Professor Major
English 211: American Literature II

Guidelines for Papers

The paper should be a minimum of three typed pages. Every paper should contain some careful, detailed analysis of particular passages of the poetry in question. No library research should be necessary to complete this assignment, though you are welcome to do so. If you do use another person’s critical ideas, the source or sources must be identified. Any plagiarized work will receive an automatic F for the course. This grade counts 20% of your final grade.

Make an effort to keep your argument in the foreground throughout. Be sure to define your topic clearly in your introduction, and establish a program for the rest of the paper. Don’t neglect the conclusion: let the reader know what the point of your essay is, what we are supposed to have learned as the result of your work. After you have completed a first draft, reread the opening and ask yourself whether you have done what you said you would in the introduction.



1. Whitman tends to pay a good deal of attention to the body’s sensual experience—the physical, the sexual. Through a careful analysis of a few (not all!) sections in “Song of Myself” in which the physical and the spiritual seem foregrounded, discuss how Whitman viewed the relationship between the sensual and the spiritual. Is one subordinate to the other? Do they intersect? If so, how?

2. Although certain sections of “Song of Myself” have clear symbolic or metaphoric intent, other parts contain long lists of specific information that seem to resist an abstract reading. Whitman seems to hold these details of our daily world in high regard. What is Whitman trying to accomplish with these lists? What is the role of specific, concrete information, as apposed to abstract truth, in “Song of Myself”? Please limit your discussion to “Song of Myself.”

3.  Trace the development of the persona throughout the Live Oak, With Moss sequence of poems. What central themes do the poems raise, and how does the persona represent those themes? Do you see the speaker undergoing changes or evolving? If so, how? Does the tone of these poems differ markedly from the tone of “Song of Myself” (1855)?


1.  I have presented Emily Dickinson’s poems as a series of propositions or arguments revolving around certain topics, such as nature/death/religion. Can you think of other ways you might approach these poems? For instance, can we think of the persona as conflicted? Confused? Searching? Choose several related poems and try to characterize the persona’s psychological state; in doing so, comment on what, exactly, you think the author is trying to accomplish.

2 Examine the persona’s ambivalent attitude toward nature. How might you characterize her relationship with the natural world? By looking at two or more poems, can you recognize a pattern or theme developing? What might Dickinson be suggesting about the place of the human within nature?


1.  Huckleberry Finn undergoes a series of moral tests throughout the novel. It would seem that he learns from these tests and begins to develop a morality on his own. Why, then, would he go along with Tom Sawyer’s scheme at the end of the novel? Does this episode change your view of Huck and of the novel as a whole?

2.  Discuss Huckleberry Finn’s most pressing dilemma throughout the book—what do to about Jim—and how he handles it. How does he finally work through this dilemma? What might Twain be suggesting about conventional approaches to difficult questions, such as those associated with religious teachings, socially acceptable models of behavior, etc.

Due Dates:
Rough draft: February 24
Final draft: March 3