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Textbook Site for:
The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor
Sample Assignments

Bartleby Past and Present
Jay Hunsiker, January 26, 2002

Description of assignment:
After your students have read "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street," ask them to go to the time line year 1853. Have them look at the cultural objects provided for "Bartleby." There is a map of lower Manhattan in the 1800s and some other items. Point out that setting for Melville's story is the setting of the September 11 WTC attacks. Encourage your students to compare and contrast the mood of the story and the mood of the man who stares at a blank wall and says, "I would prefer not to" with the mood of so many in the aftermath of September 11. Ask what numbness feels like. What has Bartleby taught us? And then ask about the last line of the story--how did it resonate then and how does it resonate today?

Encourage students to add additional cultural icons for Bartleby of other works they study.

Description of the course in which the assignment was used:
This approach will work effectively with lower and middle level students studying literature of the early nineteenth century. It may be used for discussion of the text or for a short paper.

Course coverage:
19th Century (Survey)

What pedagogical goals do you think this assignment achieves:
Critical Thinking, Close Reading

Assignment type:
Discussion Questions, Group Work, Short Papers

Relevant URLs:
None listed.

Keywords:
General American Literature

Related authors and groups:
19th Century (Survey)



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