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N ATHANIEL HAWTHORNE WAS BORN in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804. His family
descended from the earliest settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony; among his
forebears was John Hathorne (Hawthorne added the w to his name when he began to
write), one of the judges at the 1692 Salem witch trials. Throughout his life, Hawthorne
was both fascinated and disturbed by his kinship with John Hathorne. Raised by a
widowed mother, Hawthorne attended Bowdoin College in Maine, where he met two
people who were to have great impact upon his life: Henry Wadsworth Long-fellow,
who would later become a famous poet, and Franklin Pierce, who would later become
president of the United States.
After college Hawthorne tried his hand at writing, producing historical sketches and an
anonymous novel, Fanshawe,that detailed his college days rather embarrassingly.
Hawthorne also held positions as an editor and as a customs surveyor during this period.
His growing relationship with the intellectual circle that included Ralph Waldo Emerson
and Margaret Fuller led him to abandon his customs post for the utopian experiment at
Brook Farm, a commune designed to promote economic self-sufficiency and
transcendentalist principles. Transcendentalism was a religious and philosophical
movement of the early nineteenth century that was dedicated to the belief that divinity
manifests itself everywhere, particularly in the natural world. It also advocated a
personalized, direct relationship with the divine in place of formalized, structured
religion. This second transcendental idea is privileged in The Scarlet Letter.
After marrying fellow transcendentalist Sophia Peabody in 1842, Hawthorne left Brook
Farm and moved into the Old Manse, a home in Concord where Emerson had once
lived. In 1846 he published Mosses from an Old Manse, a collection of essays and
stories, many of which are about early America.Mosses from an Old Manse earned
Hawthorne the attention of the literary establishment because America was trying to
establish a cultural independence to complement its political independence, and
Hawthornes collection of stories displayed both a stylistic freshness and an interest in
American subject matter. Herman Melville, among others, hailed Hawthorne as the
American Shakespeare.
In 1845 Hawthorne again went to work as a customs surveyor, this time, like the
narrator of The Scarlet Letter, at a post in Salem. In 1850, after having lost the job, he
published The Scarlet Letter to enthusiastic, if not widespread, acclaim. His other major
novels include The House of the Seven Gables(1851), The Blithedale Romance (1852),
and The Marble Faun (1860). In 1853 Hawthornes college friend Franklin Pierce, for
whom he had written a campaign biography and who had since become president,
appointed Hawthorne a United States consul. The writer spent the next six years in
Europe. He died in 1864, a few years after returning to America.
The majority of Hawthornes work takes Americas Puritan past as its subject, but The
Scarlet Letter uses the material to greatest effect. The Puritans were a group of religious
reformers who arrived in Massachusetts in the 1630s under the leadership of John
Winthrop (whose death is recounted in the novel). The religious sect was known for its

intolerance of dissenting ideas and lifestyles. In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses the
repressive, authoritarian Puritan society as an analogue for humankind in general. The
Puritan setting also enables him to portray the human soul under extreme pressures.
Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth, while unquestionably part of the Puritan
society in which they live, also reflect universal experiences. Hawthorne speaks
specifically to American issues, but he circumvents the aesthetic and thematic
limitations that might accompany such a focus. His universality and his dramatic flair
have ensured his place in the literary canon.
Plot Overview
T HE SCARLET LETTER opens with a long preamble about how the book came to be
written. The nameless narrator was the surveyor of the customhouse in Salem,
Massachusetts. In the customhouses attic, he discovered a number of documents,
among them a manuscript that was bundled with a scarlet, gold-embroidered patch of
cloth in the shape of an A. The manuscript, the work of a past surveyor, detailed
events that occurred some two hundred years before the narrators time. When the
narrator lost his customs post, he decided to write a fictional account of the events
recorded in the manuscript. The Scarlet Letter is the final product.
The story begins in seventeenth-century Boston, then a Puritan settlement. A young
woman, Hester Prynne, is led from the town prison with her infant daughter, Pearl, in
her arms and the scarlet letter A on her breast. A man in the crowd tells an elderly
onlooker that Hester is being punished for adultery. Hesters husband, a scholar much
older than she is, sent her ahead to America, but he never arrived in Boston. The
consensus is that he has been lost at sea. While waiting for her husband, Hester has
apparently had an affair, as she has given birth to a child. She will not reveal her lovers
identity, however, and the scarlet letter, along with her public shaming, is her
punishment for her sin and her secrecy. On this day Hester is led to the town scaffold
and harangued by the town fathers, but she again refuses to identify her childs father.
The elderly onlooker is Hesters missing husband, who is now practicing medicine and
calling himself Roger Chillingworth. He settles in Boston, intent on revenge. He reveals
his true identity to no one but Hester, whom he has sworn to secrecy. Several years pass.
Hester supports herself by working as a seamstress, and Pearl grows into a willful,
impish child. Shunned by the community, they live in a small cottage on the outskirts of
Boston. Community officials attempt to take Pearl away from Hester, but, with the help
of Arthur Dimmesdale, a young and eloquent minister, the mother and daughter manage
to stay together. Dimmesdale, however, appears to be wasting away and suffers from
mysterious heart trouble, seemingly caused by psychological distress. Chillingworth
attaches himself to the ailing minister and eventually moves in with him so that he can
provide his patient with round-the-clock care. Chillingworth also suspects that there
may be a connection between the ministers torments and Hesters secret, and he begins
to test Dimmesdale to see what he can learn. One afternoon, while the minister sleeps,
Chillingworth discovers a mark on the mans breast (the details of which are kept from
the reader), which convinces him that his suspicions are correct.
Dimmesdales psychological anguish deepens, and he invents new tortures for himself.
In the meantime, Hesters charitable deeds and quiet humility have earned her a reprieve
from the scorn of the community. One night, when Pearl is about seven years old, she
and her mother are returning home from a visit to a deathbed when they encounter
Dimmesdale atop the town scaffold, trying to punish himself for his sins. Hester and
Pearl join him, and the three link hands. Dimmesdale refuses Pearls request that he

acknowledge her publicly the next day, and a meteor marks a dull red A in the night
sky. Hester can see that the ministers condition is worsening, and she resolves to
intervene. She goes to Chillingworth and asks him to stop adding to Dimmesdales selftorment. Chillingworth refuses.
Hester arranges an encounter with Dimmesdale in the forest because she is aware that
Chillingworth has probably guessed that she plans to reveal his identity to Dimmesdale.
The former lovers decide to flee to Europe, where they can live with Pearl as a family.
They will take a ship sailing from Boston in four days. Both feel a sense of release, and
Hester removes her scarlet letter and lets down her hair. Pearl, playing nearby, does not
recognize her mother without the letter. The day before the ship is to sail, the
townspeople gather for a holiday and Dimmesdale preaches his most eloquent sermon
ever. Meanwhile, Hester has learned that Chillingworth knows of their plan and has
booked passage on the same ship. Dimmesdale, leaving the church after his sermon,
sees Hester and Pearl standing before the town scaffold. He impulsively mounts the
scaffold with his lover and his daughter, and confesses publicly, exposing a scarlet letter
seared into the flesh of his chest. He falls dead, as Pearl kisses him.
Frustrated in his revenge, Chillingworth dies a year later. Hester and Pearl leave Boston,
and no one knows what has happened to them. Many years later, Hester returns alone,
still wearing the scarlet letter, to live in her old cottage and resume her charitable work.
She receives occasional letters from Pearl, who has married a European aristocrat and
established a family of her own. When Hester dies, she is buried next to Dimmesdale.
The two share a single tombstone, which bears a scarlet A.
Analysis of Major Characters
Hester Prynne
Although The Scarlet Letter is about Hester Prynne, the book is not so much a
consideration of her innate character as it is an examination of the forces that shape her
and the transformations those forces effect. We know very little about Hester prior to
her affair with Dimmesdale and her resultant public shaming. We read that she married
Chillingworth although she did not love him, but we never fully understand why. The
early chapters of the book suggest that, prior to her marriage, Hester was a strong-willed
and impetuous young womanshe remembers her parents as loving guides who
frequently had to restrain her incautious behavior. The fact that she has an affair also
suggests that she once had a passionate nature.
But it is what happens after Hesters affair that makes her into the woman with whom
the reader is familiar. Shamed and alienated from the rest of the community, Hester
becomes contemplative. She speculates on human nature, social organization, and larger
moral questions. Hesters tribulations also lead her to be stoic and a freethinker.
Although the narrator pretends to disapprove of Hesters independent philosophizing,
his tone indicates that he secretly admires her independence and her ideas.
Hester also becomes a kind of compassionate maternal figure as a result of her
experiences. Hester moderates her tendency to be rash, for she knows that such behavior
could cause her to lose her daughter, Pearl. Hester is also maternal with respect to
society: she cares for the poor and brings them food and clothing. By the novels end,
Hester has become a protofeminist mother figure to the women of the community. The
shame attached to her scarlet letter is long gone. Women recognize that her punishment
stemmed in part from the town fathers sexism, and they come to Hester seeking shelter
from the sexist forces under which they themselves suffer. Throughout The Scarlet

Letter Hester is portrayed as an intelligent, capable, but not necessarily extraordinary

woman. It is the extraordinary circumstances shaping her that make her such an
important figure.
Roger Chillingworth
As his name suggests, Roger Chillingworth is a man deficient in human warmth. His
twisted, stooped, deformed shoulders mirror his distorted soul. From what the reader is
told of his early years with Hester, he was a difficult husband. He ignored his wife for
much of the time, yet expected her to nourish his soul with affection when he did
condescend to spend time with her. Chillingworths decision to assume the identity of a
leech, or doctor, is fitting. Unable to engage in equitable relationships with those
around him, he feeds on the vitality of others as a way of energizing his own projects.
Chillingworths death is a result of the nature of his character. After Dimmesdale dies,
Chillingworth no longer has a victim. Similarly, Dimmesdales revelation that he is
Pearls father removes Hester from the old mans clutches. Having lost the objects of his
revenge, the leech has no choice but to die.
Ultimately, Chillingworth represents true evil. He is associated with secular and
sometimes illicit forms of knowledge, as his chemical experiments and medical
practices occasionally verge on witchcraft and murder. He is interested in revenge, not
justice, and he seeks the deliberate destruction of others rather than a redress of wrongs.
His desire to hurt others stands in contrast to Hester and Dimmesdales sin, which had
love, not hate, as its intent. Any harm that may have come from the young lovers deed
was unanticipated and inadvertent, whereas Chillingworth reaps deliberate harm.
Arthur Dimmesdale
Arthur Dimmesdale, like Hester Prynne, is an individual whose identity owes more to
external circumstances than to his innate nature. The reader is told that Dimmesdale was
a scholar of some renown at Oxford University. His past suggests that he is probably
somewhat aloof, the kind of man who would not have much natural sympathy for
ordinary men and women. However, Dimmesdale has an unusually active conscience.
The fact that Hester takes all of the blame for their shared sin goads his conscience, and
his resultant mental anguish and physical weakness open up his mind and allow him to
empathize with others. Consequently, he becomes an eloquent and emotionally powerful
speaker and a compassionate leader, and his congregation is able to receive meaningful
spiritual guidance from him.

Ironically, the townspeople do not believe Dimmesdales protestations of sinfulness.

Given his background and his penchant for rhetorical speech, Dimmesdales
congregation generally interprets his sermons allegorically rather than as expressions of
any personal guilt. This drives Dimmesdale to further internalize his guilt and selfpunishment and leads to still more deterioration in his physical and spiritual condition.
The towns idolization of him reaches new heights after his Election Day sermon, which
is his last. In his death, Dimmesdale becomes even more of an icon than he was in life.
Many believe his confession was a symbolic act, while others believe Dimmesdales
fate was an example of divine judgment.
Hesters daughter, Pearl, functions primarily as a symbol. She is quite young during
most of the events of this novelwhen Dimmesdale dies she is only seven years old
and her real importance lies in her ability to provoke the adult characters in the book.

She asks them pointed questions and draws their attention, and the readers, to the
denied or overlooked truths of the adult world. In general, children in The Scarlet
Letter are portrayed as more perceptive and more honest than adults, and Pearl is the
most perceptive of them all.
Pearl makes us constantly aware of her mothers scarlet letter and of the society that
produced it. From an early age, she fixates on the emblem. Pearls innocent, or perhaps
intuitive, comments about the letter raise crucial questions about its meaning. Similarly,
she inquires about the relationships between those around hermost important, the
relationship between Hester and Dimmesdaleand offers perceptive critiques of them.
Pearl provides the texts harshest, and most penetrating, judgment of Dimmesdales
failure to admit to his adultery. Once her fathers identity is revealed, Pearl is no longer
needed in this symbolic capacity; at Dimmesdales death she becomes fully human,
leaving behind her otherworldliness and her preternatural vision.
Themes, Motifs & Symbols
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Sin, Knowledge, and the Human Condition
Sin and knowledge are linked in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Bible begins with the
story of Adam and Eve, who were expelled from the Garden of Eden for eating from the
tree of knowledge of good and evil. As a result of their knowledge, Adam and Eve are
made aware of their humanness, that which separates them from the divine and from
other creatures. Once expelled from the Garden of Eden, they are forced to toil and to
procreatetwo labors that seem to define the human condition. The experience of
Hester and Dimmesdale recalls the story of Adam and Eve because, in both cases, sin
results in expulsion and suffering. But it also results in knowledgespecifically, in
knowledge of what it means to be human. For Hester, the scarlet letter functions as her
passport into regions where other women dared not tread, leading her to speculate
about her society and herself more boldly than anyone else in New England. As for
Dimmesdale, the burden of his sin gives him sympathies so intimate with the sinful
brotherhood of mankind, so that his heart vibrate[s] in unison with theirs. His eloquent
and powerful sermons derive from this sense of empathy. Hester and Dimmesdale
contemplate their own sinfulness on a daily basis and try to reconcile it with their lived
experiences. The Puritan elders, on the other hand, insist on seeing earthly experience as
merely an obstacle on the path to heaven. Thus, they view sin as a threat to the
community that should be punished and suppressed. Their answer to Hesters sin is to
ostracize her. Yet, Puritan society is stagnant, while Hester and Dimmesdales
experience shows that a state of sinfulness can lead to personal growth, sympathy, and
understanding of others. Paradoxically, these qualities are shown to be incompatible
with a state of purity.
The Nature of Evil
The characters in the novel frequently debate the identity of the Black Man, the
embodiment of evil. Over the course of the novel, the Black Man is associated with
Dimmesdale, Chillingworth, and Mistress Hibbins, and little Pearl is thought by some to
be the Devils child. The characters also try to root out the causes of evil: did
Chillingworths selfishness in marrying Hester force her to the evil she committed in
Dimmesdales arms? Is Hester and Dimmesdales deed responsible for Chillingworths
transformation into a malevolent being? This confusion over the nature and causes of

evil reveals the problems with the Puritan conception of sin. The book argues that true
evil arises from the close relationship between hate and love. As the narrator points out
in the novels concluding chapter, both emotions depend upon a high degree of
intimacy and heart-knowledge; each renders one individual dependent . . . upon
another. Evil is not found in Hester and Dimmesdales lovemaking, nor even in the
cruel ignorance of the Puritan fathers. Evil, in its most poisonous form, is found in the
carefully plotted and precisely aimed revenge of Chillingworth, whose love has been
perverted. Perhaps Pearl is not entirely wrong when she thinks Dimmesdale is the
Black Man, because her father, too, has perverted his love. Dimmesdale, who should
love Pearl, will not even publicly acknowledge her. His cruel denial of love to his own
child may be seen as further perpetrating evil.
Identity and Society
After Hester is publicly shamed and forced by the people of Boston to wear a badge of
humiliation, her unwillingness to leave the town may seem puzzling. She is not
physically imprisoned, and leaving the Massachusetts Bay Colony would allow her to
remove the scarlet letter and resume a normal life. Surprisingly, Hester reacts with
dismay when Chillingworth tells her that the town fathers are considering letting her
remove the letter. Hesters behavior is premised on her desire to determine her own
identity rather than to allow others to determine it for her. To her, running away or
removing the letter would be an acknowledgment of societys power over her: she
would be admitting that the letter is a mark of shame and something from which she
desires to escape. Instead, Hester stays, refiguring the scarlet letter as a symbol of her
own experiences and character. Her past sin is a part of who she is; to pretend that it
never happened would mean denying a part of herself. Thus, Hester very determinedly
integrates her sin into her life.
Dimmesdale also struggles against a socially determined identity. As the communitys
minister, he is more symbol than human being. Except for Chillingworth, those around
the minister willfully ignore his obvious anguish, misinterpreting it as holiness.
Unfortunately, Dimmesdale never fully recognizes the truth of what Hester has learned:
that individuality and strength are gained by quiet self-assertion and by a
reconfiguration, not a rejection, of ones assigned identity.
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop
and inform the texts major themes.
Civilization Versus the Wilderness
In The Scarlet Letter, the town and the surrounding forest represent opposing behavioral
systems. The town represents civilization, a rule-bound space where everything one
does is on display and where transgressions are quickly punished. The forest, on the
other hand, is a space of natural rather than human authority. In the forest, societys
rules do not apply, and alternate identities can be assumed. While this allows for
misbehavior Mistress Hibbinss midnight rides, for exampleit also permits greater
honesty and an escape from the repression of Boston. When Hester and Dimmesdale
meet in the woods, for a few moments, they become happy young lovers once again.
Hesters cottage, which, significantly, is located on the outskirts of town and at the edge
of the forest, embodies both orders. It is her place of exile, which ties it to the
authoritarian town, but because it lies apart from the settlement, it is a place where she
can create for herself a life of relative peace.
Night Versus Day

By emphasizing the alternation between sunlight and darkness, the novel organizes the
plots events into two categories: those which are socially acceptable, and those which
must take place covertly. Daylight exposes an individuals activities and makes him or
her vulnerable to punishment. Night, on the other hand, conceals and enables activities
that would not be possible or tolerated during the dayfor instance, Dimmesdales
encounter with Hester and Pearl on the scaffold. These notions of visibility versus
concealment are linked to two of the books larger themesthe themes of inner versus
socially assigned identity and of outer appearances versus internal states. Night is the
time when inner natures can manifest themselves. During the day, interiority is once
again hidden from public view, and secrets remain secrets.
Evocative Names
The names in this novel often seem to beg to be interpreted allegorically. Chillingworth
is cold and inhuman and thus brings a chill to Hesters and Dimmesdales lives.
Prynne rhymes with sin, while Dimmesdale suggests dimnessweakness,
indeterminacy, lack of insight, and lack of will, all of which characterize the young
minister. The name Pearl evokes a biblical allegorical devicethe pearl of great
price that is salvation. This system of naming lends a profundity to the story, linking it
to other allegorical works of literature such as The Pilgrims Progress and to portions of
the Bible. It also aligns the novel with popular forms of narrative such as fairy tales.
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or
The Scarlet Letter
The scarlet letter is meant to be a symbol of shame, but instead it becomes a powerful
symbol of identity to Hester. The letters meaning shifts as time passes. Originally
intended to mark Hester as an adulterer, the A eventually comes to stand for Able.
Finally, it becomes indeterminate: the Native Americans who come to watch the
Election Day pageant think it marks her as a person of importance and status. Like
Pearl, the letter functions as a physical reminder of Hesters affair with Dimmesdale.
But, compared with a human child, the letter seems insignificant, and thus helps to point
out the ultimate meaninglessness of the communitys system of judgment and
punishment. The child has been sent from God, or at least from nature, but the letter is
merely a human contrivance. Additionally, the instability of the letters apparent
meaning calls into question societys ability to use symbols for ideological
reinforcement. More often than not, a symbol becomes a focal point for critical analysis
and debate.
The Meteor
As Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold with Hester and Pearl in Chapter 12, a meteor
traces out an A in the night sky. To Dimmesdale, the meteor implies that he should
wear a mark of shame just as Hester does. The meteor is interpreted differently by the
rest of the community, which thinks that it stands for Angel and marks Governor
Winthrops entry into heaven. But Angel is an awkward reading of the symbol. The
Puritans commonly looked to symbols to confirm divine sentiments. In this narrative,
however, symbols are taken to mean what the beholder wants them to mean. The
incident with the meteor obviously highlights and exemplifies two different uses of
symbols: Puritan and literary.

Although Pearl is a complex character, her primary function within the novel is as a
symbol. Pearl is a sort of living version of her mothers scarlet letter. She is the physical
consequence of sexual sin and the indicator of a transgression. Yet, even as a reminder
of Hesters sin, Pearl is more than a mere punishment to her mother: she is also a
blessing. She represents not only sin but also the vital spirit and passion that
engendered that sin. Thus, Pearls existence gives her mother reason to live, bolstering
her spirits when she is tempted to give up. It is only after Dimmesdale is revealed to be
Pearls father that Pearl can become fully human. Until then, she functions in a
symbolic capacity as the reminder of an unsolved mystery


H ERMAN MELVILLE WAS BORN in New York City in 1819, the third of eight children
born to Maria Gansevoort Melville and Allan Melville, a prosperous importer of foreign
goods. When the family business failed at the end of the1820s, the Melvilles relocated
to Albany in an attempt to revive their fortunes. A string of further bad luck and
overwork, however, drove his father to an early grave, and the young Melville was
forced to start working in a bank at the age of thirteen.
After a few more years of formal education, Melville left school at eighteen to become
an elementary school teacher. This career was abruptly cut short and followed by a brief
tenure as a newspaper reporter. Running out of alternatives on land, Melville made his
first sea voyage at nineteen, as a merchant sailor on a ship bound for Liverpool,
England. He returned to America the next summer to seek his fortune in the West. After
settling briefly in Illinois, he went back east in the face of continuing financial
Finally, driven to desperation at twenty-one, Melville committed to a whaling voyage of
indefinite destination and scale on board a ship called theAcushnet. This journey took
him around the continent of South America, across the Pacific Ocean, and to the South
Seas, where he abandoned ship with a fellow sailor in the summer of 1842, eighteen
months after setting out from New York. The two men found themselves in the
Marquesas Islands, where they accidentally wandered into the company of a tribe of
cannibals. Lamed with a bad leg, Melville became separated from his companion and
spent a month alone in the company of the natives. This experience later formed the
core of his first novel, Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life, published in 1846. An
indeterminate mixture of fact and fiction, Melvilles fanciful travel narrative remained
the most popular and successful of his works during his lifetime.
Life among these natives and other exotic experiences abroad provided Melville with
endless literary conceits. Armed with the voluminous knowledge obtained from constant
reading while at sea, Melville wrote a series of novels detailing his adventures and his
philosophy of life. Typee was followed byOmoo (1847) and Mardi and a Voyage
Thither (1849), two more novels about his Polynesian experiences. Redburn, also
published in 1849, is a fictionalized account of Melvilles first voyage to Liverpool. His
next novel,White-Jacket; or The World in a Man-of-War, published in 1850, is a
generalized and allegorical account of life at sea aboard a warship.

