American Literature Essay Prompts

Choose two of the following prompts. Write a 2-3 page response for each. Your work should be in MLA format and use properly documented outside research where appropriate. The primary texts should be cited. 1. What are the lessons the listeners are supposed to take away from the Winnebago Trickster Cycle? How do you think these lessons have changed, or will change, to adapt to cultural shifts? Can you find comparative stories in other cultures (with research)? 2. What accounts for Bartolome de las Casa’s change of heart? When you think about what he was willing to sacrifice for this cause, can you compare him (through research) to others during his time or our own? 3. What moments do you find in Cabeza de Vaca’s Relation that suggest unorthodox thinking for his time and culture, and an imaginative and independent wanderer? Compare his view of the natives to that of some of the other conquerors cover in our book (using excerpts from their writings). 4. In Thomas Harriot’s view, what does Native American mythology, as he encounters and interprets it, demonstrate to him about these people? How does he use his writing to portray them, and what are the motives for this portrayal? Some research into the common stereotypes of natives at the time or into the historical period and Harriot’s motivations would help support your response. 5. Is Anne Bradstreet a true Puritan writer? Do some outside research on what constitutes “true” Puritan religious thought and action, and make a case for whether Bradstreet fits that description. 6. Where does Anne Bradstreet’s private emotional response to her life’s events conflict with her outward religious obligations in her poetry? Find examples of her bringing her personal reactions into conformity with the public expectations of her, and discuss her motivation for that conformity. Some research about the expectations of a Puritan woman would help support your answer. 7. In Wonders of the Invisible World, read the sentences beginning “We know not, at least I know not, how far the delusions of Satan” and comment on their reasoning and tone. In modern retrospect, Mather is often represented as a depraved witch hunter. But he was also a scholar and a scrupulous logician. Is there a convergence or conflict here of different motives and habits of thought? Explain, using biographical research on Mather to support your position. 8. Robert Calef might qualify as the first American investigative journalist. History may have absolved him, but how do his methods compare to those seen in play in investigative journalism today? Do the ends (revealing Mather’s hypocrisies) justify his means (leaking Mather’s letters)? Can you compare him to any modern “leakers” in terms of his motives and results (through research)?

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