American Literature helps me to expand the boundaries of my own experience.
At the beginning of this semester, I was curious as to what this unit would hold for me. I had never studied American literature before, except for a few American poets here and there in school like T.S. Eliot. That was my sum knowledge of American literature before starting this unit this semester so I had absolutely no idea what I was going to come across in this unit. I travelled to New York in 2015 at the conclusion of my HSC and I based my opinions of the American people from my experience there. I found them to be egotistical, arrogant, self-righteous and ignorant – a very ungenerous view but that was my impression. I was expecting something similar of these characteristics in this American literature unit.
How wrong I was. I was very much shocked, overwhelmed, inspired and delighted by what I discovered!
First, we looked at Native American literature and I loved what I was reading (https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/2017/08/15/first-blog/) . The spirituality and passion of the Native Americans is so like that of the Indigenous Australians’ and how fondly and respectfully they spoke of the land gave me inspiration to consider the land my feet walked upon and regard it in a higher manner. Secondly, we looked at transcendentalism and the works of Emerson and Thoreau (https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/second-blog-2/). I was expecting transcendentalism to be some boring, intellectual spiel about nature and how superior nature is to the manmade world – nothing I hadn’t heard before. I was somewhat right – it is an intellectual topic about how much better the natural world is to the manmade world but it wasn’t boring at all! It was in this topic that I came across Emerson’s eyeball and found that transcendentalism actually makes complete sense: if you take a step back from what we think we know of the world, we see how much more there is to it and how much more the world has to offer. The Native Americans and transcendentalism have helped me expand my boundaries by helping me see that there is more the world has to offer than just what I currently know of it.
Thirdly, we looked at Walt Whitman and his wonderful, magical mastery of the English language (https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/2017/08/27/third-blog-2/). Whitman’s writing has a way of making you feel such deep and powerful emotion with just a rhyming couplet or the tone he sets within each stanza. I wasn’t sure literature could make me feel the depth of emotion that Whitman did. Next, we looked at Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. What a novel that is! (https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/2017/09/03/fourth-blog-2/). The depth of emotion that Huck Finn shows and the passion that Jim shows throughout the novel also inspires me to live my life with more passion and to see that there is more to life than what I know. The journey that Huck embarks on throughout the novel parallels what I’ve been feeling this semester: there is so much more to life than what you thought you knew and to not let other people’s perceptions or judgements of the world influence your own.
Next, we looked at African American writing and that was definitely an eye-opener (https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/2017/09/10/fifth-blog-2/). We all know about the atrocities and horrors that have been inflicted upon black Americans throughout history by way of books, images and news reports. But the literature, especially James Baldwin’s, is so vivid that the pictures he is painting with his words come to life before your very eyes and it is wonderful and so confronting in equal measure. I don’t think I’ve ever been so awestruck and disgusted by a piece of literature before in my life; I daresay Baldwin’s writing will live with me for the rest of my life. We also studied Robert Frost and Robert Lowell – the two “Roberts”. I found Lowell’s work particularly struck a chord with me as he spoke of the ever-changing world and how amazing and devastating progress can be (https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/2017/09/17/sixth-blog-2/). As we move forward in life and as the world constantly progresses, we are becoming more and more like slaves to technology and laziness and I think that is so relevant in the 21st century.
We also studied modernism in this unit and this is something I thought I knew a little bit about, as I had done a bit of this in high school but I actually learned that there is so much more to the modernist writers; T.S. Eliot, especially. His writings about the power of words and silence and the effects had a huge impact on me and I couldn’t help but agree with Eliot on that matter. His further analogy with a Chinese jar only strengthens his argument that words and silence are very powerful tools indeed (https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/2017/09/24/seventh-blog-2/). Next came the formidable William Faulkner. As I Lay Dying must be one of the most complex, brilliant stories I have ever read. The human heart and spirit in turmoil is such a relatable topic that you can’t help but become enthralled and intrigued by the story and its characters. His Nobel Prize speech further hammered home this great concept of the human heart in conflict with itself and the human spirit at war with itself (https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/2017/10/09/eighth-blog-2/).
Finally, we studied the Beats Generation and that was a freshening and delightful experience! The frankness and brutal honesty of these writers took my breath away and I almost laughed out loud at Allen Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California” and “Footnote to Howl”! It was so refreshing to read Ginsberg’s works and his all-inclusive language makes for a most colourful reading experience (https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/2017/10/23/ninth-blog-3/). American literature has definitely helped me expand the boundaries of my own experience. It has helped me see that there is so much more to life than just what I presently know and have been taught. Sometimes, expanding your boundaries means taking a step back to get a more objective view of the world and see it from other people’s perspective, before making your own final judgement. Far from my original assessment of the Americans and their literature, I have found them to be a most imaginative, illuminating and entertaining bunch of writers.
LINKS TO MY BLOGS:
Creative Blogs: https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/category/creative-blogs-2/
Critical Blogs: https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/category/critical-blogs-2/