Through the lens of literary history, these first five novels are all seen as an
apprenticeship to what is today considered Melvilles masterpiece, Moby-Dick; or The
Whale, which first appeared in 1851. A story of monomania aboard a whaling
ship, Moby-Dick is a tremendously ambitious novel that functions at once as a
documentary of life at sea and a vast philosophical allegory of life in general. No sacred
subject is spared in this bleak and scathing critique of the known world, as Melville
satirizes by turns religious traditions, moral values, and the literary and political figures
of the day.
Melville was influenced in the writing of Moby-Dick by the work of Nathaniel
Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter, whom he met in 1850 and to whom he
dedicated Moby-Dick. Melville had long admired Hawthornes psychological depth and
gothic grimness and associated Hawthorne with a new, distinctively American literature.
Though the works of Shakespeare and Milton and stories in the Bible (especially the
Old Testament) influencedMoby-Dick, Melville didnt look exclusively to celebrated
cultural models. He drew on sources from popular culture as well; whaling narratives,
for example, were popular in the nineteenth century. Melville relied on Thomas Beales
encyclopedic Natural History of the Sperm Whale and the narrativeEtchings of a
Whaling Cruise, by J. Ross Browne.
By the 1850s, whaling was a dying industry. Whales had been hunted into near
extinction, and substitutes for whale oil had been found. Despite its range of cultural
references and affiliation with popular genres, Moby-Dickwas a failure. Its reception led
Melville to defy his critics by writing in an increasingly experimental style and
eventually forsaking novels in favor of poetry. He died in 1891.
Moby-Dick remained largely ignored until the 1920s, when it was rediscovered and
promoted by literary historians interested in constructing an American literary tradition.
To these critics, Moby-Dick was both a seminal work elaborating on classic American
themes, such as religion, fate, and economic expansion, and a radically experimental
anachronism that anticipated Modernism in its outsized scope and pastiche of forms. It
stands alongside James Joyces Ulysses and Laurence Sternes Tristram Shandyas a
novel that appears bizarre to the point of being unreadable but proves to be infinitely
open to interpretation and discovery.
Plot Overview
I SHMAEL, THE NARRATOR, ANNOUNCES his intent to ship aboard a whaling vessel. He
has made several voyages as a sailor but none as a whaler. He travels to New Bedford,
Massachusetts, where he stays in a whalers inn. Since the inn is rather full, he has to
share a bed with a harpooner from the South Pacific named Queequeg. At first repulsed
by Queequegs strange habits and shocking appearance (Queequeg is covered with
tattoos), Ishmael eventually comes to appreciate the mans generosity and kind spirit,
and the two decide to seek work on a whaling vessel together. They take a ferry to
Nantucket, the traditional capital of the whaling industry. There they secure berths on
the Pequod, a savage-looking ship adorned with the bones and teeth of sperm whales.
Peleg and Bildad, the Pequods Quaker owners, drive a hard bargain in terms of salary.
They also mention the ships mysterious captain, Ahab, who is still recovering from
losing his leg in an encounter with a sperm whale on his last voyage.
The Pequodleaves Nantucket on a cold Christmas Day with a crew made up of men
from many different countries and races. Soon the ship is in warmer waters, and Ahab
makes his first appearance on deck, balancing gingerly on his false leg, which is made
from a sperm whales jaw. He announces his desire to pursue and kill Moby Dick, the
legendary great white whale who took his leg, because he sees this whale as the

embodiment of evil. Ahab nails a gold doubloon to the mast and declares that it will be
the prize for the first man to sight the whale. As the Pequod sails toward the southern tip
of Africa, whales are sighted and unsuccessfully hunted. During the hunt, a group of
men, none of whom anyone on the ships crew has seen before on the voyage, emerges
from the hold. The mens leader is an exotic-looking man named Fedallah. These men
constitute Ahabs private harpoon crew, smuggled aboard in defiance of Bildad and
Peleg. Ahab hopes that their skills and Fedallahs prophetic abilities will help him in his
hunt for Moby Dick.
The Pequod rounds Africa and enters the Indian Ocean. A few whales are successfully
caught and processed for their oil. From time to time, the ship encounters other whaling
vessels. Ahab always demands information about Moby Dick from their captains. One
of the ships, the Jeroboam, carries Gabriel, a crazed prophet who predicts doom for
anyone who threatens Moby Dick. His predictions seem to carry some weight, as those
aboard his ship who have hunted the whale have met disaster. While trying to drain the
oil from the head of a captured sperm whale, Tashtego, one of the Pequods harpooners,
falls into the whales voluminous head, which then rips free of the ship and begins to
sink. Queequeg saves Tashtego by diving into the ocean and cutting into the slowly
sinking head.
During another whale hunt, Pip, the Pequods black cabin boy, jumps from a whaleboat
and is left behind in the middle of the ocean. He goes insane as the result of the
experience and becomes a crazy but prophetic jester for the ship. Soon after,
the Pequod meets the Samuel Enderby, a whaling ship whose skipper, Captain Boomer,
has lost an arm in an encounter with Moby Dick. The two captains discuss the whale;
Boomer, happy simply to have survived his encounter, cannot understand Ahabs lust
for vengeance. Not long after, Queequeg falls ill and has the ships carpenter make him
a coffin in anticipation of his death. He recovers, however, and the coffin eventually
becomes the Pequods replacement life buoy.
Ahab orders a harpoon forged in the expectation that he will soon encounter Moby
Dick. He baptizes the harpoon with the blood of the Pequods three harpooners.
The Pequod kills several more whales. Issuing a prophecy about Ahabs death, Fedallah
declares that Ahab will first see two hearses, the second of which will be made only
from American wood, and that he will be killed by hemp rope. Ahab interprets these
words to mean that he will not die at sea, where there are no hearses and no hangings. A
typhoon hits thePequod, illuminating it with electrical fire. Ahab takes this occurrence
as a sign of imminent confrontation and success, but Starbuck, the ships first mate,
takes it as a bad omen and considers killing Ahab to end the mad quest. After the storm
ends, one of the sailors falls from the ships masthead and drownsa grim
foreshadowing of what lies ahead.
Ahabs fervent desire to find and destroy Moby Dick continues to intensify, and the mad
Pip is now his constant companion. The Pequod approaches the equator, where Ahab
expects to find the great whale. The ship encounters two more whaling ships,
the Rachel and the Delight, both of which have recently had fatal encounters with the
whale. Ahab finally sights Moby Dick. The harpoon boats are launched, and Moby Dick
attacks Ahabs harpoon boat, destroying it. The next day, Moby Dick is sighted again,
and the boats are lowered once more. The whale is harpooned, but Moby Dick again
attacks Ahabs boat. Fedallah, trapped in the harpoon line, is dragged overboard to his
death. Starbuck must maneuver the Pequod between Ahab and the angry whale.
On the third day, the boats are once again sent after Moby Dick, who once again attacks
them. The men can see Fedallahs corpse lashed to the whale by the harpoon line. Moby
Dick rams the Pequod and sinks it. Ahab is then caught in a harpoon line and hurled out

of his harpoon boat to his death. All of the remaining whaleboats and men are caught in
the vortex created by the sinking Pequod and pulled under to their deaths. Ishmael, who
was thrown from a boat at the beginning of the chase, was far enough away to escape
the whirlpool, and he alone survives. He floats atop Queequegs coffin, which popped
back up from the wreck, until he is picked up by the Rachel, which is still searching for
the crewmen lost in her earlier encounter with Moby Dick.
Analysis of Major Characters
Despite his centrality to the story, Ishmael doesnt reveal much about himself to the
reader. We know that he has gone to sea out of some deep spiritual malaise and that
shipping aboard a whaler is his version of committing suicidehe believes that men
aboard a whaling ship are lost to the world. It is apparent from Ishmaels frequent
digressions on a wide range of subjectsfrom art, geology, and anatomy to legal codes
and literaturethat he is intelligent and well educated, yet he claims that a whaling ship
has been [his] Yale College and [his] Harvard. He seems to be a self-taught
Renaissance man, good at everything but committed to nothing. Given the mythic,
romantic aspects of Moby-Dick, it is perhaps fitting that its narrator should be an
enigma: not everything in a story so dependent on fate and the seemingly supernatural
needs to make perfect sense.
Additionally, Ishmael represents the fundamental contradiction between the story
of Moby-Dick and its setting. Melville has created a profound and philosophically
complicated tale and set it in a world of largely uneducated working-class men; Ishmael,
thus, seems less a real character than an instrument of the author. No one else aboard
the Pequod possesses the proper combination of intellect and experience to tell this
story. Indeed, at times even Ishmael fails Melvilles purposes, and he disappears from
the story for long stretches, replaced by dramatic dialogues and soliloquies from Ahab
and other characters.
Ahab, the Pequods obsessed captain, represents both an ancient and a quintessentially
modern type of hero. Like the heroes of Greek or Shakespearean tragedy, Ahab suffers
from a single fatal flaw, one he shares with such legendary characters as Oedipus and
Faust. His tremendous overconfidence, or hubris, leads him to defy common sense and
believe that, like a god, he can enact his will and remain immune to the forces of nature.
He considers Moby Dick the embodiment of evil in the world, and he pursues the White
Whale monomaniacally because he believes it his inescapable fate to destroy this evil.
According to the critic M. H. Abrams, such a tragic hero moves us to pity because,
since he is not an evil man, his misfortune is greater than he deserves; but he moves us
also to fear, because we recognize similar possibilities of error in our own lesser and
fallible selves.
Unlike the heroes of older tragic works, however, Ahab suffers from a fatal flaw that is
not necessarily inborn but instead stems from damage, in his case both psychological
and physical, inflicted by life in a harsh world. He is as much a victim as he is an
aggressor, and the symbolic opposition that he constructs between himself and Moby
Dick propels him toward what he considers a destined end.
Moby Dick
In a sense, Moby Dick is not a character, as the reader has no access to the White
Whales thoughts, feelings, or intentions. Instead, Moby Dick is an impersonal force,
one that many critics have interpreted as an allegorical representation of God, an

inscrutable and all-powerful being that humankind can neither understand nor defy.
Moby Dick thwarts free will and cannot be defeated, only accommodated or avoided.
Ishmael tries a plethora of approaches to describe whales in general, but none proves
adequate. Indeed, as Ishmael points out, the majority of a whale is hidden from view at
all times. In this way, a whale mirrors its environment. Like the whale, only the surface
of the ocean is available for human observation and interpretation, while its depths
conceal unknown and unknowable truths. Furthermore, even when Ishmael does get his
hands on a whole whale, he is unable to determine which partthe skeleton, the
head, the skinoffers the best understanding of the whole living, breathing creature; he
cannot localize the essence of the whale. This conundrum can be read as a metaphor for
the human relationship with the Christian God (or any other god, for that matter): God
is unknowable and cannot be pinned down.
Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask
The Pequods three mates are used primarily to provide philosophical contrasts with
Ahab. Starbuck, the first mate, is a religious man. Sober and conservative, he relies on
his Christian faith to determine his actions and interpretations of events. Stubb, the
second mate, is jolly and cool in moments of crisis. He has worked in the dangerous
occupation of whaling for so long that the possibility of death has ceased to concern
him. A fatalist, he believes that things happen as they are meant to and that there is little
that he can do about it. Flask simply enjoys the thrill of the hunt and takes pride in
killing whales. He doesnt stop to consider consequences at all and is utterly lost . . . to
all sense of reverence for the whale. All three of these perspectives are used to
accentuate Ahabs monomania. Ahab reads his experiences as the result of a conspiracy
against him by some larger force. Unlike Flask, he thinks and interprets. Unlike Stubb,
he believes that he can alter his world. Unlike Starbuck, he places himself rather than
some external set of principles at the center of the cosmic order that he discerns.
Themes, Motifs & Symbols
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The Limits of Knowledge
As Ishmael tries, in the opening pages of Moby-Dick, to offer a simple collection of
literary excerpts mentioning whales, he discovers that, throughout history, the whale has
taken on an incredible multiplicity of meanings. Over the course of the novel, he makes
use of nearly every discipline known to man in his attempts to understand the essential
nature of the whale. Each of these systems of knowledge, however, including art,
taxonomy, and phrenology, fails to give an adequate account. The multiplicity of
approaches that Ishmael takes, coupled with his compulsive need to assert his authority
as a narrator and the frequent references to the limits of observation (men cannot see the
depths of the ocean, for example), suggest that human knowledge is always limited and
insufficient. When it comes to Moby Dick himself, this limitation takes on allegorical
significance. The ways of Moby Dick, like those of the Christian God, are unknowable
to man, and thus trying to interpret them, as Ahab does, is inevitably futile and often
The Deceptiveness of Fate
In addition to highlighting many portentous or foreshadowing events, Ishmaels
narrative contains many references to fate, creating the impression that the Pequods
doom is inevitable. Many of the sailors believe in prophecies, and some even claim the

ability to foretell the future. A number of things suggest, however, that characters are
actually deluding themselves when they think that they see the work of fate and that fate
either doesnt exist or is one of the many forces about which human beings can have no
distinct knowledge. Ahab, for example, clearly exploits the sailors belief in fate to
manipulate them into thinking that the quest for Moby Dick is their common destiny.
Moreover, the prophesies of Fedallah and others seem to be undercut in Chapter 99,
when various individuals interpret the doubloon in different ways, demonstrating that
humans project what they want to see when they try to interpret signs and portents.
The Exploitative Nature of Whaling
At first glance, the Pequod seems like an island of equality and fellowship in the midst
of a racist, hierarchically structured world. The ships crew includes men from all
corners of the globe and all races who seem to get along harmoniously. Ishmael is
initially uneasy upon meeting Queequeg, but he quickly realizes that it is better to have
a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian for a shipmate. Additionally, the conditions
of work aboard thePequod promote a certain kind of egalitarianism, since men are
promoted and paid according to their skill. However, the work of whaling parallels the
other exploitative activitiesbuffalo hunting, gold mining, unfair trade with indigenous
peoplesthat characterize American and European territorial expansion. Each of
the Pequods mates, who are white, is entirely dependent on a nonwhite harpooner, and
nonwhites perform most of the dirty or dangerous jobs aboard the ship. Flask actually
stands on Daggoo, his African harpooner, in order to beat the other mates to
a prize whale. Ahab is depicted as walking over the black youth Pip, who listens to
Ahabs pacing from below deck, and is thus reminded that his value as a slave is less
than the value of a whale.
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop
and inform the texts major themes.
Whiteness, to Ishmael, is horrible because it represents the unnatural and threatening:
albinos, creatures that live in extreme and inhospitable environments, waves breaking
against rocks. These examples reverse the traditional association of whiteness with
purity. Whiteness conveys both a lack of meaning and an unreadable excess of meaning
that confounds individuals. Moby Dick is the pinnacle of whiteness, and Melvilles
characters cannot objectively understand the White Whale. Ahab, for instance, believes
that Moby Dick represents evil, while Ishmael fails in his attempts to determine
scientifically the whales fundamental nature.
Surfaces and Depths
Ishmael frequently bemoans the impossibility of examining anything in its entirety,
noting that only the surfaces of objects and environments are available to the human
observer. On a live whale, for example, only the outer layer presents itself; on a dead
whale, it is impossible to determine what constitutes the whales skin, or which part
skeleton, blubber, headoffers the best understanding of the entire animal. Moreover,
as the whale swims, it hides much of its body underwater, away from the human gaze,
and no one knows where it goes or what it does. The sea itself is the greatest frustration
in this regard: its depths are mysterious and inaccessible to Ishmael. This motif
represents the larger problem of the limitations of human knowledge. Humankind is not

all-seeing; we can only observe, and thus only acquire knowledge about, that fraction of
entitiesboth individuals and environmentsto which we have access: surfaces.
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or
The Pequod
Named after a Native American tribe in Massachusetts that did not long survive the
arrival of white men and thus memorializing an extinction, thePequod is a symbol of
doom. It is painted a gloomy black and covered in whale teeth and bones, literally
bristling with the mementos of violent death. It is, in fact, marked for death. Adorned
like a primitive coffin, the Pequodbecomes one.
Moby Dick
Moby Dick possesses various symbolic meanings for various individuals. To
thePequods crew, the legendary White Whale is a concept onto which they can displace
their anxieties about their dangerous and often very frightening jobs. Because they have
no delusions about Moby Dick acting malevolently toward men or literally embodying
evil, tales about the whale allow them to confront their fear, manage it, and continue to
function. Ahab, on the other hand, believes that Moby Dick is a manifestation of all that
is wrong with the world, and he feels that it is his destiny to eradicate this symbolic evil.
Moby Dick also bears out interpretations not tied down to specific characters. In its
inscrutable silence and mysterious habits, for example, the White Whale can be read as
an allegorical representation of an unknowable God. As a profitable commodity, it fits
into the scheme of white economic expansion and exploitation in the nineteenth century.
As a part of the natural world, it represents the destruction of the environment by such
hubristic expansion.
Queequegs Coffin
Queequegs coffin alternately symbolizes life and death. Queequeg has it built when he
is seriously ill, but when he recovers, it becomes a chest to hold his belongings and an
emblem of his will to live. He perpetuates the knowledge tattooed on his body by
carving it onto the coffins lid. The coffin further comes to symbolize life, in a morbid
way, when it replaces thePequods life buoy. When the Pequod sinks, the coffin
becomes Ishmaels buoy, saving not only his life but the life of the narrative that he will
pass on.

Comparing the Writing of Hawthorne and Melville

But the point which drew all eyeswas that Scarlet Letter, so fantastically
embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom. (Hawthorne, 2000, 12) The author of
Moby Dick, Herman Melville, goes to great lengths to show that the color white is
everything, including the greatest Evil embodied in Moby Dick. Nathaniel Hawthorne,
the author of The Scarlet Letter, emphasizes how Hester is the outcast from society and
forced to live on the fringes, on the boundary between the town and the woods the
border of good and evil. Both authors use symbols to develop the effects of evil on
Melville paints the white of Moby Dick as a symbol of the worlds evils to Ahab.
(Roberts, 1966, 43) Moby Dick and Ahab personify each other through vengeance.

Moby Dicks snow-white forehead symbolizes God in that He couldnt be reached, but
he is there. Ahab is not an evil man but only a man trying to dispose of God, the Evil of
the Deity. Ahab represents most of mankind, who in trying to conquer God, is destroyed
by Him instead. The paint of whiteness also appears on Ahab. When Ishmael first sees
Ahab, he notices the huge white scar running down the side of his face. (Roberts, 1966,
35) Ahabs one leg is also a white peg, made of pure whalebone. The sin of Moby Dick
is now embedded into Ahab. Ahab is the negative side of humans because he wants to
take revenge on Moby Dick for tearing up his leg. Ishmael also notices a face wreathed
in wretched long strands of gray hair. (Roberts, 1966, 35) The color gray symbolizes a
mixture of both good and evil. It shows a good person that is guilty of a sin. Gray also
reflects the color of hiding something. In Ahabs case, he is hiding his obsession to the
world about his devoted pursuit of the White Whale.
Hawthorne shows that sin isolates a person from her community and from God. When
he uses the color gray to describe Hesters clothes, he is insisting Hester and her lover
are hiding their secret of their love affair. Ahabs obsession for Moby Dick compares to
Hesters obsession with Dimmesdale through the SCARLET LETTER. The theme is...


Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou are, to dust thou returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, - act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sand of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,

Sailing o'er life's solenm main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us then be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

Henry Wadsworth was an American poet and educator whose works include "Paul
Revere's Ride", The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline. He was also the first American
to translate Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy and was one of the five Fireside
Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine, then part of Massachusetts, and studied at
Bowdoin College. After spending time in Europe he became a professor at Bowdoin
and, later, at Harvard College. His first major poetry collections were Voices of the
Night (1839) and Ballads and Other Poems (1841). Longfellow retired from teaching in
1854 to focus on his writing, living the remainder of his life in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, in a former headquarters of George Washington. His first wife, Mary
Potter, died in 1835 after a miscarriage. His second wife, Frances Appleton, died in
1861 after sustaining burns from her dress catching fire. After her death, Longfellow
had difficulty writing poetry for a time and focused on his translation. He died in 1882.
Longfellow predominantly wrote lyric poems which are known for their musicality and
which often presented stories of mythology and legend. He became the most popular
American poet of his day and also had success overseas. He has been criticized,
however, for imitating European styles and writing specifically for the masses.
Lines 1-4
In the opening stanza, the speaker directly addresses the psalmist. He begins by
dismissing the psalmist's sad poetry, and he rejects as dangerous the psalmist's notion
that human life is a meaningless illusion. If one accepts the logic that life is just a
dream, he cautions, one's soul will not merely sleep, but die. On the surface, human life
may appear futile, but the speaker contends that it is actually this sense of hopelessness and not human life itself - that is the illusion.
Lines 5-8
Longfellow uses the second stanza to build on the ideas of the first. Because the soul
lives eternally, the speaker reasons, life must be real. Note that in the first line there is a
caesura, or break, after the word "real." This caesura forces the reader to pause, thereby
emphasizing the idea that life is real. These lines are an allusion to the Bible's book of
Genesis, where God says to the fallen Adam, "dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou
return." In Longfellow's poem, the speaker is asserting that although the mortal body
will die, the soul is exempt from death.
Lines 9-12

The third stanza introduces the central theme of the poem: the purpose of life is not to
experience pleasure or sorrow, but "to act" - to perform the deeds that will improve the
condition of mankind. Note that by this point in the poem, the speaker has ceased to
address the psalmist; instead, he is directing his remarks to mankind in general, as is
evidenced by his broadly inclusive use of the first person plural - "our" and "us."
Lines 13-16
The fourth stanza begins with an allusion to a line from Seneca's work De Brevitate
vitae, which states "vita brevis est, ars longa," or "Life is brief, art long." The idea here
is that although a lifetime passes relatively quickly, it actually takes a long time to learn
how to live well - to decipher the "art" of living. The speaker is suggesting with some
urgency, then, that we should live as productive a life as possible, because death (of the
human body, not the soul) is always imminent. Note the simile in line 15, which
compares the human heartbeat to "muffled drums." On a literal level, of course, a
heartbeat can sound like a drumbeat, but Longfellow extends this idea to suggest that
our own hearts are measuring out the backbeat of a steady and irreversible journey
toward death. Each beat of our hearts, Longfellow implies, carries us closer to death. If
you read the stanza aloud, you will notice that, at this point, the trochaic rhythm is
especially steady and even; it sounds as though a drum is beating in the background.
Lines 17-20
These lines rely heavily on war imagery, as the march to the grave has been transformed
to a march to battle. By comparing life to a "bivouac," a temporary campsite during a
battle, the speaker reminds us again of the transience of human existence. He exhorts
the reader - who, by implication, is a soldier - to become a hero in this battle and not
merely march to his or her death like a cow forced to the slaughterhouse.
Lines 21-24
In the sixth stanza, the speaker explains in detail how the reader can become a hero. He
advises the reader not to hope for the future nor to worry about the past. Instead, in a
return to the poem's central theme, he urges the reader to live actively in the present.
The speaker emphasizes his imperative instruction that we "act" by repeating the word
twice in line 23. Note how Longfellow draws our attention to the word "act" by
manipulating the meter: not only does he insert a caesura between the two "acts," but,
metrically, the two consecutive words are stressed, giving them added force.
Lines 25-28
In the seventh stanza, the speaker asks the reader to consider past heroes. These "great
men," the speaker indicates, should inspire us to live our lives so fully that we, too, will
leave behind records of greatness when we die. Longfellow suggests the idea of a record
of greatness by using a metaphor: "footprints on the sands of time." Even here, however,
this metaphor ironically reminds us of the transient nature of life, since these footprints
will eventually be washed away by the tide. Nonetheless, they may have a positive
effect on the people who live after us.
Lines 29-32
The "footprints" metaphor of the seventh stanza develops into the central conceit, or
governing concept, of the eighth stanza. The speaker envisions a shipwrecked sailor
who is lost at sea but observes these footprints in the sand. In this conceit, the sailor
represents any discouraged or lonely individual who receives encouragement from the
memory of the good deeds of others.

Lines 33-36
The speaker concludes the poem by exhorting us to live active, courageous lives. He is
urging the reader to strive continuously to accomplish good, useful deeds: these good
deeds, it is suggested, give life meaning and purpose. The last word of the poem, "wait,"
has a few possible meanings; it can mean "to serve" others - in this case, by working or
"laboring" diligently; it can mean "to be ready" for someone or some event; or it can
mean to be "watchful" - to be on the lookout for good opportunities as well as to be on
guard against unexpected events or dangers. The poem ends, then, as it began, with a
word of caution and of hope.


A disease known as the Red Death plagues the fictional country where this tale is set,
and it causes its victims to die quickly and gruesomely. Even though this disease is
spreading rampantly, the prince, Prospero, feels happy and hopeful. He decides to lock
the gates of his palace in order to fend off the plague, ignoring the illness ravaging the
land. After several months, he throws a fancy masquerade ball. For this celebration, he
decorates the rooms of his house in single colors. The easternmost room is decorated in
blue, with blue stained-glass windows. The next room is purple with the same stainedglass window pattern. The rooms continue westward, according to this design, in the
following color arrangement: green, orange, white, and violet. The seventh room is
black, with red windows. Also in this room stands an ebony clock. When the clock rings
each hour, its sound is so loud and distracting that everyone stops talking and the
orchestra stops playing. When the clock is not sounding, though, the rooms are so
beautiful and strange that they seem to be filled with dreams, swirling among the
revelers. Most guests, however, avoid the final, black-and-red room because it contains
both the clock and an ominous ambience.
At midnight, a new guest appears, dressed more ghoulishly than his counterparts. His
mask looks like the face of a corpse, his garments resemble a funeral shroud, and his
face reveals spots of blood suggesting that he is a victim of the Red Death. Prospero
becomes angry that someone with so little humor and levity would join his party. The
other guests, however, are so afraid of this masked man that they fail to prevent him
from walking through each room. Prospero finally catches up to the new guest in the
black-and-red room. As soon as he confronts the figure, Prospero dies. When other
party-goers enter the room to attack the cloaked man, they find that there is nobody
beneath the costume. Everyone then dies, for the Red Death has infiltrated the castle.
Darkness and Decay and the Red Death have at last triumphed.
The Masque of the Red Death is an allegory. It features a set of recognizable symbols
whose meanings combine to convey a message. An allegory always operates on two
levels of meaning: the literal elements of the plot (the colors of the rooms, for example)
and their symbolic counterparts, which often involve large philosophical concepts (such
as life and death). We can read this story as an allegory about life and death and the
powerlessness of humans to evade the grip of death. The Red Death thus represents,
both literally and allegorically, death. No matter how beautiful the castle, how luxuriant
the clothing, or how rich the food, no mortal, not even a prince, can escape death. In

another sense, though, the story also means to punish Prosperos arrogant belief that he
can use his wealth to fend off the natural, tragic progress of life. Prosperos arrogance
combines with a grievous insensitivity to the plight of his less fortunate countrymen.
Although he possesses the wealth to assist those in need, he turns his wealth into a mode
of self-defense and decadent self-indulgence. His decadence in throwing the
masquerade ball, however, unwittingly positions him as a caged animal, with no
possible escape.
The rooms of the palace, lined up in a series, allegorically represent the stages of life.
Poe makes it a point to arrange the rooms running from east to west. This progression is
symbolically significant because it represents the life cycle of a day: the sun rises in the
east and sets in the west, with night symbolizing death. What transforms this set of
symbols into an allegory, however, is the further symbolic treatment of the twenty-four
hour life cycle: it translates to the realm of human beings. This progression from east to
west, performed by both Prospero and the mysterious guest, symbolizes the human
journey from birth to death. Poe crafts the last, black room as the ominous endpoint, the
room the guests fear just as they fear death. The clock that presides over that room also
reminds the guests of deaths final judgment. The hourly ringing of the bells is a
reminder of the passing of time, inexorable and ultimately personal.
As in many Poe stories, the use of names contributes to the symbolic economic context
of the story and suggests another set of allegorical interpretations. For example,
Prospero, whose name suggests financial prosperity, exploits his own wealth to stave off
the infiltration of the Red Death. His retreat to the protection of an aristocratic palace
may also allegorize a type of economic system that Poe suggests is doomed to failure. In
the hierarchical relationship between Prospero and the peasantry, Poe portrays the
unfairness of a feudal system, where wealth lies in the hands of the aristocracy while the
peasantry suffers. This use of feudal imagery is historically accurate, in that feudalism
was prevalent when the actual Bubonic Plague devastated Europe in the fourteenth
century. The Red Death, then, embodies a type of radical egalitarianism, or monetary
equality, because it attacks the rich and poor alike.
The portrayal of the masquerade ball foreshadows the similar setting of the carnival in
The Cask of Amontillado, which appeared less than a year after The Masque of the
Red Death. Whereas the carnival in The Cask of Amontillado associates drunken
revelry with an open-air Italian celebration, the masquerade functions in this story as a
celebratory retreat from the air itself, which has become infected by the plague. The
masquerade, however, dispels the sense of claustrophobia within the palace by
liberating the inner demons of the guests. These demons are then embodied by the
grotesque costumes. Like the carnival, the masquerade urges the abandonment of social
conventions and rigid senses of personal identity. However, the mysterious guest
illuminates the extent to which Prospero and his guests police the limits of social
convention. When the mysterious guest uses his costume to portray the fears that the
masquerade is designed to counteract, Prospero responds antagonistically. As he knows,
the prosperity of the party relies upon the psychological transformation of fear about the
Red Death into revelry. When the mysterious guest dramatizes his own version of
revelry as the fear that cannot be spoken, he violates an implicit social rule of the
masquerade. The fall of Prospero and the subsequent deaths of his guests follow from
this logic of the masquerade: when revelry is unmasked as a defense mechanism against
fear, then the raw exposure of what lies beneath is enough to kill.


A lonely man tries to ease his "sorrow for the lost Lenore," by distracting his mind with
old books of "forgotten lore." He is interrupted while he is "nearly napping," by a
"tapping on [his] chamber door." As he opens up the door, he finds "darkness there and
nothing more." Into the darkness he whispers, "Lenore," hoping his lost love had come
back, but all that could be heard was "an echo [that] murmured back the word
With a burning soul, the man returns to his chamber, and this time he can hear a tapping
at the window lattice. As he "flung [open] the shutter," "in [there] stepped a stately
Raven," the bird of ill-omen (Poe, 1850). The raven perched on the bust of Pallas, the
goddess of wisdom in Greek mythology, above his chamber door.
The man asks the Raven for his name, and surprisingly it answers, and croaks
"Nevermore." The man knows that the bird does not speak from wisdom, but has been
taught by "some unhappy master," and that the word "nevermore" is its only "stock and
The man welcomes the raven, and is afraid that the raven will be gone in the morning,
"as [his] Hopes have flown before"; however, the raven answers, "Nevermore." The
man smiled, and pulled up a chair, interested in what the raven "meant in croaking,
Nevermore." The chair, where Lenore once sat, brought back painful memories. The
man, who knows the irrational nature in the ravens speech, still cannot help but ask the
raven questions. Since the narrator is aware that the raven only knows one word, he can
anticipate the bird's responses. "Is there balm in Gilead?" - "Nevermore." Can Lenore be
found in paradise? - "Nevermore." "Take thy form from off my door!" - "Nevermore."
Finally the man concedes, realizing that to continue this dialogue would be pointless.
And his "soul from out that shadow" that the raven throws on the floor, "Shall be lifted
-- Nevermore!"
In this poem, one of the most famous American poems ever, Poe uses several symbols
to take the poem to a higher level. The most obvious symbol is, of course, the raven
itself. When Poe had decided to use a refrain that repeated the word "nevermore," he
found that it would be most effective if he used a non-reasoning creature to utter the
word. It would make little sense to use a human, since the human could reason to
answer the questions (Poe, 1850). In "The Raven" it is important that the answers to the
questions are already known, to illustrate the self-torture to which the narrator exposes
himself. This way of interpreting signs that do not bear a real meaning, is "one of the
most profound impulses of human nature" (Quinn, 1998:441).
Poe also considered a parrot as the bird instead of the raven; however, because of the
melancholy tone, and the symbolism of ravens as birds of ill-omen, he found the raven
more suitable for the mood in the poem (Poe, 1850). Quoth the Parrot, "Nevermore?"
Another obvious symbol is the bust of Pallas. Why did the raven decide to perch on the
goddess of wisdom? One reason could be, because it would lead the narrator to believe
that the raven spoke from wisdom, and was not just repeating its only "stock and store,"
and to signify the scholarship of the narrator. Another reason for using "Pallas" in the
poem was, according to Poe himself, simply because of the "sonorousness of the word,
Pallas, itself" (Poe, 1850).
A less obvious symbol, might be the use of "midnight" in the first verse, and
"December" in the second verse. Both midnight and December, symbolize an end of
something, and also the anticipation of something new, a change, to happen. The
midnight in December, might very well be New Years eve, a date most of us connect
with change. This also seems to be what Viktor Rydberg believes when he is translating
"The Raven" to Swedish, since he uses the phrase "rets sista natt var inne, " ("The last

night of the year had arrived"). Kenneth Silverman connected the use of December with
the death of Edgars mother (Silverman, 1992:241), who died in that month; whether
this is true or not is, however, not significant to its meaning in the poem.
The chamber in which the narrator is positioned, is used to signify the loneliness of the
man, and the sorrow he feels for the loss of Lenore. The room is richly furnished, and
reminds the narrator of his lost love, which helps to create an effect of beauty in the
poem. The tempest outside, is used to even more signify the isolation of this man, to
show a sharp contrast between the calmness in the chamber and the tempestuous night.
The phrase "from out my heart," Poe claims, is used, in combination with the answer
"Nevermore," to let the narrator realize that he should not try to seek a moral in what
has been previously narrated (Poe, 1850).
Poe had an extensive vocabulary, which is obvious to the readers of both his poetry as
well as his fiction. Sometimes this meant introducing words that were not commonly
used. In "The Raven," the use of ancient and poetic language seems appropriate, since
the poem is about a man spending most of his time with books of "forgotten lore."
"Seraphim," in the fourteenth verse, "perfumed by an unseen censer / Swung by
seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled..." is used to illustrate the swift, invisible way a scent
spreads in a room. A seraphim is one of the six-winged angels standing in the presence
of God.
"Nepenthe," from the same verse, is a potion, used by ancients to induce
forgetfullnes of pain or sorrow.
"Balm in Gilead," from the following verse, is a soothing ointment made in
Gilead, a mountainous region of Palestine east of the Jordan river.
"Aidenn," from the sixteenth verse, is an Arabic word for Eden or paradise.
"Plutonian," characteristic of Pluto, the god of the underworld in Roman


Edgar Allan Poe wrote an essay on the creation of "The Raven," entitled "The
Philosophy of Composition." In that essay Poe describes the work of composing the
poem as if it were a mathematical problem, and derides the poets that claim that they
compose "by a species of fine frenzy - an ecstatic intuition - and would positively
shudder at letting the public take a peep behind the scenes." Whether Poe was as
calculating as he claims when he wrote "The Raven" or not is a question that cannot be
answered; it is, however, unlikely that he created it exactly like he described in his
essay. The thoughts occurring in the essay might well have occurred to Poe while he
was composing it.
In "The Philosophy of Composition," Poe stresses the need to express a single effect
when the literary work is to be read in one sitting. A poem should always be written
short enough to be read in one sitting, and should, therefore, strive to achieve this
single, unique effect. Consequently, Poe figured that the length of a poem should stay
around one hundred lines, and "The Raven" is 108 lines.
The most important thing to consider in "Philosophy" is the fact that "The Raven," as
well as many of Poe's tales, is written backwards. The effect is determined first, and the
whole plot is set; then the web grows backwards from that single effect. Poe's "tales of
ratiocination," e.g. the Dupin tales, are written in the same manner. "Nothing is more
clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its denouement before
anything be attempted with the pen" (Poe, 1850).

It was important to Poe to make "The Raven" "universally appreciable." It should be

appreciated by the public, as well as the critics. Poe chose Beauty to be the theme of the
poem, since "Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem" (Poe, 1850). After
choosing Beauty as the province, Poe considered sadness to be the highest manifestation
of beauty. "Beauty of whatever kind in its supreme development invariably excites the
sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones"
(Poe, 1850).
Of all melancholy topics, Poe wanted to use the one that was universally understood,
and therefore, he chose Death as his topic. Poe (along with other writers) believed that
the death of a beautiful woman was the most poetical use of death, because it closely
allies itself with Beauty.
After establishing subjects and tones of the poem, Poe started by writing the stanza that
brought the narrator's "interrogation" of the raven to a climax, the third verse from the
end, and he made sure that no preceeding stanza would "surpass this in rythmical
effect." Poe then worked backwards from this stanza and used the word "Nevermore" in
many different ways, so that even with the repetition of this word, it would not prove to
be monotonous.
Poe builds the tension in this poem up, stanza by stanza, but after the climaxing stanza
he tears the whole thing down, and lets the narrator know that there is no meaning in
searching for a moral in the raven's "nevermore". The Raven is established as a symbol
for the narrator's "Mournful and never-ending remembrance." "And my soul from out
that shadow, that lies floating on the floor, shall be lifted - nevermore!"

FREDERICK DOUGLAS- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an

American Slave, Written by Himself
F REDERICK DOUGLASS WAS BORN into slavery in Maryland as Frederick Bailey
circa 1818. Douglass served as a slave on farms on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and
in Baltimore throughout his youth. In Baltimore, especially, Douglas enjoyed relatively
more freedom than slaves usually did in the South. In the city, Douglass first learned
how to read and began making contacts with educated free blacks.
Douglass eventually escaped north to New York at the age of about twenty. Here he
reunited with and married his fiance, a free black woman from Baltimore named Anna
Murray. Uneasy about Douglasss fugitive status, the two finally settled further north in
New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Frederick changed his last name from Bailey to
Douglass. Douglass worked for the next three years as a laborer and continued his
In the early 1840s, the abolitionist, or anti-slavery, movement was gaining momentum,
especially in the far Northeast. When Douglass first arrived in Massachusetts, he began
reading the Liberator, the abolitionist newspaper edited by William Lloyd Garrison.
In 1841, Douglass attended an abolitionist meeting in Nantucket, Massachusetts, where
he met Garrison and was encouraged to tell the crowd about his experiences of slavery.
Douglasss spoken account was so well-received that Garrison offered to employ him as
an abolitionist speaker for the American Anti-Slavery Society.
From 1841 to 1845, Douglass traveled extensively with Garrison and others through the
Northern states, speaking nearly every day on the injustice and brutality of slavery.
Douglass encountered hostile opposition and, most often, the charge that he was lying.

Many Americans did not believe that such an eloquent and intelligent Negro had so
recently been a slave.
Douglass encountered a different brand of opposition within the ranks of the
Anti-Slavery Society itself. He was one of only a few black men employed by the
mostly white society, and the societys leaders, including Garrison, would often
condescendingly insist that Douglass merely relate the facts of his experience, and
leave the philosophy, rhetoric, and persuasive argument to others.
Douglasss 1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave,
Written by Himself can be seen as a response to both of these types of opposition.
The Narrative pointedly states that Douglass is its sole author, and it contains two
prefaces from Garrison and another abolitionist, Wendell Phillips, to attest to this fact.
Douglasss use of the true names of people and places further silenced his detractors
who questioned the truthfulness of his story and status as a former slave. Additionally,
theNarrative undertook to be not only a personal account of Douglasss experiences as a
slave, but also an eloquent antisla-very treatise. With theNarrative, Douglass
demonstrated his ability to be not only the teller of his story, but its interpreter as well.
Because Douglass did use real names in his Narrative, he had to flee the United States
for a time, as his Maryland owner was legally entitled to track him down in
Massachusetts and reclaim him. Dou-glass spent the next two years traveling in the
British Isles, where he was warmly received. He returned to the United States only after
two English friends purchased his freedom. His reputation at home had grown during
his absence. TheNarrative was an instant bestseller in 1845 and went through five print
runs to accommodate demand. Despite opposition from Garrison, Douglass started his
own abolitionist newspaper in 1847 in Rochester, New York, under the name North
Douglass continued to write and lecture against slavery and also devoted attention to the
womens rights movement. He became involved in politics, to the disapproval of other
abolitionists who avoided politics for ideological reasons. When the Civil War broke out
in 1861, Douglass campaigned first to make it the aim of the war to abolish slavery and
then to allow black men to fight for the Union. He was successful on both fronts:
Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on December 31, 1862, and Congress
authorized the enlistment of black men in 1863, though they were paid only half what
white soldiers made. The Union won the Civil War on April 9, 1865.
During the 1860s and beyond, Douglass continued to campaign, now for the right of
blacks to vote and receive equal treatment in public places. Douglass served in
government positions under several administrations in the 1870s and 1880s. He also
found time to publish the third volume of his autobiography, The Life and Times of
Frederick Douglass, in 1881 (the second volume, My Bondage and My Freedom, was
published in 1855). In1882, Douglasss wife, Anna, died. He remarried, to Helen Pitts, a
white advocate of the womens movement, in 1884. Douglass died of a heart attack
in 1895.
Until the 1960s, Douglasss Narrative was largely ignored by critics and historians, who
focused instead on the speeches for which Douglass was primarily known. Yet
Douglasss talent clearly extended to the written word. His Narrative emerged in a
popular tradition of slave narratives and slavery fictions that includes Harriet Beecher
Stowes Uncle Toms Cabin and Harriet Jacobss Incidents in the Life of a Slave
Girl. Douglasss work is read today as one of the finest examples of the slave-narrative
genre. Douglass co-opted narrative styles and forms from the spiritual conversion
narrative, the sentimental novel, oratorical rhetoric, and heroic fiction. He took
advantage of the popularity of slave narratives while expanding the possibilities of those

narratives. Finally, in its somewhat unique depiction of slavery as an assault on selfhood

and in its attention to the tensions of becoming an individual, Douglasss Narrative can
be read as a contribution to the literary tradition of American Romantic individualism.
Plot Overview
F REDERICK DOUGLASS WAS BORN into slavery sometime in 1817 or 1818. Like many
slaves, he is unsure of his exact date of birth. Douglass is separated from his mother,
Harriet Bailey, soon after he is born. His father is most likely their white master,
Captain Anthony. Captain Anthony is the clerk of a rich man named Colonel Lloyd.
Lloyd owns hundreds of slaves, who call his large, central plantation the Great House
Farm. Life on any of Lloyds plantations, like that on many Southern plantations, is
brutal. Slaves are overworked and exhausted, receive little food, few articles of clothing,
and no beds. Those who break rulesand even those who do notare beaten or
whipped, and sometimes even shot by the plantation overseers, the cruelest of which are
Mr. Severe and Mr. Austin Gore.
Douglasss life on this plantation is not as hard as that of most of the other slaves. Being
a child, he serves in the household instead of in the fields. At the age of seven, he is
given to Captain Anthonys son-in-laws brother, Hugh Auld, who lives in Baltimore. In
Baltimore, Douglass enjoys a relatively freer life. In general, city slave-owners are more
conscious of appearing cruel or neglectful toward their slaves in front of their
non-slaveowning neighbors.
Sophia Auld, Hughs wife, has never had slaves before, and therefore she is surprisingly
kind to Douglass at first. She even begins to teach Douglass to read, until her husband
orders her to stop, saying that education makes slaves unmanageable. Eventually,
Sophia succumbs to the mentality of slaveowning and loses her natural kindliness.
Though Sophia and Hugh Auld become crueler toward him, Douglass still likes
Baltimore and is able to teach himself to read with the help of local boys. As he learns
to read and write, Douglass becomes conscious of the evils of slavery and of the
existence of the abolitionist, or antisla-very, movement. He resolves to escape to the
North eventually.
After the deaths of Captain Anthony and his remaining heirs, Douglass is taken back to
serve Thomas Auld, Captain Anthonys son-in-law. Auld is a mean man made harsher
by his false religious piety. Auld considers Douglass unmanageable, so Auld rents him
for one year to Edward Covey, a man known for breaking slaves. Covey manages, in
the first six months, to work and whip all the spirit out of Douglass. Douglass becomes
a brutish man, no longer interested in reading or freedom, capable only of resting from
his injuries and exhaustion. The turning point comes when Douglass resolves to fight
back against Covey. The two men have a two-hour fight, after which Covey never
touches Douglass again.
His year with Covey over, Douglass is next rented to William Freeland for two years.
Though Freeland is a milder, fairer man, Douglasss will to escape is nonetheless
renewed. At Freelands, Douglass begins edu-cating his fellow slaves in a Sabbath
school at the homes of free blacks. Despite the threat of punishment and violence they
face, many slaves from neighboring farms come to Douglass and work diligently to
learn. At Freelands, Douglass also forms a plan of escape with three fellow slaves with
whom he is close. Someone betrays their plan to Freeland, however, and Douglass and
the others are taken to jail. Thomas Auld then sends Douglass back to Baltimore with
Hugh Auld, to learn the trade of ship caulking.

