. to dust thou returnest. But to act. the Evil of the Deity. Not enjoyment. Be not like dumb. Ahab is the negative side of humans because he wants to take revenge on Moby Dick for tearing up his leg. When Ishmael first sees Ahab. and not sorrow. he is insisting Hester and her lover are hiding their secret of their love affair. 1966. and Time is fleeting. but he is there. The sin of Moby Dick is now embedded into Ahab. 35) The color gray symbolizes a mixture of both good and evil. he notices the huge white scar running down the side of his face. Dust thou are. Ahab’s obsession for Moby Dick compares to Hester’s obsession with Dimmesdale through the SCARLET LETTER. Ahab represents most of mankind. In the bivouac of Life. 35) Ahab’s one leg is also a white peg. In the world's broad field of battle. Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal.act in the living Present! Heart within. . When he uses the color gray to describe Hester‘s clothes. who in trying to conquer God. and God o'erhead! Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime. It shows a good person that is guilty of a sin. Ahab is not an evil man but only a man trying to dispose of God.Moby Dick’s snow-white forehead symbolizes God in that He couldn’t be reached. he is hiding his obsession to the world about his devoted pursuit of the White Whale. driven cattle! Be a hero in the strife! Trust no Future. departing. ENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW. Was not spoken of the soul. though stout and brave. And. Hawthorne shows that sin isolates a person from her community and from God. is destroyed by Him instead. 1966. made of pure whalebone. howe'er pleasant! Let the dead Past bury its dead! Act.. Is our destined end or way. Ishmael also notices a face wreathed in wretched long strands of gray hair. In Ahab’s case. (Roberts. leave behind us Footprints on the sand of time. Life is but an empty dream! For the soul is dead that slumbers. ..

in a former headquarters of George Washington." This caesura forces the reader to pause. that perhaps another. Massachusetts. for imitating European styles and writing specifically for the masses. or break. Seeing. life must be real. living the remainder of his life in Cambridge. and unto dust shalt thou return. His second wife. he cautions. however.Footprints. and studied at Bowdoin College. He died in 1882. Longfellow was born in Portland. Lines 5-8 Longfellow uses the second stanza to build on the ideas of the first. Still achieving. These lines are an allusion to the Bible's book of Genesis. His first wife. at Harvard College. the soul is exempt from death. After spending time in Europe he became a professor at Bowdoin and. the speaker reasons. Because the soul lives eternally. then part of Massachusetts. With a heart for any fate. after the word "real. Mary Potter. but die. A forlorn and shipwrecked brother." In Longfellow's poem. "dust thou art. SUMMARY Lines 1-4 In the opening stanza. died in 1861 after sustaining burns from her dress catching fire.that is the illusion. Learn to labor and to wait. The Song of Hiawatha. Maine. He became the most popular American poet of his day and also had success overseas. Let us then be up and doing. Longfellow retired from teaching in 1854 to focus on his writing. He was also the first American to translate Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy and was one of the five Fireside Poets. After her death. one's soul will not merely sleep. If one accepts the logic that life is just a dream. thereby emphasizing the idea that life is real. died in 1835 after a miscarriage. Frances Appleton. On the surface. but the speaker contends that it is actually this sense of hopelessness and not human life itself . and Evangeline. shall take heart again. Note that in the first line there is a caesura. Longfellow predominantly wrote lyric poems which are known for their musicality and which often presented stories of mythology and legend. human life may appear futile. and he rejects as dangerous the psalmist's notion that human life is a meaningless illusion. where God says to the fallen Adam. He begins by dismissing the psalmist's sad poetry. His first major poetry collections were Voices of the Night (1839) and Ballads and Other Poems (1841). He has been criticized. Sailing o'er life's solenm main. BIOGRAPHY Henry Wadsworth was an American poet and educator whose works include "Paul Revere's Ride". the speaker is asserting that although the mortal body will die. still pursuing. the speaker directly addresses the psalmist. Lines 9-12 . later. Longfellow had difficulty writing poetry for a time and focused on his translation.

Lines 25-28 In the seventh stanza. by implication." but. will leave behind records of greatness when we die. the speaker asks the reader to consider past heroes. too. should inspire us to live our lives so fully that we. they may have a positive effect on the people who live after us. however. the speaker explains in detail how the reader can become a hero. but "to act" . of the eighth stanza. carries us closer to death. at this point. it sounds as though a drum is beating in the background. but Longfellow extends this idea to suggest that our own hearts are measuring out the backbeat of a steady and irreversible journey toward death. not the soul) is always imminent. he is directing his remarks to mankind in general. Instead. of course. you will notice become a hero in this battle and not merely march to his or her death like a cow forced to the slaughterhouse." On a literal level. is a soldier . Nonetheless. Lines 21-24 In the sixth stanza. or governing concept. art long. as is evidenced by his broadly inclusive use of the first person plural . These "great men. By comparing life to a "bivouac. this metaphor ironically reminds us of the transient nature of decipher the "art" of living. in a return to the poem's central theme. the speaker has ceased to address the psalmist.The third stanza introduces the central theme of the poem: the purpose of life is not to experience pleasure or sorrow. He advises the reader not to hope for the future nor to worry about the past. giving them added force. the speaker reminds us again of the transience of human existence. as the march to the grave has been transformed to a march to battle.who. metrically. . Longfellow suggests the idea of a record of greatness by using a metaphor: "footprints on the sands of time." Lines 13-16 The fourth stanza begins with an allusion to a line from Seneca's work De Brevitate vitae. a heartbeat can sound like a drumbeat."our" and "us. it actually takes a long time to learn how to live well ." or "Life is brief. The speaker envisions a shipwrecked sailor who is lost at sea but observes these footprints in the sand. The speaker is suggesting with some urgency." the speaker indicates. Lines 17-20 These lines rely heavily on war imagery." a temporary campsite during a battle. ars longa. since these footprints will eventually be washed away by the tide." Even here. Note the simile in line 15. because death (of the human body. The speaker emphasizes his imperative instruction that we "act" by repeating the word twice in line 23. He exhorts the reader . the sailor represents any discouraged or lonely individual who receives encouragement from the memory of the good deeds of others. the two consecutive words are stressed. If you read the stanza aloud." The idea here is that although a lifetime passes relatively quickly. In this conceit. Longfellow implies. which states "vita brevis est. Lines 29-32 The "footprints" metaphor of the seventh stanza develops into the central conceit. Note that by this point in the poem. that we should live as productive a life as possible. then. the trochaic rhythm is especially steady and even. Note how Longfellow draws our attention to the word "act" by manipulating the meter: not only does he insert a caesura between the two "acts. Each beat of our hearts. instead. he urges the reader to live actively in the perform the deeds that will improve the condition of mankind. which compares the human heartbeat to "muffled drums.

the rooms are so beautiful and strange that they seem to be filled with dreams. it is suggested. in the following color arrangement: green. The easternmost room is decorated in blue. swirling among the revelers. ignoring the illness ravaging the land. Prospero finally catches up to the new guest in the black-and-red room. how luxuriant the clothing. both literally and allegorically. In . not even a prince. Analysis “The Masque of the Red Death” is an allegory. An allegory always operates on two levels of meaning: the literal elements of the plot (the colors of the rooms. a new guest appears. with blue stained-glass windows. the prince. with red windows. He decides to lock the gates of his palace in order to fend off the plague. courageous lives. it can mean "to be ready" for someone or some event. When the clock rings each hour. EDGAR ALLAN POE. Everyone then dies. “Darkness and Decay and the Red Death” have at last triumphed.“THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH” Summary A disease known as the Red Death plagues the fictional country where this tale is set. and his face reveals spots of blood suggesting that he is a victim of the Red Death. his garments resemble a funeral shroud." has a few possible meanings. no mortal. As soon as he confronts the figure. "wait. dressed more ghoulishly than his counterparts. are so afraid of this masked man that they fail to prevent him from walking through each room. they find that there is nobody beneath the costume. however. and it causes its victims to die quickly and gruesomely. white. or it can mean to be "watchful" . orange. When the clock is not sounding. with a word of caution and of hope. The seventh room is black. For this celebration. its sound is so loud and distracting that everyone stops talking and the orchestra stops playing. he throws a fancy masquerade ball. The poem ends. and violet. which often involve large philosophical concepts (such as life and death). The rooms continue westward. according to this design. avoid the final. by working or "laboring" diligently. Prospero becomes angry that someone with so little humor and levity would join his party. useful deeds: these good deeds. then. The last word of the poem. give life meaning and purpose.Lines 33-36 The speaker concludes the poem by exhorting us to live active. Prospero. for the Red Death has infiltrated the castle. His mask looks like the face of a be on the lookout for good opportunities as well as to be on guard against unexpected events or dangers. At midnight. as it began. Even though this disease is spreading rampantly. Prospero dies. The other guests. it can mean "to serve" others . however. He is urging the reader to strive continuously to accomplish good. though. The Red Death thus represents. No matter how beautiful the castle. can escape death. or how rich the food. It features a set of recognizable symbols whose meanings combine to convey a message. After several months. Most guests. for example) and their symbolic counterparts. black-and-red room because it contains both the clock and an ominous this case. When other party-goers enter the room to attack the cloaked man. death. he decorates the rooms of his house in single colors. The next room is purple with the same stainedglass window pattern. Also in this room stands an ebony clock. feels happy and hopeful. We can read this story as an allegory about life and death and the powerlessness of humans to evade the grip of death.

unwittingly positions him as a caged animal. The Red Death. When the mysterious guest dramatizes his own version of revelry as the fear that cannot be spoken. the story also means to punish Prospero’s arrogant belief that he can use his wealth to fend off the natural. Prospero responds antagonistically. dispels the sense of claustrophobia within the palace by liberating the inner demons of the guests. with no possible escape. The masquerade. though. His retreat to the protection of an aristocratic palace may also allegorize a type of economic system that Poe suggests is doomed to failure. performed by both Prospero and the mysterious guest. then. His decadence in throwing the masquerade ball. black room as the ominous endpoint. then the raw exposure of what lies beneath is enough to kill. Poe makes it a point to arrange the rooms running from east to west. These demons are then embodied by the grotesque costumes. The hourly ringing of the bells is a reminder of the passing of time. symbolizes the human journey from birth to death. This use of feudal imagery is historically accurate. the mysterious guest illuminates the extent to which Prospero and his guests police the limits of social convention. tragic progress of life. the use of names contributes to the symbolic economic context of the story and suggests another set of allegorical interpretations.” which appeared less than a year after “The Masque of the Red Death. the room the guests fear just as they fear death. embodies a type of radical egalitarianism. or monetary equality. Prospero’s arrogance combines with a grievous insensitivity to the plight of his less fortunate countrymen. As he knows. Although he possesses the wealth to assist those in need. whose name suggests financial prosperity. is the further symbolic treatment of the twenty-four hour life cycle: it translates to the realm of human beings. When the mysterious guest uses his costume to portray the fears that the masquerade is designed to counteract. EDGAR ALLAN POE. he violates an implicit social rule of the masquerade.another sense. exploits his own wealth to stave off the infiltration of the Red Death.” Whereas the carnival in “The Cask of Amontillado” associates drunken revelry with an open-air Italian celebration. However. 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. Like the carnival. Poe crafts the last. What transforms this set of symbols into an allegory. 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. because it attacks the rich and poor alike. In the hierarchical relationship between Prospero and the peasantry. This progression from east to west. The rooms of the palace. Prospero. where wealth lies in the hands of the aristocracy while the peasantry suffers. which has become infected by the plague. The portrayal of the masquerade ball foreshadows the similar setting of the carnival in “The Cask of Amontillado. with night symbolizing death. the prosperity of the party relies upon the psychological transformation of fear about the Red Death into revelry. however. For example. The clock that presides over that room also reminds the guests of death’s final judgment. however. allegorically represent the stages of life. the masquerade functions in this story as a celebratory retreat from the air itself. inexorable and ultimately personal. the masquerade urges the abandonment of social conventions and rigid senses of personal identity. lined up in a series.“THE RAVEN” . Poe portrays the unfairness of a feudal system. in that feudalism was prevalent when the actual Bubonic Plague devastated Europe in the fourteenth century. As in many Poe stories. he turns his wealth into a mode of self-defense and decadent self-indulgence. however.

‘Nevermore." The man welcomes the raven." and that the word "nevermore" is its only "stock and store. Pallas. As he "flung [open] the shutter. the man returns to his chamber. and the symbolism of ravens as birds of ill-omen. and "December" in the second verse. 1850). Both midnight and December. "Shall be lifted -." The man smiled. " ("The last . but has been taught by "some unhappy master." by a "tapping on [his] chamber door. When Poe had decided to use a refrain that repeated the word "nevermore. and was not just repeating its only "stock and store. "Lenore. Quoth the Parrot. is "one of the most profound impulses of human nature" (Quinn." "in [there] stepped a stately Raven. a change. still cannot help but ask the raven questions. because of the melancholy tone. interested in what the raven "meant in croaking. "Is there balm in Gilead?" ." The man knows that the bird does not speak from wisdom. might very well be New Year’s eve." As he opens up the door. In "The Raven" it is important that the answers to the questions are already known. of course. and croaks "Nevermore. The midnight in December. This way of interpreting signs that do not bear a real meaning. to happen. The man asks the Raven for his name. This also seems to be what Viktor Rydberg believes when he is translating "The Raven" to Swedish. The man." Finally the man concedes. Since the narrator is aware that the raven only knows one word. And his "soul from out that shadow" that the raven throws on the floor. 1850). who knows the irrational nature in the raven’s speech. the raven itself.Summary A lonely man tries to ease his "sorrow for the lost Lenore. but all that could be heard was "an echo [that] murmured back the word 'Lenore!'" With a burning soul. A less obvious symbol. and also the anticipation of something new." by distracting his mind with old books of "forgotten lore. where Lenore once sat. however. since the human could reason to answer the questions (Poe. and pulled up a chair. simply because of the "sonorousness of the word. "Nevermore. Poe also considered a parrot as the bird instead of the raven. the raven answers. 1998:441). the goddess of wisdom in Greek mythology. 1850). to illustrate the self-torture to which the narrator exposes himself. he finds "darkness there and nothing more." the bird of ill-omen (Poe. brought back painful memories. above his chamber door." He is interrupted while he is "nearly napping."Nevermore. and this time he can hear a tapping at the window lattice." Can Lenore be found in paradise? ." hoping his lost love had come back. symbolize an end of something.Nevermore!" Symbols In this poem. one of the most famous American poems ever.’" The chair." and to signify the scholarship of the narrator. because it would lead the narrator to believe that the raven spoke from wisdom. "Nevermore?" Another obvious symbol is the bust of Pallas." Into the darkness he whispers. The raven perched on the bust of Pallas."Nevermore. It would make little sense to use a human. Why did the raven decide to perch on the goddess of wisdom? One reason could be. itself" (Poe." "Take thy form from off my door!" . he can anticipate the bird's responses. Poe uses several symbols to take the poem to a higher level. he found the raven more suitable for the mood in the poem (Poe. might be the use of "midnight" in the first verse." he found that it would be most effective if he used a non-reasoning creature to utter the word. and is afraid that the raven will be gone in the morning. 1850). The most obvious symbol is."Nevermore. a date most of us connect with change. and surprisingly it answers. since he uses the phrase "årets sista natt var inne. however. Another reason for using "Pallas" in the poem was. according to Poe himself. "as [his] Hopes have flown before". realizing that to continue this dialogue would be pointless.

a mountainous region of Palestine east of the Jordan river.  "Aidenn." Whether Poe was as calculating as he claims when he wrote "The Raven" or not is a question that cannot be answered.g." the use of ancient and poetic language seems appropriate. whether this is true or not is. therefore. is used.and would positively shudder at letting the public take a peep behind the scenes." to let the narrator realize that he should not try to seek a moral in what has been previously narrated (Poe. Poe's "tales of ratiocination. 1992:241)."  "Seraphim. Kenneth Silverman connected the use of December with the death of Edgar’s mother (Silverman." In that essay Poe describes the work of composing the poem as if it were a mathematical problem. In "The Raven.  "Balm in Gilead. however. to show a sharp contrast between the calmness in the chamber and the tempestuous night. A seraphim is one of the six-winged angels standing in the presence of God. is used to signify the loneliness of the man.  "Plutonian. the god of the underworld in Roman mythology “THE PHILOSOPHY OF COMPOSITION” Edgar Allan Poe wrote an essay on the creation of "The Raven. is written backwards. The phrase "from out my heart. and the whole plot is set. 1850). 1850). . and derides the poets that claim that they compose "by a species of fine frenzy . are written in the same manner. Sometimes this meant introducing words that were not commonly used. A poem should always be written short enough to be read in one sitting. invisible way a scent spreads in a room. however. "Nothing is more clear than that every plot. in combination with the answer "Nevermore. is used to even more signify the isolation of this man. is a potion. must be elaborated to its denouement before anything be attempted with the pen" (Poe. The most important thing to consider in "Philosophy" is the fact that "The Raven. Consequently. The effect is determined first. since the poem is about a man spending most of his time with books of "forgotten lore. Words Poe had an extensive vocabulary. who died in that month. is an Arabic word for Eden or paradise. unique effect. and "The Raven" is 108 lines." Poe claims. not significant to its meaning in the poem. strive to achieve this single. worth the name. then the web grows backwards from that single effect." from the following ecstatic intuition .night of the year had arrived"). The tempest outside. Poe figured that the length of a poem should stay around one hundred lines.  "Nepenthe." as well as many of Poe's tales. unlikely that he created it exactly like he described in his essay. The chamber in which the narrator is positioned. The room is richly furnished. the Dupin tales. and should." characteristic of Pluto. used by ancients to induce forgetfullnes of pain or sorrow." from the sixteenth verse." from the same verse." Poe stresses the need to express a single effect when the literary work is to be read in one sitting.. which is obvious to the readers of both his poetry as well as his fiction. In "The Philosophy of Composition." e. which helps to create an effect of beauty in the poem." is used to illustrate the swift. it is. The thoughts occurring in the essay might well have occurred to Poe while he was composing it. is a soothing ointment made in Gilead." in the fourteenth verse.. and the sorrow he feels for the loss of Lenore. "perfumed by an unseen censer / Swung by seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled. and reminds the narrator of his lost love." entitled "The Philosophy of Composition.

