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“Memories of President Lincoln”  

(Word-process journal entry responses and bring them to class when we discuss the relevant texts. Please remember to provide the entry letter, an abbreviation of the text if that’s not already obvious, and the question numbers.)

Journal Entries for Unit One: 

A) Examine all six study questions below for the Lincoln packet of three readings (“House Divided,” “Primary War Aim,” and “Emancipation Proclamation”) and respond to at least 4 of them, taking care to answer at least one question from all three selections.

B) Examine all study questions below for Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” and “Second Inaugural Address.” Respond to at least three questions for the “Gettysburg Address” and to at least one question from “Second Inaugural Address.”

C) Examine all study questions below for Whitman’s “The Death of Abraham Lincoln” and respond to at least three of them.

D) Examine all study questions below for Douglass’ “Expression of Gratitude” and respond to at least three of them.

Lincoln, Abraham.A House Divided,” An Extract from a Speech Delivered at Springfield, Illinois, at the close of the Republican State Convention, June 16, 1858

(See the appropriate hyperlink on the “Assignments” page for the Dover introduction to this speech.)

1) Can you tell which side Lincoln takes in the debate over how to “end slavery agitation”? How can you tell?

2) How do you interpret Lincoln’s use of the “house” metaphor? What, for example, is the house, and what does Lincoln’s metaphor imply about the relationship between the two sides at war?

Lincoln, Abraham. “Preserving the Union Should be the Primary War Aim,” A Reply to New York Tribune Editor Horace Greeley, August 22, 1862

1) What features of Lincoln’s reply tell you that it is a public response and not just a private letter to editor Horace Greeley?

2) What course does Lincoln set in the reply? How does he defend that course?

Lincoln, Abraham. “Final Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863.”

1) How does Lincoln justify putting his proclamation into effect?

2) How would you characterize the proclamation’s treatment of the slavery issue? Is the statement’s tone or language what you might have expected? Why or why not?

Lincoln, Abraham.  “Gettysburg Address,” November 19, 1863. (Norton Reader)

(See the appropriate hyperlink on the “Assignments” page for the Dover introduction to this speech.)

1) Remind us about the occasion, date, and location of Lincoln’s address.  What had happened at Gettysburg not long ago? 

2) Read the speech out loud, emphasizing words that indicate a particular time, place, or group—“we,” “here,”  “now,” etc. Jot down some of those words. Why does Lincoln keep reminding his audience who they are, where they are, and to whom and what the occasion is dedicated? How do these concrete references help Lincoln give the battlefield of Gettysburg—and the Civil War more generally—symbolic and spiritual significance?

3) Lincoln says that in 1776 (four score and seven years before 1863, that is) founders like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams “brought forth [. . .] a new nation” that had been “conceived in Liberty.”  How exactly did the founders “bring forth” the new country?  What does such language of birth, of organic process, imply about American democracy?

4) In the first paragraph, Lincoln says that America was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”  What is a proposition, in the sense that Lincoln seems to mean?  Do you find him recognizing in this post-Emancipation Proclamation speech that America has not lived in full dedication to “the proposition that all men are created equal”?  Why is the war being waged, according to Lincoln in the rest of the address?

Lincoln, Abraham.  “Second Inaugural Address,” March 4, 1865. (Norton Reader)

1) The address is short, but in it Lincoln takes his audience through four long years of history. What events does he select, and what pattern does he see in them?

2) How does Lincoln position himself and the Union toward the rebellious South, now that the war is nearing its end and the outcome—despite Lincoln’s disclaimer—is known?

Whitman, Walt.  “The Death of Abraham Lincoln,” 1882. (Norton Reader)

1) What scene does Whitman reminisce about from pages 779 through 781 top?  How does he characterize the public’s attitude toward the new president?  Why do you think he’s chosen to offer this characterization in an essay about the death of Lincoln?

2) Even when Whitman shifts to the theme of the assassination, how does he build suspense from pages 781-82 toward the deed of conspirator John Wilkes Booth?

3) On page 783, how does Whitman succeed in conveying the onlookers’ horror and confusion at the moment of the President’s murder?  What techniques does he use?

4) Lincoln was visible in his private theater box, watching the British comedy Our American Cousin, when Booth shot him and then jumped down to the stage, declaiming, “Sic semper tyrannis!” (“Thus always to tyrants!”—the words spoken by the conspirators who killed Julius Caesar in 44 BCE). Lincoln enjoyed the theater, and the southerner Booth was the brother of the famous actor Edwin Booth. How does Whitman’s description of the event from pages 782-85 sound like something from a play? Why would he want to make the president’s murder seem like a scene from a play?