In Baltimores trade industry, Douglass runs up against strained race relations. White
workers have been working alongside free black workers, but the whites have begun to
fear that the increasing numbers of free blacks will take their jobs. Though only an
apprentice and still a slave, Douglass encounters violent tactics of intimidation from his
white coworkers and is forced to switch shipyards. In his new apprenticeship, Douglass
quickly learns the trade of caulking and soon earns the highest wages possible, always
turning them over to Hugh Auld.
Eventually, Douglass receives permission from Hugh Auld to hire out his extra time. He
saves money bit by bit and eventually makes his escape to New York. Douglass refrains
from describing the details of his escape in order to protect the safety of future slaves
who may attempt the journey. In New York, Douglass fears recapture and changes his
name from Bailey to Douglass. Soon after, he marries Anna Murray, a free woman he
met while in Baltimore. They move north to Massachusetts, where Douglass becomes
deeply engaged with the abolitionist movement as both a writer and an orator.
Themes, Motifs & Symbols
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Ignorance as a Tool of Slavery
Douglasss Narrative shows how white slaveholders perpetuate slavery by keeping their
slaves ignorant. At the time Douglass was writing, many people believed that slavery
was a natural state of being. They believed that blacks were inherently incapable of
participating in civil society and thus should be kept as workers for whites.
The Narrative explains the strategies and procedures by which whites gain and keep
power over blacks from their birth onward. Slave owners keep slaves ignorant of basic
facts about themselves, such as their birth date or their paternity. This enforced
ignorance robs children of their natural sense of individual identity. As slave children
grow older, slave owners prevent them from learning how to read and write, as literacy
would give them a sense of self-sufficiency and capability. Slaveholders understand that
literacy would lead slaves to question the right of whites to keep slaves. Finally, by
keeping slaves illiterate, Southern slaveholders maintain control over what the rest of
America knows about slavery. If slaves cannot write, their side of the slavery story
cannot be told. Wendell Phillips makes this point in his prefatory letter to the Narrative.
Knowledge as the Path to Freedom
Just as slave owners keep men and women as slaves by depriving them of knowledge
andeducation, slaves must seek knowledge and education in order to pursue freedom. It
is from Hugh Auld that Douglass learns this notion that knowledge must be the way to
freedom, as Auld forbids his wife to teach Douglass how to read and write because
education ruins slaves. Douglass sees that Auld has unwittingly revealed the strategy by
which whites manage to keep blacks as slaves and by which blacks might free
themselves. Doug-lass presents his own self-education as the primary means by which
he is able to free himself, and as his greatest tool to work for the freedom of all slaves.
Though Douglass himself gains his freedom in part by virtue of his self-education, he
does not oversimplify this connection. Douglass has no illusions that knowledge
automatically renders slaves free. Knowledge helps slaves to articulate the injustice of
slavery to themselves and others, and helps them to recognize themselves as men rather
than slaves. Rather than provide immediate freedom, this awakened consciousness
brings suffering, as Hugh Auld predicts. Once slaves are able to articulate the injustice

of slavery, they come to loathe their masters, but still cannot physically escape without
meeting great danger.
Slaverys Damaging Effect on Slaveholders
In the Narrative, Douglass shows slaveholding to be damaging not only to the slaves
themselves, but to slave owners as well. The corrupt and irresponsible power that slave
owners enjoy over their slaves has a detrimental effect on the slave owners own moral
health. With this theme, Douglass completes his overarching depiction of slavery as
unnatural for all involved.
Douglass describes typical behavior patterns of slaveholders to depict the damaging
effects of slavery. He recounts how many slave-owning men have been tempted to
adultery and rape, fathering children with their female slaves. Such adultery threatens
the unity of the slave owners family, as the father is forced to either sell or perpetually
punish his own child, while the slave owners wife becomes resentful and cruel. In other
instances, slave owners such as Thomas Auld develop a perverted religious sense to
remain blind to the sins they commit in their own home. Douglasss main illustration of
the corruption of slave owners is Sophia Auld. The irresponsible power of slaveholding
transforms Sophia from an idealistic woman to a demon. By showing the detrimental
effects of slaveholding on Thomas Auld, Sophia Auld, and others, Douglass implies that
slavery should be outlawed for the greater good of all society.
Slaveholding as a Perversion of Christianity
Over the course of the Narrative, Douglass develops a distinction between true
Christianity and false Christianity. Douglass clarifies the point in his appendix, calling
the former the Christianity of Christ and the latter the Christianity of this land.
Douglass shows that slaveholders Christianity is not evidence of their innate goodness,
but merely a hypocritical show that serves to bolster their self-righteous brutality. To
strike this distinction, Douglass points to the basic contradiction between the charitable,
peaceful tenets of Christianity and the violent, immoral actions of slaveholders.
The character of Thomas Auld stands as an illustration of this theme. Like Sophia Auld,
Thomas undergoes a transformation in the Narrative from cruel slave owner to even
crueler slave owner. Douglass demonstrates that Aulds brutality increases after he
becomes a pious man, as Aulds show of piety increases his confi-dence in his Godgiven right to hold and mistreat slaves. Through the instance of Auld, Douglass also
demonstrates that the Southern church itself is corrupt. Aulds church benefits from
Aulds money, earned by means of slaves. Thus Aulds church, like many Southern
churches, is complicit in the inhuman cruelty of slavery.
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop
and inform the texts major themes.
The Victimization of Female Slaves
Women often appear in Douglasss Narrative not as full characters, but as vivid images
specifically, images of abused bodies. Douglasss Aunt Hester, Henrietta and Mary,
and Henny, for example, appear only in scenes that demonstrate their masters abuse of
them. Douglasss depcitions of the womens mangled and emaciated bodies are meant to
incite pain and outrage in the reader and point to the unnaturalness of the institution of
The Treatment of Slaves as Property

Throughout the Narrative, Douglass is concerned with showing the discrepancy

between the fact that slaves are human beings and the fact that slave owners treat them
as property. Douglass shows how slaves frequently are passed between owners,
regardless of where the slaves families are. Slave owners value slaves only to the extent
that they can perform productive labor; they often treat slaves like livestock, mere
animals, without reason. Douglass pre-sents this treatment of humans as objects or
animals as cruel and absurd.
Freedom in the City
Douglasss Narrative switches settings several times between the rural Eastern Shore of
Maryland and the city of Baltimore. Baltimore is a site of relative freedom for Douglass
and other slaves. This freedom results from the standards of decency set by the
non-slaveholding segment of the urban populationstandards that generally prevent
slaveholders from demonstrating extreme cruelty toward their slaves. The city also
stands as a place of increased possibility and a more open society. It is in Baltimore that
Douglass meets for the first time whites who oppose slavery and who regard Douglass
as a human being. By contrast, the countryside is a place of heightened surveillance of
slaves by slaveholders. In the countryside, slaves enjoy the least amount of freedom and
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or
White-Sailed Ships
Douglass encounters white-sailed ships moving up the Chesapeake Bay during the
spiritual and physical low point of his first months with Covey. The ships appear almost
as a vision to Douglass, and he recognizes them as a sign or message about his
demoralized state. The ships, traveling northward from port to port, seem to represent
freedom from slavery to Douglass. Their white sails, which Douglass associates with
angels, also suggest spiritualismor the freedom that comes with spiritualism.
Sandys Root
Sandy Jenkins offers Douglass a root from the forest with supposedly magical qualities
that help protect slaves from whippings. Douglass does not seem to believe in the
magical powers of the root, but he uses it to appease Sandy. In fact, Douglass states in a
footnote that Sandys belief in the root is superstitious and typical of the more
ignorant slave population. In this regard, the root stands as a symbol of a traditional
African approach to religion and belief.
The Columbian Orator
Douglass first encounters The Columbian Orator, a collection of political essays,
poems, and dialogues, around the age of twelve, just after he has learned to read. As
Douglass becomes educated in the rudimentary skills of literacy, he also becomes
educated about the injustice of slavery. Of all the pieces in The Columbian
Orator, Douglass focuses on the master-slave dialogue and the speech on behalf of
Catholic emancipation. These pieces help Douglass to articulate why slavery is wrong,
both philosophically and politically. The Columbian Orator, then, becomes a symbol not
only of human rights, but also of the power of eloquence and articulation. To some
extent, Douglass sees his own lifes work as an attempt to replicate The Columbian


U PON MEETING HARRIET BEECHER STOWE for the first time, Abraham Lincoln
reportedly said, So this is the little lady who made this big war. Stowe was little
under five feet tallbut what she lacked in height, she made up for in influence and
success. Uncle Toms Cabin became one of the most widely read and deeply penetrating
books of its time. It sold hundreds of thousands of copies and was translated into
numerous languages. Many historians have credited the novel with contributing to the
outbreak of the Civil War.
The daughter of an eminent New England preacher, Stowe was born into a family of
eccentric, intelligent people. As a child, she learned Latin and wrote a childrens
geography book, both before she was ten years old. Throughout her life, she remained
deeply involved in religious movements, feminist causes, and the most divisive political
and moral issue of her time: the abolition of slavery.
Stowe grew up in the Northeast but lived for a time in Cincinnati, which enabled her to
see both sides of the slavery debate without losing her abolitionists perspective.
Cincinnati was evenly split for and against abolition, and Stowe wrote satirical pieces
on the subject for several local papers there. She often wrote pieces under pseudonyms
and with contrasting styles, and one can see a similar attention to voice in Uncle Toms
Cabin, in which dialects and patterns of speech contrast among characters. Though
Stowe absorbed a great deal of information about slavery during her Cincinnati years,
she nonetheless conducted extensive research before writing Uncle Toms Cabin. She
wrote to Frederick Douglass and others for help in creating a realistic picture of slavery
in the Deep South. Her black cook and household servants also helped by telling her
stories of their slave days.
Stowes main goal with Uncle Toms Cabin was to convince her large Northern
readership of the necessity of ending slavery. Most immediately, the novel served as a
response to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which made it illegal to give
aid or assistance to a runaway slave. Under this legislation, Southern slaves who
escaped to the North had to flee to Canada in order to find real freedom. With her book,
Stowe created a sort of expos that revealed the horrors of Southern slavery to people in
the North. Her radical position on race relations, though, was informed by a deep
religiosity. Stowe continually emphasizes the importance of Christian love in
eradicating oppression. She also works in her feminist beliefs, showing women as
equals to men in intelligence, bravery, and spiritual strength. Indeed, women dominate
the books moral code, proving vital advisors to their husbands, who often need help in
seeing through convention and popular opinion.
Uncle Toms Cabin was published in episodes in the National Era in 1851and 1852,
then published in its entirety on March 20, 1852. It sold 10,000copies in its first week
and 300,000 by the end of the year, astronomical numbers for the mid-nineteenth
century. Today, analysis of both the books conception and reception proves helpful in
our understanding of the Civil War era. Within the text itself, the reader finds insights
into the mind of a Christian, feminist abolitionist. For example, in the arguments Stowe
uses, the reader receives a glimpse into the details of the slavery debate. Looking
beyond the text to its impact on its society, the reader gains an understanding of the
historical forces contributing to the outbreak of war.
Plot Overview

H AVING RUN UP LARGE DEBTS, a Kentucky farmer named Arthur Shelby faces the
prospect of losing everything he owns. Though he and his wife, Emily Shelby, have a
kindhearted and affectionate relationship with their slaves, Shelby decides to raise
money by selling two of his slaves to Mr. Haley, a coarse slave trader. The slaves in
question are Uncle Tom, a middle-aged man with a wife and children on the farm, and
Harry, the young son of Mrs. Shelbys maid Eliza. When Shelby tells his wife about his
agreement with Haley, she is appalled because she has promised Eliza that Shelby
would not sell her son.
However, Eliza overhears the conversation between Shelby and his wife and, after
warning Uncle Tom and his wife, Aunt Chloe, she takes Harry and flees to the North,
hoping to find freedom with her husband George in Canada. Haley pursues her, but two
other Shelby slaves alert Eliza to the danger. She miraculously evades capture by
crossing the half-frozen Ohio River, the boundary separating Kentucky from the North.
Haley hires a slave hunter named Loker and his gang to bring Eliza and Harry back to
Kentucky. Eliza and Harry make their way to a Quaker settlement, where the Quakers
agree to help transport them to safety. They are joined at the settlement by George, who
reunites joyously with his family for the trip to Canada.
Meanwhile, Uncle Tom sadly leaves his family and Masr George, Shelbys young son
and Toms friend, as Haley takes him to a boat on the Mississippi to be transported to a
slave market. On the boat, Tom meets an angelic little white girl named Eva, who
quickly befriends him. When Eva falls into the river, Tom dives in to save her, and her
father, Augustine St. Clare, gratefully agrees to buy Tom from Haley. Tom travels with
the St. Clares to their home in New Orleans, where he grows increasingly invaluable to
the St. Clare household and increasingly close to Eva, with whom he shares a devout
Up North, George and Eliza remain in flight from Loker and his men. When Loker
attempts to capture them, George shoots him in the side, and the other slave hunters
retreat. Eliza convinces George and the Quakers to bring Loker to the next settlement,
where he can be healed. Meanwhile, in New Orleans, St. Clare discusses slavery with
his cousin Ophelia, who opposes slavery as an institution but harbors deep prejudices
against blacks. St. Clare, by contrast, feels no hostility against blacks but tolerates
slavery because he feels powerless to change it. To help Ophelia overcome her bigotry,
he buys Topsy, a young black girl who was abused by her past master and arranges for
Ophelia to begin educating her.
After Tom has lived with the St. Clares for two years, Eva grows very ill. She slowly
weakens, then dies, with a vision of heaven before her. Her death has a profound effect
on everyone who knew her: Ophelia resolves to love the slaves, Topsy learns to trust
and feel attached to others, and St. Clare decides to set Tom free. However, before he
can act on his decision, St. Clare is stabbed to death while trying to settle a brawl. As he
dies, he at last finds God and goes to be reunited with his mother in heaven.
St. Clares cruel wife, Marie, sells Tom to a vicious plantation owner named Simon
Legree. Tom is taken to rural Louisiana with a group of new slaves, including
Emmeline, whom the demonic Legree has purchased to use as a sex slave, replacing his
previous sex slave Cassy. Legree takes a strong dislike to Tom when Tom refuses to
whip a fellow slave as ordered. Tom receives a severe beating, and Legree resolves to
crush his faith in God. Tom meets Cassy, and hears her story. Separated from her
daughter by slavery, she became pregnant again but killed the child because she could
not stand to have another child taken from her.

Around this time, with the help of Tom Lokernow a changed man after being healed
by the QuakersGeorge, Eliza, and Harry at last cross over into Canada from Lake Erie
and obtain their freedom. In Louisiana, Toms faith is sorely tested by his hardships, and
he nearly ceases to believe. He has two visions, howeverone of Christ and one of Eva
which renew his spiritual strength and give him the courage to withstand Legrees
torments. He encourages Cassy to escape. She does so, taking Emmeline with her, after
she devises a ruse in which she and Emmeline pretend to be ghosts. When Tom refuses
to tell Legree where Cassy and Emmeline have gone, Legree orders his overseers to
beat him. When Tom is near death, he forgives Legree and the overseers. George Shelby
arrives with money in hand to buy Toms freedom, but he is too late. He can only watch
as Tom dies a martyrs death.
Taking a boat toward freedom, Cassy and Emmeline meet George Harriss sister and
travel with her to Canada, where Cassy realizes that Eliza is her long-lost daughter. The
newly reunited family travels to France and decides to move to Liberia, the African
nation created for former American slaves. George Shelby returns to the Kentucky farm,
where, after his fathers death, he sets all the slaves free in honor of Toms memory. He
urges them to think on Toms sacrifice every time they look at his cabin and to lead a
pious Christian life, just as Tom did.
Analysis of Major Characters
Uncle Tom
History has not been kind to Uncle Tom, the hero of Uncle Toms Cabin and one of the
most popular figures of nineteenth-century American fiction. After its initial burst of
sensational popularity and influence, Uncle Toms Cabin fell into neglect. Its circulation
declined following the end of the Civil War and Stowes death, and by the mid-1900s,
the book was virtually out of print. Not until the early 1960s, when the Civil Rights
Movement reawakened an interest in anti-slavery fiction, did the novel again become
widely read. More than a hundred years after its initial publication, however, Uncle
Toms Cabinstood as a testament to a past set of standards and expectations. The values
and attributes that seemed admirable in its characters in 1852 frequently appeared
incomprehensible and even contemptible to twentieth-century readers. In particular, the
passive acceptance of slavery practiced by the novels title character seemed
horrendously out of line with the resolve and strength of modern black Civil Rights
crusaders. The term Uncle Tom became an insult, conjuring an image of an old black
man eager to please his white masters and happy to accept his own position of
Although modern readers criticisms hold some validity, the notion of an Uncle Tom
contains generalizations not found within the actual character in the novel. First, Tom is
not an old man. The novel states that he is eight years older than Shelby, which probably
places him in his late forties at the start of the novel. Moreover, Tom does not accept his
position of inferiority with happiness. Toms passivity owes not to stupidity or to
contentment with his position, but to his deep religious values, which impel him to love
everyone and selflessly endure his trials. Indeed, Toms central characteristic in the
novel is this religiosity, his strength of faith. Everywhere Tom goes in the novel, he
manages to spread some of the love and goodwill of his religious beliefs, helping to
alleviate the pain of slavery and enhance the hope of salvation. And while this
religiosity translates into a selfless passivity on Toms part, it also translates into a
policy of warm encouragement of others attempts at freedom. Thus, he supports Elizas
escape, as well as that of Cassy and Emmeline from the Legree plantation. Moreover,

while Tom may not actively seek his own freedom, he practices a kind of resistance in
his passivity. When Legree orders him to beat the slave girl in Chapter XXXIII, he
refuses, standing firm in his values. He will submit to being beaten for his beliefs, but
he will not capitulate or run away.
Moreover, even in recognizing Toms passivity in the novel, and Stowes approving
treatment of it, one should note that Stowe does not present this behavior as a model
of black behavior, but as a heroic model of behavior that should be practiced by
everyone, black and white. Stowe makes it very clear that if the villainous white
slaveholders of the novel were to achieve Toms selfless Christian love for others,
slavery would be impossible, and Toms death never would have happened. Because
Stowe believes that a transformation through Christian love must occur before slavery
can be abolished successfully, she holds up Toms death as nobler than any escape, in
that it provides an example for others and offers the hope of a more generalized
salvation. Through this death, moreover, Tom becomes a Christ figure, a radical role for
a black character to play in American fiction in1852. Toms death proves Legrees
fundamental moral and personal inferiority, and provides the motivating force behind
George Shelbys decision to free all the slaves. By practicing selflessness and loving his
enemy, Tom becomes a martyr and affects social change. Although contemporary
society finds its heroes in active agents of social change and tends to discourage
submissiveness, Stowe meant for Tom to embody noble heroic tendencies of his own.
She portrayed his passivity as a virtue unconnected to his minority status. Within the
world of Uncle Toms Cabin, Tom is presented as more than a black herohe is
presented as a hero transcending race.
Ophelia St. Clare
Probably the most complex female character in the novel, Ophelia deserves special
attention from the reader because she is treated as a surrogate for Stowes intended
audience. It is as if Stowe conceived an imaginary picture of her intended reader, then
brought that reader into the book as a character. Ophelia embodies what Stowe
considered a widespread Northern problem: the white person who opposes slavery on a
theoretical level but feels racial prejudice and hatred in the presence of an actual black
slave. Ophelia detests slavery, but she considers it almost necessary for blacks, against
whom she harbors a deep-seated prejudiceshe does not want them to touch her. Stowe
emphasizes that much of Ophelias racial prejudice stems from unfamiliarity and
ignorance rather than from actual experience-based hatred. Because Ophelia has seldom
spent time in the presence of slaves, she finds them uncomfortably alien.
However, Ophelia is one of the only characters in Uncle Toms Cabin who develops as
the story progresses. Once St. Clare puts Topsy in her care, Ophelia begins to have
increased contact with a slave. At first she tries to teach Topsy out of a sense of mere
duty. But Stowe suggests that duty alone will not eradicate slaveryabolitionists must
act out of love. Evas death proves the crucial catalyst in Ophelias transformation, and
she comes to love Topsy as a human being, overcoming her racial prejudice and offering
a model to Stowes Northern readers.
Simon Legree
Although largely a uniformly evil villain, Simon Legree does possess some
psychological depth as a character. He has been deeply affected by the death of his
angelic mother and seems to show some legitimate affection for Cassy. Nonetheless,
Legrees main purpose in the book is as a foil to Uncle Tom, and as an effective picture
of slavery at its worst. Often associated with firelight and flames, Legree demonstrates
literally infernal qualities, and his devilishness provides an effective contrast with the