“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Douglass traveled extensively with Garrison and others through the Northern states. Douglass served as a slave on farms on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and in Baltimore throughout his youth. especially. The Raven is established as a symbol for the narrator's "Mournful and never-ending remembrance. In 1841. Poe started by writing the stanza that brought the narrator's "interrogation" of the raven to a climax. the abolitionist newspaper edited by William Lloyd Garrison. an American Slave. Douglass attended an abolitionist meeting in Nantucket. speaking nearly every day on the injustice and brutality of slavery. Poe chose Beauty to be the theme of the poem. Massachusetts. movement was gaining momentum. especially in the far Northeast. . "Beauty of whatever kind in its supreme development invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Douglass encountered hostile opposition and. it would not prove to be monotonous. Here he reunited with and married his fiancée.It was important to Poe to make "The Raven" "universally appreciable. 1850). After choosing Beauty as the province. so that even with the repetition of this word." "And my soul from out that shadow. shall be lifted . as well as the critics. and therefore. In the city. Uneasy about Douglass’s fugitive status. Douglas enjoyed relatively more freedom than slaves usually did in the South.nevermore!" FREDERICK DOUGLAS. stanza by stanza. or anti-slavery. where he met Garrison and was encouraged to tell the crowd about his experiences of slavery. and Frederick changed his last name from Bailey to Douglass. since "Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem" (Poe. that lies floating on the floor. Poe builds the tension in this poem up. most often. Of all melancholy topics. and lets the narrator know that there is no meaning in searching for a moral in the raven's "nevermore". the abolitionist. because it closely allies itself with Beauty. the third verse from the end. and he made sure that no preceeding stanza would "surpass this in rythmical effect. In Baltimore. he began reading the Liberator. Poe (along with other writers) believed that the death of a beautiful woman was the most poetical use of death. Massachusetts. a free black woman from Baltimore named Anna Murray. he chose Death as his topic. From 1841 to 1845. the charge that he was lying. After establishing subjects and tones of the poem. When Douglass first arrived in Massachusetts. Douglass’s spoken account was so well-received that Garrison offered to employ him as an abolitionist speaker for the American Anti-Slavery Society. Douglass first learned how to read and began making contacts with educated free blacks. Poe considered sadness to be the highest manifestation of beauty. 1850). Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones" (Poe." Poe then worked backwards from this stanza and used the word "Nevermore" in many different ways." It should be appreciated by the public. but after the climaxing stanza he tears the whole thing down. In the early 1840s. Poe wanted to use the one that was universally understood. Written by Himself” Context F REDERICK DOUGLASS WAS BORN into slavery in Maryland as Frederick Bailey circa 1818. Douglass eventually escaped north to New York at the age of about twenty. the two finally settled further north in New Bedford. Douglass worked for the next three years as a laborer and continued his self-education.

to the disapproval of other abolitionists who avoided politics for ideological reasons. to Helen Pitts. as his Maryland “owner” was legally entitled to track him down in Massachusetts and reclaim him. Douglass encountered a different brand of opposition within the ranks of the Anti-Slavery Society itself. An American Slave. Douglass’s use of the true names of people and places further silenced his detractors who questioned the truthfulness of his story and status as a former slave. and Congress authorized the enlistment of black men in 1863. in 1881 (the second volume. Douglass continued to write and lecture against slavery and also devoted attention to the women’s rights movement. Douglass demonstrated his ability to be not only the teller of his story. Yet Douglass’s talent clearly extended to the written word. in 1884. He remarried. Douglass campaigned first to make it the aim of the war to abolish slavery and then to allow black men to fight for the Union. rhetoric. The Union won the Civil War on April 9. Dou-glass spent the next two years traveling in the British Isles. oratorical rhetoric. During the 1860s and beyond. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. where he was warmly received. and leave the philosophy. He also found time to publish the third volume of his autobiography. now for the right of blacks to vote and receive equal treatment in public places. When the Civil War broke out in 1861. Written by Himself can be seen as a response to both of these types of opposition. was published in 1855). Douglass’s wife. Douglass’s 1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. but also an eloquent antisla-very treatise. Douglass died of a heart attack in 1895. 1865. He was successful on both fronts: Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on December 31. My Bondage and My Freedom. to attest to this fact. He returned to the United States only after two English friends purchased his freedom. the sentimental novel. Because Douglass did use real names in his Narrative. Douglass co-opted narrative styles and forms from the spiritual conversion narrative. Douglass continued to campaign. The Narrative pointedly states that Douglass is its sole author. Wendell Phillips. With theNarrative. He took advantage of the popularity of slave narratives while expanding the possibilities of those . New York. Additionally. would often condescendingly insist that Douglass merely relate the “facts” of his experience. 1862. who focused instead on the speeches for which Douglass was primarily known. Douglass’s work is read today as one of the finest examples of the slave-narrative genre. he had to flee the United States for a time. TheNarrative was an instant bestseller in 1845 and went through five print runs to accommodate demand. In1882. Douglass started his own abolitionist newspaper in 1847 in Rochester. He was one of only a few black men employed by the mostly white society. though they were paid only half what white soldiers made. Douglass’s Narrative was largely ignored by critics and historians. including Garrison. Anna.Many Americans did not believe that such an eloquent and intelligent Negro had so recently been a slave. and heroic fiction. Despite opposition from Garrison. and the society’s leaders. His Narrative emerged in a popular tradition of slave narratives and slavery fictions that includes Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. theNarrative undertook to be not only a personal account of Douglass’s experiences as a slave. but its interpreter as well. died. and persuasive argument to others. He became involved in politics. under the name North Star. Douglass served in government positions under several administrations in the 1870s and 1880s. and it contains two prefaces from Garrison and another abolitionist. His reputation at home had grown during his absence. Until the 1960s. a white advocate of the women’s movement.

soon after he is born. he is given to Captain Anthony’s son-in-law’s brother. Captain Anthony’s son-in-law. Auld considers Douglass unmanageable. Douglass’s Narrative can be read as a contribution to the literary tradition of American Romantic individualism. in its somewhat unique depiction of slavery as an assault on selfhood and in its attention to the tensions of becoming an individual. Lloyd owns hundreds of slaves. The two men have a two-hour fight. Douglass’s life on this plantation is not as hard as that of most of the other slaves. At Freeland’s. Harriet Bailey. Though Freeland is a milder. After the deaths of Captain Anthony and his remaining heirs. . Douglass enjoys a relatively freer life. a man known for “breaking” slaves. Sophia succumbs to the mentality of slaveowning and loses her natural kindliness. She even begins to teach Douglass to read. central plantation the “Great House Farm. has never had slaves before. Though Sophia and Hugh Auld become crueler toward him. saying that education makes slaves unmanageable. he serves in the household instead of in the fields. city slave-owners are more conscious of appearing cruel or neglectful toward their slaves in front of their non-slaveowning neighbors. Hugh Auld. after which Covey never touches Douglass again. he is unsure of his exact date of birth. Finally. Like many slaves. or antisla-very. no longer interested in reading or freedom. His year with Covey over. in the first six months. until her husband orders her to stop. Douglass’s will to escape is nonetheless renewed. Thomas Auld then sends Douglass back to Baltimore with Hugh Auld. like that on many Southern plantations. Douglass is next rented to William Freeland for two years. fairer man. Someone betrays their plan to Freeland. In general. He resolves to escape to the North eventually. Douglass also forms a plan of escape with three fellow slaves with whom he is close. to work and whip all the spirit out of Douglass. Douglass begins edu-cating his fellow slaves in a Sabbath school at the homes of free blacks. Captain Anthony is the clerk of a rich man named Colonel Lloyd. many slaves from neighboring farms come to Douglass and work diligently to learn. who call his large. who lives in Baltimore. In Baltimore. Captain Anthony. Douglass becomes a brutish man. the cruelest of which are Mr. As he learns to read and write. His father is most likely their white master. and Douglass and the others are taken to jail. Severe and Mr. Douglass becomes conscious of the evils of slavery and of the existence of the abolitionist. few articles of clothing. Slaves are overworked and exhausted.narratives. and no beds. so Auld rents him for one year to Edward Covey. At Freeland’s. Austin Gore. and sometimes even shot by the plantation overseers. Covey manages. Plot Overview F REDERICK DOUGLASS WAS BORN into slavery sometime in 1817 or 1818. Hugh’s wife. Douglass still likes Baltimore and is able to teach himself to read with the help of local boys. Despite the threat of punishment and violence they face. Eventually. Those who break rules—and even those who do not—are beaten or whipped. At the age of seven. Douglass is separated from his mother. however. to learn the trade of ship caulking. Auld is a mean man made harsher by his false religious piety. capable only of resting from his injuries and exhaustion. movement. Being a child. The turning point comes when Douglass resolves to fight back against Covey. is brutal. Sophia Auld. Douglass is taken back to serve Thomas Auld. and therefore she is surprisingly kind to Douglass at first. receive little food.” Life on any of Lloyd’s plantations.

In Baltimore’s trade industry. It is from Hugh Auld that Douglass learns this notion that knowledge must be the way to freedom. such as their birth date or their paternity. In his new apprenticeship. Wendell Phillips makes this point in his prefatory letter to the Narrative. Soon after. They believed that blacks were inherently incapable of participating in civil society and thus should be kept as workers for whites. As slave children grow older. Douglass encounters violent tactics of intimidation from his white coworkers and is forced to switch shipyards. He saves money bit by bit and eventually makes his escape to New York. Slave owners keep slaves ignorant of basic facts about themselves. This enforced ignorance robs children of their natural sense of individual identity. slaves must seek knowledge and education in order to pursue freedom. their side of the slavery story cannot be told. Douglass has no illusions that knowledge automatically renders slaves free. Douglass fears recapture and changes his name from Bailey to Douglass. where Douglass becomes deeply engaged with the abolitionist movement as both a writer and an orator. Eventually. At the time Douglass was writing. Southern slaveholders maintain control over what the rest of America knows about slavery. as literacy would give them a sense of self-sufficiency and capability. many people believed that slavery was a natural state of being. he does not oversimplify this connection. but the whites have begun to fear that the increasing numbers of free blacks will take their jobs. as Auld forbids his wife to teach Douglass how to read and write because education ruins slaves. Douglass sees that Auld has unwittingly revealed the strategy by which whites manage to keep blacks as slaves and by which blacks might free themselves. Douglass quickly learns the trade of caulking and soon earns the highest wages possible. If slaves cannot write. Douglass receives permission from Hugh Auld to hire out his extra time. Once slaves are able to articulate the injustice . The Narrative explains the strategies and procedures by which whites gain and keep power over blacks from their birth onward. Douglass refrains from describing the details of his escape in order to protect the safety of future slaves who may attempt the journey. Knowledge as the Path to Freedom Just as slave owners keep men and women as slaves by depriving them of knowledge andeducation. Finally. Douglass runs up against strained race relations. always turning them over to Hugh Auld. Themes. White workers have been working alongside free black workers. he marries Anna Murray. slave owners prevent them from learning how to read and write. Rather than provide immediate freedom. this awakened consciousness brings suffering. Though Douglass himself gains his freedom in part by virtue of his self-education. a free woman he met while in Baltimore. Slaveholders understand that literacy would lead slaves to question the right of whites to keep slaves. by keeping slaves illiterate. and as his greatest tool to work for the freedom of all slaves. Doug-lass presents his own self-education as the primary means by which he is able to free himself. In New York. They move north to Massachusetts. Motifs & Symbols Themes Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. as Hugh Auld predicts. Ignorance as a Tool of Slavery Douglass’s Narrative shows how white slaveholders perpetuate slavery by keeping their slaves ignorant. Though only an apprentice and still a slave. and helps them to recognize themselves as men rather than slaves. Knowledge helps slaves to articulate the injustice of slavery to themselves and others.

Douglass clarifies the point in his appendix. images of abused bodies. To strike this distinction. Sophia Auld. but to slave owners as well. Douglass implies that slavery should be outlawed for the greater good of all society. but merely a hypocritical show that serves to bolster their self-righteous brutality. Thomas undergoes a transformation in the Narrative from cruel slave owner to even crueler slave owner. Auld’s church benefits from Auld’s money. The Victimization of Female Slaves Women often appear in Douglass’s Narrative not as full characters. Thus Auld’s church. Douglass completes his overarching depiction of slavery as unnatural for all involved. or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. The character of Thomas Auld stands as an illustration of this theme. immoral actions of slaveholders. Douglass demonstrates that Auld’s brutality increases after he becomes a “pious” man. like many Southern churches. but still cannot physically escape without meeting great danger.of slavery. Douglass develops a distinction between true Christianity and false Christianity. peaceful tenets of Christianity and the violent. Douglass’s Aunt Hester. Like Sophia Auld. Douglass’s depcitions of the women’s mangled and emaciated bodies are meant to incite pain and outrage in the reader and point to the unnaturalness of the institution of slavery. calling the former “the Christianity of Christ” and the latter “the Christianity of this land. as the father is forced to either sell or perpetually punish his own child. Through the instance of Auld.” Douglass shows that slaveholders’ Christianity is not evidence of their innate goodness. Douglass points to the basic contradiction between the charitable. slave owners such as Thomas Auld develop a perverted religious sense to remain blind to the sins they commit in their own home. and others. With this theme. Slavery’s Damaging Effect on Slaveholders In the Narrative. they come to loathe their masters. Such adultery threatens the unity of the slave owner’s family. He recounts how many slave-owning men have been tempted to adultery and rape. is complicit in the inhuman cruelty of slavery. Slaveholding as a Perversion of Christianity Over the course of the Narrative. Douglass’s main illustration of the corruption of slave owners is Sophia Auld. and Henny. Motifs Motifs are recurring structures. as Auld’s show of piety increases his confi-dence in his “Godgiven” right to hold and mistreat slaves. earned by means of slaves. The corrupt and irresponsible power that slave owners enjoy over their slaves has a detrimental effect on the slave owners’ own moral health. In other instances. Henrietta and Mary. The irresponsible power of slaveholding transforms Sophia from an idealistic woman to a demon. fathering children with their female slaves. Douglass also demonstrates that the Southern church itself is corrupt. Douglass shows slaveholding to be damaging not only to the slaves themselves. The Treatment of Slaves as Property . contrasts. Douglass describes typical behavior patterns of slaveholders to depict the damaging effects of slavery. By showing the detrimental effects of slaveholding on Thomas Auld. for example. but as vivid images —specifically. appear only in scenes that demonstrate their masters’ abuse of them. while the slave owner’s wife becomes resentful and cruel.

which Douglass associates with angels. the countryside is a place of heightened surveillance of slaves by slaveholders. or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. Douglass shows how slaves frequently are passed between owners. but also of the power of eloquence and articulation. but he uses it to appease Sandy. regardless of where the slaves’ families are. These pieces help Douglass to articulate why slavery is wrong. Douglass does not seem to believe in the magical powers of the root. Their white sails. he also becomes educated about the injustice of slavery. The city also stands as a place of increased possibility and a more open society. In the countryside. Freedom in the City Douglass’s Narrative switches settings several times between the rural Eastern Shore of Maryland and the city of Baltimore. By contrast. Douglass pre-sents this treatment of humans as objects or animals as cruel and absurd. then. Baltimore is a site of relative freedom for Douglass and other slaves. Douglass sees his own life’s work as an attempt to replicate The Columbian Orator. Douglass focuses on the master-slave dialogue and the speech on behalf of Catholic emancipation. figures. White-Sailed Ships Douglass encounters white-sailed ships moving up the Chesapeake Bay during the spiritual and physical low point of his first months with Covey. The ships. To some extent. a collection of political essays. Of all the pieces in The Columbian Orator. In this regard. they often treat slaves like livestock. Douglass states in a footnote that Sandy’s belief in the root is “superstitious” and typical of the more ignorant slave population. Douglass is concerned with showing the discrepancy between the fact that slaves are human beings and the fact that slave owners treat them as property. The ships appear almost as a vision to Douglass. . and he recognizes them as a sign or message about his demoralized state. poems. both philosophically and politically. Symbols Symbols are objects.Throughout the Narrative. the root stands as a symbol of a traditional African approach to religion and belief. around the age of twelve. just after he has learned to read. The Columbian Orator Douglass first encounters The Columbian Orator. It is in Baltimore that Douglass meets for the first time whites who oppose slavery and who regard Douglass as a human being. Slave owners value slaves only to the extent that they can perform productive labor. and dialogues. The Columbian Orator. mere animals. In fact. This freedom results from the standards of decency set by the non-slaveholding segment of the urban population—standards that generally prevent slaveholders from demonstrating extreme cruelty toward their slaves. without reason. seem to represent freedom from slavery to Douglass. slaves enjoy the least amount of freedom and mobility. As Douglass becomes educated in the rudimentary skills of literacy. Sandy’s Root Sandy Jenkins offers Douglass a root from the forest with supposedly magical qualities that help protect slaves from whippings. also suggest spiritualism—or the freedom that comes with spiritualism. characters. becomes a symbol not only of human rights. traveling northward from port to port.

who often need help in seeing through convention and popular opinion. Many historians have credited the novel with contributing to the outbreak of the Civil War. which enabled her to see both sides of the slavery debate without losing her abolitionist’s perspective. It sold 10. Within the text itself. Though Stowe absorbed a great deal of information about slavery during her Cincinnati years. Stowe was born into a family of eccentric. bravery. she made up for in influence and success. Stowe grew up in the Northeast but lived for a time in Cincinnati. the reader receives a glimpse into the details of the slavery debate. Looking beyond the text to its impact on its society. and one can see a similar attention to voice in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. she nonetheless conducted extensive research before writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin. astronomical numbers for the mid-nineteenth century. Her black cook and household servants also helped by telling her stories of their slave days. feminist abolitionist. “So this is the little lady who made this big war. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in episodes in the National Era in 1851and 1852. She wrote to Frederick Douglass and others for help in creating a realistic picture of slavery in the Deep South. The daughter of an eminent New England preacher. intelligent people. She also works in her feminist beliefs. the reader gains an understanding of the historical forces contributing to the outbreak of war. Southern slaves who escaped to the North had to flee to Canada in order to find real freedom. Stowe’s main goal with Uncle Tom’s Cabin was to convince her large Northern readership of the necessity of ending slavery. With her book. Most immediately. the novel served as a response to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. both before she was ten years old. As a child. 1852. she learned Latin and wrote a children’s geography book. feminist causes. It sold hundreds of thousands of copies and was translated into numerous languages. Stowe continually emphasizes the importance of Christian love in eradicating oppression. Cincinnati was evenly split for and against abolition. Plot Overview .HARRIET BEECHER STOWE: “UNCLE’S TOM CABIN” Context U PON MEETING HARRIET BEECHER STOWE for the first time. Today. which made it illegal to give aid or assistance to a runaway slave. and the most divisive political and moral issue of her time: the abolition of slavery. was informed by a deep religiosity.000 by the end of the year. She often wrote pieces under pseudonyms and with contrasting styles. analysis of both the book’s conception and reception proves helpful in our understanding of the Civil War era. in the arguments Stowe uses. For example. Stowe created a sort of exposé that revealed the horrors of Southern slavery to people in the North. then published in its entirety on March 20. Throughout her life. though. Indeed. showing women as equals to men in intelligence.” Stowe was little— under five feet tall—but what she lacked in height. women dominate the book’s moral code. and Stowe wrote satirical pieces on the subject for several local papers there. and spiritual strength. in which dialects and patterns of speech contrast among characters. Her radical position on race relations. Abraham Lincoln reportedly said.000copies in its first week and 300. she remained deeply involved in religious movements. the reader finds insights into the mind of a Christian. proving vital advisors to their husbands. Under this legislation. Uncle Tom’s Cabin became one of the most widely read and deeply penetrating books of its time.

