Author: Mark Noonan (Page 2 of 5)

Week 11: The Era of Reform: 1840-1865 (Women’s Rights). Post Due: Wed., Nov. 17

For the remainder of the semester, we will be focusing on American Literature during the Era of Reform. This era (also known as the American Renaissance) saw the emergence of remarkable writers and thinkers dedicated to realizing the promise of a vital, engaged democracy. Writers such as Margeret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglas, and Louisa May Alcott focused on a number of issues needing improvement in America ranging from women’s rights, worker rights, education for all, and an overall enlightened political and artistic culture.

As we start this final section, I want you to start thinking about a topic (author or theme) that you would like to write about for your Essay Assignment (I am only requiring one essay for this class). You may focus on readings we’ve done (working from one of your earlier posts perhaps) or choose a topic from upcoming authors (you could also focus on a film I’ve recommended).  



Please choose a topic by Nov. 25. The essay will be due Dec. 14. Please email me about any questions you may have or for a topic suggestion (

For this week we will focus on the fight for equality for men AND women. This story begins in a town in New York state called Seneca Falls. It was here in 1848, that women (led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony) met at a convention to demand their rights. Together they penned the Declaration of Sentiments, which as you’ll note, was a re-writing of the original Declaration of Independence (1776).

Read: Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “Declaration of Sentiments” (1848). Also important in this fight was the Transendentalist Margaret Fuller, who wrote Woman in the 19th Century. Here is an excerpt from her landmark book: “Educate Men and Women as Souls”

Importantly, Sojourner Truth called out the early fight for Women’s Rights for not including African American women as well in their efforts.

Listen to what she had to say in this speech reenactment: VIDEO

Here is the original text of the speech: “Ain’t I a Woman?”

In 2020, the first monument to women went up in Central Park featuring Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth. Read the STORY here.

There is also a remarkable and important film on the great African American Freedom Fighter Harriet Tubman, which I highly encourage you to watch (if not now perhaps over the break). The film shows Tubman’s courageous work on “the Underground Railroad” in which she helped southern enslaved persons escape their masters to flee north. View film trailer here: Harriet Tubman

I also HIGHLY recommend the recent film version of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women , which provides a wonderful sense of life in the 1840s in Concord from the perspective of courageous, talented young ladies. View film trailer Here.

For this week, please read and watch the above mentioned readings and videos. In your post, respond to ONE of them. Alternately, pick a grievance from the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments and speak to how this issue relates to women’s position in society today (cite an example if you can).


Consider attending “The Soho Memory Project” discussion (Tues. 11/16 1-2 pm)

A discussion on Zoom of the SoHo Memory Project Documentary with City Tech Professor Josh Kapusinski (COMD, Moving Pixels Club), Jonathan Baez (City Tech alum and cinematographer), and Or Szyflingier (alum and director).

Consider reviewing the accompanying article and video:

I will offer extra credit for attending this event.


Preserving and Telling a New York Story (Tues., Nov 16 1-2pm)

Meeting ID: 870 4022 8416

Passcode: 175967

One tap mobile+16465588656,,87040228416#,,,,*175967# US (New York)+13017158592,,87040228416#,,,,*175967# US (Washington DC) Dial by your location        +1 646 558 8656 US (New York)


Week 10: POE POE POE POE POE Post Due: Mon., Nov. 9

Thank you students for your thoughtful responses to the courageous soul and brilliant writer: Henry David Thoreau. Ariel, for example, points to the key quote from “Civil Disobedience” that calls attention to the importance of taking a stand against a corrupt government:

Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?”

From Walden,or Life in the Woods, there are so many powerful quotes and words of wisdom.  Amina chose this great one:

However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard times. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is.” 

Mohammed chose this fantastic line:

Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more that his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”

In a chaotic world in which we are all obsessively glued to our laptops and iphones for too much of the day, let’s all take a breather and try to find true solitude and perhaps even higher enlightenment. Thoreau and Emerson (and Nature itself) can serve as guides for accessing the “genius” within us all and the power of the glorious universe around us.


For this week, I want to introduce America’s first professional writer of stories and poetry: Edgar Allan Poe.  Poe remains one of the world’s most beloved and versatile writer and a key figure in American Romanticism. In “The Murders of the Rue Morgue” (1841), featuring the detective C. Auguste Dupin (think Sherlock Holmes), he invented the detective story. In his novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, he wrote the first science fiction novel. He also invented the horror genre that fueled the writings of Stephen King and today’s many horror films. He was also America’s first literary critic. 

He led an unusual life, filled with youthful love, romantic yearning, literary ambition, and—unfortunately—alcoholism. His life experiences allowed him to become a master of psychological forces that brood just beneath the surface of our own rational selves. As you read his works, think about how they serve as precursors to Sigmund Freud’s theories on the battle between our rational and irrational impulses (the Id, the Ego, and Superego).

Here is a short biography of his life.

