American Dream/American Nightmare explores the tensions between dream and nightmare in the 19th century American Literature that molded a bold, fragile, confident, and uncertain American identity.
Dan Tynan email
Inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1836 essay, Nature, Henry David Thoreau retreated to the woods at Walden Pond in 1845, and lived for a time the American Dream: life alone in the woods, subsisting on nature. In his 1855 Leaves of Grass, Whitman might have been responding to Emerson’s call for a poetry fitting to the living, breathing, sexual body and free spirit of the ideal American – other aspects of the American dream. But American nightmares always lay side by side with the dreams. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, to name just two, narrated the inhumanities of slavery. Harriet Beecher Stowe in Uncle Tom’s Cabin unveiled the hypocrisies of Christian attitudes towards the cruelty and soul stifling treatment of slaves. Meanwhile, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville showed that lonely life upon lonely life, whether in Salem Massachusetts, in the polis of the whaling ship, or the tortured chambers of the deranged mind, battled the dreams of idyllic life in nature, and the fruits of material achievement. In writings by Emerson, Poe, Dickinson, Frederick Douglass, and others, we explore the tensions between dream and nightmare in the 19th century American Literature that molded a bold, fragile, confident, and uncertain American identity.
Prerequisite: 221 or 250 or COI