and Legree resolves to crush his faith in God. Though he and his wife. George shoots him in the side. Haley. and her father. Tom dives in to save her.H AVING RUN UP LARGE DEBTS. Aunt Chloe. and Harry. hoping to find freedom with her husband George in Canada. When Shelby tells his wife about his agreement with Haley. gratefully agrees to buy Tom from Haley. However. and the other slave hunters retreat. Clare is stabbed to death while trying to settle a brawl. St. Emily Shelby. he at last finds God and goes to be reunited with his mother in heaven. St. who opposes slavery as an institution but harbors deep prejudices against blacks. with whom he shares a devout Christianity. Clare’s cruel wife. Clare. and hears her story. where he can be healed. Haley pursues her. then dies. a Kentucky farmer named Arthur Shelby faces the prospect of losing everything he owns. and St. She slowly weakens. Topsy learns to trust and feel attached to others. Clare household and increasingly close to Eva. before he can act on his decision. as Haley takes him to a boat on the Mississippi to be transported to a slave market. a middle-aged man with a wife and children on the farm. Clares to their home in New Orleans. St. Clare discusses slavery with his cousin Ophelia. Her death has a profound effect on everyone who knew her: Ophelia resolves to love the slaves. However. Marie. The slaves in question are Uncle Tom. Eliza and Harry make their way to a Quaker settlement. replacing his previous sex slave Cassy. When Eva falls into the river. Eva grows very ill. where the Quakers agree to help transport them to safety. Legree takes a strong dislike to Tom when Tom refuses to whip a fellow slave as ordered. On the boat. by contrast. she became pregnant again but killed the child because she could not stand to have another child taken from her. Augustine St. in New Orleans. who reunites joyously with his family for the trip to Canada. she takes Harry and flees to the North. As he dies. a young black girl who was abused by her past master and arranges for Ophelia to begin educating her. George and Eliza remain in flight from Loker and his men. Tom is taken to rural Louisiana with a group of new slaves. who quickly befriends him. When Loker attempts to capture them. After Tom has lived with the St. Clares for two years. Eliza overhears the conversation between Shelby and his wife and. after warning Uncle Tom and his wife. he buys Topsy. Meanwhile. Up North. Haley hires a slave hunter named Loker and his gang to bring Eliza and Harry back to Kentucky. Shelby decides to raise money by selling two of his slaves to Mr. Shelby’s young son and Tom’s friend. Clare. where he grows increasingly invaluable to the St. the boundary separating Kentucky from the North. but two other Shelby slaves alert Eliza to the danger. a coarse slave trader. Separated from her daughter by slavery. have a kindhearted and affectionate relationship with their slaves. Tom meets an angelic little white girl named Eva. To help Ophelia overcome her bigotry. Shelby’s maid Eliza. including Emmeline. sells Tom to a vicious plantation owner named Simon Legree. feels no hostility against blacks but tolerates slavery because he feels powerless to change it. Clare decides to set Tom free. with a vision of heaven before her. St. Tom receives a severe beating. the young son of Mrs. whom the demonic Legree has purchased to use as a sex slave. . she is appalled because she has promised Eliza that Shelby would not sell her son. She miraculously evades capture by crossing the half-frozen Ohio River. Eliza convinces George and the Quakers to bring Loker to the next settlement. Meanwhile. Tom meets Cassy. They are joined at the settlement by George. Uncle Tom sadly leaves his family and Mas’r George. Tom travels with the St.

he sets all the slaves free in honor of Tom’s memory.Around this time. did the novel again become widely read. Not until the early 1960s. just as Tom did. and Harry at last cross over into Canada from Lake Erie and obtain their freedom. Moreover. More than a hundred years after its initial publication. and he nearly ceases to believe. She does so. Cassy and Emmeline meet George Harris’s sister and travel with her to Canada. but he is too late. Legree orders his overseers to beat him. but to his deep religious values. The term “Uncle Tom” became an insult. After its initial burst of sensational popularity and influence. And while this religiosity translates into a selfless passivity on Tom’s part. When Tom refuses to tell Legree where Cassy and Emmeline have gone. He can only watch as Tom dies a martyr’s death. First. the African nation created for former American slaves. . taking Emmeline with her. he supports Eliza’s escape. Everywhere Tom goes in the novel. where. which probably places him in his late forties at the start of the novel. Although modern readers’ criticisms hold some validity. George Shelby arrives with money in hand to buy Tom’s freedom. he manages to spread some of the love and goodwill of his religious beliefs. Uncle Tom’s Cabinstood as a testament to a past set of standards and expectations. Indeed. as well as that of Cassy and Emmeline from the Legree plantation. the passive acceptance of slavery practiced by the novel’s title character seemed horrendously out of line with the resolve and strength of modern black Civil Rights crusaders. George Shelby returns to the Kentucky farm. the notion of an “Uncle Tom” contains generalizations not found within the actual character in the novel. and by the mid-1900s. however—one of Christ and one of Eva —which renew his spiritual strength and give him the courage to withstand Legree’s torments. conjuring an image of an old black man eager to please his white masters and happy to accept his own position of inferiority. helping to alleviate the pain of slavery and enhance the hope of salvation. Tom is not an old man. Eliza. In particular. after his father’s death. The novel states that he is eight years older than Shelby. Tom’s central characteristic in the novel is this religiosity. He urges them to think on Tom’s sacrifice every time they look at his cabin and to lead a pious Christian life. When Tom is near death. Tom’s faith is sorely tested by his hardships. after she devises a ruse in which she and Emmeline pretend to be ghosts. the hero of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and one of the most popular figures of nineteenth-century American fiction. Taking a boat toward freedom. his strength of faith. Analysis of Major Characters Uncle Tom History has not been kind to Uncle Tom. Tom’s passivity owes not to stupidity or to contentment with his position. The newly reunited family travels to France and decides to move to Liberia. with the help of Tom Loker—now a changed man after being healed by the Quakers—George. where Cassy realizes that Eliza is her long-lost daughter. however. Its circulation declined following the end of the Civil War and Stowe’s death. Thus. the book was virtually out of print. it also translates into a policy of warm encouragement of others’ attempts at freedom. He has two visions. Uncle Tom’s Cabin fell into neglect. He encourages Cassy to escape. Moreover. The values and attributes that seemed admirable in its characters in 1852 frequently appeared incomprehensible and even contemptible to twentieth-century readers. In Louisiana. when the Civil Rights Movement reawakened an interest in anti-slavery fiction. he forgives Legree and the overseers. Tom does not accept his position of inferiority with happiness. which impel him to love everyone and selflessly endure his trials.

she holds up Tom’s death as nobler than any escape. But Stowe suggests that duty alone will not eradicate slavery—abolitionists must act out of love. Clare Probably the most complex female character in the novel. black and white. Because Ophelia has seldom spent time in the presence of slaves. then brought that reader into the book as a character. she finds them uncomfortably alien. Often associated with firelight and flames. Ophelia embodies what Stowe considered a widespread Northern problem: the white person who opposes slavery on a theoretical level but feels racial prejudice and hatred in the presence of an actual black slave. By practicing selflessness and loving his enemy. but he will not capitulate or run away. but she considers it almost necessary for blacks. and provides the motivating force behind George Shelby’s decision to free all the slaves. and Tom’s death never would have happened. a radical role for a black character to play in American fiction in1852. Legree demonstrates literally infernal qualities. Because Stowe believes that a transformation through Christian love must occur before slavery can be abolished successfully. but as a heroic model of behavior that should be practiced by everyone. Tom becomes a martyr and affects social change. Ophelia begins to have increased contact with a slave. However. one should note that Stowe does not present this behavior as a model of black behavior. in that it provides an example for others and offers the hope of a more generalized salvation.while Tom may not actively seek his own freedom. Legree’s main purpose in the book is as a foil to Uncle Tom. Tom’s death proves Legree’s fundamental moral and personal inferiority. Eva’s death proves the crucial catalyst in Ophelia’s transformation. He has been deeply affected by the death of his angelic mother and seems to show some legitimate affection for Cassy. and as an effective picture of slavery at its worst. standing firm in his values. It is as if Stowe conceived an imaginary picture of her intended reader. Once St. moreover. Simon Legree Although largely a uniformly evil villain. Moreover. Ophelia detests slavery. She portrayed his passivity as a virtue unconnected to his minority status. slavery would be impossible. Within the world of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. he practices a kind of resistance in his passivity. and Stowe’s approving treatment of it. Stowe makes it very clear that if the villainous white slaveholders of the novel were to achieve Tom’s selfless Christian love for others. Stowe emphasizes that much of Ophelia’s racial prejudice stems from unfamiliarity and ignorance rather than from actual experience-based hatred. Simon Legree does possess some psychological depth as a character. He will submit to being beaten for his beliefs. overcoming her racial prejudice and offering a model to Stowe’s Northern readers. At first she tries to teach Topsy out of a sense of mere duty. Tom is presented as more than a black hero—he is presented as a hero transcending race. even in recognizing Tom’s passivity in the novel. Through this death. he refuses. Although contemporary society finds its heroes in active agents of social change and tends to discourage submissiveness. and she comes to love Topsy as a human being. Tom becomes a Christ figure. against whom she harbors a deep-seated prejudice—she does not want them to touch her. Ophelia deserves special attention from the reader because she is treated as a surrogate for Stowe’s intended audience. Ophelia is one of the only characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin who develops as the story progresses. Ophelia St. Stowe meant for Tom to embody noble heroic tendencies of his own. and his devilishness provides an effective contrast with the . Clare puts Topsy in her care. Nonetheless. When Legree orders him to beat the slave girl in Chapter XXXIII.

First she deflates the defense of the pro-slavery reader by showing the evil of the “best” kind of slavery. Stowe explores the question of slavery in a fairly mild setting. No Christian. Eva. in the worst of cases it is nightmarish and inhuman. Each of Stowe’s scenes. which made it illegal for anyone in the United States to offer aid or assistance to a runaway slave. Stowe leaves behind the pleasant veneer of life at the Shelby and St. the more he or she objects to slavery. Clares’. She seeks to expose the vices of slavery even in its best-case scenario. insisting that the slave’s best interest can lie only in obtaining freedom. Legree’s demoniacally evil ways also play an important role in shaping the end of the book along the lines of the traditional Christian narrative. to persuade the reader—especially the Northern reader of Stowe’s time—that slavery is evil. in which slaves and masters have seemingly positive relationships. introduces the power of shock into Stowe’s argument. Stowe takes great pains to illustrate the fact that the system of slavery and the moral code of Christianity oppose each other. In the end. A common contemporary defense of slavery claimed that the institution benefited the slaves because most masters acted in their slaves’ best interest. prevents the St. fails to understand why anyone would see a difference between blacks and whites. she insists. In the book’s structural progression between “pleasant” and hellish plantations. Stowe does not offer these settings in order to show slavery’s evil as conditional. Above all. the more religious a character is. Even under kind masters. Themes. un-Christian. should be able to tolerate slavery. predominantly Protestant audience. slaves suffer. The novel seeks to attack this law and the institution it protected. The Incompatibility of Slavery & Christian Values Writing for a predominantly religious. Though Shelby and St. although Tom dies and Legree survives. For most of the novel. the most morally perfect white character in the novel. while serving to further character and plot. in which slaves suffer beatings. and again at the St. by demanding attention be given to herself. the slaves have kindly masters who do not abuse or mistreat them. At the Shelbys’ house. Throughout the novel. the morally revolting. In contrast. where the evil of slavery appears in its most naked and hideousform.angelic qualities of his passive slave. as we see when a financially struggling Shelby guiltily destroys Tom’s family by selling Tom. This harsh and barbaric setting. their ability to tolerate slavery renders them hypocritical and morally weak. ceaselessly advocating the immediate emancipation of the slaves and freedom for all people. nonreligious Legree practices slavery almost as a policy of . and intolerable in a civil society. sexual abuse. we can detect Stowe’s rhetorical methods. Tom dies loving the men who kill him. proving that his faith prevails over Legree’s evil. also serves. the evil that Legree stands for has been destroyed. and when the fiercely selfish Marie. She then presents her own case against slavery by showing the shocking wickedness of slavery at its worst. and even murder. Clare houses and takes her reader into the Legree plantation. Stowe refutes this argument with her biting portrayals. Motifs & Symbols Themes Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of1850. In the final third of the book. Clare slaves from mourning the death of her own angelic daughter. If slavery is wrong in the best of cases. Eva. Clare possess kindness and intelligence. Legree desires to break Tom’s religious faith and to see him capitulate to doubt and sin. without exception.

and Ophelia begins the novel with many prejudices. to achieve salvation for others. he dies forgiving them. In the cases where women do not act morally—such as Prue in her drunkenness or Cassy with her infanticide. Shelby. and after being healed by the generous-hearted and deeply religious Quakers. she shows how this show of strength by one oppressed group can help to alleviate the oppression of the other. The story of his life both exposes the evil of slavery—its incompatibility with Christian virtue—and points the way to its transformation through Christian love. Tom becomes a Christian martyr. The text portrays women as morally conscientious. Motifs Christ Figures As befits its religious preoccupation. When he is beaten to death by Legree and his men. Both Tom and Eva are explicitly compared to Christ: Ophelia says that Eva resembles Jesus. Clare’s mother. the women’s sins are presented as illustrating slavery’s evil influence rather than the women’s own immorality. Moreover. often as more morally conscientious. Black women generally prove strong. Uncle Tom ultimately triumphs over slavery in his adherence to Christ’s command to “love thine enemy.deliberate blasphemy and evil. Eva’s death leads to St. Thus. Christianity. a model for the behavior of both whites and blacks. both die in atmospheres of charged religious belief. Moreover. the reader sees many examples of idealized womanhood. not only are Christianity and slavery incompatible. but Christianity can actually be used to fight slavery. Not all women appear as bolsters to the book’s moral code: Marie acts petty and mean. If all people were to put this principle into practice. St. He becomes a changed man. and the narrator depicts Tom carrying his cross . brave. Eva and Tom. The text also portrays black women in a very positive light. and. Stowe insists. The Moral Power of Women Although Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin before the widespread growth of the women’s rights movement of the late 1800s. Mrs. in Stowe’s novel.” He refuses to compromise his Christian faith in the face of the many trials he undergoes at Legree’s plantation. pointing to an inherent moral wisdom in the gender as a whole and encouraging the use of this wisdom as a force for social change. and courageous than men. committed. Tom’s death leads to Emmeline and Cassy’s escape and to the freedom of all the slaves on the Shelby farm in Kentucky. to a lesser extent. of perfect mothers and wives who attempt to find salvation for their morally inferior husbands or sons. yet she expresses hope for the oppressed in her presentation of women as effectively influencing their husbands. Clare’s deathbed conversion to Christianity and to Ophelia’s recognition and denunciation of her own racial prejudice. Examples include Mrs. In this way. the two most morally perfect characters in the novel. and both die. the reader can nevertheless regard the book as a specimen of early feminism. Throughout the novel. it would be impossible for one segment of humanity to oppress and enslave another. committed. and courageous—indeed. and capable. Legree’s mother. White women can use their influence to convince their husbands—the people with voting rights—of the evil of slavery. the novel presents two instances of a sacrificial death linked to Christ’s. Nonetheless. rests on a principle of universal love. Bird. the book seems to argue the existence of a natural female sense of good and evil. The slave hunter Tom Loker learns this lesson after his life is spared by the slaves he tried to capture. in a sense. Stowe implies a parallel between the oppression of blacks and the oppression of women. as seen especially in the character of Eliza.

” facilitating her escape from oppression. The leap from the southern to the northern bank of the river symbolizes in one dramatic moment the process of leaving slavery for freedom. these occurrences reinforce Eva’s purity and add moral authority to her anti-slavery stance. The cabin also becomes a metaphor for Uncle Tom’s willingness to be beaten and even killed rather than harm or betray his fellow slaves— his willingness to suffer and die rather than go against Christian values of love and loyalty. Before Eva dies. Eliza’s Leap The scene of Eliza’s leap across the half-frozen Ohio river constitutes the most famous episode in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. he is visited by religious visions that restore it. Obviously the opposition is rooted in history. thus sustaining him in his passive resistance of Legree. This ploy enables them to escape. signifying both the destructive power of slavery and the ability of Christian love to overcome it. For instance. Geography Uncle Tom’s Cabin uses the North to represent freedom and the South to represent slavery and oppression. Indeed. The Supernatural Several supernatural instances of divine intervention in the novel suggest that a higher order exists to oppose slavery. The sight of Uncle Tom’s cabin on George Shelby’s property serves as a persistent reminder to him of the sufferings Tom experienced as a slave. when Eliza leaps over the Ohio river. The dangers Eliza faces in her leap. he has an upsetting vision of his dead mother and becomes temporarily paralyzed by an apparition of a ghost in the fog. This motif of Christ-like sacrifice and death enables Stowe to underscore her basic point about Christian goodness while holding up models of moral perfection for her reader to emulate. he tells them that. when they look at Uncle Tom’s cabin.behind Jesus. and the courage she requires to execute it successfully. The fear caused by this apparition weakens Legree to the point that Cassy and Emmeline can trick him into believing that ghosts haunt the garret. But they also serve to thwart other characters in their efforts to practice slavery. she glimpses a view of heaven and experiences a miraculous presentiment of her own death. Symbols Uncle Tom’s Cabin Near the end of the book. sentimental death scenes popular in nineteenth-century literature. they should remember their freedom and dedicate themselves to leading a Christian life like Uncle Tom’s. jumping rapidly between blocks of ice without fear or pain. represent the more general instances of peril and heroism involved in any slave’s journey to freedom. as the Ohio River served as the legally recognized divide between South and North. Thus. Stowe . It also enables her to create the emotionally charged. Eliza’s leap from one bank to the next literally constitutes a leap from the slave-holding states to the non-slave-holding states. The scene also serves as an important metaphor. as Legree pursues his oppression of Tom. Similarly. when Tom’s faith begins to lapse at the Legree plantation. after George Shelby frees his slaves. However. the text tells us that she has been endowed with a “strength such as God gives only to the desperate. Instances of supernaturalism thus support various characters in their efforts to resist or fight slavery. The image of the cabin thus neatly encapsulates the main themes of the book.