Interestingly, Poe spent his last years in the Bronx in a cottage that remains a museum (and a great place to visit).  Please watch this video of his years there.

His most famous poem “The Raven” (1845) was written in Manhattan (West 84th Street to be exact) and relates the extreme grief a narrator feels upon the death of a beautiful maiden, named “Lenore.”  When a raven comes into his apartment and sits upon a bust of Pallas (Athena who represents wisdom and rationality), he starts asking all kinds of crazy questions hoping for answers about a possible reunification with Lenore. The poem is renowned for its symbolism and repetitive rhyme scheme that mimics the feelings of unending grief.  It’s also important to note that Poe lost his own young wife (Virginia Clemm), soon after writing this poem. He knew she was dying of tuberculosis and had only months to live.

Please watch a video version of the poem here:  “The Raven”  (read by Christopher Lee)

Please also read this spooky tale (one of many), focusing on the themes of madness and revenge, called “The Black Cat.”

If you have the time, I also highly recommend watching this new animated film based on several of his stories (it’s free but there are a few ads).

In your post, please let me know which tale, poem, or part of the film interested you the most and why. You may also choose to make a connection of Poe’s life to his fiction. Post due: Monday, Nov. 7th.


Week 9: Henry David Thoreau Post due Wed., Oct. 28th

Hi Students:

As we think about the mixed legacies of our “Founding Fathers” (George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, etc), here’s a recent development in NYC. Please read about how the statue of Thomas Jefferson will be removed from City Hall.


Nice work on your extremely interesting posts on Ralph Waldo Emerson and his writings that promoted the Transcendental Movement.

Several of you pointed to the beauty, power, and continued relevance of his essay “Nature”.  Maria talks of how truly “moving” the essay is and how Emersonian philosophy can actually change us if we let it.  She quotes the line: “Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes” and explains that this concept is what we now know as “grounding” or “earthing” (i.e. getting our spiritual bearings in a mad, mad world!)  For Sumayah, the essay’s importance is Emerson’s stress on finding “inner peace” by occasionally removing ourselves from society. We can also access Nature’s enormous power as Mehreen and Ulises write. Mehreen quotes the line:  “We must trust the perfection of the creation so far, as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy.”  Amy and Karina, in turn, comment on the compelling line that “To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child.” As they clarify, we must open ourselves to the power of Nature to regain our lost purity and our true sense of self.

Several of your wrote on his intriguing, “The American Scholar.” Zariff quotes the great line that we are all too often “the victim of society” … and merely  “parrot of other men’s thinking.”  Tenzin connects Emerson to how students need to be independent thinkers today and quotes the fantastic line: “Free should the scholar be, — free and brave. Free even to the definition of freedom.” To capture this same point, Ariel chose the line: “Colleges … can only highly serve us, when they aim not to drill, but to create … and  set the hearts of youth on flame.”  We need to be “nourished” by college not treated like mere robots, writes Enson. Let’s also keep in mind Emerson’s point, as Nelson reminds that “Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst” .  We need to be truly “active” readers and original thinkers.

All these points come to a crescendo in Emerson’s towering “Self-Reliance.” Mohammed chose the line: “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think” , connecting it to his own challenges of not letting the thoughts of others “dictate” his life. Brian writes, “After reading Emerson’s essay, I think he is saying that while we are capable of thinking for ourselves, we often follow in the footsteps of others. In a way it’s like “monkey see monkey do.” Well said!!! Cristin similarly warns that “Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.” It’s hard to be an individual but we always need to believe in ourselves, Amina adds, quoting the line: “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” 


This week we move on to Emerson’s equally impressive protégé and student: Henry David Thoreau.  Thoreau took Emerson’s idea to heart, actually moving to a cabin on Walden Pond (in Concord), living by himself for 2 years, 2 months, and two days!!! Why he did this and what he learned in the woods is the basis for his classic book Walden, or Life in the Woods (1845).  Please watch the video below that explores his aims. 

Please also read excerpts from his work: HERE

Here is the Full Book (For Future Reading): Walden

Also consider reading a fascinating recent article on Walden‘s relevance to young people today:

“The Fragility of Solitude: What Thoreau Could Teach Me, a Pakistani American Woman?”

Thoreau did not just hide out from society. While living in his cabin on Walden Pond, he wrote one of the world’s most important protest essays: “On Civil Disobedience.”  In protest of slavery and America’s war with Mexico (in 1844), he famously refused to pay his taxes and was put in jail (for two days). The essay explains why he can’t pay taxes to a government that is corrupt and that we all should go to jail rather than acquiescing to a nation’s evil actions (the heart of civil disobedience).  His essay was extremely important to later social activists including Ghandi (in India) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (who himself wrote a famous letter while imprisoned in a Birmingham Jail.)

Please read this excerpt of Civil Disobedience

POST ASSIGNMENT: Comment on a passage from either Walden or “Civil Disobedience” (or from one of the articles) that strikes you as particularly interesting and important.

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