angelic qualities of his passive slave. Legrees demoniacally evil ways also play an
important role in shaping the end of the book along the lines of the traditional Christian
narrative. Above all, Legree desires to break Toms religious faith and to see him
capitulate to doubt and sin. In the end, although Tom dies and Legree survives, the evil
that Legree stands for has been destroyed. Tom dies loving the men who kill him,
proving that his faith prevails over Legrees evil.
Themes, Motifs & Symbols
Uncle Toms Cabin was written after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of1850,
which made it illegal for anyone in the United States to offer aid or assistance to a
runaway slave. The novel seeks to attack this law and the institution it protected,
ceaselessly advocating the immediate emancipation of the slaves and freedom for all
people. Each of Stowes scenes, while serving to further character and plot, also serves,
without exception, to persuade the readerespecially the Northern reader of Stowes
timethat slavery is evil, un-Christian, and intolerable in a civil society.
For most of the novel, Stowe explores the question of slavery in a fairly mild setting, in
which slaves and masters have seemingly positive relationships. At the Shelbys house,
and again at the St. Clares, the slaves have kindly masters who do not abuse or mistreat
them. Stowe does not offer these settings in order to show slaverys evil as conditional.
She seeks to expose the vices of slavery even in its best-case scenario. Though Shelby
and St. Clare possess kindness and intelligence, their ability to tolerate slavery renders
them hypocritical and morally weak. Even under kind masters, slaves suffer, as we see
when a financially struggling Shelby guiltily destroys Toms family by selling Tom, and
when the fiercely selfish Marie, by demanding attention be given to herself, prevents the
St. Clare slaves from mourning the death of her own angelic daughter, Eva. A common
contemporary defense of slavery claimed that the institution benefited the slaves
because most masters acted in their slaves best interest. Stowe refutes this argument
with her biting portrayals, insisting that the slaves best interest can lie only in obtaining
In the final third of the book, Stowe leaves behind the pleasant veneer of life at the
Shelby and St. Clare houses and takes her reader into the Legree plantation, where the
evil of slavery appears in its most naked and hideousform. This harsh and barbaric
setting, in which slaves suffer beatings, sexual abuse, and even murder, introduces the
power of shock into Stowes argument. If slavery is wrong in the best of cases, in the
worst of cases it is nightmarish and inhuman. In the books structural progression
between pleasant and hellish plantations, we can detect Stowes rhetorical methods.
First she deflates the defense of the pro-slavery reader by showing the evil of the best
kind of slavery. She then presents her own case against slavery by showing the shocking
wickedness of slavery at its worst.
The Incompatibility of Slavery & Christian Values
Writing for a predominantly religious, predominantly Protestant audience, Stowe takes
great pains to illustrate the fact that the system of slavery and the moral code of
Christianity oppose each other. No Christian, she insists, should be able to tolerate
slavery. Throughout the novel, the more religious a character is, the more he or she
objects to slavery. Eva, the most morally perfect white character in the novel, fails to
understand why anyone would see a difference between blacks and whites. In contrast,
the morally revolting, nonreligious Legree practices slavery almost as a policy of

deliberate blasphemy and evil. Christianity, in Stowes novel, rests on a principle of

universal love. If all people were to put this principle into practice, Stowe insists, it
would be impossible for one segment of humanity to oppress and enslave another. Thus,
not only are Christianity and slavery incompatible, but Christianity can actually be used
to fight slavery.
The slave hunter Tom Loker learns this lesson after his life is spared by the slaves he
tried to capture, and after being healed by the generous-hearted and deeply religious
Quakers. He becomes a changed man. Moreover, Uncle Tom ultimately triumphs over
slavery in his adherence to Christs command to love thine enemy. He refuses to
compromise his Christian faith in the face of the many trials he undergoes at Legrees
plantation. When he is beaten to death by Legree and his men, he dies forgiving them.
In this way, Tom becomes a Christian martyr, a model for the behavior of both whites
and blacks. The story of his life both exposes the evil of slaveryits incompatibility
with Christian virtueand points the way to its transformation through Christian love.
The Moral Power of Women
Although Stowe wrote Uncle Toms Cabin before the widespread growth of the
womens rights movement of the late 1800s, the reader can nevertheless regard the book
as a specimen of early feminism. The text portrays women as morally conscientious,
committed, and courageousindeed, often as more morally conscientious, committed,
and courageous than men. Stowe implies a parallel between the oppression of blacks
and the oppression of women, yet she expresses hope for the oppressed in her
presentation of women as effectively influencing their husbands. Moreover, she shows
how this show of strength by one oppressed group can help to alleviate the oppression
of the other. White women can use their influence to convince their husbandsthe
people with voting rightsof the evil of slavery.
Throughout the novel, the reader sees many examples of idealized womanhood, of
perfect mothers and wives who attempt to find salvation for their morally inferior
husbands or sons. Examples include Mrs. Bird, St. Clares mother, Legrees mother,
and, to a lesser extent, Mrs. Shelby. The text also portrays black women in a very
positive light. Black women generally prove strong, brave, and capable, as seen
especially in the character of Eliza. In the cases where women do not act morallysuch
as Prue in her drunkenness or Cassy with her infanticide, the womens sins are
presented as illustrating slaverys evil influence rather than the womens own
immorality. Not all women appear as bolsters to the books moral code: Marie acts petty
and mean, and Ophelia begins the novel with many prejudices. Nonetheless, the book
seems to argue the existence of a natural female sense of good and evil, pointing to an
inherent moral wisdom in the gender as a whole and encouraging the use of this wisdom
as a force for social change.
Christ Figures
As befits its religious preoccupation, the novel presents two instances of a sacrificial
death linked to Christs. Eva and Tom, the two most morally perfect characters in the
novel, both die in atmospheres of charged religious belief, and both die, in a sense, to
achieve salvation for others. Evas death leads to St. Clares deathbed conversion to
Christianity and to Ophelias recognition and denunciation of her own racial prejudice.
Toms death leads to Emmeline and Cassys escape and to the freedom of all the slaves
on the Shelby farm in Kentucky. Both Tom and Eva are explicitly compared to Christ:
Ophelia says that Eva resembles Jesus, and the narrator depicts Tom carrying his cross

behind Jesus. This motif of Christ-like sacrifice and death enables Stowe to underscore
her basic point about Christian goodness while holding up models of moral perfection
for her reader to emulate. It also enables her to create the emotionally charged,
sentimental death scenes popular in nineteenth-century literature.
The Supernatural
Several supernatural instances of divine intervention in the novel suggest that a higher
order exists to oppose slavery. For instance, when Eliza leaps over the Ohio river,
jumping rapidly between blocks of ice without fear or pain, the text tells us that she has
been endowed with a strength such as God gives only to the desperate, facilitating her
escape from oppression. Similarly, when Toms faith begins to lapse at the Legree
plantation, he is visited by religious visions that restore it, thus sustaining him in his
passive resistance of Legree. Before Eva dies, she glimpses a view of heaven and
experiences a miraculous presentiment of her own death; these occurrences reinforce
Evas purity and add moral authority to her anti-slavery stance.
Instances of supernaturalism thus support various characters in their efforts to resist or
fight slavery. But they also serve to thwart other characters in their efforts to practice
slavery. Thus, as Legree pursues his oppression of Tom, he has an upsetting vision of his
dead mother and becomes temporarily paralyzed by an apparition of a ghost in the fog.
The fear caused by this apparition weakens Legree to the point that Cassy and
Emmeline can trick him into believing that ghosts haunt the garret. This ploy enables
them to escape.
Uncle Toms Cabin
Near the end of the book, after George Shelby frees his slaves, he tells them that, when
they look at Uncle Toms cabin, they should remember their freedom and dedicate
themselves to leading a Christian life like Uncle Toms. The sight of Uncle Toms cabin
on George Shelbys property serves as a persistent reminder to him of the sufferings
Tom experienced as a slave. The cabin also becomes a metaphor for Uncle Toms
willingness to be beaten and even killed rather than harm or betray his fellow slaves
his willingness to suffer and die rather than go against Christian values of love and
loyalty. The image of the cabin thus neatly encapsulates the main themes of the book,
signifying both the destructive power of slavery and the ability of Christian love to
overcome it.
Elizas Leap
The scene of Elizas leap across the half-frozen Ohio river constitutes the most famous
episode in Uncle Toms Cabin. The scene also serves as an important metaphor. The leap
from the southern to the northern bank of the river symbolizes in one dramatic moment
the process of leaving slavery for freedom. Indeed, Elizas leap from one bank to the
next literally constitutes a leap from the slave-holding states to the non-slave-holding
states, as the Ohio River served as the legally recognized divide between South and
North. The dangers Eliza faces in her leap, and the courage she requires to execute it
successfully, represent the more general instances of peril and heroism involved in any
slaves journey to freedom.
Uncle Toms Cabin uses the North to represent freedom and the South to represent
slavery and oppression. Obviously the opposition is rooted in history. However, Stowe

embellishes the opposition so as to transform it from literal to literary. Two main stories
dominate the novelthe story of Eliza and George and the story of Uncle Tom. One
story serves as an escape narrative, chronicling Eliza and Georges flight to freedom.
The other story is a slavery narrative, chronicling Uncle Toms descent into increasingly
worse states of oppression. Not surprisingly, the action in the escape narrative moves
increasingly northward, with Canada representing its endpoint and the attainment of
freedom by the escaped slaves. The action in the slavery narrative moves increasingly
southward, with Toms death occurring on Legrees plantation in rural Louisiana, far
into the Deep South. This geographical split represents the wide gulf between freedom
and slavery and plays into Stowes general use of parallelism and contrast in making her
political points.


Summary and Form
This most famous of Whitmans works was one of the original twelve pieces in the 1855
first edition of Leaves of Grass. Like most of the other poems, it too was revised
extensively, reaching its final permutation in 1881. Song of Myself is a sprawling
combination of biography, sermon, and poetic meditation. It is not nearly as heavyhanded in its pronouncements as Starting at Paumanok; rather, Whitman uses symbols
and sly commentary to get at important issues. Song of Myself is composed more of
vignettes than lists: Whitman uses small, precisely drawn scenes to do his work here.
This poem did not take on the title Song of Myself until the 1881 edition. Previous to
that it had been titled Poem of Walt Whitman, an American and, in the 1860, 1867,
and 1871 editions, simply Walt Whitman. The poems shifting title suggests
something of what Whitman was about in this piece. As Walt Whitman, the specific
individual, melts away into the abstract Myself, the poem explores the possibilities for
communion between individuals. Starting from the premise that what I assume you
shall assume Whitman tries to prove that he both encompasses and is indistinguishable
from the universe.
Whitmans grand poem is, in its way, an American epic. Beginning in medias resin
the middle of the poets lifeit loosely follows a quest pattern. Missing me one place
search another, he tells his reader, I stop somewhere waiting for you. In its
catalogues of American life and its constant search for the boundaries of the self Song
of Myself has much in common with classical epic. This epic sense of purpose, though,
is coupled with an almost Keatsian valorization of repose and passive perception. Since
for Whitman the birthplace of poetry is in the self, the best way to learn about poetry is
to relax and watch the workings of ones own mind.
While Song of Myself is crammed with significant detail, there are three key episodes
that must be examined. The first of these is found in the sixth section of the poem. A
child asks the narrator What is the grass? and the narrator is forced to explore his own
use of symbolism and his inability to break things down to essential principles. The
bunches of grass in the childs hands become a symbol of the regeneration in nature. But
they also signify a common material that links disparate people all over the United
States together: grass, the ultimate symbol of democracy, grows everywhere. In the
wake of the Civil War the grass reminds Whitman of graves: grass feeds on the bodies
of the dead. Everyone must die eventually, and so the natural roots of democracy are
therefore in mortality, whether due to natural causes or to the bloodshed of internecine

warfare. While Whitman normally revels in this kind of symbolic indeterminacy, here it
troubles him a bit. I wish I could translate the hints, he says, suggesting that the
boundary between encompassing everything and saying nothing is easily crossed.
The second episode is more optimistic. The famous twenty-ninth bather can be found
in the eleventh section of the poem. In this section a woman watches twenty-eight
young men bathing in the ocean. She fantasizes about joining them unseen, and
describes their semi-nude bodies in some detail. The invisible twenty-ninth bather offers
a model of being much like that of Emersons transparent eyeball: to truly experience
the world one must be fully in it and of it, yet distinct enough from it to have some
perspective, and invisible so as not to interfere with it unduly. This paradoxical set of
conditions describes perfectly the poetic stance Whitman tries to assume. The lavish
eroticism of this section reinforces this idea: sexual contact allows two people to
become one yet not oneit offers a moment of transcendence. As the female spectator
introduced in the beginning of the section fades away, and Whitmans voice takes over,
the eroticism becomes homoeroticism. Again this is not so much the expression of a
sexual preference as it is the longing for communion with every living being and a
connection that makes use of both the body and the soul (although Whitman is certainly
using the homoerotic sincerely, and in other ways too, particularly for shock value).
Having worked through some of the conditions of perception and creation, Whitman
arrives, in the third key episode, at a moment where speech becomes necessary. In the
twenty-fifth section he notes that Speech is the twin of my vision, it is unequal to
measure itself, / It provokes me forever, it says sarcastically, / Walt you contain enough,
why dont you let it out then? Having already established that he can have a
sympathetic experience when he encounters others (I do not ask the wounded person
how he feels, I myself become the wounded person), he must find a way to re-transmit
that experience without falsifying or diminishing it. Resisting easy answers, he later
vows he will never translate [him]self at all. Instead he takes a philosophically more
rigorous stance: What is known I strip away. Again Whitmans position is similar to
that of Emerson, who says of himself, I am the unsettler. Whitman, however, is a poet,
and he must reassemble after unsettling: he must let it out then. Having catalogued a
continent and encompassed its multitudes, he finally decides: I too am not a bit tamed,
I too am untranslatable, / I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. Song
of Myself thus ends with a sounda yawpthat could be described as either pre- or
post-linguistic. Lacking any of the normal communicative properties of language,
Whitmans yawp is the release of the kosmos within him, a sound at the borderline
between saying everything and saying nothing. More than anything, the yawp is an
invitation to the next Walt Whitman, to read into the yawp, to have a sympathetic
experience, to absorb it as part of a new multitude.

This is my letter to the World
Emily Dickinson
This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me The simple News that Nature told With tender Majesty
Her Message is committed
To Hands I cannot see -

For love of Her Sweet countrymen Judge tenderly of Me

Safe in their alabaster chambers

Safe in their alabaster chambers,
Untouched by morning and untouched by noon,
Sleep the meek members of the resurrection.
Rafter of satin, and roof of stone.
Light laughs the breeze in her castle of sunshine;
Babbles the bee in a stolid ear;
Pipe the sweet birds in ignorant cadence,
Ah, what sagacity perished here!
Grand go the years in the crescent above them;
Worlds scoop their arcs, and firmaments row,
Diadems drop and Doges surrender,
Soundless as dots on a disk of snow.

I Taste A Liquor Never Brewed-Emil Dickinson

I taste a liquor never brewed,
From tankards scooped in pearl;
Not all the vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an alcohol!
Inebriate of air am I,
And debauchee of dew,
Reeling, through endless summer days,
From inns of molten blue.
When the landlord turn the drunken bee
Out of the foxglove's door,
When butterflies renounce their drams,
I shall but drink the more!
Till seraphs swing their snowy hats,
To see the little tippler
Leaning against the sun!


I felt a funeral in my brain,
And mourners, to and fro,
Kept treading, treading, till it seemed
That sense was breaking through.
And when they all were seated,
A service like a drum

Kept beating, beating, till I thought

My mind was going numb.
And then I heard them lift a box,
And creak across my soul
With those same boots of lead,
Then space began to toll
As all the heavens were a bell,
And Being but an ear,
And I and silence some strange race,
Wrecked, solitary, here.
And then a plank in reason, broke,
And I dropped down and down-And hit a world at every plunge,
And finished knowing--then--

I heard a Fly buzzwhen I died...

I heard a fly buzz when I died;
The stillness round my form
Was like the stillness in the air
Between the heaves of storm.
The eyes beside had wrung them dry,
And breaths were gathering sure
For that last onset, when the king
Be witnessed in his power.
I willed my keepsakes, signed away
What portion of me I
Could make assignable, and then
There interposed a fly,
With blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz,
Between the light and me;
And then the windows failed, and then
I could not see to see.

The speaker says that she heard a fly buzz as she lay on her deathbed. The room was as
still as the air between the Heaves of a storm. The eyes around her had cried
themselves out, and the breaths were firming themselves for that last Onset, the
moment when, metaphorically, the King / Be witnessedin the Room. The speaker
made a will and Signed away / What portion of me be / Assignable and at that
moment, she heard the fly. It interposed itself With blueuncertain stumbling Buzz
between the speaker and the light; the Windows failed; and then she died (I
could not see to see).

I heard a Fly buzz employs all of Dickinsons formal patterns: trimeter and tetrameter
iambic lines (four stresses in the first and third lines of each stanza, three in the second
and fourth, a pattern Dickinson follows at her most formal); rhythmic insertion of the
long dash to interrupt the meter; and an ABCB rhyme scheme. Interestingly, all the
rhymes before the final stanza are half-rhymes (Room/Storm, firm/Room, be/Fly), while
only the rhyme in the final stanza is a full rhyme (me/see). Dickinson uses this
technique to build tension; a sense of true completion comes only with the speakers
One of Dickinsons most famous poems, I heard a Fly buzz strikingly describes the
mental distraction posed by irrelevant details at even the most crucial momentseven
at the moment of death. The poem then becomes even weirder and more macabre by
transforming the tiny, normally disregarded fly into the figure of death itself, as the flys
wing cuts the speaker off from the light until she cannot see to see. But the fly does
not grow in power or stature; its final severing act is performed With Blueuncertain
stumbling Buzz. This poem is also remarkable for its detailed evocation of a
deathbed scenethe dying persons loved ones steeling themselves for the end, the
dying woman signing away in her will What portion of me be / Assignable (a turn of
phrase that seems more Shakespearean than it does Dickinsonian).

My life had stood

My life had stood--a Loaded Gun-In Corners--till a Day
The Owner passed--identified-And carried Me away-And now We roam in Sovereign Woods-And now We hunt the Doe-And every time I speak for Him-The Mountains straight reply-And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow-It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through-And when at Night--Our good Day done-I guard My Master's Head-'Tis better than the Eider-Duck's
Deep Pillow--to have shared-To foe of His--I'm deadly foe-None stir the second time-On whom I lay a Yellow Eye-Or an emphatic Thumb-Though I than He--may longer live

He longer must--than I-For I have but the power to kill,

Without--the power to die-This poem is an extended metaphor, in which the speakers life becomes a loaded gun,
as defined in the first line. The gun is unused for the first stanza, until its owner
recognizes it and takes it away with him. In the second stanza, the gun and the owner
become closely connected, traveling together through the woods in pursuit of the deer
they are hunting.
Whenever the gun is fired (And every time I speak for him ), its boom is echoed by
the mountainstheir straight reply. Similarly, when the gun is fired (And do I
smile) there is an explosion of light (such cordial light/Upon the Valley glow ),
which illuminates the valley (It is as a Vesuvian face/Had let its pleasure through).
When the owner goes to sleep (And when at Night Our good Day done ), he has
his gun by his bedside to protect him (I guard My Masters Head ), and the gun
prefers this role to sleeping with the master (Tis better than the Edier-Ducks/Deep
Pillow to have shared ). The gun warns that to any enemy of his masters, he will
prove to be very dangerous (To foe of His Im deadly foe ). No one who he is fired
at, that is, who sees his explosion (On whom I lay a Yellow eye ) or who is on the
wrong end when he cocks the gun (Or an emphatic Thumb ), will survive (None stir
the second time ).
The gun will live longer than his master (Though I than He may longer live), but it
is not true living, because he is Without the power to die . It is death which defines
life, thus though he may last longer than his master, his master in the true meaning of
the word will outlive himHe longer must than I .
There are two conventional understandings of the metaphor of this poem. The first is
that the Master is God, and so, picked up by God, the speaker becomes his marksman.
She is his staunch defender, and in fulfilling this role, becomes powerfulshe shares
his voice, acts only at his bidding, and is in some way immortal. In this reading, then,
choosing to serve God is a way to further your own power and existence.
The second conventional reading is that the Master is not God, but a lover. The
speaker only gains agency or power when she is identified by this lover, and carried
away by him. In the second stanza they are fused; they are We, she becomes his voice
and guardian. Her guarding of him, however, is fierce, fueled by a murderous and
possessive fury to such an extent that, though a bed is mentioned, it is not a sexual place
but one of violence, where she guards him jealously. She in fact explicitly states that she
would rather guard him than share the bed with him.
In either case, whether the Master is deity or lover, the central dilemma of the poem is
that of the fusion of the gun and its owner, the force and the agent, the violence and the
perpetrator. This becomes very clear in the second stanza, where the speaker and her
owner fuse together into a We, and this is emphasized further by the anaphora of the
first two lines of that stanza. In addition, the gun, in going off, is communicating for the
masterevery time I speak for Him taking on his voice.
In the fifth stanza, too, the speaker and the owner are almost indistinguishablethe
Yellow Eye, a very human feature, actually refers to the guns explosions, and the
sentence grammatically reads On whom I layan emphatic Thumb, but the thumb is

clearly actually that of the owner, who is cocking the gun. The poems final stanza
makes the two entities distinct again, although it ultimately fuses them in tying their
lives and deaths together, and in making this interdependence complicated enough that
it is nearly impossible to extricate one from the other.
This poem, like so many of Dickinsons, deals with the theme of death, but here,
unusually, it is not death that is powerful, but the ability to die. This shows how
intricately life and death are tied up, and how life cannot exist without death, for while
the gun may longer live than the human master, it never really lives at all Without
the power to die . How closely this last stanza ties everything together is made clear
in the abundant repetition within itlonger, the power to, than, He, and I.