there are three key episodes that must be examined. One story serves as an escape narrative. The first of these is found in the sixth section of the poem. While “Song of Myself” is crammed with significant detail. WALT WHITMAN. the action in the escape narrative moves increasingly northward. In the wake of the Civil War the grass reminds Whitman of graves: grass feeds on the bodies of the dead. reaching its final permutation in 1881. though. 1867. an American epic. whether due to natural causes or to the bloodshed of internecine . in the 1860. “Song of Myself” is composed more of vignettes than lists: Whitman uses small. As Walt Whitman. far into the Deep South. Everyone must die eventually. Two main stories dominate the novel—the story of Eliza and George and the story of Uncle Tom. “Missing me one place search another. Like most of the other poems. The other story is a slavery narrative. Beginning in medias res—in the middle of the poet’s life—it loosely follows a quest pattern. Starting from the premise that “what I assume you shall assume” Whitman tries to prove that he both encompasses and is indistinguishable from the universe. “Song of Myself” is a sprawling combination of biography. it too was revised extensively. But they also signify a common material that links disparate people all over the United States together: grass. with Canada representing its endpoint and the attainment of freedom by the escaped slaves. rather. This geographical split represents the wide gulf between freedom and slavery and plays into Stowe’s general use of parallelism and contrast in making her political points. and so the natural roots of democracy are therefore in mortality. simply “Walt Whitman.“SONG OF MYSELF” Summary and Form This most famous of Whitman’s works was one of the original twelve pieces in the 1855 first edition of Leaves of Grass. Since for Whitman the birthplace of poetry is in the self.” In its catalogues of American life and its constant search for the boundaries of the self “Song of Myself” has much in common with classical epic.embellishes the opposition so as to transform it from literal to literary. grows everywhere. and 1871 editions. Previous to that it had been titled “Poem of Walt Whitman. with Tom’s death occurring on Legree’s plantation in rural Louisiana. Whitman uses symbols and sly commentary to get at important issues. Commentary Whitman’s grand poem is. the specific individual. The bunches of grass in the child’s hands become a symbol of the regeneration in nature. melts away into the abstract “Myself. sermon. This epic sense of purpose. an American” and. This poem did not take on the title “Song of Myself” until the 1881 edition. is coupled with an almost Keatsian valorization of repose and passive perception.” he tells his reader. It is not nearly as heavyhanded in its pronouncements as “Starting at Paumanok”. A child asks the narrator “What is the grass?” and the narrator is forced to explore his own use of symbolism and his inability to break things down to essential principles. and poetic meditation. Not surprisingly. chronicling Uncle Tom’s descent into increasingly worse states of oppression. in its way. The action in the slavery narrative moves increasingly southward.” the poem explores the possibilities for communion between individuals. the ultimate symbol of democracy. “I stop somewhere waiting for you.” The poem’s shifting title suggests something of what Whitman was about in this piece. the best way to learn about poetry is to relax and watch the workings of one’s own mind. precisely drawn scenes to do his work here. chronicling Eliza and George’s flight to freedom.

he finally decides: “I too am not a bit tamed. / It provokes me forever. More than anything. the yawp is an invitation to the next Walt Whitman. at a moment where speech becomes necessary. and invisible so as not to interfere with it unduly. I myself become the wounded person”). to absorb it as part of a new multitude. the eroticism becomes homoeroticism. suggesting that the boundary between encompassing everything and saying nothing is easily crossed. Having worked through some of the conditions of perception and creation.” Instead he takes a philosophically more rigorous stance: “What is known I strip away.” he says. a sound at the borderline between saying everything and saying nothing. to have a sympathetic experience. however. Lacking any of the normal communicative properties of language.” Whitman. why don’t you let it out then?” Having already established that he can have a sympathetic experience when he encounters others (“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels. While Whitman normally revels in this kind of symbolic indeterminacy. and he must reassemble after unsettling: he must “let it out then. particularly for shock value).” Again Whitman’s position is similar to that of Emerson. In this section a woman watches twenty-eight young men bathing in the ocean. The invisible twenty-ninth bather offers a model of being much like that of Emerson’s “transparent eyeball”: to truly experience the world one must be fully in it and of it. She fantasizes about joining them unseen. it says sarcastically. As the female spectator introduced in the beginning of the section fades away. I too am untranslatable. Whitman arrives. here it troubles him a bit. he later vows he “will never translate [him]self at all. The lavish eroticism of this section reinforces this idea: sexual contact allows two people to become one yet not one—it offers a moment of transcendence. who says of himself. This paradoxical set of conditions describes perfectly the poetic stance Whitman tries to assume. / Walt you contain enough. is a poet. EMILY DICKINSON This is my letter to the World Emily Dickinson This is my letter to the World That never wrote to Me The simple News that Nature told With tender Majesty Her Message is committed To Hands I cannot see - .warfare. Whitman’s yawp is the release of the “kosmos” within him. in the third key episode.” “Song of Myself” thus ends with a sound—a yawp—that could be described as either pre. he must find a way to re-transmit that experience without falsifying or diminishing it. In the twenty-fifth section he notes that “Speech is the twin of my vision.” Having catalogued a continent and encompassed its multitudes. Again this is not so much the expression of a sexual preference as it is the longing for communion with every living being and a connection that makes use of both the body and the soul (although Whitman is certainly using the homoerotic sincerely. yet distinct enough from it to have some perspective. “I wish I could translate the hints. Resisting easy answers. and describes their semi-nude bodies in some detail. The second episode is more optimistic. to read into the yawp. and in other ways too.or post-linguistic. The famous “twenty-ninth bather” can be found in the eleventh section of the poem. and Whitman’s voice takes over. it is unequal to measure itself. / I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. “I am the unsettler.

Worlds scoop their arcs. From inns of molten blue. Soundless as dots on a disk of snow. Pipe the sweet birds in ignorant cadence. Not all the vats upon the Rhine Yield such an alcohol! Inebriate of air am I. And debauchee of dew. When the landlord turn the drunken bee Out of the foxglove's door.For love of Her – Sweet – countrymen Judge tenderly – of Me Safe in their alabaster chambers BY EMILY DICKINSON Safe in their alabaster chambers. When butterflies renounce their drams. And mourners. A service like a drum . and roof of stone. Reeling. Diadems drop and Doges surrender. Sleep the meek members of the resurrection. Kept treading. I Taste A Liquor Never Brewed-Emil Dickinson I taste a liquor never brewed. I shall but drink the more! Till seraphs swing their snowy hats. And when they all were seated. Rafter of satin. To see the little tippler Leaning against the sun! I FELT A FUNERAL IN MY BRAIN I felt a funeral in my brain. Untouched by morning and untouched by noon. to and fro. Babbles the bee in a stolid ear. till it seemed That sense was breaking through.— Ah. through endless summer days. what sagacity perished here! Grand go the years in the crescent above them. Light laughs the breeze in her castle of sunshine. and firmaments row. treading. From tankards scooped in pearl.

And finished knowing--then-- “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—.” the moment when. metaphorically. . The eyes around her had cried themselves out. It interposed itself “With blue—uncertain stumbling Buzz —” between the speaker and the light. “the King / Be witnessed—in the Room—. and the breaths were firming themselves for “that last Onset.” The speaker made a will and “Signed away / What portion of me be / Assignable—” and at that moment. The eyes beside had wrung them dry. And Being but an ear. And I and silence some strange race. And then I heard them lift a box. uncertain. The room was as still as the air between “the Heaves” of a storm. till I thought My mind was going numb. signed away What portion of me I Could make assignable. and then she died (“I could not see to see—”). stumbling buzz.” I heard a fly buzz when I died. I willed my keepsakes. The stillness round my form Was like the stillness in the air Between the heaves of storm. and then There interposed a fly.. and then I could not see to see. Between the light and me. And creak across my soul With those same boots of lead. And then a plank in reason. Summary The speaker says that she heard a fly buzz as she lay on her deathbed. beating.Kept beating. And I dropped down and down-And hit a world at every plunge. broke.. solitary. Wrecked. With blue. And then the windows failed. Then space began to toll As all the heavens were a bell. she heard the fly. “the Windows failed”. And breaths were gathering sure For that last onset. here. when the king Be witnessed in his power.

Interestingly. the dying woman signing away in her will “What portion of me be / Assignable” (a turn of phrase that seems more Shakespearean than it does Dickinsonian). firm/Room. My life had stood My life had stood--a Loaded Gun-In Corners--till a Day The Owner passed--identified-And carried Me away-And now We roam in Sovereign Woods-And now We hunt the Doe-And every time I speak for Him-The Mountains straight reply-And do I smile. while only the rhyme in the final stanza is a full rhyme (me/see). all the rhymes before the final stanza are half-rhymes (Room/Storm. normally disregarded fly into the figure of death itself.” But the fly does not grow in power or stature.” This poem is also remarkable for its detailed evocation of a deathbed scene—the dying person’s loved ones steeling themselves for the end. as the fly’s wing cuts the speaker off from the light until she cannot “see to see. a sense of true completion comes only with the speaker’s death. three in the second and fourth. The poem then becomes even weirder and more macabre by transforming the tiny. Dickinson uses this technique to build tension. and an ABCB rhyme scheme.Form “I heard a Fly buzz” employs all of Dickinson’s formal patterns: trimeter and tetrameter iambic lines (four stresses in the first and third lines of each stanza. a pattern Dickinson follows at her most formal). such cordial light Upon the Valley glow-It is as a Vesuvian face Had let its pleasure through-And when at Night--Our good Day done-I guard My Master's Head-'Tis better than the Eider-Duck's Deep Pillow--to have shared-To foe of His--I'm deadly foe-None stir the second time-On whom I lay a Yellow Eye-Or an emphatic Thumb-Though I than He--may longer live . be/Fly). rhythmic insertion of the long dash to interrupt the meter. “I heard a Fly buzz” strikingly describes the mental distraction posed by irrelevant details at even the most crucial moments—even at the moment of death. its final severing act is performed “With Blue—uncertain stumbling Buzz—. Commentary One of Dickinson’s most famous poems.

it is not a sexual place but one of violence. In the second stanza. he has his gun by his bedside to protect him (“I guard My Master’s Head –“). then. in which the speaker’s life becomes a loaded gun. In the fifth stanza. its boom is echoed by the mountains—their “straight reply. the violence and the perpetrator. too. Without--the power to die-This poem is an extended metaphor. which illuminates the valley (“It is as a Vesuvian face/Had let its pleasure through—“). the speaker becomes his marksman.He longer must--than I-For I have but the power to kill. becomes powerful—she shares his voice. the gun. In either case. The gun is unused for the first stanza. This becomes very clear in the second stanza. In addition. and carried away by him. and in fulfilling this role. is fierce. In the second stanza they are fused. and is in some way immortal. traveling together through the woods in pursuit of the deer they are hunting. choosing to serve God is a way to further your own power and existence. who sees his explosion (“On whom I lay a Yellow eye –“) or who is on the wrong end when he cocks the gun (“Or an emphatic Thumb –“). is communicating for the master—“every time I speak for Him –“—taking on his voice. Her guarding of him. but a lover. however. The speaker only gains agency or power when she is identified by this lover. his master in the true meaning of the word will outlive him—“He longer must – than I –. until its owner recognizes it and takes it away with him. When the owner goes to sleep (“And when at Night – Our good Day done –“). the central dilemma of the poem is that of the fusion of the gun and its owner. fueled by a murderous and possessive fury to such an extent that. picked up by God.” Similarly. the force and the agent. Whenever the gun is fired (“And every time I speak for him –“). whether the Master is deity or lover. The gun will live longer than his master (“Though I than He – may longer live”).” It is death which defines life. where she guards him jealously. The gun warns that to any enemy of his master’s. actually refers to the gun’s explosions. acts only at his bidding. as defined in the first line.” Analysis There are two conventional understandings of the metaphor of this poem. he will prove to be very dangerous (“To foe of His – I’m deadly foe –“). but it is not true living. they are “We. because he is “Without – the power to die –. will survive (“None stir the second time –“). though a bed is mentioned. when the gun is fired (“And do I smile”) there is an explosion of light (“such cordial light/Upon the Valley glow –“). the gun and the owner become closely connected.” a very human feature. No one who he is fired at. She in fact explicitly states that she would rather guard him than share the bed with him. The first is that the “Master” is God. The second conventional reading is that the “Master” is not God.” she becomes his voice and guardian. and the sentence grammatically reads “On whom I lay…an emphatic Thumb.” and this is emphasized further by the anaphora of the first two lines of that stanza. and so. In this reading. She is his staunch defender. in going off. the speaker and the owner are almost indistinguishable—the “Yellow Eye. thus though he may last longer than his master. and the gun prefers this role to sleeping with the master (“’Tis better than the Edier-Duck’s/Deep Pillow – to have shared –“). that is.” but the thumb is . where the speaker and her owner fuse together into a “We.

Life on the river also gave Twain material for several of his books. left the family in hardship. who is cocking the gun. and novels. and in making this interdependence complicated enough that it is nearly impossible to extricate one from the other. it never really lives at all “Without – the power to die –. he did too. began to set type for his brother Orion’s newspaper.clearly actually that of the owner. a town on the Mississippi River much like the towns depicted in his two most famous novels. This poem.” “the power to.” and “I. working first as a silver miner in Nevada and then stumbling into his true calling. He then made his way west with his brother Orion. His novel The Innocents Abroad (1869) was an instant bestseller. characterized by an irrepressible wit and a deft ear for language and dialect. Clemens continued to work on the river until 1861. like so many of Dickinson’s. the riverboat life provided him with the pen name Mark Twain. Perhaps most important. having finished his apprenticeship. twain”—that the water was deep enough for safe passage. memoirs. Although Clemens joined a Confederate cavalry division. and when his division deserted en masse. and his life on the river influenced him a great deal. The death of Clemens’s father in 1847. and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer(1876) received even greater national acclaim and cemented Twain’s position as a giant in American literary circles. Clemens eventually became a riverboat pilot. including New York and Philadelphia. although it ultimately fuses them in tying their lives and deaths together. While still in his early twenties. derived from the riverboat leadsmen’s signal—“By the mark. but the ability to die. journalism. Clemens left school. in 1851. who soon became a sort of itinerant printer and found work in a number of American cities. in 1835. Clemens began to sign articles with the name Mark Twain. As the nation prospered economically in the post–Civil War period—an era that came to be known as the Gilded Age. however. including the raft scenes of Huckleberry Finn and the material for his autobiographical Life on the Mississippi (1883). The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884).” “He. his family moved to Hannibal.” How closely this last stanza ties everything together is made clear in the abundant repetition within it—“longer. unusually. when the Civil War exploded across America and shut down the Mississippi for travel and shipping. But Hannibal proved too small to hold Clemens. When he was four years old.” Mark twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) – “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” Context Mark twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in the town of Florida. Clemens spent his young life in a fairly affluent family that owned a number of household slaves. but here. This shows how intricately life and death are tied up. worked for a printer. for while the gun “may longer live” than the human master. stories. and. it is not death that is powerful. Twain’s articles. His books . garnered him immense celebrity. In 1863. The poem’s final stanza makes the two entities distinct again. Missouri. Throughout the late 1860s and 1870s. and how life cannot exist without death. he was no ardent Confederate. deals with the theme of death. Clemens gave up his printing career in order to work on riverboats on the Mississippi. the Hannibal Journal. an epithet that Twain coined—so too did Twain.” “than.

found himself mired in debilitating debt. Twain continued to write over the next ten years. The novel met with great public and critical acclaim. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Both novels are set in the town of St. Twain’s writing from this period until the end of his life reflects a depression and a sort of righteous rage at the injustices of the world. and by 1884 had it ready for publication. however. as an artifact of those same moral and racial tensions as they have evolved to the present day. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has proved significant not only as a novel that explores the racial and moral world of its time but also. whom he had married in 1870. however. began to fail. part of the realism he wanted to create—offers little solace to some modern readers. he finished a draft of Huckleberry Finn in 1883. Despite his personal troubles. however. The story of Huckleberry Finn. Twain soon set Huckleberry Finn aside. Huckleberry Finn. Twain began work on Huckleberry Finn. the political program designed to reintegrate the defeated South into the Union as a slavery-free region. but went into a considerable decline afterward. Missouri. The novel occasionally has been banned in Southern states because of its steadfastly critical take on the South and the hypocrisies of slavery. through the controversies that continue to surround it. This new novel took on a more serious character. the hopefulness of the post–Civil War years began to fade. Personal tragedy also continued to hound Twain: his finances remained troublesome. Others have dismissed Huckleberry Finn as vulgar or racist because it uses the word nigger. At the end of Tom Sawyer. his wife and two of his daughters passed away. Meanwhile. many Southern politicians began an effort to control and oppress the black men and women whom the war had freed. Connecticut. never again publishing work that matched the high standard he had set withHuckleberry Finn. Reconstruction. he continued to devote himself to writing. The harsh measures the victorious North imposed only embittered the South. perhaps because its darker tone did not fit the optimistic sentiments of the Gilded Age. Petersburg. Through the twentieth century. as Twain focused increasingly on the institution of slavery and the South. in an effort to capitalize on the popularity of the earlier novel. As his personal fortune dwindled. The fact that the historical context in which Twain wrote made his use of the word insignificant —and. a term whose connotations obscure the novel’s deeper themes—which are unequivocally antislavery—and even prevent some from reading and enjoying it altogether. . His wife had long been sickly. Twain’s personal life began to collapse.were sold door-to-door. Twain continued to enjoy immense esteem and fame and continued to be in demand as a public speaker until his death in 1910. a poor boy with a drunken bum for a father. Ultimately. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) andPudd’nhead Wilson (1894). Olivia. which lies on the banks of the Mississippi River. and within the course of a few years. Drawing from his personal plight and the prevalent national troubles of the day. and the couple lost their first son after just nineteen months. and he became wealthy enough to build a large house in Hartford. In the early 1880s. for himself and his wife. in 1891. He published two more popular novels. a sequel to Tom Sawyer. does not end with the death of its author. however. indeed. the novel has become famous not merely as the crown jewel in the work of one of America’s preeminent writers. Plot Overview T HE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN opens by familiarizing us with the events of the novel that preceded it. Concerned about maintaining power. but also as a subject of intense controversy. Twain also made a number of poor investments and financial decisions and.

Jim has run away from Miss Watson after hearing her talk about selling him to a plantation down the river. intending to leave it at the mouth of the Ohio River and proceed up that river by steamboat to the free states. As Huckleberry Finn opens. a middle-class boy with an imagination too active for his own good. Judge Thatcher. a steamboat slams into their raft. and the Widow try to get legal custody of Huck. Finally. the men give Huck money and hurry away. he encounters Jim. he beats the boy. and they have a close encounter with a gang of robbers on a wrecked steamboat. They capture the raft and loot the house. The local judge. However. This effort fails miserably. The next night. Terrified of the disease. found a robber’s stash of gold. finding in it the body of a man who has been shot. he locks Huck in the cabin. but another well-intentioned new judge in town believes in the rights of Huck’s natural father and even takes the old drunk into his own home in an attempt to reform him. killing a pig and spreading its blood all over the cabin. While they camp out on the island. Huck and Jim continue downriver. the self-righteous Miss Watson. Louis. despite Huck’s uncertainty about the legality or morality of helping a runaway slave. which the bank held for him in trust. outraged when the Widow Douglas warns him to stay away from her house. one of Miss Watson’s slaves. belongs to Miss Watson—but then lies to the men and tells them that his father is on the raft suffering from smallpox. he sticks it out at the bequest of Tom Sawyer. Huck and Jim team up. a family of Southern aristocrats locked in a bitter and silly feud with a neighboring clan. after all. Huck is none too thrilled with his new life of cleanliness. While Huck is caught up in the feud. Jim refuses to let Huck see the dead man’s face. Huck and Jim are forced to leave after Huck learns from a woman onshore that her husband has seen smoke coming from the island and believes that Jim is hiding out there. During a night of thick fog. the Shepherdsons.” Huck must stay “respectable. After a few days on the island. manners. Huck and Jim start downriver on the raft. Tired of his confinement and fearing the beatings will worsen. Huck escapes from Pap by faking his own death. drunken father. harassing his son. Huck and Jim spy a log raft and a house floating past the island. As a result of his adventure. They manage to escape with the robbers’ loot. where he would be treated horribly and separated from his wife and children. Huck has a brief moral crisis about concealing stolen “property”—Jim. He hangs around town for several months.” All is well and good until Huck’s brutish. Huck was adopted by the Widow Douglas. Huck gained quite a bit of money. and when he returns home drunk. and Pap soon returns to his old ways. Although the island is blissful. who in the meantime has learned to read and to tolerate the Widow’s attempts to improve him. Huck also learns that a reward has been offered for Jim’s capture. a great storm causes the Mississippi to flood. Petersburg. where slavery is prohibited. Hiding on Jackson’s Island in the middle of the Mississippi River.and his friend Tom Sawyer. church. The elopement of a Grangerford daughter with a Shepherdson son leads to a gun battle in which many in the families are killed. and school. Several days’ travel takes them past St. Unable to backtrack to the mouth of the Ohio. Huck watches the townspeople search the river for his body. Pap. a kind but stifling woman who lives with her sister. Huck ends up in the home of the kindly Grangerfords. reappears in town and demands Huck’s money. Huck and Jim miss the mouth of the Ohio and encounter a group of men looking for escaped slaves. Whenever Pap goes out. and Huck and Jim are separated. Jim shows . Pap kidnaps Huck and holds him in a cabin across the river from St. who tells him that in order to take part in Tom’s new “robbers’ gang.