5) According to Whitman, what is the ultimate value to contemporary and future Americans of President Lincoln’s violent, untimely death?  In what sense, according to Whitman, did Lincoln’s assassination transform the meaning of the Civil War that was just then ending?

Douglass, Frederick. Expression of Gratitude for Freedom at the Unveiling of the Freedmen’s Monument, Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C., April 14, 1876

1) List specific passages in which Douglass, speaking in 1876, lists things Lincoln thought or did that are praiseworthy.

2) List specific passages in which Douglass lists things Lincoln thought or did are not praiseworthy. To what extent does he make allowances for these supposed shortcomings?

3) How would you describe the progression of Douglass’ speech? Try to break it into basic parts that serve a purpose you can identify.

4) Douglass’ audience consisted mainly of African Americans.  In offering both them and any white citizens present such a full enumeration both of Lincoln’s great qualities and his flaws, what model for interpreting American history does Douglass offer? How does this model differ from the one you’ve seen in Whitman?  

5) You have read some of Lincoln’s pronouncements—do you think that Douglass’ criticisms are appropriate?  Does he offer a fair view of the man? Why do you think so, or why not?


“Tuskegee and the Talented Tenth”

Journal Entries for Unit Two: 

E) Examine all study questions below for Washington’s “Atlanta Exposition Address” and respond to at least four of them.

F) Examine all study questions below for Du Bois’ “Strivings of the Negro People” and respond to at least four of them.

Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery, Chapter 14, “The Atlanta Exposition Address” (The speech was given in 1895; the book was published in 1901.)

1) Washington’s advice to fellow African Americans is, “Cast down your bucket where you are.” How does he illustrate that statement, and what does the illustration or example tell you about the primary means Washington believes will lead to progress? How is his praise of the Atlanta Exposition linked to this belief?

2) After the Civil War, the federal government attempted to transform the South by pursuing a policy of “Reconstruction.”  By 1877, however, many African Americans found themselves in the grip of resentful white southerners. How is Washington’s 1895 advice a response to that situation? What compromise does he offer to white southerners?

3) How does Washington deal at the end of his chapter with the issue of voting rights for southern black citizens? What does he say about the pace at which they will gain political equality?

4) Why might Washington’s advice to African Americans generate in that group bitterness against him and his program of action? What alternate course or courses of action can you think of to oppose to his?  

5) At what points in his speech, if any, does Washington anticipate the bitterness of black opponents or the possible misconstruction of his argument by white listeners?

W.E.B. Du Bois’ Strivings of the Negro People (1897)

1) On page 194, what kind of personality (“persona” is the literary term) does Du Bois present to his readers?  What should readers gather about his upbringing, his education, and his attitude toward what he describes as his race’s current situation?

2) On page 194, Du Bois writes that “the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,--a world which yields him no self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world.” How does this statement capture the complexity of African Americans’ existence in this country?  Would you say that Du Bois himself is representative of the “seventh son’s” state of mind?

3) On page 195, Du Bois says he will examine “the history of the American Negro.”  How is his use of the term “history” unusual on this page?  Where does the history he tells begin and end, at least on page 195?  Why does he mention artists here?

4) On pages 196-97, how does Du Bois characterize the first, second, and third decades of blacks’ freedom? What hopes, prospects, and obstacles make up these decades?

5) On page 197, how does Du Bois position himself with regard to the history and the strategies for advancement he has written about?  How, that is, does he establish a point of departure from the past he has related; what sort of plan for the future does he offer? Explain also how at the end he ties the “strivings” of African Americans into the destiny of America as a whole.


“What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue”?


*Ellison, Ralph.  Prologue, Chapter 1, Epilogue from Invisible Man  

Journal Entries for Unit Three:

G) Examine the study questions below for the Prologue of Ellison’s Invisible Man and respond to at least three of them.
H) Examine the study questions below for Chapter 1 of Ellison’s Invisible Man and respond to at least three of them. 
I) Examine the study questions below for the Epilogue of Ellison’s Invisible Man and respond to at least three of them.

Questions on Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952)


1) Examine pages 1518-19.  Why is the narrator invisible, and what is his attitude toward his invisibility?

2) Examine 1519-20.  What is significant about where and how the narrator says he lives—why the basement, why all the light bulbs?  Why the need to cheat Monopolated Light & Power?

3) Look over 1521-23.  What causes the narrator’s strange vision?  Break the vision into its components and discuss their meaning to you.  Ultimately, what does the narrator learn from his vision?

4) Look over 1524-25.  Why does the narrator start addressing “you”?  Why does he bring up the issue of “irresponsibility” in connection with his invisibility?  Does the end of this prologue explain anything about the beginning?

Chapter 1

5) See 1525-26.  How does the narrator’s grandfather connect him to the past?  What is the grandfather’s lesson to him?