Mark twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) The Adventures of

Huckleberry Finn
Mark twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in the town of Florida, Missouri, in
1835. When he was four years old, his family moved to Hannibal, a town on the
Mississippi River much like the towns depicted in his two most famous novels, The
Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884).
Clemens spent his young life in a fairly affluent family that owned a number of
household slaves. The death of Clemenss father in 1847, however, left the family in
hardship. Clemens left school, worked for a printer, and, in 1851, having finished his
apprenticeship, began to set type for his brother Orions newspaper, the Hannibal
Journal. But Hannibal proved too small to hold Clemens, who soon became a sort of
itinerant printer and found work in a number of American cities, including New York
and Philadelphia.
While still in his early twenties, Clemens gave up his printing career in order to work on
riverboats on the Mississippi. Clemens eventually became a riverboat pilot, and his life
on the river influenced him a great deal. Perhaps most important, the riverboat life
provided him with the pen name Mark Twain, derived from the riverboat leadsmens
signalBy the mark, twainthat the water was deep enough for safe passage. Life
on the river also gave Twain material for several of his books, including the raft scenes
of Huckleberry Finn and the material for his autobiographical Life on the
Mississippi (1883).
Clemens continued to work on the river until 1861, when the Civil War exploded across
America and shut down the Mississippi for travel and shipping. Although Clemens
joined a Confederate cavalry division, he was no ardent Confederate, and when his
division deserted en masse, he did too. He then made his way west with his brother
Orion, working first as a silver miner in Nevada and then stumbling into his true calling,
journalism. In 1863, Clemens began to sign articles with the name Mark Twain.
Throughout the late 1860s and 1870s, Twains articles, stories, memoirs, and novels,
characterized by an irrepressible wit and a deft ear for language and dialect, garnered
him immense celebrity. His novel The Innocents Abroad (1869) was an instant
bestseller, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer(1876) received even greater national
acclaim and cemented Twains position as a giant in American literary circles. As the
nation prospered economically in the postCivil War periodan era that came to be
known as the Gilded Age, an epithet that Twain coinedso too did Twain. His books

were sold door-to-door, and he became wealthy enough to build a large house in
Hartford, Connecticut, for himself and his wife, Olivia, whom he had married in 1870.
Twain began work on Huckleberry Finn, a sequel to Tom Sawyer, in an effort to
capitalize on the popularity of the earlier novel. This new novel took on a more serious
character, however, as Twain focused increasingly on the institution of slavery and the
South. Twain soon set Huckleberry Finn aside, perhaps because its darker tone did not
fit the optimistic sentiments of the Gilded Age. In the early 1880s, however, the
hopefulness of the postCivil War years began to fade. Reconstruction, the political
program designed to reintegrate the defeated South into the Union as a slavery-free
region, began to fail. The harsh measures the victorious North imposed only embittered
the South. Concerned about maintaining power, many Southern politicians began an
effort to control and oppress the black men and women whom the war had freed.
Meanwhile, Twains personal life began to collapse. His wife had long been sickly, and
the couple lost their first son after just nineteen months. Twain also made a number of
poor investments and financial decisions and, in 1891, found himself mired in
debilitating debt. As his personal fortune dwindled, he continued to devote himself to
writing. Drawing from his personal plight and the prevalent national troubles of the day,
he finished a draft of Huckleberry Finn in 1883, and by 1884 had it ready for
publication. The novel met with great public and critical acclaim.
Twain continued to write over the next ten years. He published two more popular
novels, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court (1889) andPuddnhead
Wilson (1894), but went into a considerable decline afterward, never again publishing
work that matched the high standard he had set withHuckleberry Finn. Personal tragedy
also continued to hound Twain: his finances remained troublesome, and within the
course of a few years, his wife and two of his daughters passed away. Twains writing
from this period until the end of his life reflects a depression and a sort of righteous rage
at the injustices of the world. Despite his personal troubles, however, Twain continued
to enjoy immense esteem and fame and continued to be in demand as a public speaker
until his death in 1910.
The story of Huckleberry Finn, however, does not end with the death of its author.
Through the twentieth century, the novel has become famous not merely as the crown
jewel in the work of one of Americas preeminent writers, but also as a subject of
intense controversy. The novel occasionally has been banned in Southern states because
of its steadfastly critical take on the South and the hypocrisies of slavery. Others have
dismissed Huckleberry Finn as vulgar or racist because it uses the word nigger, a term
whose connotations obscure the novels deeper themeswhich are unequivocally
antislaveryand even prevent some from reading and enjoying it altogether. The fact
that the historical context in which Twain wrote made his use of the word insignificant
and, indeed, part of the realism he wanted to createoffers little solace to some
modern readers. Ultimately, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has proved significant
not only as a novel that explores the racial and moral world of its time but also, through
the controversies that continue to surround it, as an artifact of those same moral and
racial tensions as they have evolved to the present day.
Plot Overview
T HE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN opens by familiarizing us with the events of
the novel that preceded it, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Both novels are set in the
town of St. Petersburg, Missouri, which lies on the banks of the Mississippi River. At
the end of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, a poor boy with a drunken bum for a father,

and his friend Tom Sawyer, a middle-class boy with an imagination too active for his
own good, found a robbers stash of gold. As a result of his adventure, Huck gained
quite a bit of money, which the bank held for him in trust. Huck was adopted by the
Widow Douglas, a kind but stifling woman who lives with her sister, the self-righteous
Miss Watson.
As Huckleberry Finn opens, Huck is none too thrilled with his new life of cleanliness,
manners, church, and school. However, he sticks it out at the bequest of Tom Sawyer,
who tells him that in order to take part in Toms new robbers gang, Huck must stay
respectable. All is well and good until Hucks brutish, drunken father, Pap, reappears
in town and demands Hucks money. The local judge, Judge Thatcher, and the Widow
try to get legal custody of Huck, but another well-intentioned new judge in town
believes in the rights of Hucks natural father and even takes the old drunk into his own
home in an attempt to reform him. This effort fails miserably, and Pap soon returns to
his old ways. He hangs around town for several months, harassing his son, who in the
meantime has learned to read and to tolerate the Widows attempts to improve him.
Finally, outraged when the Widow Douglas warns him to stay away from her house, Pap
kidnaps Huck and holds him in a cabin across the river from St. Petersburg.
Whenever Pap goes out, he locks Huck in the cabin, and when he returns home drunk,
he beats the boy. Tired of his confinement and fearing the beatings will worsen, Huck
escapes from Pap by faking his own death, killing a pig and spreading its blood all over
the cabin. Hiding on Jacksons Island in the middle of the Mississippi River, Huck
watches the townspeople search the river for his body. After a few days on the island, he
encounters Jim, one of Miss Watsons slaves. Jim has run away from Miss Watson after
hearing her talk about selling him to a plantation down the river, where he would be
treated horribly and separated from his wife and children. Huck and Jim team up,
despite Hucks uncertainty about the legality or morality of helping a runaway slave.
While they camp out on the island, a great storm causes the Mississippi to flood. Huck
and Jim spy a log raft and a house floating past the island. They capture the raft and loot
the house, finding in it the body of a man who has been shot. Jim refuses to let Huck see
the dead mans face.
Although the island is blissful, Huck and Jim are forced to leave after Huck learns from
a woman onshore that her husband has seen smoke coming from the island and believes
that Jim is hiding out there. Huck also learns that a reward has been offered for Jims
capture. Huck and Jim start downriver on the raft, intending to leave it at the mouth of
the Ohio River and proceed up that river by steamboat to the free states, where slavery
is prohibited. Several days travel takes them past St. Louis, and they have a close
encounter with a gang of robbers on a wrecked steamboat. They manage to escape with
the robbers loot.
During a night of thick fog, Huck and Jim miss the mouth of the Ohio and encounter a
group of men looking for escaped slaves. Huck has a brief moral crisis about concealing
stolen propertyJim, after all, belongs to Miss Watsonbut then lies to the men and
tells them that his father is on the raft suffering from smallpox. Terrified of the disease,
the men give Huck money and hurry away. Unable to backtrack to the mouth of the
Ohio, Huck and Jim continue downriver. The next night, a steamboat slams into their
raft, and Huck and Jim are separated.
Huck ends up in the home of the kindly Grangerfords, a family of Southern aristocrats
locked in a bitter and silly feud with a neighboring clan, the Shepherdsons. The
elopement of a Grangerford daughter with a Shepherdson son leads to a gun battle in
which many in the families are killed. While Huck is caught up in the feud, Jim shows

up with the repaired raft. Huck hurries to Jims hiding place, and they take off down the

A few days later, Huck and Jim rescue a pair of men who are being pursued by armed
bandits. The men, clearly con artists, claim to be a displaced English duke (the duke)
and the long-lost heir to the French throne (the dauphin). Powerless to tell two white
adults to leave, Huck and Jim continue down the river with the pair of aristocrats. The
duke and the dauphin pull several scams in the small towns along the river. Coming into
one town, they hear the story of a man, Peter Wilks, who has recently died and left
much of his inheritance to his two brothers, who should be arriving from England any
day. The duke and the dauphin enter the town pretending to be Wilkss brothers. Wilkss
three nieces welcome the con men and quickly set about liquidating the estate. A few
townspeople become skeptical, and Huck, who grows to admire the Wilks sisters,
decides to thwart the scam. He steals the dead Peter Wilkss gold from the duke and the
dauphin but is forced to stash it in Wilkss coffin. Huck then reveals all to the eldest
Wilks sister, Mary Jane. Hucks plan for exposing the duke and the dauphin is about to
unfold when Wilkss real brothers arrive from England. The angry townspeople hold
both sets of Wilks claimants, and the duke and the dauphin just barely escape in the
ensuing confusion. Fortunately for the sisters, the gold is found. Unfortunately for Huck
and Jim, the duke and the dauphin make it back to the raft just as Huck and Jim are
pushing off.
After a few more small scams, the duke and dauphin commit their worst crime yet: they
sell Jim to a local farmer, telling him Jim is a runaway for whom a large reward is being
offered. Huck finds out where Jim is being held and resolves to free him. At the house
where Jim is a prisoner, a woman greets Huck excitedly and calls him Tom. As Huck
quickly discovers, the people holding Jim are none other than Tom Sawyers aunt and
uncle, Silas and Sally Phelps. The Phelpses mistake Huck for Tom, who is due to arrive
for a visit, and Huck goes along with their mistake. He intercepts Tom between the
Phelps house and the steamboat dock, and Tom pretends to be his own younger brother,
Tom hatches a wild plan to free Jim, adding all sorts of unnecessary obstacles even
though Jim is only lightly secured. Huck is sure Toms plan will get them all killed, but
he complies nonetheless. After a seeming eternity of pointless preparation, during which
the boys ransack the Phelpss house and make Aunt Sally miserable, they put the plan
into action. Jim is freed, but a pursuer shoots Tom in the leg. Huck is forced to get a
doctor, and Jim sacrifices his freedom to nurse Tom. All are returned to the Phelpss
house, where Jim ends up back in chains.
When Tom wakes the next morning, he reveals that Jim has actually been a free man all
along, as Miss Watson, who made a provision in her will to free Jim, died two months
earlier. Tom had planned the entire escape idea all as a game and had intended to pay
Jim for his troubles. Toms Aunt Polly then shows up, identifying Tom and Sid as
Huck and Tom. Jim tells Huck, who fears for his futureparticularly that his father
might reappearthat the body they found on the floating house off Jacksons Island had
been Paps. Aunt Sally then steps in and offers to adopt Huck, but Huck, who has had
enough sivilizing, announces his plan to set out for the West.
Analysis of Major Characters

Huck Finn
From the beginning of the novel, Twain makes it clear that Huck is a boy who comes
from the lowest levels of white society. His father is a drunk and a ruffian who
disappears for months on end. Huck himself is dirty and frequently homeless. Although
the Widow Douglas attempts to reform Huck, he resists her attempts and maintains
his independent ways. The community has failed to protect him from his father, and
though the Widow finally gives Huck some of the schooling and religious training that
he had missed, he has not been indoctrinated with social values in the same way a
middle-class boy like Tom Sawyer has been. Hucks distance from mainstream society
makes him skeptical of the world around him and the ideas it passes on to him.
Hucks instinctual distrust and his experiences as he travels down the river force him to
question the things society has taught him. According to the law, Jim is Miss Watsons
property, but according to Hucks sense of logic and fairness, it seems right to help
Jim. Hucks natural intelligence and his willingness to think through a situation on its
own merits lead him to some conclusions that are correct in their context but that would
shock white society. For example, Huck discovers, when he and Jim meet a group of
slave-hunters, that telling a lie is sometimes the right course of action.
Because Huck is a child, the world seems new to him. Everything he encounters is an
occasion for thought. Because of his background, however, he does more than just apply
the rules that he has been taughthe creates his own rules. Yet Huck is not some kind
of independent moral genius. He must still struggle with some of the preconceptions
about blacks that society has ingrained in him, and at the end of the novel, he shows
himself all too willing to follow Tom Sawyers lead. But even these failures are part of
what makes Huck appealing and sympathetic. He is only a boy, after all, and therefore
fallible. Imperfect as he is, Huck represents what anyone is capable of becoming: a
thinking, feeling human being rather than a mere cog in the machine of society.
Jim, Hucks companion as he travels down the river, is a man of remarkable intelligence
and compassion. At first glance, Jim seems to be superstitious to the point of idiocy, but
a careful reading of the time that Huck and Jim spend on Jacksons Island reveals that
Jims superstitions conceal a deep knowledge of the natural world and represent an
alternate form of truth or intelligence. Moreover, Jim has one of the few healthy,
functioning families in the novel. Although he has been separated from his wife and
children, he misses them terribly, and it is only the thought of a permanent separation
from them that motivates his criminal act of running away from Miss Watson. On the
river, Jim becomes a surrogate father, as well as a friend, to Huck, taking care of him
without being intrusive or smothering. He cooks for the boy and shelters him from some
of the worst horrors that they encounter, including the sight of Paps corpse, and, for a
time, the news of his fathers passing.
Some readers have criticized Jim as being too passive, but it is important to remember
that he remains at the mercy of every other character in this novel, including even the
poor, thirteen-year-old Huck, as the letter that Huck nearly sends to Miss Watson
demonstrates. Like Huck, Jim is realistic about his situation and must find ways of
accomplishing his goals without incurring the wrath of those who could turn him in. In
this position, he is seldom able to act boldly or speak his mind. Nonetheless, despite
these restrictions and constant fear, Jim consistently acts as a noble human being and a
loyal friend. In fact, Jim could be described as the only real adult in the novel, and the
only one who provides a positive, respectable example for Huck to follow.

Tom Sawyer
Tom is the same age as Huck and his best friend. Whereas Hucks birth and upbringing
have left him in poverty and on the margins of society, Tom has been raised in relative
comfort. As a result, his beliefs are an unfortunate combination of what he has learned
from the adults around him and the fanciful notions he has gleaned from reading
romance and adventure novels. Tom believes in sticking strictly to rules, most of
which have more to do with style than with morality or anyones welfare. Tom is thus
the perfect foil for Huck: his rigid adherence to rules and precepts contrasts with Hucks
tendency to question authority and think for himself.
Although Toms escapades are often funny, they also show just how disturbingly and
unthinkingly cruel society can be. Tom knows all along that Miss Watson has died and
that Jim is now a free man, yet he is willing to allow Jim to remain a captive while he
entertains himself with fantastic escape plans. Toms plotting tortures not only Jim, but
Aunt Sally and Uncle Silas as well. In the end, although he is just a boy like Huck and is
appealing in his zest for adventure and his unconscious wittiness, Tom embodies what a
young, well-to-do white man is raised to become in the society of his time: self-centered
with dominion over all.
Themes, Motifs & Symbols
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Racism and Slavery
Although Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn two decades after the Emancipation
Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, Americaand especially the Southwas
still struggling with racism and the aftereffects of slavery. By the early 1880s,
Reconstruction, the plan to put the United States back together after the war and
integrate freed slaves into society, had hit shaky ground, although it had not yet failed
outright. As Twain worked on his novel, race relations, which seemed to be on a
positive path in the years following the Civil War, once again became strained. The
imposition of Jim Crow laws, designed to limit the power of blacks in the South in a
variety of indirect ways, brought the beginning of a new, insidious effort to oppress. The
new racism of the South, less institutionalized and monolithic, was also more difficult to
combat. Slavery could be outlawed, but when white Southerners enacted racist laws or
policies under a professed motive of self-defense against newly freed blacks, far fewer
people, Northern or Southern, saw the act as immoral and rushed to combat it.
Although Twain wrote the novel after slavery was abolished, he set it several decades
earlier, when slavery was still a fact of life. But even by Twains time, things had not
necessarily gotten much better for blacks in the South. In this light, we might read
Twains depiction of slavery as an allegorical representation of the condition of blacks
in the United States even after the abolition of slavery. Just as slavery places the noble
and moral Jim under the control of white society, no matter how degraded that white
society may be, so too did the insidious racism that arose near the end of Reconstruction
oppress black men for illogical and hypocritical reasons. In Huckleberry Finn, Twain,
by exposing the hypocrisy of slavery, demonstrates how racism distorts the oppressors
as much as it does those who are oppressed. The result is a world of moral confusion, in
which seemingly good white people such as Miss Watson and Sally Phelps express no
concern about the injustice of slavery or the cruelty of separating Jim from his family.
Intellectual and Moral Education

By focusing on Hucks education, Huckleberry Finn fits into the tradition of the
bildungsroman: a novel depicting an individuals maturation and development. As a
poor, uneducated boy, for all intents and purposes an orphan, Huck distrusts the morals
and precepts of the society that treats him as an outcast and fails to protect him from
abuse. This apprehension about society, and his growing relationship with Jim, lead
Huck to question many of the teachings that he has received, especially regarding race
and slavery. More than once, we see Huck choose to go to hell rather than go along
with the rules and follow what he has been taught. Huck bases these decisions on his
experiences, his own sense of logic, and what his developing conscience tells him. On
the raft, away from civilization, Huck is especially free from societys rules, able to
make his own decisions without restriction. Through deep introspection, he comes to his
own conclusions, unaffected by the acceptedand often hypocriticalrules and values
of Southern culture. By the novels end, Huck has learned to read the world around
him, to distinguish good, bad, right, wrong, menace, friend, and so on. His moral
development is sharply contrasted to the character of Tom Sawyer, who is influenced by
a bizarre mix of adventure novels and Sunday-school teachings, which he combines to
justify his outrageous and potentially harmful escapades.
The Hypocrisy of Civilized Society
When Huck plans to head west at the end of the novel in order to escape further
sivilizing, he is trying to avoid more than regular baths and mandatory school
attendance. Throughout the novel, Twain depicts the society that surrounds Huck as
little more than a collection of degraded rules and precepts that defy logic. This faulty
logic appears early in the novel, when the new judge in town allows Pap to keep
custody of Huck. The judge privileges Paps rights to his son as his natural father over
Hucks welfare. At the same time, this decision comments on a system that puts a white
mans rights to his propertyhis slavesover the welfare and freedom of a black
man. In implicitly comparing the plight of slaves to the plight of Huck at the hands of
Pap, Twain implies that it is impossible for a society that owns slaves to be just, no
matter how civilized that society believes and proclaims itself to be. Again and again,
Huck encounters individuals who seem goodSally Phelps, for examplebut who
Twain takes care to show are prejudiced slave-owners. This shaky sense of justice that
Huck repeatedly encounters lies at the heart of societys problems: terrible acts go
unpunished, yet frivolous crimes, such as drunkenly shouting insults, lead to executions.
Sherburns speech to the mob that has come to lynch him accurately summarizes the
view of society Twain gives in Huckleberry Finn: rather than maintain collective
welfare, society instead is marked by cowardice, a lack of logic, and profound
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop
and inform the texts major themes.
Hucks youth is an important factor in his moral education over the course of the novel,
for we sense that only a child is open-minded enough to undergo the kind of
development that Huck does. Since Huck and Tom are young, their age lends a sense of
play to their actions, which excuses them in certain ways and also deepens the novels
commentary on slavery and society. Ironically, Huck often knows better than the adults
around him, even though he has lacked the guidance that a proper family and
community should have offered him. Twain also frequently draws links between Hucks
youth and Jims status as a black man: both are vulnerable, yet Huck, because he is
white, has power over Jim. And on a different level, the silliness, pure joy, and navet

of childhood give Huckleberry Finn a sense of fun and humor. Though its themes are
quite weighty, the novel itself feels light in tone and is an enjoyable read because of this
rambunctious childhood excitement that enlivens the story.
Lies and Cons
Huckleberry Finn is full of malicious lies and scams, many of them coming from the
duke and the dauphin. It is clear that these con mens lies are bad, for they hurt a
number of innocent people. Yet Huck himself tells a number of lies and even cons a few
people, most notably the slave-hunters, to whom he makes up a story about a smallpox
outbreak in order to protect Jim. As Huck realizes, it seems that telling a lie can actually
be a good thing, depending on its purpose. This insight is part of Hucks learning
process, as he finds that some of the rules he has been taught contradict what seems to
be right. At other points, the lines between a con, legitimate entertainment, and
approved social structures like religion are fine indeed. In this light, lies and cons
provide an effective way for Twain to highlight the moral ambiguity that runs through
the novel.
Superstitions and Folk Beliefs
From the time Huck meets him on Jacksons Island until the end of the novel, Jim
spouts a wide range of superstitions and folktales. Whereas Jim initially appears foolish
to believe so unwaveringly in these kinds of signs and omens, it turns out, curiously,
that many of his beliefs do indeed have some basis in reality or presage events to come.
Much as we do, Huck at first dismisses most of Jims superstitions as silly, but
ultimately he comes to appreciate Jims deep knowledge of the world. In this sense,
Jims superstition serves as an alternative to accepted social teachings and assumptions
and provides a reminder that mainstream conventions are not always right.
Parodies of Popular Romance Novels
Huckleberry Finn is full of people who base their lives on romantic literary models and
stereotypes of various kinds. Tom Sawyer, the most obvious example, bases his life and
actions on adventure novels. The deceased Emmeline Grangerford painted weepy
maidens and wrote poems about dead children in the romantic style. The Shepherdson
and Grangerford families kill one another out of a bizarre, overexcited conception of
family honor. These characters proclivities toward the romantic allow Twain a few
opportunities to indulge in some fun, and indeed, the episodes that deal with this subject
are among the funniest in the novel. However, there is a more substantive message
beneath: that popular literature is highly stylized and therefore rarely reflects the reality
of a society. Twain shows how a strict adherence to these romantic ideals is ultimately
dangerous: Tom is shot, Emmeline dies, and the Shepherdsons and Grangerfords end up
in a deadly clash.
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or
The Mississippi River
For Huck and Jim, the Mississippi River is the ultimate symbol of freedom. Alone on
their raft, they do not have to answer to anyone. The river carries them toward freedom:
for Jim, toward the free states; for Huck, away from his abusive father and the
restrictive sivilizing of St. Petersburg. Much like the river itself, Huck and Jim are in
flux, willing to change their attitudes about each other with little prompting. Despite