After a seeming eternity of pointless preparation. The angry townspeople hold both sets of Wilks claimants. they put the plan into action. Huck is sure Tom’s plan will get them all killed. Mary Jane. during which the boys ransack the Phelps’s house and make Aunt Sally miserable. Jim is freed. the gold is found. Tom had planned the entire escape idea all as a game and had intended to pay Jim for his troubles. who is due to arrive for a visit. but a pursuer shoots Tom in the leg. who made a provision in her will to free Jim. At the house where Jim is a prisoner. Huck then reveals all to the eldest Wilks sister. Sid. Powerless to tell two white adults to leave. decides to thwart the scam.” As Huck quickly discovers.” announces his plan to set out for the West. and the duke and the dauphin just barely escape in the ensuing confusion. A few days later. Tom hatches a wild plan to free Jim. Huck hurries to Jim’s hiding place. The Phelpses mistake Huck for Tom. telling him Jim is a runaway for whom a large reward is being offered. who should be arriving from England any day. Huck is forced to get a doctor. and Tom pretends to be his own younger brother. Tom’s Aunt Polly then shows up. and Huck goes along with their mistake. He steals the dead Peter Wilks’s gold from the duke and the dauphin but is forced to stash it in Wilks’s coffin.” The duke and the dauphin pull several scams in the small towns along the river. After a few more small scams. Aunt Sally then steps in and offers to adopt Huck. All are returned to the Phelps’s house. Huck’s plan for exposing the duke and the dauphin is about to unfold when Wilks’s real brothers arrive from England. He intercepts Tom between the Phelps house and the steamboat dock. Coming into one town. and Jim sacrifices his freedom to nurse Tom. as Miss Watson. Analysis of Major Characters . and they take off down the river. they hear the story of a man. the people holding Jim are none other than Tom Sawyer’s aunt and uncle. When Tom wakes the next morning. Unfortunately for Huck and Jim. the duke and the dauphin make it back to the raft just as Huck and Jim are pushing off. Huck and Jim rescue a pair of men who are being pursued by armed bandits. who grows to admire the Wilks sisters. Jim tells Huck. but he complies nonetheless. The duke and the dauphin enter the town pretending to be Wilks’s brothers. the duke and dauphin commit their worst crime yet: they sell Jim to a local farmer. Wilks’s three nieces welcome the con men and quickly set about liquidating the estate. where Jim ends up back in chains. Huck finds out where Jim is being held and resolves to free him. Peter Wilks. but Huck. The men. A few townspeople become skeptical. who has recently died and left much of his inheritance to his two brothers. he reveals that Jim has actually been a free man all along. and Huck. Huck and Jim continue down the river with the pair of “aristocrats. Silas and Sally Phelps. Fortunately for the sisters.up with the repaired raft. who has had enough “sivilizing. died two months earlier. identifying “Tom” and “Sid” as Huck and Tom. who fears for his future—particularly that his father might reappear—that the body they found on the floating house off Jackson’s Island had been Pap’s. a woman greets Huck excitedly and calls him “Tom. clearly con artists. claim to be a displaced English duke (the duke) and the long-lost heir to the French throne (the dauphin). adding all sorts of unnecessary obstacles even though Jim is only lightly secured.

but according to Huck’s sense of logic and fairness. He is only a boy. At first glance. that telling a lie is sometimes the right course of action. Jim is Miss Watson’s property. including even the poor. and it is only the thought of a permanent separation from them that motivates his criminal act of running away from Miss Watson. but it is important to remember that he remains at the mercy of every other character in this novel. Huck’s natural intelligence and his willingness to think through a situation on its own merits lead him to some conclusions that are correct in their context but that would shock white society. to Huck. respectable example for Huck to follow. and therefore fallible. he misses them terribly. Although the Widow Douglas attempts to “reform” Huck. Jim could be described as the only real adult in the novel. Yet Huck is not some kind of independent moral genius. Huck discovers. On the river. despite these restrictions and constant fear. but a careful reading of the time that Huck and Jim spend on Jackson’s Island reveals that Jim’s superstitions conceal a deep knowledge of the natural world and represent an alternate form of “truth” or intelligence. Huck’s distance from mainstream society makes him skeptical of the world around him and the ideas it passes on to him. Because Huck is a child. . including the sight of Pap’s corpse. But even these failures are part of what makes Huck appealing and sympathetic. Huck’s companion as he travels down the river. and the only one who provides a positive. Like Huck. and. after all. he is seldom able to act boldly or speak his mind. is a man of remarkable intelligence and compassion. Everything he encounters is an occasion for thought. when he and Jim meet a group of slave-hunters. and at the end of the novel. Twain makes it clear that Huck is a boy who comes from the lowest levels of white society. Because of his background. Jim has one of the few healthy. taking care of him without being intrusive or smothering. thirteen-year-old Huck.Huck Finn From the beginning of the novel. He cooks for the boy and shelters him from some of the worst horrors that they encounter. According to the law. He must still struggle with some of the preconceptions about blacks that society has ingrained in him. he has not been indoctrinated with social values in the same way a middle-class boy like Tom Sawyer has been. Some readers have criticized Jim as being too passive. the news of his father’s passing. for a time. feeling human being rather than a mere cog in the machine of society. as well as a friend. he shows himself all too willing to follow Tom Sawyer’s lead. His father is a drunk and a ruffian who disappears for months on end. Jim becomes a surrogate father. In fact. Moreover. it seems “right” to help Jim. he does more than just apply the rules that he has been taught—he creates his own rules. Jim consistently acts as a noble human being and a loyal friend. Jim Jim. he resists her attempts and maintains his independent ways. Huck himself is dirty and frequently homeless. Huck represents what anyone is capable of becoming: a thinking. The community has failed to protect him from his father. functioning families in the novel. however. the world seems new to him. For example. Imperfect as he is. as the letter that Huck nearly sends to Miss Watson demonstrates. Although he has been separated from his wife and children. Huck’s instinctual distrust and his experiences as he travels down the river force him to question the things society has taught him. Nonetheless. Jim seems to be superstitious to the point of idiocy. and though the Widow finally gives Huck some of the schooling and religious training that he had missed. Jim is realistic about his situation and must find ways of accomplishing his goals without incurring the wrath of those who could turn him in. In this position.

the plan to put the United States back together after the war and integrate freed slaves into society. so too did the insidious racism that arose near the end of Reconstruction oppress black men for illogical and hypocritical reasons. less institutionalized and monolithic. In this light. in which seemingly “good” white people such as Miss Watson and Sally Phelps express no concern about the injustice of slavery or the cruelty of separating Jim from his family. As Twain worked on his novel. saw the act as immoral and rushed to combat it. Slavery could be outlawed. Tom believes in sticking strictly to “rules. his beliefs are an unfortunate combination of what he has learned from the adults around him and the fanciful notions he has gleaned from reading romance and adventure novels. insidious effort to oppress. The result is a world of moral confusion. In the end. Although Tom’s escapades are often funny. The new racism of the South. By the early 1880s. when slavery was still a fact of life. Twain. had hit shaky ground. although it had not yet failed outright. which seemed to be on a positive path in the years following the Civil War. yet he is willing to allow Jim to remain a captive while he entertains himself with fantastic escape plans. In Huckleberry Finn. he set it several decades earlier. America—and especially the South—was still struggling with racism and the aftereffects of slavery. but when white Southerners enacted racist laws or policies under a professed motive of self-defense against newly freed blacks. they also show just how disturbingly and unthinkingly cruel society can be. well-to-do white man is raised to become in the society of his time: self-centered with dominion over all. once again became strained. Tom has been raised in relative comfort. although he is just a boy like Huck and is appealing in his zest for adventure and his unconscious wittiness. Northern or Southern. designed to limit the power of blacks in the South in a variety of indirect ways. As a result. but Aunt Sally and Uncle Silas as well. Tom embodies what a young. Tom knows all along that Miss Watson has died and that Jim is now a free man. no matter how degraded that white society may be. Racism and Slavery Although Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn two decades after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War. Motifs & Symbols Themes Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. Whereas Huck’s birth and upbringing have left him in poverty and on the margins of society. by exposing the hypocrisy of slavery. Intellectual and Moral Education . Reconstruction. Tom is thus the perfect foil for Huck: his rigid adherence to rules and precepts contrasts with Huck’s tendency to question authority and think for himself.Tom Sawyer Tom is the same age as Huck and his best friend. race relations. far fewer people. was also more difficult to combat. Themes.” most of which have more to do with style than with morality or anyone’s welfare. Tom’s plotting tortures not only Jim. Although Twain wrote the novel after slavery was abolished. things had not necessarily gotten much better for blacks in the South. demonstrates how racism distorts the oppressors as much as it does those who are oppressed. But even by Twain’s time. we might read Twain’s depiction of slavery as an allegorical representation of the condition of blacks in the United States even after the abolition of slavery. Just as slavery places the noble and moral Jim under the control of white society. brought the beginning of a new. The imposition of Jim Crow laws.

for example—but who Twain takes care to show are prejudiced slave-owners. Twain also frequently draws links between Huck’s youth and Jim’s status as a black man: both are vulnerable. Huck encounters individuals who seem good—Sally Phelps. has power over Jim. Huck has learned to “read” the world around him. able to make his own decisions without restriction. no matter how “civilized” that society believes and proclaims itself to be.” he is trying to avoid more than regular baths and mandatory school attendance. this decision comments on a system that puts a white man’s rights to his “property”—his slaves—over the welfare and freedom of a black man. away from civilization. and naïveté . By the novel’s end. and so on. Since Huck and Tom are young. pure joy. As a poor. and profound selfishness. Ironically. for all intents and purposes an orphan. especially regarding race and slavery. unaffected by the accepted—and often hypocritical—rules and values of Southern culture. Through deep introspection. their age lends a sense of play to their actions. On the raft. because he is white. This apprehension about society. which excuses them in certain ways and also deepens the novel’s commentary on slavery and society. friend. At the same time. menace. we see Huck choose to “go to hell” rather than go along with the rules and follow what he has been taught. Huck often knows better than the adults around him. a lack of logic. And on a different level. yet frivolous crimes. right. bad. to distinguish good. Twain implies that it is impossible for a society that owns slaves to be just. such as drunkenly shouting insults. when the new judge in town allows Pap to keep custody of Huck. Again and again.By focusing on Huck’s education. which he combines to justify his outrageous and potentially harmful escapades. Childhood Huck’s youth is an important factor in his moral education over the course of the novel. contrasts. the silliness. and his growing relationship with Jim. More than once. This faulty logic appears early in the novel. and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. Huckleberry Finn fits into the tradition of the bildungsroman: a novel depicting an individual’s maturation and development. yet Huck. lead to executions. uneducated boy. lead Huck to question many of the teachings that he has received. Motifs Motifs are recurring structures. wrong. Huck bases these decisions on his experiences. The judge privileges Pap’s “rights” to his son as his natural father over Huck’s welfare. His moral development is sharply contrasted to the character of Tom Sawyer. he comes to his own conclusions. even though he has lacked the guidance that a proper family and community should have offered him. Huck is especially free from society’s rules. his own sense of logic. Sherburn’s speech to the mob that has come to lynch him accurately summarizes the view of society Twain gives in Huckleberry Finn: rather than maintain collective welfare. The Hypocrisy of “Civilized” Society When Huck plans to head west at the end of the novel in order to escape further “sivilizing. Twain depicts the society that surrounds Huck as little more than a collection of degraded rules and precepts that defy logic. society instead is marked by cowardice. In implicitly comparing the plight of slaves to the plight of Huck at the hands of Pap. and what his developing conscience tells him. who is influenced by a bizarre mix of adventure novels and Sunday-school teachings. Huck distrusts the morals and precepts of the society that treats him as an outcast and fails to protect him from abuse. for we sense that only a child is open-minded enough to undergo the kind of development that Huck does. Throughout the novel. This shaky sense of justice that Huck repeatedly encounters lies at the heart of society’s problems: terrible acts go unpunished.

” At other points. Much like the river itself. the episodes that deal with this subject are among the funniest in the novel. The deceased Emmeline Grangerford painted weepy maidens and wrote poems about dead children in the romantic style. for they hurt a number of innocent people. that many of his beliefs do indeed have some basis in reality or presage events to come. Whereas Jim initially appears foolish to believe so unwaveringly in these kinds of signs and omens. willing to change their attitudes about each other with little prompting. Twain shows how a strict adherence to these romantic ideals is ultimately dangerous: Tom is shot. Though its themes are quite weighty. curiously. the novel itself feels light in tone and is an enjoyable read because of this rambunctious childhood excitement that enlivens the story. the most obvious example. most notably the slave-hunters. there is a more substantive message beneath: that popular literature is highly stylized and therefore rarely reflects the reality of a society. but ultimately he comes to appreciate Jim’s deep knowledge of the world. The Shepherdson and Grangerford families kill one another out of a bizarre. and the Shepherdsons and Grangerfords end up in a deadly clash. The Mississippi River For Huck and Jim. In this light. the Mississippi River is the ultimate symbol of freedom. Jim spouts a wide range of superstitions and folktales. bases his life and actions on adventure novels. and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. Yet Huck himself tells a number of lies and even cons a few people. Tom Sawyer. to whom he makes up a story about a smallpox outbreak in order to protect Jim. Petersburg. Emmeline dies. for Huck.of childhood give Huckleberry Finn a sense of fun and humor. The river carries them toward freedom: for Jim. characters. Jim’s superstition serves as an alternative to accepted social teachings and assumptions and provides a reminder that mainstream conventions are not always right. figures. In this sense. overexcited conception of family honor. it turns out. This insight is part of Huck’s learning process. they do not have to answer to anyone. Parodies of Popular Romance Novels Huckleberry Finn is full of people who base their lives on romantic literary models and stereotypes of various kinds. and indeed. Alone on their raft. Symbols Symbols are objects. Huck and Jim are in flux. it seems that telling a lie can actually be a good thing. However. depending on its purpose. lies and cons provide an effective way for Twain to highlight the moral ambiguity that runs through the novel. many of them coming from the duke and the dauphin. As Huck realizes. These characters’ proclivities toward the romantic allow Twain a few opportunities to indulge in some fun. the lines between a con. Superstitions and Folk Beliefs From the time Huck meets him on Jackson’s Island until the end of the novel. Lies and Cons Huckleberry Finn is full of malicious lies and scams. legitimate entertainment. away from his abusive father and the restrictive “sivilizing” of St. and approved social structures like religion are fine indeed. Despite . toward the free states. Huck at first dismisses most of Jim’s superstitions as silly. It is clear that these con men’s lies are bad. as he finds that some of the rules he has been taught contradict what seems to be “right. Much as we do.

their freedom, however, they soon find that they are not completely free from the evils
and influences of the towns on the river’s banks. Even early on, the real world intrudes
on the paradise of the raft: the river floods, bringing Huck and Jim into contact with
criminals, wrecks, and stolen goods. Then, a thick fog causes them to miss the mouth of
the Ohio River, which was to be their route to freedom.
As the novel progresses, then, the river becomes something other than the inherently
benevolent place Huck originally thought it was. As Huck and Jim move further south,
the duke and the dauphin invade the raft, and Huck and Jim must spend more time
ashore. Though the river continues to offer a refuge from trouble, it often merely effects
the exchange of one bad situation for another. Each escape exists in the larger context of
a continual drift southward, toward the Deep South and entrenched slavery. In this
transition from idyllic retreat to source of peril, the river mirrors the complicated state
of the South. As Huck and Jim’s journey progresses, the river, which once seemed a
paradise and a source of freedom, becomes merely a short-term means of escape that
nonetheless pushes Huck and Jim ever further toward danger and destruction.
In the autumn of 1877, Henry James (1843–1916) heard a piece of gossip from a friend
in Rome about a young American girl traveling with her wealthy but unsophisticated
mother in Europe. The girl had met a handsome Italian of “vague identity” and no
particular social standing and attempted tointroduce him into the exclusive society of
expatriate Americans in Rome. The incident had ended in a snub of some sort, a “small
social check . . . of no great gravity,” the exact nature of which James promptly forgot.
Nevertheless, in the margin of the notebook where he recorded the anecdote, he wrote
“Dramatise, dramatise!” He never knew the young lady in question or heard mention of
her again, but he proceeded to immortalize the idea of her inDaisy Miller.
A native of New York, James had been born into a world of ideas and letters. His father,
an amateur philosopher and theologian who had inherited a considerable fortune,
socialized with all the leading intellectuals of the day. Henry’s older brother, William,
would become a key figure in the emerging science of psychology. In 1855, when James
was twelve, the family embarked on a three-year tour of Europe that included London,
Paris, and Geneva. The experience was to have a profound influence on James’s life and
writing. In addition to European art and culture, the trip exposed him to the erudition of
European society. It also put him in an ideal position to observe the contrasts between
New and Old World values, a conflict that was to appear repeatedly in James’s fiction as
“the international theme.”
Daisy Miller was first published in the June and July 1878 issues of the British
magazine Cornhill. It was an instant success, transforming James into an author of
international standing. The novel’s popularity almost certainly derived from the portrait
at its center, of a naïve, overly self-confident, and rather vulgar American girl
attempting to inhabit the rarified atmosphere of European high society.
The post–Civil War industrial boom had given rise to a new class of wealthy Americans
for whom “the grand tour,” an extended trip through Europe, represented the pinnacle of
social and financial success. As a result, Americans were visiting Europe for the first
time in record numbers. However, American manners differed greatly from European

