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Harriet Ann Jacobs
Incidents in a Life of a Slave Girl is a revealing autobiographical account of a slave named Harriet Ann Jacobs under the pseudonym Linda Brent. The book offers an account of Linda’s life and eventual escape from her master, followed by continuous and fruitless attempts to free her children from prison with the help of another slave owner. The story contains numerous instances of graphic violence and illustrates the horrors and corrupting power of slavery for both its victims and proponents.
Two aspects of the text will be especially appealing to students. First, the text combines the validity of a historical document with the engaging narrative of a fictional book. As the author herself puts it, “I have not exaggerated the wrongs inflicted by Slavery; on the contrary, my descriptions fall far short of the facts“ (Jacobs 5). While it is by no means easy to read due to numerous scenes of violence and physical abuse, the text is engaging enough to present an emotionally and psychologically challenging topic in an engaging manner and deliver its ideas to the readers. Second, despite its relatively old age, the book contains several aspects that remain relevant today, such as the misconceptions about slavery that can be traced to the racial stereotypes in modern society.
The latter aspect can be successfully incorporated into the lesson as a way of addressing secondary educational objectives. Specifically, the students are expected to be able to discuss the misconceptions of the white population in the North regarding the inability of black workers to live a productive, independent life as well as their inherent traits such as dishonesty and immorality, and relate to the persistent concepts observed in the contemporary culture. In addition, the concept of corrupting power can be explored using the scenario where a supposedly benevolent slave owner Mr. Sands.
Rip Van Winkle is among the best-recognized examples of American literature. The short story describes the adventures of a Dutch settler who lives idly in a small village in the times preceding the turmoil of the American Civil War and enjoys the simple pleasures of strolling through the woods, which provide him a way to “escape from the labor of the farm and clamor of his wife” (Irving 34). During one such walk, he enjoys a drink offered by a strange-looking man, falls asleep, and upon waking up, finds himself in a completely unfamiliar world.
The story offers the readers a unique combination of compelling themes and an accessible and light-hearted narration style. The author brings up the themes of conflict between the old and the new world and explores the role of traditional values in people’s lives. At the same time, the protagonist emerges unscathed from the complex situation, which makes the text suitable for a wide range of audiences.
The story is an excellent example of the Romantic period in American literature. As such, the text can be used as a source for analysis of characteristic attributes of the movement in the educational objectives. In addition, it can serve as an illustration of the inevitability of change and the consequences faced by those who try to evade it by escaping into their preferred environments. In other words, the manner in which Irving presents mature themes makes the book an excellent addition to the secondary education classrooms.
Bartleby the Scrivener is an allegorical tale that explores human personality in a manner that is rather unusual for its author. The story describes a story of a scrivener employed by a lawyer who adopts a bizarre approach to his job by refusing to perform routines outside his expertise. Eventually, his refusal grows, as Bartleby stops performing his responsibilities and declines leaving the office, resorting to the phrase “I would prefer not to” and avoiding explanation by saying ”At present I prefer to give no answer” (Melville 15). The absurdity reaches its peak in prison, where he starves to death after preferring not to eat.
The symbolic nature of the events depicted in the story makes the text compelling both from the emotional and analytical point of view. In other words, the students will readily engage in the conversation on Bartleby’s behavior both because it is outrageous and so blatantly counters the commonly accepted ethical norms. Besides, it is interesting to explore the polarizing effect of the book in the discussion sessions, since Bartleby’s position may be considered a weirdly justifiable one by some students.
Two aspects of the text are particularly relevant for addressing the secondary education objectives. First, the text raises questions of morality and ethics from an unusual angle, which allows for the exploration of the concepts of responsibility, justice, and responsibility. In relation to this, the role of rules and order in the individual’s life can be evaluated as one of the objectives. Second, and, perhaps, more importantly, the author presents the idea of choice in an unusual way, which may be used to prompt the discussion of the justification of Bartleby’s “preferences,” and the responsibilities for the decisions.
Irving, Washington. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories. Race Point Publishing, 2017.
Jacobs, Harriet Ann. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Boston Stereotype Foundry, 1860.
Melville, Herman. Billy Budd, Bartleby, and Other Stories. Penguin Books, 2016.