their freedom, however, they soon find that they are not completely free from the evils
and influences of the towns on the rivers banks. Even early on, the real world intrudes
on the paradise of the raft: the river floods, bringing Huck and Jim into contact with
criminals, wrecks, and stolen goods. Then, a thick fog causes them to miss the mouth of
the Ohio River, which was to be their route to freedom.
As the novel progresses, then, the river becomes something other than the inherently
benevolent place Huck originally thought it was. As Huck and Jim move further south,
the duke and the dauphin invade the raft, and Huck and Jim must spend more time
ashore. Though the river continues to offer a refuge from trouble, it often merely effects
the exchange of one bad situation for another. Each escape exists in the larger context of
a continual drift southward, toward the Deep South and entrenched slavery. In this
transition from idyllic retreat to source of peril, the river mirrors the complicated state
of the South. As Huck and Jims journey progresses, the river, which once seemed a
paradise and a source of freedom, becomes merely a short-term means of escape that
nonetheless pushes Huck and Jim ever further toward danger and destruction.
In the autumn of 1877, Henry James (18431916) heard a piece of gossip from a friend
in Rome about a young American girl traveling with her wealthy but unsophisticated
mother in Europe. The girl had met a handsome Italian of vague identity and no
particular social standing and attempted tointroduce him into the exclusive society of
expatriate Americans in Rome. The incident had ended in a snub of some sort, a small
social check . . . of no great gravity, the exact nature of which James promptly forgot.
Nevertheless, in the margin of the notebook where he recorded the anecdote, he wrote
Dramatise, dramatise! He never knew the young lady in question or heard mention of
her again, but he proceeded to immortalize the idea of her inDaisy Miller.
A native of New York, James had been born into a world of ideas and letters. His father,
an amateur philosopher and theologian who had inherited a considerable fortune,
socialized with all the leading intellectuals of the day. Henrys older brother, William,
would become a key figure in the emerging science of psychology. In 1855, when James
was twelve, the family embarked on a three-year tour of Europe that included London,
Paris, and Geneva. The experience was to have a profound influence on Jamess life and
writing. In addition to European art and culture, the trip exposed him to the erudition of
European society. It also put him in an ideal position to observe the contrasts between
New and Old World values, a conflict that was to appear repeatedly in Jamess fiction as
the international theme.
Daisy Miller was first published in the June and July 1878 issues of the British
magazine Cornhill. It was an instant success, transforming James into an author of
international standing. The novels popularity almost certainly derived from the portrait
at its center, of a nave, overly self-confident, and rather vulgar American girl
attempting to inhabit the rarified atmosphere of European high society.
The postCivil War industrial boom had given rise to a new class of wealthy Americans
for whom the grand tour, an extended trip through Europe, represented the pinnacle of
social and financial success. As a result, Americans were visiting Europe for the first
time in record numbers. However, American manners differed greatly from European

manners, and the Americans were largely ignorant of the customs of Europeans of
comparable social status. Between these two groups lay a third: wealthy American
expatriates whose strict observance of the Old World standards of propriety outdid even
the Europeans.
Daisy Miller, fresh from the high society of Schenectady, New York, neither knows nor
cares about local notions of propriety, and the conflict between her free-spirited
foolishness and the society she offends is at the heart of the novel. Daisy Miller has
been hailed as the first international novel, but it is also an early treatment of another
theme that was to absorb James throughout his career: the phenomenon of the life
unlived. In a novel incorporating this theme, the protagonist, owing to some aspect of
his or her own character, such as an unconscious fear or a lack of passion or feeling, lets
some opportunity for happiness go by and realizes it too late. In Daisy Miller, such a
protagonist is Winterbourne, who spends the entire novel trying to figure out Daisy. In
fact, it has been argued that Daisy Miller isnt really so much about Daisy herself as it is
about Winterbournes wholesale failure to understand her.
Plot Overview
At a hotel in the resort town of Vevey, Switzerland, a young American named
Winterbourne meets a rich, pretty American girl named Daisy Miller, who is traveling
around Europe with her mother and her younger brother, Randolph. Winterbourne, who
has lived in Geneva most of his life, is both charmed and mystified by Daisy, who is
less proper than the European girls he has encountered. She seems wonderfully
spontaneous, if a little crass and uncultivated. Despite the fact that Mrs. Costello, his
aunt, strongly disapproves of the Millers and flatly refuses to be introduced to Daisy,
Winterbourne spends time with Daisy at Vevey and even accompanies her,
unchaperoned, to Chillon Castle, a famous local tourist attraction.
The following winter, Winterbourne goes to Rome, knowing Daisy will be there, and is
distressed to learn from his aunt that she has taken up with a number of well-known
fortune hunters and become the talk of the town. She has one suitor in particular, a
handsome Italian named Mr. Giovanelli, of uncertain background, whose conduct with
Daisy mystifies Winterbourne and scandalizes the American community in Rome.
Among those scandalized is Mrs. Walker, who is at the center of Romes fashionable
Both Mrs. Walker and Winterbourne attempt to warn Daisy about the effect her behavior
is having on her reputation, but she refuses to listen. As Daisy spends increasingly more
time with Mr. Giovanelli, Winterbourne begins to have doubts about her character and
how to interpret her behavior. He also becomes uncertain about the nature of Daisys
relationship with Mr. Giovanelli. Sometimes Daisy tells him they are engaged, and other
times she tells him they are not.
One night, on his way home from a dinner party, Winterbourne passes the Coliseum and
decides to look at it by moonlight, braving the bad night air that is known to cause
Roman fever, which is malaria. He finds Daisy and Mr. Giovanelli there and
immediately comes to the conclusion that she is too lacking in self-respect to bother
about. Winterbourne is still concerned for Daisys health, however, and he reproaches
Giovanelli and urges him to get her safely home.
A few days later, Daisy becomes gravely ill, and she dies soon after. Before dying, she
gives her mother a message to pass on to Winterbourne that indicates that she cared
what he thought about her after all. At the time, he does not understand it, but a year

later, still thinking about Daisy, he tells his aunt that he made a great mistake and has
lived in Europe too long. Nevertheless, he returns to Geneva and his former life.
Analysis of Major Characters
Daisy Miller
Daisy Miller is a wealthy, young, American girl from upstate New York, traveling
around Europe with her mother and younger brother. Daisy is a curious mixture of
traits. She is spirited, independent, and well meaning, but she is also shallow, ignorant,
and provincialalmost laughably so. She offers the opinion that Europe is perfectly
sweet, talks with shameless monotony about the tiresome details of her familys habits
and idiosyncrasies, thinks Winterbourne might know an Englishwoman she met on the
train because they both live in Europe, and wonders if Winterbourne has heard of a little
place called New York. Daisy is also a tiresome flirt. She has no social graces or
conversational gifts, such as charm, wit, and a talent for repartee, and she is really
interested only in manipulating men and making herself the center of attention.
Throughout Daisy Miller, Winterbourne obsesses over the question of whether Daisy is
a nice girl, and Daisys behavior never reveals whether she is or isnt. Winterbourne
accepts that Daisy is vulgar but wonders whether she is innocent, and we never really
find out the truth. Daisy does often seem less than innocentWinterbourne does, after
all, catch her with Mr. Giovanelli late at night at the Coliseum. However, whether such
actions are or are not appropriate is more a matter of social convention than any firm
moral expectation. In the end, the truth we find out about Daisy is only what
Winterbourne thinks is true.
An American who has lived most of his life in Europe, Winterbourne is the type of
Europeanized expatriate that Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker also represent. He is also
closely associated with New England Puritanism: he makes his home in Geneva, the
dark old city at the other end of the lake that James is at pains to identify as the
wellspring of Calvinism, not out of necessity but by choice. In many ways,
Winterbourne is as central a character as Daisy and may very well be the storys true
protagonist. Certainly, he is the novels central consciousness, the character through
whose eyes we see and experience everything.
Early on, we are told that Winterbourne is addicted to observing and analyzing
feminine beauty. However, he does not appear to be a very deep or discriminating
thinker. He spends time with his aunt not because of affection or because he takes
pleasure in her company, but because he has been taught that one must always be
attentive to ones aunt. Winterbourne seems to hold in high regard what Mrs. Costello
tells him, about the Millers as much as anything else. Out loud he defends Daisy, albeit
rather feebly, but the whole novel is, in a sense, the story of Winterbournes attempts
and inability to define Daisy in clear moral terms. Winterbourne is preoccupied with
analyzing Daisys character. He wants to be able to define and categorize her, pin her
down to some known class of woman that he understands. Daisy is a novelty to him.
Her candor and spontaneity charm him, but he is also mystified by her lack of concern
for the social niceties and the rules of propriety that have been laid down by centuries of
European civilization and adopted by the American community in Rome. He befriends
Daisy and tries to save her but ultimately decides that she is morally beyond
Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Americans Abroad
Daisy Miller was one of Jamess earliest treatments of one of the themes for which he
became best known: the expatriate or footloose American abroad. Americans abroad
was a subject very much of the moment in the years after the Civil War. The postwar
boom, the so-called Gilded Age, had given rise to a new class of American
businessman, whose stylish families were eager to make the grand tour and expose
themselves to the art and culture of the Old World. Americans were visiting Europe for
the first time in record numbers, and the clash between the two cultures was a novel and
widespread phenomenon.
James was of two minds about the American character. By temperament, he was more
sympathetic with the European way of life, with its emphasis on culture, education, and
the art of conversation. Like most Europeans, he saw his compatriots as boorish,
undereducated, and absurdly provincial, unaware of a vast and centuries-old world
outside their own new and expanding dominions. However, he was also fascinated by
the poignant innocence of the American national character, with its emphasis on
earnestness rather than artifice. In later novels, such as The Portrait of a Lady and The
American,James would continue to explore the moral implications of an artlessness that,
like Daisys, cannot defend itself against the worldliness and cynicism of a decadent
society based, necessarily, on hypocrisy.
The Sadness and Safety of the Unlived Life
If the American abroad was Jamess signature theme, that of the unlived life was his
almost perpetual subtext. Repeatedly in Jamess novels and stories, characters focus
their attention on an abstraction, an ideal or idea they feel they could figure out or
achieve if only they could devote their spirit or intellectual faculties to it with sufficient
understanding or patience. Again and again, they realize too late that whatever it was
they sought to understand or achieve, whatever they waited for, has passed them by and
that they have wasted their whole lifeor, like Winterbourne, they never fully arrive at
that realization. One way of looking at Daisy Miller is to conclude that the whole issue
of Daisys character is beside the point, a red herring that distracts Winterbourne from
the business of living. In that case, the heart of the novel would be Winterbournes
character, and the fear or lack of passion that causes him to hide from life behind the
ultimately unimportant conundrum of Daisys innocence, or lack thereof.
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop
and inform the texts major themes.
Daisy Miller is a story about gossip couched as a piece of gossip, an anecdote told by a
narrator who not only was not involved in the events described but who doesnt really
care very much about them. The narrator sees the whole incident with detached
amusement, as a pleasant way of diverting his listeners. Daisy Miller originated with a
piece of gossip James had heard from a friend while visiting Rome, but the story had a
nonendingsomeone got snubbed, that was all. James has been criticized for adding the
melodramatic element of Daisys death. In a sense, though, by underselling the
story as a piece of inconsequential gossip, James heightens the poignancy of Daisys
fate. The fact that Daisy dies and no one seems to care much makes her death all the
more sad.

Throughout Daisy Miller, Winterbourne is preoccupied with the question of whether

Daisy is innocent. The word innocent appears repeatedly, always with a different shade
of meaning. Innocent had three meanings in Jamess day. First, it could have meant
ignorant or uninstructed. Daisy is innocent of the art of conversation, for
example. It could also have meant nave, as it does today. Mrs. Costello uses the word
in this sense when she calls Winterbourne too innocent in Chapter 2. Finally, when
Winterbourne protests, twirling his moustache in a sinister fashion, he invokes the third
meaning, not having done harm or wrong.
This third sense is the one that preoccupies Winterbourne as he tries to come to a
decision about Daisy. He initially judges the Millers to be merely very ignorant and
very innocent, and he assesses Daisy as a harmless flirt. As the novel progresses, he
becomes increasingly absorbed in the question of her culpability. He fears she is guilty
not of any particular sex act per se but merely of a vulgar mindset, a lack of concern for
modesty and decency, which would put her beyond his interest or concern. One could
argue that it is the way in which Daisy embodies all the different meanings of
innocence that is her downfall.
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or
Daisy and Randolph
The most frequently noted symbols in Daisy Miller are Daisy herself and her younger
brother, Randolph. Daisy is often seen as representing America: she is young, fresh,
ingenuous, clueless, nave, innocent, well meaning, self-centered, untaught, scornful of
convention, unaware of social distinctions, utterly lacking in any sense of propriety, and
unwilling to adapt to the mores and standards of others. These traits have no fixed moral
content, and nearly all of them can be regarded as either virtues or faults. However,
Randolph is a different matter. He is a thinly veiled comment on the type of the ugly
American tourist: boorish, boastful, and stridently nationalistic.
The Coliseum
The Coliseum is where Daisys final encounter with Winterbourne takes place and
where she contracts the fever that will kill her. It is a vast arena, famous as a site of
gladiatorial games and where centuries of Christian martyrdoms took place. As such, it
is a symbol of sacrificed innocence. When Daisy first sees Winterbourne in the
moonlight, he overhears her telling Giovanelli that he looks at us as one of the old
lions or tigers may have looked at the Christian martyrs! In fact, the Coliseum is, in a
sense, where Winterbourne throws Daisy to the lions and where he decides she has
indeed sacrificed her innocence. It is where he decides to wash his hands of her because
she is not worth saving or even worrying about.
Rome and Geneva
Daisy Millers setting in the capitals of Italy and Switzerland is significant on a number
of levels. Both countries had strong associations with the Romantic poets, whom
Winterbourne greatly admires. Mary Shelleys Frankensteintakes place largely in
Switzerland, and Mary Shelley wrote it during the time that she, Percy Bysshe Shelley,
and Lord Byron sojourned at Lake Geneva. Mary Shelley and John Keats are both
buried in the Protestant Cemetery, which becomes Daisys own final resting place. For
the purposes of Daisy Miller, the two countries represent opposing values embodied by

their capital cities, Rome and Geneva. Geneva was the birthplace of Calvinism, the
fanatical protestant sect that influenced so much of American culture, New England in
particular. Geneva is referred to as the dark old city at the other end of the lake. It is
also Winterbournes chosen place of residence.
Rome had many associations for cultivated people like Winterbourne and Mrs. Costello.
It was a city of contrasts. As a cradle of ancient civilization and the birthplace of the
Renaissance, it represented both glory and corruption, a society whose greatness had
brought about its own destruction. Rome is a city of ruins, which suggest death and
decay. Rome is also a city of sophistication, the Machiavellian mind-set. In a sense,
Rome represents the antithesis of everything Daisy stands forfreshness, youth,
ingenuousness, candor, innocence, and navet.


"Dsire's Baby" characters
Armand Aubigny, owner of L'Abri
Dsire, a foundling, wife of Armand
Madame Valmond, the woman who raised Dsire
Zandrine, a servant at L'Abri
La Blanche, a slave
"Dsire's Baby" time and place
The story takes place in Louisiana before the American Civil War. It is one of the few
stories Kate Chopin sets before the war.
"Dsire's Baby" themes
You can read about finding themes in Kate Chopin's stories and novels on
the Themes page of this site.
When Kate Chopin's "Dsire's Baby" was written and published
The story was written on November 24, 1892, and published in Vogue on January 14,
1893, the first of nineteen Kate Chopin stories that Voguepublished. It was reprinted in
Chopin's collection of stories Bayou Folk in 1894.
Madame Valmond visits LAbri to see Dsire and her new baby, and on the way, she
reminisces about when Dsire was herself a baby. Monsieur had found her asleep at the
gateway of Valmond, and when Dsire awoke, she could do little but cry for Dada.
People believe that a passing band of Texans had abandoned her, but Madame
Valmond believes only that Providence sent her this beautiful, gentle, and affectionate
child because she lacked children of her own.
When Armand Aubigny saw Dsire standing next to the stone pillar of the gateway
eighteen years later, he fell in love with her immediately, although he had known her for
years since first arriving from Paris after his mothers death. Monsieur Valmond
wanted to ensure that Dsires unknown origin was carefully considered, but Armand
did not care because he was so much in love. He decided that if she did not have a
family name, then he would give her his own, and soon they were married.

Madame Valmond has not seen the baby for a month, and she shudders when she visits
LAbri because the place looks so sad without a woman to oversee the Aubigny
household. Armands mother had loved France too much to leave the country and had
lived and died in France, and no woman has since taken over. Meanwhile, Armand is
strict with his workers, and LAbri has lost its easygoing nature.
When Madame Valmond sees Dsire lying beside her baby, she is startled to see the
babys appearance. Speaking in French, Dsire laughs that he has indeed grown
strangely, and she remarks on his hearty cries. However, Madame Valmond observes
the child more closely and uneasily asks about Armands thoughts. Dsire proudly says
that Armand is glad to have a son and that he has softened considerably in his treatment
of the slaves since his marriage and the childs birth. Armand is by nature imperious and
exacting, but she loves him desperately, and he has not frowned since he fell in love
with her.
When the baby is three months old, Dsire is suddenly disturbed by a subtle feeling of
menace, which is marked by a general air of mystery, unannounced visits from
neighbors, and a strange change in her husbands behavior. He begins to avoid her and
treat his slaves badly, and Dsire feels miserable. One afternoon, as she sits in her
room, she looks at her son and at one of the one-fourth black children, who is fanning
her son. The similarity between them dawns upon her, and she tells the other child to
Frightened, she watches her child until Armand enters. She asks him about the child and
asks what it means, and he responds coldly that if the child is not white, then she must
not be white. Desperately, she responds that she is indeed white, with brown hair, gray
eyes, and white skin, but he cruelly tells her that she is as white as their mixed-race
slave La Blanche, and he leaves the room.
Despairing, Dsire writes to Madame Valmond, who tells Dsire that she still loves
her daughter and that Dsire should come back to Valmond with the child. Dsire
presents Madame Valmonds response to Armand, and he tells her to leave. Without
changing, Dsire takes her son from the nurse and walks not to Valmond but to the
deserted bayou, where she disappears. Weeks later, at LAbri, Armand is having his
slaves feed a bonfire. He places a willow cradle and other remnants of his marriage to
Dsire on the pyre, and the last object to burn is a bundle of letters. Among the letters
is an unrelated letter that came from the same drawer, which was sent from his mother
to his father. In the letter, which Armand reads, his mother thanks his father for their
love and thanks God that Armand will never learn that his mother has mixed blood.
Kate Chopin often wrote about subjects that were particularly sensitive during her
lifetime, and many of them still strike a nerve in the United States today. In Dsires
Baby, Chopin offers a compelling critique of the class-based and racial prejudice that
permeated the attitudes of the antebellum South. In addition, through the relationship
between Dsire and Armand, Chopin explores the precarious status of both those
without a family and those of biracial descent. Dsire is unlucky enough to end up on
the wrong side of both of these characteristics, it seems, and in the wrenching latter part
of the tale, she turns her social isolation from a mental and emotional state to a physical
one as she goes across the bayou and disappears from civilization. As in Beyond the
Bayou, the bayou is a symbolic border, but Dsire loses herself by crossing it while
the heroine of Beyond the Bayou gains a new life.

In the nineteenth century, sexual relations between two people of different races, or
miscegenation, bore a distinctly derogatory connotation. As evidenced by the quadroon
slave child who fans Dsires own baby, interracial relations did occur with relative
frequency, but such children often ended up as slaves under the theory that even one
drop of African or black blood made a person black rather than white. At the same
time, many biracial people who happened to inherit pale skin and European rather than
African features were able to assimilate at least temporarily into white society,
passing for white if they chose. In Armands case, he did not even have to hide
because he did not know his status. Some people who passed as white, like Armand,
even successfully entered the Southern ruling class, which was not only putatively
white but also rich from owning plantation lands. Meanwhile, whereas most people fell
on one side of the social divide between black and white, those of mixed descent lived
on the border of social acceptability. Thus, the quadroon boy serving the quadroon
master is ironic but also representative of the biracial group as a demographic sector of
the population.
The second major irony of Chopins story is that although Dsire is probably of
Caucasian blood after all, only she and her innocent baby suffer from the accusation of
miscegenation, whereas the mixed-race Armand Aubigny will probably not face any
consequences for either his racial descent or his cruelty to his wife. This patently unjust
state of affairs occurs not only because Armand will probably take the secret to his
grave but also because, as Chopin informs us in the third paragraph, Dsires status is
as much a question of familial class as of racial class. Although her presumed European
ancestry places her above the slave class in the hierarchy of Louisiana, being white is
not sufficient to place her in a class equal to that of the Aubignys. Note also that
although Armand can echo his father in forgiving a beloved woman for her societal
status, Armand can never be his fathers equal because he cannot forgive her presumed
racial heritage. By contrast, Madame Valmonde is portrayed as loving, kind, and
eminently ethical in her refusal to condemn Dsire for her questionable blood.
In addition to hinting at Armands family secret, Chopin hints at his cruelty toward his
slaves and creates an obvious parallel between his treatment of them and of his wife,
who was by the legal code of the era barely higher than property. Whereas his father is
described as easy-going and indulgent, Armand lives too strictly by the social mores
of his era and not enough by a true moral code. Despite her name, Dsire is only
desired insofar as his standards are exceeded, and when he burns their wedding
corbeille, it is the physical manifestation of the destruction of their wedding vows, in
which he presumably would have promised to cherish and care for her until death. In
this manner, his seemingly ardent love shows itself to be shallow and undeserving.
Chopin foreshadows the final revelation of Armands biracial descent throughout the
story as she consistently associates Dsire with white imagery while emphasizing
Armands darkness. When Dsire first appears physically within the story, she is
resting in soft white muslin and laces, and she continues to wear thin white
garment[s] throughout the narrative. When she asks Armand if she should go, Chopin
describes her as silent, white, [and] motionless, and as she herself mentions, her hand
is less dark than that of her husband. By contrast, Armand has a dark, handsome face,
and consequently the reversal is not necessarily a surprise when he reads his mothers
letter and discovers the truth about the source of his sons African blood.