manners, and the Americans were largely ignorant of the customs of Europeans of
comparable social status. Between these two groups lay a third: wealthy American
expatriates whose strict observance of the Old World standards of propriety outdid even
the Europeans.
Daisy Miller, fresh from the high society of Schenectady, New York, neither knows nor
cares about local notions of propriety, and the conflict between her free-spirited
foolishness and the society she offends is at the heart of the novel. Daisy Miller has
been hailed as the first “international novel,” but it is also an early treatment of another
theme that was to absorb James throughout his career: the phenomenon of the life
unlived. In a novel incorporating this theme, the protagonist, owing to some aspect of
his or her own character, such as an unconscious fear or a lack of passion or feeling, lets
some opportunity for happiness go by and realizes it too late. In Daisy Miller, such a
protagonist is Winterbourne, who spends the entire novel trying to figure out Daisy. In
fact, it has been argued that Daisy Miller isn’t really so much about Daisy herself as it is
about Winterbourne’s wholesale failure to understand her.
Plot Overview
At a hotel in the resort town of Vevey, Switzerland, a young American named
Winterbourne meets a rich, pretty American girl named Daisy Miller, who is traveling
around Europe with her mother and her younger brother, Randolph. Winterbourne, who
has lived in Geneva most of his life, is both charmed and mystified by Daisy, who is
less proper than the European girls he has encountered. She seems wonderfully
spontaneous, if a little crass and “uncultivated.” Despite the fact that Mrs. Costello, his
aunt, strongly disapproves of the Millers and flatly refuses to be introduced to Daisy,
Winterbourne spends time with Daisy at Vevey and even accompanies her,
unchaperoned, to Chillon Castle, a famous local tourist attraction.
The following winter, Winterbourne goes to Rome, knowing Daisy will be there, and is
distressed to learn from his aunt that she has taken up with a number of well-known
fortune hunters and become the talk of the town. She has one suitor in particular, a
handsome Italian named Mr. Giovanelli, of uncertain background, whose conduct with
Daisy mystifies Winterbourne and scandalizes the American community in Rome.
Among those scandalized is Mrs. Walker, who is at the center of Rome’s fashionable
Both Mrs. Walker and Winterbourne attempt to warn Daisy about the effect her behavior
is having on her reputation, but she refuses to listen. As Daisy spends increasingly more
time with Mr. Giovanelli, Winterbourne begins to have doubts about her character and
how to interpret her behavior. He also becomes uncertain about the nature of Daisy’s
relationship with Mr. Giovanelli. Sometimes Daisy tells him they are engaged, and other
times she tells him they are not.
One night, on his way home from a dinner party, Winterbourne passes the Coliseum and
decides to look at it by moonlight, braving the bad night air that is known to cause
“Roman fever,” which is malaria. He finds Daisy and Mr. Giovanelli there and
immediately comes to the conclusion that she is too lacking in self-respect to bother
about. Winterbourne is still concerned for Daisy’s health, however, and he reproaches
Giovanelli and urges him to get her safely home.
A few days later, Daisy becomes gravely ill, and she dies soon after. Before dying, she
gives her mother a message to pass on to Winterbourne that indicates that she cared
what he thought about her after all. At the time, he does not understand it, but a year

later, still thinking about Daisy, he tells his aunt that he made a great mistake and has
lived in Europe too long. Nevertheless, he returns to Geneva and his former life.
Analysis of Major Characters
Daisy Miller
Daisy Miller is a wealthy, young, American girl from upstate New York, traveling
around Europe with her mother and younger brother. Daisy is a curious mixture of
traits. She is spirited, independent, and well meaning, but she is also shallow, ignorant,
and provincial—almost laughably so. She offers the opinion that Europe is “perfectly
sweet,” talks with shameless monotony about the tiresome details of her family’s habits
and idiosyncrasies, thinks Winterbourne might know an Englishwoman she met on the
train because they both live in Europe, and wonders if Winterbourne has heard of a little
place called New York. Daisy is also a tiresome flirt. She has no social graces or
conversational gifts, such as charm, wit, and a talent for repartee, and she is really
interested only in manipulating men and making herself the center of attention.
Throughout Daisy Miller, Winterbourne obsesses over the question of whether Daisy is
a “nice” girl, and Daisy’s behavior never reveals whether she is or isn’t. Winterbourne
accepts that Daisy is vulgar but wonders whether she is innocent, and we never really
find out the truth. Daisy does often seem less than innocent—Winterbourne does, after
all, catch her with Mr. Giovanelli late at night at the Coliseum. However, whether such
actions are or are not appropriate is more a matter of social convention than any firm
moral expectation. In the end, the truth we find out about Daisy is only what
Winterbourne thinks is true.
An American who has lived most of his life in Europe, Winterbourne is the type of
Europeanized expatriate that Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker also represent. He is also
closely associated with New England Puritanism: he makes his home in Geneva, “the
dark old city at the other end of the lake” that James is at pains to identify as the
wellspring of Calvinism, not out of necessity but by choice. In many ways,
Winterbourne is as central a character as Daisy and may very well be the story’s true
protagonist. Certainly, he is the novel’s central consciousness, the character through
whose eyes we see and experience everything.
Early on, we are told that Winterbourne is “addicted to observing and analyzing”
feminine beauty. However, he does not appear to be a very deep or discriminating
thinker. He spends time with his aunt not because of affection or because he takes
pleasure in her company, but because he has been taught that “one must always be
attentive to one’s aunt.” Winterbourne seems to hold in high regard what Mrs. Costello
tells him, about the Millers as much as anything else. Out loud he defends Daisy, albeit
rather feebly, but the whole novel is, in a sense, the story of Winterbourne’s attempts
and inability to define Daisy in clear moral terms. Winterbourne is preoccupied with
analyzing Daisy’s character. He wants to be able to define and categorize her, pin her
down to some known class of woman that he understands. Daisy is a novelty to him.
Her candor and spontaneity charm him, but he is also mystified by her lack of concern
for the social niceties and the rules of propriety that have been laid down by centuries of
European civilization and adopted by the American community in Rome. He befriends
Daisy and tries to save her but ultimately decides that she is morally beyond
Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

and the clash between the two cultures was a novel and widespread phenomenon. Americans were visiting Europe for the first time in record numbers. like Winterbourne. a red herring that distracts Winterbourne from the business of living. Motifs Motifs are recurring structures.Themes Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. James heightens the poignancy of Daisy’s fate. the so-called Gilded Age. In that case. contrasts. that was all. Innocence . he saw his compatriots as boorish. he was also fascinated by the poignant innocence of the American national character. he was more sympathetic with the European way of life. The fact that Daisy dies and no one seems to care much makes her death all the more sad. necessarily. they realize too late that whatever it was they sought to understand or achieve. has passed them by and that they have wasted their whole life—or. like Daisy’s. that of the unlived life was his almost perpetual subtext. and the art of conversation. on hypocrisy. In later novels. with its emphasis on culture. By temperament. cannot defend itself against the worldliness and cynicism of a decadent society based. but the story had a nonending—someone got snubbed. characters focus their attention on an abstraction. Like most Europeans. whose stylish families were eager to make “the grand tour” and expose themselves to the art and culture of the Old World. the heart of the novel would be Winterbourne’s character. or lack thereof. education. James was of two minds about the American character. However. had given rise to a new class of American businessman.James would continue to explore the moral implications of an artlessness that. Again and again. One way of looking at Daisy Miller is to conclude that the whole issue of Daisy’s character is beside the point. and absurdly provincial. The postwar boom. undereducated. or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. Gossip Daisy Miller is a story about gossip couched as a piece of gossip. and the fear or lack of passion that causes him to hide from life behind the ultimately unimportant conundrum of Daisy’s innocence. The narrator sees the whole incident with detached amusement. unaware of a vast and centuries-old world outside their own new and expanding dominions. whatever they waited for. an anecdote told by a narrator who not only was not involved in the events described but who doesn’t really care very much about them. Americans abroad was a subject very much of the moment in the years after the Civil War. by underselling the story as a piece of inconsequential gossip. James has been criticized for adding the melodramatic element of Daisy’s death. The Sadness and Safety of the Unlived Life If the American abroad was James’s signature theme. with its emphasis on earnestness rather than artifice. Repeatedly in James’s novels and stories. as a pleasant way of diverting his listeners. Daisy Miller originated with a piece of gossip James had heard from a friend while visiting Rome. In a sense. Americans Abroad Daisy Miller was one of James’s earliest treatments of one of the themes for which he became best known: the expatriate or footloose American abroad. they never fully arrive at that realization. an ideal or idea they feel they could figure out or achieve if only they could devote their spirit or intellectual faculties to it with sufficient understanding or patience. though. such as The Portrait of a Lady and The American.

For the purposes of Daisy Miller. it is a symbol of sacrificed innocence. the Coliseum is. Randolph is a different matter.” Daisy is “innocent” of the art of conversation. Daisy and Randolph The most frequently noted symbols in Daisy Miller are Daisy herself and her younger brother. unaware of social distinctions. twirling his moustache in a sinister fashion. self-centered. well meaning. when Winterbourne protests. in a sense. As the novel progresses. and stridently nationalistic. fresh. Percy Bysshe Shelley.” This third sense is the one that preoccupies Winterbourne as he tries to come to a decision about Daisy. It could also have meant “naïve. ingenuous. However. boastful. the two countries represent opposing values embodied by . The Coliseum The Coliseum is where Daisy’s final encounter with Winterbourne takes place and where she contracts the fever that will kill her.Throughout Daisy Miller. Finally. Innocent had three meanings in James’s day. and unwilling to adapt to the mores and standards of others. he becomes increasingly absorbed in the question of her culpability. First. and Lord Byron sojourned at Lake Geneva. he overhears her telling Giovanelli that “he looks at us as one of the old lions or tigers may have looked at the Christian martyrs!” In fact. it could have meant “ignorant” or “uninstructed. “not having done harm or wrong. Daisy is often seen as representing America: she is young. These traits have no fixed moral content. characters. As such. famous as a site of gladiatorial games and where centuries of Christian martyrdoms took place. He is a thinly veiled comment on the type of the “ugly American” tourist: boorish. Costello uses the word in this sense when she calls Winterbourne “too innocent” in Chapter 2. always with a different shade of meaning.” and he assesses Daisy as a “harmless” flirt. figures.” as it does today. Rome and Geneva Daisy Miller’s setting in the capitals of Italy and Switzerland is significant on a number of levels. which becomes Daisy’s own final resting place. clueless. It is where he decides to wash his hands of her because she is not worth saving or even worrying about. Randolph. Symbols Symbols are objects. he invokes the third meaning. or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. which would put her beyond his interest or concern. Both countries had strong associations with the Romantic poets. One could argue that it is the way in which Daisy embodies all the different meanings of “innocence” that is her downfall. The word innocent appears repeatedly. Mary Shelley’s Frankensteintakes place largely in Switzerland. for example. untaught. He fears she is guilty not of any particular sex act per se but merely of a vulgar mindset. scornful of convention. where Winterbourne throws Daisy to the lions and where he decides she has indeed sacrificed her innocence. and nearly all of them can be regarded as either virtues or faults. a lack of concern for modesty and decency. Mrs. He initially judges the Millers to be merely “very ignorant” and “very innocent. It is a vast arena. Winterbourne is preoccupied with the question of whether Daisy is innocent. innocent. and Mary Shelley wrote it during the time that she. naïve. utterly lacking in any sense of propriety. Mary Shelley and John Keats are both buried in the Protestant Cemetery. whom Winterbourne greatly admires. When Daisy first sees Winterbourne in the moonlight.

a society whose greatness had brought about its own destruction. 1893. a servant at L'Abri  La Blanche. but Armand did not care because he was so much in love. and soon they were married. the first of nineteen Kate Chopin stories that Voguepublished. ingenuousness. a slave "Désirée's Baby" time and place The story takes place in Louisiana before the American Civil War. she could do little but cry for “Dada. and on the way.” It is also Winterbourne’s chosen place of residence. Rome is also a city of sophistication. It was reprinted in Chopin's collection of stories Bayou Folk in 1894. and affectionate child because she lacked children of her own.” People believe that a passing band of Texans had abandoned her. "Désirée's Baby" themes You can read about finding themes in Kate Chopin's stories and novels on the Themes page of this site. which suggest death and decay. the Machiavellian mind-set. New England in particular. Rome is a city of ruins. Costello. a foundling. 1892. It was a city of contrasts. KATE CHOPIN: -“ DÉSIRÉE’S BABY” "Désirée's Baby" characters  Armand Aubigny. although he had known her for years since first arriving from Paris after his mother’s death. In a sense. As a cradle of ancient civilization and the birthplace of the Renaissance.their capital cities. Monsieur had found her asleep at the gateway of Valmondé. innocence. and when Désirée awoke. Rome represents the antithesis of everything Daisy stands for—freshness. and published in Vogue on January 14. Rome and Geneva. but Madame Valmondé believes only that Providence sent her this beautiful. Rome had many associations for cultivated people like Winterbourne and Mrs. he fell in love with her immediately. Madame Valmondé visits L’Abri to see Désirée and her new baby. Monsieur Valmondé wanted to ensure that Désirée’s unknown origin was carefully considered. and naïveté. candor. wife of Armand  Madame Valmondé. It is one of the few stories Kate Chopin sets before the war. she reminisces about when Désirée was herself a baby. the fanatical protestant sect that influenced so much of American culture. then he would give her his own. it represented both glory and corruption. When Kate Chopin's "Désirée's Baby" was written and published The story was written on November 24. owner of L'Abri  Désirée. When Armand Aubigny saw Désirée standing next to the stone pillar of the gateway eighteen years later. youth. the woman who raised Désirée  Zandrine. gentle. He decided that if she did not have a family name. Geneva was the birthplace of Calvinism. . Geneva is referred to as “the dark old city at the other end of the lake.

it seems. Armand is strict with his workers. Speaking in French. . In “Désirée’s Baby. with brown hair. In the letter. unannounced visits from neighbors. Désirée writes to Madame Valmondé. who is fanning her son. Désirée is unlucky enough to end up on the wrong side of both of these characteristics. He begins to avoid her and treat his slaves badly. but he cruelly tells her that she is as white as their mixed-race slave La Blanche. and he leaves the room. she turns her social isolation from a mental and emotional state to a physical one as she goes across the bayou and disappears from civilization. where she disappears. and many of them still strike a nerve in the United States today. Among the letters is an unrelated letter that came from the same drawer. Meanwhile. as she sits in her room. Désirée laughs that he has indeed grown strangely. and he has not frowned since he fell in love with her. and she shudders when she visits L’Abri because the place looks so sad without a woman to oversee the Aubigny household. and he responds coldly that if the child is not white. Frightened. she is startled to see the baby’s appearance.” the bayou is a symbolic border. Analysis Kate Chopin often wrote about subjects that were particularly sensitive during her lifetime. In addition. Weeks later. and he tells her to leave. The similarity between them dawns upon her. through the relationship between Désirée and Armand. Désirée proudly says that Armand is glad to have a son and that he has softened considerably in his treatment of the slaves since his marriage and the child’s birth. gray eyes. Désirée is suddenly disturbed by a subtle feeling of menace. which is marked by a general air of mystery. but Désirée loses herself by crossing it while the heroine of “Beyond the Bayou” gains a new life. and white skin. When Madame Valmondé sees Désirée lying beside her baby. which was sent from his mother to his father. Armand is having his slaves feed a bonfire. at L’Abri. and the last object to burn is a bundle of letters. Chopin explores the precarious status of both those without a family and those of biracial descent. but she loves him desperately. Armand is by nature imperious and exacting. Without changing. she looks at her son and at one of the one-fourth black children. However. she responds that she is indeed white.Madame Valmondé has not seen the baby for a month. and a strange change in her husband’s behavior. As in “Beyond the Bayou. He places a willow cradle and other remnants of his marriage to Désirée on the pyre. and no woman has since taken over. who tells Désirée that she still loves her daughter and that Désirée should come back to Valmondé with the child. Desperately. Désirée presents Madame Valmondé’s response to Armand. Armand’s mother had loved France too much to leave the country and had lived and died in France. When the baby is three months old. then she must not be white. Désirée takes her son from the nurse and walks not to Valmondé but to the deserted bayou. and L’Abri has lost its easygoing nature. his mother thanks his father for their love and thanks God that Armand will never learn that his mother has mixed blood. she watches her child until Armand enters. Despairing. which Armand reads. and Désirée feels miserable. She asks him about the child and asks what it means. and she remarks on his hearty cries. Madame Valmondé observes the child more closely and uneasily asks about Armand’s thoughts. and she tells the other child to leave. One afternoon. and in the wrenching latter part of the tale.” Chopin offers a compelling critique of the class-based and racial prejudice that permeated the attitudes of the antebellum South.

Whereas his father is described as “easy-going and indulgent. The second major irony of Chopin’s story is that although Désirée is probably of Caucasian blood after all. she is resting in “soft white muslin and laces. Désirée is only desired insofar as his standards are exceeded. Chopin describes her as “silent. In addition to hinting at Armand’s family secret. Chopin foreshadows the final revelation of Armand’s biracial descent throughout the story as she consistently associates Désirée with white imagery while emphasizing Armand’s darkness. and when he burns their wedding corbeille. When she asks Armand if she should go. whereas the mixed-race Armand Aubigny will probably not face any consequences for either his racial descent or his cruelty to his wife. bore a distinctly derogatory connotation. being white is not sufficient to place her in a class equal to that of the Aubignys. even successfully entered the Southern “ruling” class. his seemingly ardent love shows itself to be shallow and undeserving. Thus. which was not only putatively white but also rich from owning plantation lands. By contrast. When Désirée first appears physically within the story. Despite her name. Armand has a “dark. In Armand’s case. handsome face. or miscegenation. Some people who passed as white. it is the physical manifestation of the destruction of their wedding vows. those of mixed descent lived on the border of social acceptability. but such children often ended up as slaves under the theory that even one drop of African or “black” blood made a person black rather than white. interracial relations did occur with relative frequency. white. the quadroon boy serving the quadroon master is ironic but also representative of the biracial group as a demographic sector of the population. Chopin hints at his cruelty toward his slaves and creates an obvious parallel between his treatment of them and of his wife.” and as she herself mentions. Madame Valmonde is portrayed as loving. whereas most people fell on one side of the social divide between black and white. kind. her hand is less dark than that of her husband. Although her presumed European ancestry places her above the slave class in the hierarchy of Louisiana. Meanwhile. This patently unjust state of affairs occurs not only because Armand will probably take the secret to his grave but also because. many biracial people who happened to inherit pale skin and European rather than African features were able to assimilate at least temporarily into white society. By contrast. “passing” for white if they chose. In this manner.” and consequently the reversal is not necessarily a surprise when he reads his mother’s letter and discovers the truth about the source of his son’s African blood. he did not even have to hide because he did not know his status. who was by the legal code of the era barely higher than property. only she and her innocent baby suffer from the accusation of miscegenation. STEPHEN CRANE . Armand can never be his father’s equal because he cannot forgive her presumed racial heritage. like Armand. As evidenced by the quadroon slave child who fans Désirée’s own baby. [and] motionless. Note also that although Armand can echo his father in forgiving a beloved woman for her societal status. sexual relations between two people of different races. Désirée’s status is as much a question of familial class as of racial class.” and she continues to wear “thin white garment[s]” throughout the narrative. as Chopin informs us in the third paragraph. and eminently ethical in her refusal to condemn Désirée for her questionable blood.In the nineteenth century. in which he presumably would have promised to cherish and care for her until death.” Armand lives too strictly by the social mores of his era and not enough by a true moral code. At the same time.