6) See 1526-34.  The “battle royal” is a complicated affair.  Break it down into its component events—recount it as a brief plot, with no attempt to analyze it yet except to distinguish between what is realistic in the episode and what is beyond the ordinary or the possible.

7) Examine 1526-34.  When and why does the “battle royal” take place—for whose benefit?  What is the narrator’s speech going to be about, and why does he continually want to deliver it in spite of everything that’s happening to him?  What vision of black/white relations emerges from this strange episode?

8) Examine 1535.  Why does the narrator’s grandfather laugh at him in the chapter’s concluding dream?  To what extent does the message “Keep This Nigger-Boy Running” help to explain the Battle Royal episode?


9) From 1536 middle to 1537 first paragraph, how does the narrator understand his grandfather’s advice from long ago?

10) On 1537, last paragraph, the narrator says, “that much I’ve learned underground.”  What has he learned?  To respond, examine the previous paragraph, the one containing the statement I’ve just quoted, and the first two paragraphs of 1538.

11) See the footnote about Mr. Norton on 1537.  As a conformist student at an all-black college that preached black humility and self-help while benefiting from white patronage, the narrator stood in awe of the rich white man Mr. Norton.  How does he address him now from 1538 (beginning with the third paragraph, “Which reminds me . . .”) to 1539?  Why is he Mr. Norton’s destiny?

12) How does the narrator connect to his readers from 1539, last paragraph, to the end?  What lesson, if any, has he imparted to his readers?


“The Parable of Hoogagagooba”

Journal Entries for Unit Four:

J) Respond to at least three of the Martin Luther King, Jr. questions; please post responses to discussion web as well.

k) Respond to at least three of the questions on “The Black Revolution”; please post responses to discussion web as well.

Study Questions on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam”

1. Near the beginning, King says there are seven major reasons why must speak out about the United States’ involvement in Vietnam.  He names three of them, but what are the other four?

2. What historical and political overview does King offer of the struggle in Vietnam—what happened, that is, before America’s involvement there? What connections does he suggest that we make between America’s attitude toward Vietnam and its attitude toward the poor and racial minorities in America?

3. Overall, what image of Vietnam—both its peasants and its leaders—does King offer his listeners? Is the view positive, negative, or something in between? Based on what you know about how people on the home front generally view an enemy with whom their country is at war, why would the image King offers generate controversy?

4. How, according to King, does the U.S.’s involvement in Vietnam threaten its own ideals and its reputation with the rest of the world? In the last few pages, King refers to a “world revolution” and then explains what he means by that phrase. In what way does America’s stance toward this world revolution threaten the country’s self-image?

5. How would you describe the balance in this speech between King’s customary optimism and his doubts about America’s ability to do right by its own people and those of other countries? Do the scales tip one way or the other?  At what points, specifically, is King optimistic? At what points is he pessimistic?

Study Questions on Malcolm X’s The Black Revolution and Letters from Abroad 

Journal Entry K: Respond to at least three questions; please post also to discussion web.

Study Questions on Malcolm X’s “The Black Revolution”

1. King says that a “world revolution” is underway in the post-WW II world, and he voices the aspirations of those fighting for self-determination against European colonial powers like Britain and France.  What political lessons does Malcolm X draw from the actions of the people taking part in that world revolution, which he describes as a worldwide “black [i.e. non-white] revolution”?  Do his observations differ from King’s?

2. What connections does Malcolm X want us to make between America’s attitude toward Vietnam and its attitude toward the poor and racial minorities in America? Does his attitude differ on this matter from King’s, or do they make the connection in a similar way?

3. What is Malcolm’s stance on the possibility of engaging in violence to achieve “the black revolution” in America?  Is he consistent in his remarks?  Does Malcolm share with King any common ground in analyzing the potential for racial violence in America?

4. What are “black nationalism” and “separatism,” and how do they differ from King’s objectives for race relations in the United States?  Is Malcolm X optimistic about achieving these objectives? 

5. Why does Malcolm X criticize liberals like President Lyndon Johnson and the Civil Rights movement we associate with King—what are the limitations of liberalism and Civil Rights, as Malcolm sees them in 1964?  Would his criticism still apply to the argument that King makes in the 1967 “Declaration” that we have read?

6. A general question on rhetorical stance: how does Malcolm compare to King on the issue of optimism versus pessimism—what is Malcolm optimistic about, and what is he pessimistic about?

7. An extra question on “Letters from Abroad”: in what way do these brief letters written during Malcolm’s muslim pilgrimage to Mecca show his views on race changing?  But in what way is he still the Malcolm that you sense at work in the slightly earlier speech “The Black Revolution”?

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