Quality of Life, Progress, and Identity

Our semester is now in full swing, and we have read three crucial starting points for the study of American literature since the civil war: Walt Whitman’s poetry, including “Song of Myself”; Emily Dickinson’s poetry; and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. It is now time to focus more specifically on the three “essential questions” for this course, which are on the syllabus and restated below. For next class, we will start by trying to answer these questions in relation to Whitman, Dickinson, and Twain. Then, we will expand the conversation to the focus of next class’s readings: race. Please think about these questions in preparation for next class.

  • In the readings, what social, environmental, and psychological factors are revealed as affecting the quality of individual lives?


  • What normative values are implicit in the readings, and how do those values suggest a framework by which to define progress?


  • What national, group, or personal identities are significant within the readings, and how does the text participate in the construction of those identities?

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