Author: Mark Noonan (Page 2 of 5)

Week 11: Enjoy your Break. No Post due this week.

Last month was Indigenous People’s Day and this week many Americans, of course, celebrate Thanksgiving. During the autumn of 1621, some 90 Wampanoag joined 52 English people at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts, to mark a successful harvest. Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday on October 3, 1863, to help unite a war-weary nation, then fighting in the Civil War (1861-1865).

Enjoy your holiday with your family and friends.

I will post a new lecture on Monday of next week, on the fight for women’s rights.

Here’s a preview [no need to post this week but be sure to post on last week’s assignment on the Scarlet Letter or Moby-Dick if you have not yet done so]:

Read: Margaret Fuller “Educate Men and Women as Souls”

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “Declaration of Sentiments” (1848)

Sojourner Truth “Ain’t I a Woman?”

Extra Credit: Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (film) and/orHarriet Tubman (FILM)

Weeks 9-10: Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne (film viewing)

I’m recommending the above event for those interested in important issues relating to Brooklyn and New York.


Hi Students,

Thank you for your interesting comments on the supernatural works of Edgar Allan Poe and Washington Irving. Last night, I watched the new suspense film A Haunting in Venice, which also had inspiration from Poe (particularly his “Fall of the House of Usher”).  It’s a fantastic film which I highly recommend.

We’re heading into the final 6 weeks of the course, so be sure to check your mid-term grades (Pass, Needs Improvement) in this and all your classes.

It’s also a good time to start thinking about your final essay. I ask that you focus on one of the authors we’ve read or will soon be reading (check the weekly schedule). You may draw from responses you post to each week’s reading if you like. Once you know your topic (author and theme), email me at: 

I’m also available during zoom office hours on Tuesday(3-5pm)  if you want to brainstorm a topic with me.

The Final Essay is due Wed., Dec. 20.



For the final assignment, I want to stress that you stay away from generic Internet sources and the AI tool (ChatGPT). Stay true to the Emersonian dictum to “trust thyself” and your own amazing voices and original analytical skills.


One of the greatest friendships in the history of American Literature is the one between two of our finest authors, Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. 

Hawthorne was a popular writer of short stories in the 1830s and 1840s but became truly famous with the publication of his novel The Scarlet Letter (in 1850).  The novel is set in the time of the Puritans in New England (in the 1600s) and focuses on a young lady named Hester Prynne who has a child (Pearl) out of wedlock.  The father is none other than the minister of the highly religious community, Reverend Dimmesdale.  Dimmesdale does not confess to his “sin” and leaves Hester to handle the scorn that is thrust upon her by her fellow townspeople. 

Watch this film trailer of the book (starring Demi Moore): HERE

Read Chapter Two (“The Marketplace”, pages 54-68) of The Scarlet Letter (1850), in which a pregnant Hester Prynne must step up on a scaffold in the middle of town and face an abusive crowd demanding she confess who the father is.

Hawthorne’s works were very influential to Herman Melville. He too had been a popular writer of sea voyages (he had gone on a two year whale voyage himself).  In 1851, inspired by the truth-telling of Hawthorne, he wrote Moby-Dick, or the Whale, a lengthy novel considered to be one of the greatest works in Western literature. 

Moby-Dick features a narrator named Ishmael who decides to leave his boring day job in New York City in the 1840s to go on an adventurous whaling voyage.  He boards the whaling ship, the Pequod, and quickly befriends a fellow whaleman from the Pacific Islands named Queequeg (adorned with amazing tattoos across his entire body).  The co-star of the novel, however, is the mad crazy Captain Ahab who really only wants to chase down a white whale named Moby-Dick who in a previous voyage bit off Ahab’s right leg (he now walks with a peg leg).  A symbol of revenge and arbitrary authority, Ahab’s obsessive quest to harpoon Moby-Dick (spoiler alert) causes the Pequod to sink.  All but Ishmael survives.

Read the famous opening chapter of Moby-Dick HERE

Watch this biography of Melville that includes a discussion of his friendship with Hawthorne: HERE

Post Assignment (Allow yourself time to watch the recommended film):

By Monday, Nov. 20, watch either the classic film version of Moby-Dick (1956) HERE or an excellent recent film version: HERE .  Each version is free.  Alternately, watch this fantastic film version of The Scarlet Letter on Netflix : HERE

Choose a scene from one of these films to discuss in connection with a theme/topic you find particularly compelling.  Be sure to refer directly to the above mentioned film (s)(not some other source).

Extra credit if you watch both!


Week 8: American Gothic

For this week, I want to introduce America’s first two professional authors, Washington Irving and Edgar Allan Poe, and the unique style of writing they employed, which can be labeled American Romantic, or American gothic.

American Romanticism can be defined as an interest in the self, emotion (or intuition) over reason, Nature, and an exploration of the unknown. Accordingly, the gothic tales of Irving and Poe often involve circumstances of mystery and/or horror, an atmosphere (setting) of gloom, as well as supernatural elements including mysterious figures (ravens, black cats, ghosts) and dreamlike reveries. 

I also want you to review the elements of fiction, discussed here. 

As you read the pieces below, think about the traits of the characters, the story-line (plot), the use of language and surprises (irony), any symbols, and especially the effect of the story on the reader (how does it make him/her feel? what does it ask the author to think about?).  Also consider the “meaning” (or underlying theme) of the piece. For all of the stories and poems, also pay close attention to the setting (the time, place, and mood of the story) and its affect on the characters and action.

Washington Irving (1783-1859)

Washington Irving is crucially important to the history of New York (he in fact wrote the first one—in satirical form).  On the Hudson River is a town named after him (Irvington) and a basketball team (the New York Knicks, named after his pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker). His house Sunnyside on the Hudson remains a much visited museum.

Watch this fun, animated video on his life and career. made by Walt Disney.

“Rip Van Winkle” (1819)

Read this famous tale of Rip Van Winkle, who goes into the Catskills mountains one day to escape stress at home.  He meets some curious old sailors (ghosts of Henry Hudson’s men who discovered the region in 1609), drinks ale, and plays nine pins (bowling) with them. Curiously, he wakes up 20 years later (!) and walks back to town having missed the Revolutionary War (1776-1781). His world is utterly changed from the way it was when he left it.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

Poe remains one of the world’s most beloved and versatile writers 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 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).  Here is a video of his years there.

His most famous poem “The Raven” (1845) was written while he was living in Greenwich Village (1844-1846) 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.

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

Also read this spooky tale (one of many), focusing on the themes of madness and revenge, called “The Black Cat.” and his longer tale “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

This latter story is the basis of a brand new Netflix series that has just started.

Watch Trailer HERE.

Post Assignment: In your post (due Wed. Nov. 1), please let me know which work interested you the most and why (you could choose to comment on the Netflix Usher series if you like). Try to bring in one or more elements of fiction to support your point(s).


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