Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Some Things to Think About . . .

. . . if you know there's a test coming. Yes, here are some ideas that might help you think about the essay portion of next week's test. The opinions are my own, not something I want you to spout back, as you well know.

Ben Franklin and women: Of all the Founding Fathers, Franklin is the one who had the most forward-looking attitude about women. From his early Silence Dogood letters, through the "Polly Baker" satire, and all the way to his abolitionist activities at the end of the century, Franklin affirms that women have just as much ability to reason, learn, and be productive intellectuals as men have. In fact, he asserts that the reason women seem preoccupied with trivia is because they aren't encouraged to read and think and wrestle with bigger issues. Abigail Adams agrees with him; Phillis Wheatley is evidence for his point of view, and yet, the Revolution doesn't improve conditions for women at all. Why do you suppose that was?

John Locke and human worth: How can a nation that proclaims "liberty and justice for all," allow the ownership of slaves? Are the Founding Fathers being hypocritical, or expedient, or what? This is one of those questions that plagues me, because I think they really did not see Africans and women as "people" in the Lockian sense, and THAT raises a whole 'nother set of issues, doesn't it?

Slave narratives and captivity narratives -- Once again, we have similarities that, if people were paying attention, would have screamed "Slavery is wrong!" Like Mary Rowlandson and the Puritans before his time, Olaudah Equiano compares himself and his fellow slaves to the Jews in Egypt. His compares his journey to the journey of the children of Israel out of slavery and into freedom. As some people pointed out in class, it's not quite the same thing, though. Even though Equiano gains his freedom, he doesn't get to go home. His family, his culture, his whole world is gone. It would be wise to be able to compare the two genres, and contrast them, too.

Thomas Jefferson and John Locke: Go ahead. Make my day. Explain how Jefferson's Declaration of Independence is based in Locke's philosophy. This is so easy, it's like taking back the country from the British.

Jonathan Edwards and God: While we're explaining things, it might be good to think about how Jonathan Edwards, that uber-Puritan, that throwback to the austere faith of his fathers, was also a revolutionary. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is certainly a hellfire and brimstone sermon, but it's not conventionally Puritan because of the freedom of choice it offers. What does that mean, do you think? Is Edwards going soft? Is Puritanism changing? Has somebody figured out that Calvinism has huge problems? Inquiring minds want to know.

Jefferson and the aristocrats: Yes, I almost typed "Aristocats," which was a Disney movie, I think. Jefferson advoated an aristocracy of ability, not birth. What do you think he meant? I wonder what talents we need now, to create an aristocracy of merit. We tend to confuse "celebrity" with aristocracy, so we have famous people who are of absolutely no benefit to society. We have very talented, helpful people who cannot get anything done for our society because they aren't famous, or because their ideas are unpopular. Jefferson would, I think, be spinning in his grave if he could see who Americans venerate now. What has changed that makes us value Paris Hilton, say, as some sort of aristocrat?

Wheatley and poetry -- you'd better believe you're going to have to explain what makes her a.) neo-classical and b.) derivative.

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