Common themes involve fear. Having little interest in university studies. booming drums of the regiment. Crane had become an important figure in American literature. Crane's writing is characterized by vivid intensity. He is recognized by modern critics as one of the most innovative writers of his generation. Crane endured a highly publicized scandal after acting as witness for a suspected prostitute. Crane is also known for short stories such as "The Open Boat". leaving him adrift for several days in a dinghy. great. spiritual crises and social isolation. "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky". Do not weep. distinctive dialects. Late that year he accepted an offer to cover the Spanish-American War as a war correspondent. poet and journalist. The eighth surviving child of Methodist Protestant parents. Stylistically. War is kind. He won international acclaim for his 1895 Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage. which critics generally consider the first work of American literary Naturalism. Crane's ship sank off the coast of Florida. however. where he befriended writers such as Joseph Conrad and H. Crane began writing at the age of four and had published several articles by the age of 16. His writing made a deep impression on 20th century writers. he wrote notable works in the Realist tradition as well as early examples of American Naturalism and Impressionism. Crane died of tuberculosis in a Black Forest sanatorium at the age of 28. most prominent among them Ernest Hemingway. he covered conflicts in Greece and lived in England with Cora. As he waited in Jacksonville. G. Great is the battle-god. Plagued by financial difficulties and ill health. At the time of his death. Crane's first novel was the 1893 Bowery tale Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. maiden. Florida for passage to Cuba. and his kingdom A field where a thousand corpses lie. he left school in 1891 and began work as a reporter and writer. While en route to Cuba. Hoarse. with whom he would have a lasting relationship. short story writer. Wells. he met Cora Taylor. which he wrote without any battle experience. which has become an American classic. These men were born to drill and die.American novelist. The unexplained glory flies above them. for war is kind. In 1896. . Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky And the affrighted steed ran on alone. Although recognized primarily for The Red Badge of Courage. the madam of a brothel. Prolific throughout his short life. His ordeal was later described in "The Open Boat". and is thought to have inspired the Modernists and the Imagists WAR IS KIND Do not weep. and "The Monster". until two decades later when critics revived interest in his life and work. and irony. "The Blue Hotel". During the final years of his life. Little souls who thirst for fight. He was nearly forgotten.

Do not weep. So in having the speaker of the poem saying this. where men acieve greatness through . This is the case in Stephen Crane’s War Is Kind. babe. this is the last words of advice that the reader is expecting to hear. Do not weep. the speaker uses a variety of word choice which carry negative connotation. In a way he is sort of making war out to be this sort of glorious tragedy. In doing so. for war is kind. He sets up a scenario of women in mourning over men lost in war. War is kind Irony in Stephen Crane’s War Is Kind Most poets use their unique gift of writing poetry to relieve stress or just to document their emotions towards a given subject. However. The speaker in the poem uses irony as a strategy to convince the reader of the harsh reality of war. These men were born to drill and die. Do not weep. die. yellow. Eagle with crest of red and gold. Others use it as a key to bring about social change and voice their opinion on modern events. little. The speaker of the poem uses diction such as wild. Readers can be caught off guard by this statement because in theory. readers perceive a sense of irony or sarcasm. Words like “die” and “raged” seldom carry positive connotations. the reader can already receive a feel of the irony as the poet describes the scene of a maiden left behind as her lover falls in battle. The poet illustrates a scene as to where most readers would feel sorrow and sympathy towards the maiden and perhaps have the speaker in the poem enlighten the maiden as to how rough war can be. The speaker also tries to convince a baby of the positive aspects of war. Make plain to them the excellence of killing And a field where a thousand corpses lie. In the first few lines of the poem. The speaker continues to illustrate to the audience the scene of the battle field. Swift blazing flag of the regiment. raged and much more. Raged at his breast. gulped and died” Imagery and Figurative Language Crane's imagery is used mainly to paint a picture of a battlefield in the readers' minds. carry negative connotation. Readers read such diction in a poem and expect that the whole poem will be negative. the speaker tells the maiden “Do not weep. This is another reason as to why the audience can receive a notion that the speaker must be trying to be sarcastic. The speaker does so however by saying “Because your father tumbled in yellow trenches. Point for them the virtue of slaughter. War is kind. Mother whose heart hung humble as a button On the bright splendid shroud of your son. gulped and died. Raged at his breast. All of which to a certain extent. War is kind” (4-5). These are words that are used to describe unwanted or unnecessary emotions. Because your father tumbled in the yellow trenches.

having been a man who knew war as a war correspondent. so families like those in Crane's poem will not have to endure the sorrow of losing loved ones to war. Crane also uses three different women: a young maiden. he based his short story “The Open Boat” on his experience as a castaway from a shipwreck.. Crane lived in poverty in the Bowery slum of New York City. abhorrent even. Crane lapsed into a rebellious childhood during which he spent time preparing for a career as a professional baseball player. a mother. He purposley uses the contradiction of war being kind to state the exact opposite. Crane’s most enduring work. War is a human evil that destroys more than it creates. War is something that should be avoided. and is nto something that should be supported.the ultimate sacrifice of their lives. For his first book. He knew how it rended families of the deceased. After brief flirtations with higher learning at Lafayette College and Syracuse University. yet there will always be war. The theme could easily be seen as th eopposit eof the title: War is not kind. in typical naturalist fashion. and a daughter.. expresses his theme. Whereas my initial thought was more literal. The number 3 has always been significant in literature and is even more significant here because it shows war affects people of every age. Having been a war reporter. The fourteenth child of highly religious Methodist parents. A dark. Crane uses these images to contradict his statement of war being kind. making a statement on how truly ancient the idea of killing each other has been in human civilization. a Girl of the Streets (1893)." Also note the possible reference to mythology with the "Battle-god" and no God is mentioned. ironic tone seems to arise form this poem. Tone and Theme The established tone seems to suggest irony. Convinced that he must invest his work with the authenticity of experience. The Red Badge of . he often went to outlandish lengths to live through situations that he intended to work into his novels. leaving families torn and in mourning. Final Conclusion Crane. Maggie.. As long as human civilization has existed. Crane raises an important question regarding war: Is it ever worth it? THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE Context S TEPHEN CRANE WAS BORN IN 1871 in Newark. humans have tried to kill each other. Crane also uses the flag as an important symbol for national pride. analysis of the poem as well as a background of the author has changed my thoughts significantly. Crane turned to writing full-time. the short novel The Red Badge of Courage. Similarly. Alliteration and similie is laso used at the end: "heart hung as humble as a button. it destroys families and claims lives before their time. One intresting idea is that the flag crane describes is similar to one that may have been used by a Roman legion. Crane is questioning whether it is worth it for men to die simply because they are patriotic. Though initially not well received in the United States. Now I know that Crane is trying to say war is bad. and through this. knew that war was a bad thing. Crane would in fact know how bad war is. was published in1895. New Jersey.

After securing its position. He fears that if he were to see battle. realizes that he could not run even if he wanted to. and the victors congratulate one another. taking him to such locales as Greece. and romantic naïveté. This startling and unexpected shift drew the world’s attention to The Red Badge of Courage. These qualities continue to make the work absorbing and important more than a century after it was griten Plot Overview D URING THE CIVIL WAR. feeling like a cog in a machine. catapulting the young Crane into international literary prominence. His work proved so accurate that. Henry. Terror overtakes him this time and he leaps up and flees the line. Here Crane wrote feverishly. a recent recruit with this304th Regiment. Crane had neither fought in war nor witnessed battle. and he died of tuberculosis in June 1900. moral ambiguity. on the writings of the modernists. Cuba. Whereas previous writers had taken a large. the enemy charges. His health began to fail. As he scampers across the landscape. he tells himself that made the right decision. Henry Fleming. Crane focused on the individual psychology of a single soldier. and was forced to rely on his powers of invention to create the extraordinarily realistic combat sequences of the novel. He published volumes of poetry as well as many works of fiction. as did the novel’s vivid and powerful descriptions of battle. When he wrote The Red Badge of Courage. at the time of the book’s publication. where it has been camped for weeks. Crane does not depict a world of moral absolutes. Crane represents Henry’s mind as a maze of illusions. worries about his courage. Crane’s greatest work is almost entirely a product of his imagination. In the decades before Crane’s novel. Based loosely on the events of the Civil War Battle of Chancellorsville (May2–6. including the landmark “The Open Boat” (1897). during his first experiences of battle. His realistic depictions of war and battle led to many assignments as a foreign correspondent for newspapers. for a writer so committed to the direct portrayal of his own experience. Private Henry Fleming. In 1899. 1863) —though neither the battle. Henry wakes from a brief nap to find that the enemy is again charging his regiment. Since the time he joined. most fiction about the Civil War was heavily idealistic. With its combination of detailed imagery. however. A tall soldier named Jim Conklin spreads a rumor that the army will soon march. The attention of the English critics caused many Americans to view the novel with renewed enthusiasm. that . at the age of twenty-eight. and Puerto Rico. He fires mechanically. At last the regiment is given orders to march. and terse psychological focus. vanity. the war. Ironically. he might run. In this narrowed scope. particularly. The blue (Union) regiment defeats the gray (Confederate) soldiers. the former madam of a Jacksonville brothel. challenged by the hard lessons of war. however. epic view. but rather a universe utterly indifferent to human existence. the army has merely been waiting for engagement. and the soldiers spend several weary days traveling on foot. a Union regiment rests along a riverbank. The Red Badge of Courage exerted an enormous influence on twentieth-century American fiction. The narrator reveals that Henry joined the army because he was drawn to the glory of military conflict. Eventually they approach a battlefield and begin to hear the distant roar of conflict. hoping to pay off his debts. portraying the conflict as a great clash of opposed ideals.Courage was a massive success in England. most critics assumed that Crane was an experienced soldier. Crane moved into a medieval castle in England with his lover. nor the armies are named in the book—The Red Badge of Courage shattered American preconceptions about what a war novel could be. boxed in by his fellow soldiers.

Henry and Wilson overhear an officer say that the soldiers of the 304th fight like “mule drivers. the regiment’s color bearer falls. Henry fights like a lion. Henry is unable to bear the tattered man’s questioning and abandons him to die in the forest.” further infuriating Henry. he vents his rage against the enemy soldiers. especially his abandonment of the tattered man. numb look on his face. which makes Henry deeply uncomfortable and compels him to hurry away to a different part of the column. He wanders through a forest glade in which he encounters the decaying corpse of a soldier. After the charge fails. But after a moment. they long to prove the man wrong. The regiment charges a group of enemy soldiers fortified behind a fence. In an ensuing charge. Though he revels in his recent success in battle. where Henry is reunited with his companions. After a time. Eventually. he could win the war in a week. He sees a blue regiment in retreat and attempts to stop the soldiers to find out what has happened. Henry promises to take care of Jim. another soldier leads Henry to his regiment’s camp. feeling a quiet. Shaken. Henry tries to convince himself that he was right to preserve his own life to do so. He is deeply envious of these men. Henry and the tattered soldier wander through the woods. As he and the others march back to their position. wins the fence. He meets a tattered man who has been shot twice and who speaks proudly of the fact that his regiment did not flee. Henry takes the flag and carries it proudly before the regiment. Nevertheless.” Insulted. and Henry continues to carry the flag. even as his own health visibly worsens. Henry reflects on his experiences in the war. the regiment proceeds back to the battlefield. Henry joins a column of wounded soldiers winding down the road. He repeatedly asks Henry where he is wounded. He is now able to look forward to peace. that the colonel and lieutenant consider them the best fighters in the regiment.his regiment could not have won. Henry eventually recognizes the man as a badly wounded Jim Conklin. and. The group is sent into more fighting. The tattered soldier continues to ask Henry about his wound. steady manhood within himself. opening a bloody gash on Henry’s head. The next day. Ashamed of his cowardice. He passes a general on horseback and overhears the commander saying that the regiment has held back the enemy charge. to their gratification. His lieutenant says that with ten thousand Henrys. after a pitched battle. the derisive officer tells the regiment’s colonel that his men fight like “mud diggers. Wilson seizes the enemy flag and the regiment takes four prisoners. he feels deeply ashamed of his behavior the previous day. thinking that a wound is like “a redbadge of courage”— visible proof of valorous behavior. Henry hears the rumble of combat in the distance. but Jim runs from the line into a small grove of bushes where Henry and the tattered man watch him die. Henry continues to wander until he finds himself close enough to the battlefield to be able to watch some of the fighting. At last. Another soldier tells Henry and Wilson. Thinking of Jim Conklin. He meets a spectral soldier with a distant. One of the fleeing men hits him on the head with a rifle. and that the men who remained to fight were fools. he hurries away. believing that Henry has been shot. His friend Wilson. cares for him tenderly. Analysis of Major Characters . he puts his guilt behind him and realizes that he has come through “the red sickness” of battle.

simple pleasure in doing so. instead.” This is how he restores his fragile self-pride. rarely distinguish themselves so dramatically. Ironically. without defensiveness or bravado. he loses his sense of self. he feels a “temporary but sublime absence of selfishness.” It is ironic.” Both the best and worst characteristics of Henry’s youth mark him. however. Crane refers to Henry as “the young soldier” and “the youth. As a result. declaring. No longer is he interested in winning the praise and attention of other men. On the other hand. for “it was difficult to think of reputation when others were thinking of skins. He believes. that Henry establishes his reputation at these very moments. As Henry finds himself deeply immersed in battle. instead. Unlike the veteran soldiers whom he encounters during his first battle. The philosophical underpinnings of the war do not motivate him. then. “You can now eat and shoot . and abandons the hope of blustery heroism for a quieter. Unlike Wilson. He feels no responsibility to earn these accolades. he earns it. That’s all you want to do. neither does any deeply held. whose loud complaints characterize his early appearances. . albeit naïvely.” . He silences Wilson and Henry from discussing the qualifications of their commanding officers while they are eating because he “could not rage in fierce argument in the presence of such sandwiches. Henry is not jaded. and does not romanticize war or its supposed glories in the manner that Henry does. but more satisfying. knee-jerk criticism or vague abstraction that distracts Wilson and Henry. Henry has yet to experience enough to test these abstractions. Jim marches through his days efficiently and with few grievances. fight if they fought—establishes him as a pragmatist. such as his earlier retreat. and romanticizes the image of dying in battle by invoking the Greek tradition of a dead soldier being laid upon his shield. Henry desires a reputation. the importance of winning a name for himself fades with the gun smoke. . making him seem vain and self-centered.Henry Fleming Throughout the novel. He learns to reflect on his mistakes. When Henry finally faces battle. Instead. he believes he is one. personal sense of right and wrong. Officers who witness his fierce fighting regard him as one of the regiment’s best. When Henry returns to camp and lies about the nature of his wound. When Henry asks Jim if he would flee from battle. He is strong and self-reliant. He informs Henry that he can unburden himself of his unnecessary munitions. If others call him a hero. after fleeing from battle. in traditional models of courage and honor. his most passionate convictions are based on little else than fantasies. he allows himself to disappear into the commotion and become one component of a great fighting machine. Jim Conklin Jim contrasts sharply with Henry in the opening pages of the novel. He prefers to do what duty requires of him and finds a quiet. Jim’s answer—that he would run if other soldiers ran. He condemns the soldiers who stayed to fight as imbeciles who were not “wise enough to save themselves from the flurry of death. because he is young. understanding of what it means to be a man. He hopes that an impressive performance on the battlefield will immortalize him as a hero among men who. because of the domesticating effects of religion and education.” A great change occurs within him: as he fights. Henry’s reasons for wanting to winglory in battle are far from noble. he doubts neither his manhood nor his right to behave as pompously as a veteran. Henry feels little guilt about invoking his own intelligence in order to justify his cowardice. This marks a tremendous growth in Henry’s character. Henry’s lack of a true moral sense manifests itself in the emptiness of the honor and glory that he seeks.” Jim has little patience for the kind of loud. Henry does not cheat his way to the honor that he so desperately craves when the novel opens.

self-assured goodness of a man who knows and fulfills his responsibilities. Wilson seems to have “climbed a peak of wisdom from which he could perceive himself as a very wee thing.” Wilson indignantly assures Henry that if battle occurs. Wilson’s transformation becomes clear relatively quickly. He does not indulge in a protracted death scene. Who are you anyhow? You talk as if you thought you was Napoleon Bonaparte. as in life. Themes.” Shortly thereafter. After disappearing into battle. he approaches Henry again. he will certainly fight in it: “I said I was going to do my share of the fighting—that’s what I said.” Wilson’s attitude toward the envelope which he earlier entrusted to Henry further demonstrates the maturation that he has undergone. Toward the end of the novel. There was now about him a fine reliance. noise comes to be associated with youth. Certain that he is about to meet his doom. he resurfaces to take care of Henry with all of the bustling of an “amateur nurse” upon Henry’s return to camp. Upon waking the next day. these sounds give way to a peace and quiet that suggest the eventuality of the progression past youthful struggle to the more reflective musings of manhood. or philosophize about the cruelties and injustices of war. endless gossip. who wants to rail loudly at the universe.Jim’s quiet demeanor persists even as he dies. He seeks to die alone. should he die in battle. Instead. Wilson Whereas Jim Conklin’s character remains notably steady throughout the novel. This erratic shift from obnoxious bravado to naked vulnerability demonstrates Wilson’s immaturity. Jim possesses the rare. opinionated. and naïve. For the first half of the book. He showed a quiet belief in his purpose and his abilities. Courage . he is initially little more than a youth trying desperately to assure himself of his manhood. Through the sounds of battle. he asks Henry for the envelope back—he is no longer interested in his reputation or in the amount of sheer bravery that his comrades associate with his name. and empty bragging of the soldiers. Like Henry. the development of Wilson’s character contributes to the noise/silence motif. and those present notice “a curious and profound dignity in the firm lines of his awful face. he gives the youth a yellow envelope to deliver to his family. Motifs & Symbols Themes Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.” This transformation furthers one of the novel’s explorations. he brushes Henry and his offers of comfort aside. And I am. curse his fate. Crane refers to him almost exclusively as “the loud soldier. He further displays his generosity by insisting that Henry take his blanket. Henry notes the change in his friend: “He was no more a loud young soldier. and struggle. Wilson’s undergoes a dramatic change. showing plainly what happens when one realizes the relative insignificance of his or her life—an awareness that Henry seems to have gained by the novel’s end. Instead. vanity. Wilson is initially loud. two issues that ponderously plague Henry. too. In death.” The solemn poise with which Jim dies puzzles Henry. Furthermore. Though ashamed of his earlier display of fear.

