Transcendentalism Mrs. Diana McGrath American Literature/Composition

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Mrs. Diana McGrath American Literature/Composition

There will be several writing assignments, which correspond with the ideas presented in our unit on the Transcendentalism Movement of the mid-1800s. You will need to become familiar with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, their philosophies, their writings, and the tenets of the Transcendentalism Movement. Here are the guidelines and detailed explanations of the assignments:

  1. Transcendentalism Article (Homework): You will need to find an article from a newspaper, book, or magazine which corresponds with the tenets of Transcendentalism. The purpose of this assignment is for you to see the connections with the philosophies of Transcendentalism and modern-day issues/struggles. You will be sharing this article in a small group setting. In the group you will:

1) Summarize the article highlighting interesting facts and information,

2) React to the article by sharing your thoughts/and opinions on the

information presented,

3) Connect what is said in the article with any personal experiences and current events.

  1. In-Class Field Trip (Class Time): We will be spending one day at Dunsmore Park observing nature and writing in our journals about the experience. Transcendentalists believe that Nature is the greatest teacher. Thoreau himself wrote numerous journals about what he observed in Nature. At first on the field trip, look at the environment on a broader perspective. Then, find a spot where you can sit by yourself and record thoughts and reflections in your journal. Once settled in a spot….

    1. Observe a natural inanimate object (tree, flower, spider web, rock) very closely for 15 minutes. Take notes on every detail you can see, hear, feel, or smell.

    2. Observe an animate object (animal, bird, or insect) for 15 minutes. Take notes on appearance, movements, sounds, etc…

    3. Find something very small (acorn, pine cone, leaf). Describe its characteristics and its location.

    4. Sketch any of the above if you are an artist.

    5. Listen for the sounds of Nature (wind, birds, leaves). What are the sounds of silence? Is it really silent?

Think about: Why Emerson and Thoreau believed Nature is the greatest teacher. What have you learned from observation? What did you notice by sitting in silence (that you would have normally just passed by)?

  1. Personal Field Trip/Descriptive Essay Assignment (Homework): You are to take yourself on a field trip in order to immerse yourself in nature for one hour. Find a quiet place to sit outside and observe a natural setting. Following Thoreau’s example, take notes on what you see. Start with broad observations of the entire scene and then focus your attention more narrowly on one aspect of the scene. I want you to be alone (without your phone and/or a companion) while doing this activity. Think about Thoreau, what it is like to be self-reliant (growing own crops, hunting/fishing for your own food, building your own shelter), think about Nature, its beauty, and how much it has to offer the spirit and your physical well-being. When you return home, write an essay in which you use vivid details to describe what you have observed and how you felt as you sat immersed in Nature. Saturate this essay with sensory images and tell me about what comes to your mind as you simulate living in the woods as Thoreau did for two years and two months. What does it feel like to “get away from it all” and “meet yourself face to face”? Does your physical being feel different (breathing, heart rate)? Be creative with this assignment. Use literary techniques such as similes, metaphors, alliteration, personification, etc…to write this descriptive essay. Even though this is a descriptive essay, I want you to have a clear thesis. You are to write a two to three-page descriptive essay on your Thoreauian experience.

  1. Journal Entry-“On Being Alone” or “To Conform or Not to Conform” (In Class or Homework):

On Being Alone”-Authors write about isolation in different ways. Being alone can be a positive experience or a negative one. How do you feel about being alone? Write about a time when you felt alone or should have felt alone but didn’t. Were you choosing to be alone, or were you feeling left out or unhappy? Also, think about your own personal need/desire to have time to yourself. Are you the type of person who needs space, or do you thrive in the company of others? And finally, does our society encourage people to spend time alone, or does society make it difficult to be alone?

To Conform or Not to Conform”-Does our society reward people who conform and punish those who do not? Or does our society tolerate those who choose not to conform? Write an essay in which you discuss the issue of conformity in our society. You must have an introduction with a clear thesis statement, at least two strong examples that support your thesis statement, and a conclusion. In your concluding paragraph discuss how you feel about the issue of conformity.

  1. Poem- Photo Assignment or Pastoral Poem (Homework):

Photo Assignment (Homework): Write a poem about your favorite natural setting or natural item. Thoreau uses Walden Pond as the central image of his work. This pond is located about a mile outside Concord, Massachusetts. He writes extensively about its beauty and necessity to the wild animals (his neighbors) in the forest. When choosing a place, or item, to write about consider bodies of water, trees, natural elements and occurrences…think about a place where you have vacationed that holds an important meaning for you and your family…think about a place that you “found” on the side of the road and pulled over to steal its beauty. Use MLA heading for your poem and make sure the poem is single spaced. On the poem, incorporate a photo of yourself in this setting. If you do not have a picture of yourself in the setting, then just provide a photo of this natural environment or item. The poem should be about 30 lines.

A Pastoral/Nature poem which imitates Emily Dickinson’s style (Tentative Assignment). Poem should be about 20 lines. Use stylistic devices and themes that are typical of Emily Dickinson. To complete this assignment, you will need to research the author and read some of Dickinson’s poetry.

  1. Side Note: Henry David Thoreau is the reason I decided to become a teacher. If you do not familiarize yourself with his work and philosophies, you are missing a great opportunity. In the 11th grade I went to the woods and wrote about my experiences. My teacher, Mrs. Lane, read my essay in front of the entire class. I did not save that essay but I have the memory of feeling pride and satisfaction from writing about something of importance for the first time. A teacher did not have to send me to the woods. I regularly went there on my own. As a middle-aged woman today sometimes I feel like something is missing. Sometimes I think it is because I have lost my connection with Nature. I grew up on a farm and have fond memories of growing my own vegetables and roaming through the woods by myself and riding horses. At the age of seventeen I was introduced to the idea of living “deliberately” and the desire “to live deep and suck all the marrow out of life.” I share Thoreau with you as a gift. Listen to his ideas and forever listen to the beat of your own drummer.
    Persuasive Essay/Speech (Tentative Assignment): You are to complete a persuasive paper/speech on a topic of your own choosing. When deciding on a topic, think about the things that enrage you and things you would like to change. You must have at least five reputable sources to support your ideas and cite these sources using MLA format for documentation. A clear thesis must be established and your topic sentences and supporting body paragraphs should revolve around proving your thesis. The catalyst for this assignment is Thoreau himself who was willing to spend a night in jail because he did not believe in paying taxes to support a government that endorses slavery and the Mexican war. What are you passionate about? What cause would you go to jail for?

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