As the novel opens. Within the novel’s first chapter. requires his survival —drive him to behave abominably. He assumes that. he will be a hero. achieving it—is the most salient element of the narrative. she instructs him to meet his responsibilities honestly and squarely. he relies on very traditional. in order to preserve itself. Henry recalls his mother’s advice. who begins the novel as an obnoxiously loud soldier. She cares little whether Henry earns himself a praiseworthy name. in their eyes. In realizing the relative insignificance of his own life. He not only runs from battle. he will return from battle either with his shield or on it. Henry’s understanding of courage has more to do with the praise of his peers than any internal measure of his bravery. Courage and honor endow a . and. Henry’s understanding of courage is traditional and romantic.Given the novel’s title. As he makes his way from one skirmish to the next. learning that the measure of one’s manhood lies more in the complex ways in which one negotiates one’s mistakes and responsibilities than in one’s conduct on the battlefield. becoming a man of “quiet belief in his purposes and abilities. adolescent fantasies. Henry makes a bold step in the same direction. Wilson. as the mature Henry marches victoriously from battle. notions. Henry struggles to preserve his manhood. including running from danger. it is no surprise that courage—defining it. like a war hero of ancient Greece. Manhood Throughout the novel. Soon after his encounter with the squirrel. but also abandons the tattered soldier. he becomes more and more convinced that his accumulated experiences will earn him the praise of women and the envy of men. his understanding of which parallels his understanding of courage. by extension. He laments that education and religion have tamed men of their natural savagery and made them so pale and domestic that there remain few ways for a man to distinguish himself other than on the battlefield.sometimes narrowing (when Henry fights well in his first battle) and sometimes growing wider (when he abandons the tattered soldier). later exposes his own fear and vulnerability when he asks Henry to deliver a yellow envelope to his family should he die in battle. The gap that exists between Henry’s definition of courage and the alternative that his mother suggests fluctuates throughout TheRed Badge of Courage. At the end of the novel. Jim Conklin and Wilson stand as symbols of a more human kind of manhood. When a pinecone that he throws after fleeing the battle makes a squirrel scurry.” By the novel’s end. His conceits —namely that the good of the army and. instead. This sets in motion Henry’s realization that the world is largely indifferent to his life and the questions that preoccupy him. romantic. a real man. which runs counter to his own notions. Self-Preservation An anxious desire for self-preservation influences Henry throughout the novel. the world. ultimately. These early conceptions of manhood are simplistic. Henry gets much mileage out of this revelation. he believes that he has stumbled upon a universal truth: each being will do whatever it takes. Henry discovers the corpse of a soldier. even if it means sacrificing his own life. as he uses it to justify his impulse to retreat from the battlefield. even clichéd. Having this opportunity makes Henry feel grateful to be participating in the war. desiring it. Wilson frees himself from the chains that bind Henry. a more subtle and complex understanding of courage emerges: it is not simply a function of other people’s opinions. At first. They are self-assured without being braggarts and are ultimately able to own up to their faults and shortcomings. though he knows that the soldier is almost certain to die if he does not receive assistance. but it does incorporate egocentric concerns such as a soldier’s regard for his reputation.

Motifs Noise and Silence Great and terrible sounds saturate much of the novel. As the drama of the war rages on around him. embodies these associations early in the novel when Crane refers to him almost exclusively as “the loud soldier. The Universe’s Disregard for Human Life Henry’s realization that the natural world spins on regardless of the manner in which men live and die is perhaps the most difficult lesson that Henry learns as a soldier. Shortly after his encounter with the squirrel in the woods. Yet. This weighing of values begs consideration of the connection between the survival instinct and vanity. after all. for it is here that Crane establishes the formidable opposing forces in Henry’s mind: the vain belief that human life deserves such distinctions as courage and honor. a realistic. he finds that death is nothing more than an integral and unremarkable part of nature. Soon enough. all human life meets the same end. battle—both physical and mental—and bravado. Wilson. it was but the great death.” The transformation of Wilson and Henry into men of quiet resolve marks a process of maturation.” Together. gossiping. one can best describe the psychological development that the novel charts for them as the passage from youth into maturity. who often airs his opinions indignantly. Henry’s encounters with the squirrel and the corpse form one of the most important passages in the novel. Henry continues to occupy his mind with questions concerning the nature of courage and honor and the possibilities of gaining glory. Symbols The Dead Soldier In writing The Red Badge of Courage. Death. The book opens with soldiers chattering. inexperienced beliefs regarding courage and manhood. when he encounters the corpse. Crane tried to render battle. bedrock convictions of men. the reader witnesses a profound change in the characters of both Henry and Wilson. wherein a peaceful disposition wins out over an unquiet one and the security of feeling courage internally silences the need for public recognition. Youth and Maturity Although the novel spans no more than a few weeks. whose rotting body serves as a powerful reminder of the universe’s indifference to human life. The reader comes to associate these sounds with boys. leaving little room for the . and the unfounded beliefs of boys make way for the quietly assured. regardless of such distinctions. and the stark realization that. would stop this drama cold. Innocence gives way to experience. Though these men do not grow considerably older during the course of the narrative. and arguing about when and if they will see action on the battlefield. the pop of gunfire and exploding artillery drown out their with a belief in the worth of preserving the lives of others. Henry stumbles upon a dead soldier. almost journalistic style of writing dominates the narrative. Accordingly. and the lives of common soldiers. he assumes. as authentically as possible. and found that. As he reflects at the end of the novel: “He had been to touch the great death. It disabuses him of his naïve. but the pervasiveness of death on the battlefield compels Henry to question the importance of these qualities.

they row silently. while the cook huddles on the floor of the dinghy. Although the cook expresses reservation that the nearby lifesaving station has been abandoned for more than a year. whose anonymity strips him of any public recognition of courage and glory (regardless of whether or not he deserved them). so much so that one lands on the captain’s head. despite not having slept for two days. Each man. They again make for the open sea. exhausted from rowing. Eventually. more literary system of symbols. Henry encounters the corpse. approaching land yet unable to master the turbulent surf.development of an overt. works tirelessly to keep the boat afloat. bailing water. The ocean is so rough that one indelicate move will upset the dinghy and send them into the winter waters. and they go on rowing until the captain sees a lighthouse in the distance. exhausted and bitter. Then the dead soldier. For the most part. The correspondent and the oiler share the work of rowing. they realize that help isn’t coming. The men’s optimism evaporates when. They do not have a moment’s peace. Then they think they see two men. the crew heartens at approaching land. Each crew member looks for signs of hope in the man’s gestures. and the cook helps out. who was injured during the shipwreck and sits grimly in the bow. The correspondent even finds four dry cigars in a pocket. the captain shoos the bird away. never to return home. Gulls fly overhead and perch on the water. The men see this as a sinister. THE OPEN BOAT Plot Overview It is just before dawn. insulting gesture. the correspondent rows alone. then a crowd and perhaps a boat being rolled down to the shore. who represents the insignificance of mortal concerns. However. During the night. The correspondent and oiler. One of these is the dead soldier. which he shares with the others. the men forget about being saved and attend to the business of the boat. Fighting hopelessness. wondering how he can have come so far if he is only going to drown. Rowing through phosphorescence and alongside a monstrous shark. between the open sea and the surf. As day breaks and the cook and correspondent bicker about being rescued. These men take their direction from the captain. the men begin to make progress toward the shore. . The ship on which they were sailing sank overnight. are four men in a dinghy. They think the man sees them. left to bob up and down in the waves until their bathtubsized boat capsizes and they too drown. the memory still fresh of his ship engulfed in the sea and the crew’s dead faces in the water. forces Henry to begin to question himself and the values by which he measures his actions. at a crucial moment: he has just reassured himself that he was right to flee battle and that the welfare of the army depends upon soldiers being wise enough to preserve themselves. and they are the only survivors. plan to alternate throughout the night. decaying and covered by ants. The gulls are at ease on the ocean. But they get tired in the early hours of the morning. the correspondent thinks of a poem he learned in childhood about a soldier dying in a distant land. They stubbornly think that help is on the way as the shadows lengthen and the sea and sky turn black. almost taking pleasure in the brotherhood that they have formed and in attending to the business of the sea. but the captain cannot swat the bird off because the sudden movement would likely topple the boat. and not far off the coast of Florida. Another sign of hope comes when the captain sees a man on shore. there are a few noteworthy symbols in the novel.

The oiler leads the group. he sees a large number of people on the shore with rescue gear. the captain is at once a majestic and tragic figure. In this sense. the correspondent comes to lose hope in the “subtle brotherhood” that had seemed to be the noble purpose of submitting to nature’s punishment. Deprived of his ship. His quiet. the oiler the good. On land. They take the boat shoreward until it capsizes. however. The correspondent initially thinks he finds the answer when he considers the “subtle brotherhood of men” that develops among the crew in response to the overwhelming cruelty of nature. The captain represents the leaders. each crewmember is an archetype that. the correspondent begins to shape our perceptions of the ordeal the men are undergoing. when joined with his fellow castaways. retains a degree of dignity to go with the ineffable sense of loss he feels at having failed in his charge. through his dedication to guiding the men to safety. a man who never shirks from the responsibility he takes for those who have entrusted their safety to him. The Captain The captain is the consummate leader. while the cook and correspondent swim more slowly and the captain holds onto the keel of the overturned dinghy. the correspondent drifts in and out of consciousness. where he is saved by a man who has appeared on shore and plunged into the sea to save the crew. the correspondent makes good progress. the captain suffers infinitely more than the other survivors. steady efforts in the boat are not self- . Crane underlines this point in his introduction of the characters in the first section. At this point. reveal his desire to make sense of surviving the ship only to drown in the dinghy. constitutes part of a microcosm of society. Analysis of Major Characters The Correspondent For Crane. one who has not measured up to the standards he has set for himself but continues to fight for his fellow men. he becomes a broken man who has lost the very thing that grants him his authority. With the help of a life preserver. that it in some way validates his struggle for survival. the correspondent watches the waves and wonders why he is caught on the ocean. Although he understands that nature and fate do not act and think as men do. and the correspondent the observers and thinkers. until he is caught in a current that forces him to back to the boat. the cook the followers. the captain suggests that they try to run the surf while they still have enough energy. a question that reveals the correspondent’s search for purpose in life. With this question alone.When morning comes. As the men realize that no one is coming to save them. and then they all make a break for it in the icy water. the correspondent functions as the eyes and voice of the story. Yet the captain. which he associates with nature and fate. He learns that the captain and cook have been saved but the oiler has died. but as he regains his senses. working men. In the first five sections of “The Open Boat. As his profession as a reporter suggests. Before he can reach the dinghy. he takes pleasure in the pain caused by rowing in the rough sea because he believes that this pain is the healthy byproduct of his effort at community. a wave hurls him to shallower water. While the cook is cowering on the boat’s floor and the oiler is silently working at his oar. When he loses his ship to the sea at the beginning of the story. the correspondent nevertheless goads them because he believes that there is a purpose to nature.” the correspondent’s challenges to the sea. which nature has forced them to create and is the only thing that really matters.

but he never gives in to the hopelessness that the others mask with idle talk about nonexistent opportunities for rescue or meditations about the cruelty of nature. Instead. the one whom Crane intends to resemble the average person most closely. they experience an unexpected good turn in the form of a favorable wind or calm night. He has the fewest delusions about the men’s physical plight. however.” no longer an actor in the men’s drama. the sea does not change at all. the sea snarls. possessing no consciousness that we can understand. holding everyone together through his staunch heroism. Early in the story. When the correspondent realizes by section VI that fate will not answer his pleas. He echoes the captain’s orders. clouds. This freak wave. reinforcing the social structure of the crew and instilling confidence in the others. They have an egotistical belief that they should have a role in the universe. For every malevolent whim that the men suffer. humanistic (manlike). a turn of events that demonstrates two ideas: nature is as much a harsh punisher as it is a benefactor. The narrator highlights this development by changing the way he describes the sea. and deistic (godlike) characterizations of nature. Instead. The oiler functions as the lynchpin of the crew. hisses. that their existence should mean something. Man’s Insignificance in the Universe “The Open Boat” conveys a feeling of loneliness that comes from man’s understanding that he is alone in the universe and insignificant in its workings. he settles into despair. may also be responsible for killing the much hardier oiler. Underneath the men’s and narrator’s collective rants at fate and the universe is the fear of nothingness. In reality. the oiler represents the everyman. Plowed to shore and saved by a freak wave. the correspondent must embrace the fact that the very thing that has put him in harm’s way has saved him. and tides illustrates that nature does not behave any differently in light of the men’s struggle to survive. only the men’s perception of the sea changes. it merely “paces to and fro. whose outlook rises and falls with the waves. The unaltered activity of the gulls. Crane makes clear that nature is ultimately indifferent to the plight of man. Crane strengthens the idea that nature is indifferent to man by showing that it is as randomly helpful as it is hurtful. As the stranded men progress through the story. and integrity. Like the soldier who dies in alien territory. Nothing highlights this point so much as the correspondent’s final rescue. later. His subsequent recollection of the poem about the soldier who lies dying in Algiers reflects his feelings of alienation at being displaced from his position in the universe. Motifs. the oiler maintains an image of strength. and bucks like a bronco. warmth. and nature does not act out of any motivation that can be understood in human terms.motivated and afford him no personal redemption. The Oiler (Billie) Of the four characters in the boat. . The fact that the men almost seem to get assistance from nature destroys the notion of nature as an entirely hostile force. Themes. and Symbols Themes Nature’s Indifference to Man Despite the narrator’s profusion of animistic (animal-like). his actions are directed toward the others. the reality of nature’s lack of concern for them becomes increasingly clear.

all sensations of pain and pleasure are merely physical and have no spiritual meaning. is often cheerful and talkative in his descriptions of the physical pain he experiences. The fact that the narrator intrudes on the story with this refrain at the moments when fate seems to have let the men down creates the impression that this is. More important. society. however. they have created an obligation to one another that they must honor to survive. the narrator hints at the absence of an overseeing God through a subtle use of numerology. The men derive meaning from their fellowship. the correspondent’s new awareness that the universe is unconcerned with the situation’s outcome makes him physically and spiritually weary. they protest against it. In the Bible. they can still turn to one another. the correspondent. By making outright references to “the seven mad gods who rule the sea. When faced with the savage. in the earlier sections. He comes to value his suffering because it is nobly derived. The refrain is a rant against fate. against what first seems to be a cruel. He decides that there is no higher purpose to surviving other than prolonging a life that is meaningless. At this point. whom the narrator says is cynical. insinuating that these pagan gods. which they view as the force that seeks to undo them. unrelenting nature. Although they are shut out of the realm of cosmic importance. The refrain acts as the narrator’s interpretation of how the men themselves interpret their situation Hidden deeper in the refrain is the narrator’s conviction that a higher power does not exist to weigh in on men’s affairs. Society as Meaning in a Harsh World In assembling the men in the dinghy and creating a microcosm of mankind.the correspondent fears that he too will perish without a connection to whatever gives him his sense of self. in fact. these men nevertheless construct something that is meaningful to them. Crane sets up man’s greatest invention. he is suggesting that the men are furious because they believe that fate has toyed with their lives. stormy sea. The narrator observes that the men’s cooperation is “personal and heartfelt. which the narrator personifies as an incompetent fool unable to govern men’s lives. man denies God. The men consider their situation unfair. the willful enemy. and in the refrain. Even when they become disheartened by the fact that nature shows no regard for them. the men in the dinghy immediately band together because they recognize that society is the best defense against the chaos of nature. Motifs Drowning As the narrator attempts to capture the men’s thoughts as they endure many demoralizing episodes. he inserts a refrain into the text three times that suggests that the men’s general fear of death is exacerbated by the unconcern of nature.” which suggests that the men derive some spiritual satisfaction from the arrangement. The thrice-repeated phrase “If I am going to be drowned” in the refrain alludes to the New Testament Gethsemane scene in which Peter denies Jesus three times. who are traditionally involved in men’s lives. Throughout “The Open Boat. In creating society. His comment in section VII that the coldness of the water is simply “sad” underscores this despair. but Crane inverts the scene so that it is God denying man. . The narrator is not really trying to tell us that fate is cruel.” the correspondent understands pain to be the necessary byproduct of his efforts to overcome nature. created to oppose nature.” the narrator clues us in to the mythical implications of the story. Instead. the men’s reaction. By the end of the story. have abandoned the stranded men.

The events surrounding the oiler’s death also uncover the fact that the “subtle brotherhood of men” sensed by the crew is nothing more than a delusion. The narrator’s final mention of the waves as “pacing to and fro” emphasizes this point by suggesting that the waves. In this way. For the men. being in the open boat becomes the reality of their lives. The men make a break for land on their own. his death highlights the fact that nature is arbitrary in how it chooses its victims. The Oiler’s Death The oiler’s death and lack of explanation surrounding it reinforce the randomness of nature’s whims and symbolize the indifference of nature toward man. The Poem The poem that the correspondent recites about the soldier who pitifully lies dying in a foreign land represents the correspondent’s understanding of his own plight.Waves A ceaseless presence in the story and constant nuisance to the refugees. This understanding forces the correspondent to see the soldier’s story as tragic because it is the only way to give his own life weight. a gesture that reveals both his maturity at understanding what his life really amounts to . and in some cases is less deserving because he has worked the hardest under the most physical strain. becoming sometimes violent and sometimes favorable. are impatiently waiting for the men. and the good-natured oiler leaves everyone behind to reach the shore. The correspondent endows the fictitious soldier with humanity. who must eventually venture out again onto the seas of fortune. man in general cannot affect the outcomes of his life and can hope only to respond constructively to what he encounters. much as we as humans are inconsequential and frail in the context of the world around us. his situation is like the soldier’s and that it is nature that now regards his death as inconsequential. Symbols The Boat The boat. Through the boat. the narrator presents the waves as the men’s primary concern. seems even smaller against the vastness of the ocean. but rather life is what we must hang onto as we make our way in the world. The boat is inconsequential and always in danger of capsizing. in their motion. the ocean waves suggest both the forces of nature and uncontrollability of life. Crane seems to imply that because the men cannot control the waves’ ebb and flow. the pressures in man’s life will continue to jostle his progress toward whatever he seeks. the thing they must master if they are to survive the shipwreck. to which the men must cling to survive the seas. Just as in youth he never considered it a tragedy that the fictitious soldier dies away from home. the correspondent realizes that. Just as the waves are constantly changing. symbolizes human life bobbing along among the universe’s uncertainties. no larger than a bathtub. Because he is no more deserving of death than any other crew member. The fact that the boat is characterized as “open” supports this interpretation: the boat is unprotected and thus open to suffering the unexpected turns of fortune that are unavoidable in life. The boat. the waves resemble the everchanging demands of the present. In this sense. At the beginning of the story. and they realize from their experience on the boat how little control they have over where they can go and what they can do. the part of life that demands the most attention but allows for the least reflection. Crane implies that life is not something we can control. Crane illustrates that there is a limit to what working together can accomplish and that all men ultimately end up alone. as a grown man.

” The Cigars The four wet cigars and four dry cigars serve as a complex symbol of hope for spiritual salvation and as the ultimate loss of that salvation. First. which the narrator later describes as “the plight of the ants. Rather. Second. it only reinforces the meaningless of his struggle.and his self-delusion for using fiction to give meaning to his own situation. demoralizing forces of nature—they are broken and useless. and they feel misery. not triumph. When the correspondent finds these cigars in his pockets. In truth. Crane makes it clear that there are two interpretations of the men’s plight. there is something inside the men that remains untouched by the cold. the poem does not make the correspondent’s plight any more real. the men are likely to see themselves optimistically—as the four dry cigars—because their cooperation and hard work has seemingly put them on track to defeat nature. the men’s optimism is not intact. like the four sodden cigars. drenching despair that the sea imparts. the four men are physically and spiritually soaked by the heavy. like the four dry cigars hidden deep inside the correspondent’s pocket. Yet by the end of the story. . The wet cigars more aptly illustrate the tragedy of the men’s spirits. At the moment when the correspondent digs through his pocket.