American novelist, short story writer, poet and journalist. Prolific throughout his short
life, he wrote notable works in the Realist tradition as well as early examples of
American Naturalism and Impressionism. He is recognized by modern critics as one of
the most innovative writers of his generation.
The eighth surviving child of Methodist Protestant parents, Crane began writing at the
age of four and had published several articles by the age of 16. Having little interest in
university studies, he left school in 1891 and began work as a reporter and writer.
Crane's first novel was the 1893 Bowery tale Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, which critics
generally consider the first work of American literary Naturalism. He won international
acclaim for his 1895 Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage, which he wrote
without any battle experience.
In 1896, Crane endured a highly publicized scandal after acting as witness for a
suspected prostitute. Late that year he accepted an offer to cover the Spanish-American
War as a war correspondent. As he waited in Jacksonville, Florida for passage to Cuba,
he met Cora Taylor, the madam of a brothel, with whom he would have a lasting
relationship. While en route to Cuba, Crane's ship sank off the coast of Florida, leaving
him adrift for several days in a dinghy. His ordeal was later described in "The Open
Boat". During the final years of his life, he covered conflicts in Greece and lived in
England with Cora, where he befriended writers such as Joseph Conrad and H. G.
Wells. Plagued by financial difficulties and ill health, Crane died of tuberculosis in a
Black Forest sanatorium at the age of 28.
At the time of his death, Crane had become an important figure in American literature.
He was nearly forgotten, however, until two decades later when critics revived interest
in his life and work. Stylistically, Crane's writing is characterized by vivid intensity,
distinctive dialects, and irony. Common themes involve fear, spiritual crises and social
isolation. Although recognized primarily for The Red Badge of Courage, which has
become an American classic, Crane is also known for short stories such as "The Open
Boat", "The Blue Hotel", "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky", and "The Monster". His
writing made a deep impression on 20th century writers, most prominent among them
Ernest Hemingway, and is thought to have inspired the Modernists and the Imagists
Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind.
Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die.
The unexplained glory flies above them,
Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom
A field where a thousand corpses lie.

Do not weep, babe, for war is kind.

Because your father tumbled in the yellow trenches,
Raged at his breast, gulped and died,
Do not weep.
War is kind. Swift blazing flag of the regiment,
Eagle with crest of red and gold,
These men were born to drill and die.
Point for them the virtue of slaughter,
Make plain to them the excellence of killing
And a field where a thousand corpses lie.
Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep.
War is kind
Irony in Stephen Cranes War Is Kind
Most poets use their unique gift of writing poetry to relieve stress or just to document
their emotions towards a given subject. Others use it as a key to bring about social
change and voice their opinion on modern events. This is the case in Stephen Cranes
War Is Kind. The speaker in the poem uses irony as a strategy to convince the reader of
the harsh reality of war.
In the first few lines of the poem, the reader can already receive a feel of the irony as the
poet describes the scene of a maiden left behind as her lover falls in battle. The poet
illustrates a scene as to where most readers would feel sorrow and sympathy towards the
maiden and perhaps have the speaker in the poem enlighten the maiden as to how rough
war can be. However, the speaker tells the maiden Do not weep. War is kind (4-5).
Readers can be caught off guard by this statement because in theory, this is the last
words of advice that the reader is expecting to hear. So in having the speaker of the
poem saying this, readers perceive a sense of irony or sarcasm.
The speaker continues to illustrate to the audience the scene of the battle field. In doing
so, the speaker uses a variety of word choice which carry negative connotation. The
speaker of the poem uses diction such as wild, little, die, yellow, raged and much more.
All of which to a certain extent, carry negative connotation. Readers read such diction in
a poem and expect that the whole poem will be negative. Words like die and raged
seldom carry positive connotations. These are words that are used to describe unwanted
or unnecessary emotions. This is another reason as to why the audience can receive a
notion that the speaker must be trying to be sarcastic.
The speaker also tries to convince a baby of the positive aspects of war. The speaker
does so however by saying Because your father tumbled in yellow trenches, Raged at
his breast, gulped and died
Imagery and Figurative Language
Crane's imagery is used mainly to paint a picture of a battlefield in the readers' minds.
He sets up a scenario of women in mourning over men lost in war. In a way he is sort of
making war out to be this sort of glorious tragedy, where men acieve greatness through

the ultimate sacrifice of their lives, leaving families torn and in mourning. Crane uses
these images to contradict his statement of war being kind, and through this, expresses
his theme.
Crane also uses three different women: a young maiden, a mother, and a daughter. The
number 3 has always been significant in literature and is even more significant here
because it shows war affects people of every age.
Crane also uses the flag as an important symbol for national pride. Crane is questioning
whether it is worth it for men to die simply because they are patriotic. One intresting
idea is that the flag crane describes is similar to one that may have been used by a
Roman legion, making a statement on how truly ancient the idea of killing each other
has been in human civilization.
Alliteration and similie is laso used at the end: "heart hung as humble as a button...."
Also note the possible reference to mythology with the "Battle-god" and no God is
mentioned, in typical naturalist fashion.
Tone and Theme
The established tone seems to suggest irony. Having been a war reporter, Crane would
in fact know how bad war is. A dark, ironic tone seems to arise form this poem. The
theme could easily be seen as th eopposit eof the title: War is not kind. it destroys
families and claims lives before their time. War is a human evil that destroys more than
it creates, and is nto something that should be supported, yet there will always be war.
Final Conclusion
Crane, having been a man who knew war as a war correspondent, knew that war was a
bad thing. He knew how it rended families of the deceased. He purposley uses the
contradiction of war being kind to state the exact opposite. As long as human
civilization has existed, humans have tried to kill each other. War is something that
should be avoided, so families like those in Crane's poem will not have to endure the
sorrow of losing loved ones to war. Whereas my initial thought was more literal,
analysis of the poem as well as a background of the author has changed my thoughts
significantly. Now I know that Crane is trying to say war is bad, abhorrent even. Crane
raises an important question regarding war: Is it ever worth it?
S TEPHEN CRANE WAS BORN IN 1871 in Newark, New Jersey. The fourteenth child of
highly religious Methodist parents, Crane lapsed into a rebellious childhood during
which he spent time preparing for a career as a professional baseball player. After brief
flirtations with higher learning at Lafayette College and Syracuse University, Crane
turned to writing full-time. Convinced that he must invest his work with the authenticity
of experience, he often went to outlandish lengths to live through situations that he
intended to work into his novels. For his first book, Maggie, a Girl of the Streets (1893),
Crane lived in poverty in the Bowery slum of New York City. Similarly, he based his
short story The Open Boat on his experience as a castaway from a shipwreck.
Cranes most enduring work, the short novel The Red Badge of Courage, was published
in1895. Though initially not well received in the United States, The Red Badge of

Courage was a massive success in England. The attention of the English critics caused
many Americans to view the novel with renewed enthusiasm, catapulting the young
Crane into international literary prominence. His realistic depictions of war and battle
led to many assignments as a foreign correspondent for newspapers, taking him to such
locales as Greece, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. He published volumes of poetry as well as
many works of fiction, including the landmark The Open Boat (1897). In 1899, Crane
moved into a medieval castle in England with his lover, the former madam of a
Jacksonville brothel. Here Crane wrote feverishly, hoping to pay off his debts. His
health began to fail, however, and he died of tuberculosis in June 1900, at the age of
Ironically, for a writer so committed to the direct portrayal of his own experience,
Cranes greatest work is almost entirely a product of his imagination. When he
wrote The Red Badge of Courage, Crane had neither fought in war nor witnessed battle,
and was forced to rely on his powers of invention to create the extraordinarily realistic
combat sequences of the novel. His work proved so accurate that, at the time of the
books publication, most critics assumed that Crane was an experienced soldier.
Based loosely on the events of the Civil War Battle of Chancellorsville (May26, 1863)
though neither the battle, the war, nor the armies are named in the bookThe Red
Badge of Courage shattered American preconceptions about what a war novel could be.
In the decades before Cranes novel, most fiction about the Civil War was heavily
idealistic, portraying the conflict as a great clash of opposed ideals. Whereas previous
writers had taken a large, epic view, Crane focused on the individual psychology of a
single soldier, Private Henry Fleming, during his first experiences of battle. In this
narrowed scope, Crane represents Henrys mind as a maze of illusions, vanity, and
romantic navet, challenged by the hard lessons of war. Crane does not depict a world
of moral absolutes, but rather a universe utterly indifferent to human existence.
This startling and unexpected shift drew the worlds attention to The Red Badge of
Courage, as did the novels vivid and powerful descriptions of battle. With its
combination of detailed imagery, moral ambiguity, and terse psychological
focus, The Red Badge of Courage exerted an enormous influence on twentieth-century
American fiction, particularly, on the writings of the modernists. These qualities
continue to make the work absorbing and important more than a century after it was
Plot Overview
D URING THE CIVIL WAR, a Union regiment rests along a riverbank, where it has been
camped for weeks. A tall soldier named Jim Conklin spreads a rumor that the army will
soon march. Henry Fleming, a recent recruit with this304th Regiment, worries about his
courage. He fears that if he were to see battle, he might run. The narrator reveals that
Henry joined the army because he was drawn to the glory of military conflict. Since the
time he joined, however, the army has merely been waiting for engagement.
At last the regiment is given orders to march, and the soldiers spend several weary days
traveling on foot. Eventually they approach a battlefield and begin to hear the distant
roar of conflict. After securing its position, the enemy charges. Henry, boxed in by his
fellow soldiers, realizes that he could not run even if he wanted to. He fires
mechanically, feeling like a cog in a machine.
The blue (Union) regiment defeats the gray (Confederate) soldiers, and the victors
congratulate one another. Henry wakes from a brief nap to find that the enemy is again
charging his regiment. Terror overtakes him this time and he leaps up and flees the line.
As he scampers across the landscape, he tells himself that made the right decision, that

his regiment could not have won, and that the men who remained to fight were fools.
He passes a general on horseback and overhears the commander saying that the
regiment has held back the enemy charge. Ashamed of his cowardice, Henry tries to
convince himself that he was right to preserve his own life to do so. He wanders through
a forest glade in which he encounters the decaying corpse of a soldier. Shaken, he
hurries away.
After a time, Henry joins a column of wounded soldiers winding down the road. He is
deeply envious of these men, thinking that a wound is like a redbadge of courage
visible proof of valorous behavior. He meets a tattered man who has been shot twice and
who speaks proudly of the fact that his regiment did not flee. He repeatedly asks Henry
where he is wounded, which makes Henry deeply uncomfortable and compels him to
hurry away to a different part of the column. He meets a spectral soldier with a distant,
numb look on his face. Henry eventually recognizes the man as a badly wounded Jim
Conklin. Henry promises to take care of Jim, but Jim runs from the line into a small
grove of bushes where Henry and the tattered man watch him die.
Henry and the tattered soldier wander through the woods. Henry hears the rumble of
combat in the distance. The tattered soldier continues to ask Henry about his wound,
even as his own health visibly worsens. At last, Henry is unable to bear the tattered
mans questioning and abandons him to die in the forest.
Henry continues to wander until he finds himself close enough to the battlefield to be
able to watch some of the fighting. He sees a blue regiment in retreat and attempts to
stop the soldiers to find out what has happened. One of the fleeing men hits him on the
head with a rifle, opening a bloody gash on Henrys head. Eventually, another soldier
leads Henry to his regiments camp, where Henry is reunited with his companions. His
friend Wilson, believing that Henry has been shot, cares for him tenderly.
The next day, the regiment proceeds back to the battlefield. Henry fights like a lion.
Thinking of Jim Conklin, he vents his rage against the enemy soldiers. His lieutenant
says that with ten thousand Henrys, he could win the war in a week. Nevertheless,
Henry and Wilson overhear an officer say that the soldiers of the 304th fight like mule
drivers. Insulted, they long to prove the man wrong. In an ensuing charge, the
regiments color bearer falls. Henry takes the flag and carries it proudly before the
regiment. After the charge fails, the derisive officer tells the regiments colonel that his
men fight like mud diggers, further infuriating Henry. Another soldier tells Henry and
Wilson, to their gratification, that the colonel and lieutenant consider them the best
fighters in the regiment.
The group is sent into more fighting, and Henry continues to carry the flag. The
regiment charges a group of enemy soldiers fortified behind a fence, and, after a pitched
battle, wins the fence. Wilson seizes the enemy flag and the regiment takes four
prisoners. As he and the others march back to their position, Henry reflects on his
experiences in the war. Though he revels in his recent success in battle, he feels deeply
ashamed of his behavior the previous day, especially his abandonment of the tattered
man. But after a moment, he puts his guilt behind him and realizes that he has come
through the red sickness of battle. He is now able to look forward to peace, feeling a
quiet, steady manhood within himself.
Analysis of Major Characters

Henry Fleming
Throughout the novel, Crane refers to Henry as the young soldier and the youth.
Both the best and worst characteristics of Henrys youth mark him. Unlike the veteran
soldiers whom he encounters during his first battle, Henry is not jaded. He believes,
albeit navely, in traditional models of courage and honor, and romanticizes the image of
dying in battle by invoking the Greek tradition of a dead soldier being laid upon his
shield. On the other hand, because he is young, Henry has yet to experience enough to
test these abstractions. As a result, his most passionate convictions are based on little
else than fantasies, making him seem vain and self-centered.
Henrys reasons for wanting to winglory in battle are far from noble. The philosophical
underpinnings of the war do not motivate him; neither does any deeply held, personal
sense of right and wrong. Instead, Henry desires a reputation. He hopes that an
impressive performance on the battlefield will immortalize him as a hero among men
who, because of the domesticating effects of religion and education, rarely distinguish
themselves so dramatically. Ironically, after fleeing from battle, Henry feels little guilt
about invoking his own intelligence in order to justify his cowardice. He condemns the
soldiers who stayed to fight as imbeciles who were not wise enough to save themselves
from the flurry of death. This is how he restores his fragile self-pride. When Henry
returns to camp and lies about the nature of his wound, he doubts neither his manhood
nor his right to behave as pompously as a veteran. Henrys lack of a true moral sense
manifests itself in the emptiness of the honor and glory that he seeks. He feels no
responsibility to earn these accolades. If others call him a hero, he believes he is one.
When Henry finally faces battle, however, he feels a temporary but sublime absence of
selfishness. A great change occurs within him: as he fights, he loses his sense of self.
No longer is he interested in winning the praise and attention of other men; instead, he
allows himself to disappear into the commotion and become one component of a great
fighting machine. As Henry finds himself deeply immersed in battle, the importance of
winning a name for himself fades with the gun smoke, for it was difficult to think of
reputation when others were thinking of skins. It is ironic, then, that Henry establishes
his reputation at these very moments. Officers who witness his fierce fighting regard
him as one of the regiments best. Henry does not cheat his way to the honor that he so
desperately craves when the novel opens; instead, he earns it. This marks a tremendous
growth in Henrys character. He learns to reflect on his mistakes, such as his earlier
retreat, without defensiveness or bravado, and abandons the hope of blustery heroism
for a quieter, but more satisfying, understanding of what it means to be a man.
Jim Conklin
Jim contrasts sharply with Henry in the opening pages of the novel. When Henry asks
Jim if he would flee from battle, Jims answerthat he would run if other soldiers ran,
fight if they foughtestablishes him as a pragmatist. He is strong and self-reliant, and
does not romanticize war or its supposed glories in the manner that Henry does. Unlike
Wilson, whose loud complaints characterize his early appearances, Jim marches through
his days efficiently and with few grievances. He informs Henry that he can unburden
himself of his unnecessary munitions, declaring, You can now eat and shoot . . . Thats
all you want to do.
Jim has little patience for the kind of loud, knee-jerk criticism or vague abstraction that
distracts Wilson and Henry. He prefers to do what duty requires of him and finds a
quiet, simple pleasure in doing so. He silences Wilson and Henry from discussing the
qualifications of their commanding officers while they are eating because he could not
rage in fierce argument in the presence of such sandwiches.

Jims quiet demeanor persists even as he dies. He does not indulge in a protracted death
scene, curse his fate, or philosophize about the cruelties and injustices of war. Instead,
he brushes Henry and his offers of comfort aside. He seeks to die alone, and those
present notice a curious and profound dignity in the firm lines of his awful face. The
solemn poise with which Jim dies puzzles Henry, who wants to rail loudly at the
universe. In death, as in life, Jim possesses the rare, self-assured goodness of a man who
knows and fulfills his responsibilities.
Whereas Jim Conklins character remains notably steady throughout the novel, Wilsons
undergoes a dramatic change. Wilson is initially loud, opinionated, and nave. For the
first half of the book, Crane refers to him almost exclusively as the loud soldier.
Wilson indignantly assures Henry that if battle occurs, he will certainly fight in it: I
said I was going to do my share of the fightingthats what I said. And I am, too. Who
are you anyhow? You talk as if you thought you was Napoleon Bonaparte. Shortly
thereafter, he approaches Henry again. Certain that he is about to meet his doom, he
gives the youth a yellow envelope to deliver to his family, should he die in battle. This
erratic shift from obnoxious bravado to naked vulnerability demonstrates Wilsons
immaturity. Like Henry, he is initially little more than a youth trying desperately to
assure himself of his manhood.
Wilsons transformation becomes clear relatively quickly. After disappearing into battle,
he resurfaces to take care of Henry with all of the bustling of an amateur nurse upon
Henrys return to camp. He further displays his generosity by insisting that Henry take
his blanket. Upon waking the next day, Henry notes the change in his friend: He was
no more a loud young soldier. There was now about him a fine reliance. He showed a
quiet belief in his purpose and his abilities.
Wilsons attitude toward the envelope which he earlier entrusted to Henry further
demonstrates the maturation that he has undergone. Though ashamed of his earlier
display of fear, he asks Henry for the envelope backhe is no longer interested in his
reputation or in the amount of sheer bravery that his comrades associate with his name,
two issues that ponderously plague Henry. Instead, Wilson seems to have climbed a
peak of wisdom from which he could perceive himself as a very wee thing.
This transformation furthers one of the novels explorations, showing plainly what
happens when one realizes the relative insignificance of his or her lifean awareness
that Henry seems to have gained by the novels end. Furthermore, the development of
Wilsons character contributes to the noise/silence motif. Through the sounds of battle,
endless gossip, and empty bragging of the soldiers, noise comes to be associated with
youth, vanity, and struggle. Toward the end of the novel, these sounds give way to a
peace and quiet that suggest the eventuality of the progression past youthful struggle to
the more reflective musings of manhood.
Themes, Motifs & Symbols
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

Given the novels title, it is no surprise that couragedefining it, desiring it, and,
ultimately, achieving itis the most salient element of the narrative. As the novel
opens, Henrys understanding of courage is traditional and romantic. He assumes that,
like a war hero of ancient Greece, he will return from battle either with his shield
or on it. Henrys understanding of courage has more to do with the praise of his peers
than any internal measure of his bravery. Within the novels first chapter, Henry recalls
his mothers advice, which runs counter to his own notions. She cares little whether
Henry earns himself a praiseworthy name; instead, she instructs him to meet his
responsibilities honestly and squarely, even if it means sacrificing his own life.
The gap that exists between Henrys definition of courage and the alternative that his
mother suggests fluctuates throughout TheRed Badge of Courage,sometimes narrowing
(when Henry fights well in his first battle) and sometimes growing wider (when he
abandons the tattered soldier). At the end of the novel, as the mature Henry marches
victoriously from battle, a more subtle and complex understanding of courage emerges:
it is not simply a function of other peoples opinions, but it does incorporate egocentric
concerns such as a soldiers regard for his reputation.
Throughout the novel, Henry struggles to preserve his manhood, his understanding of
which parallels his understanding of courage. At first, he relies on very traditional, even
clichd, notions. He laments that education and religion have tamed men of their natural
savagery and made them so pale and domestic that there remain few ways for a man to
distinguish himself other than on the battlefield. Having this opportunity makes Henry
feel grateful to be participating in the war. As he makes his way from one skirmish to
the next, he becomes more and more convinced that his accumulated experiences will
earn him the praise of women and the envy of men; he will be a hero, a real man, in
their eyes. These early conceptions of manhood are simplistic, romantic, adolescent
Jim Conklin and Wilson stand as symbols of a more human kind of manhood. They are
self-assured without being braggarts and are ultimately able to own up to their faults and
shortcomings. Wilson, who begins the novel as an obnoxiously loud soldier, later
exposes his own fear and vulnerability when he asks Henry to deliver a yellow envelope
to his family should he die in battle. In realizing the relative insignificance of his own
life, Wilson frees himself from the chains that bind Henry, becoming a man of quiet
belief in his purposes and abilities. By the novels end, Henry makes a bold step in the
same direction, learning that the measure of ones manhood lies more in the complex
ways in which one negotiates ones mistakes and responsibilities than in ones conduct
on the battlefield.
An anxious desire for self-preservation influences Henry throughout the novel. When a
pinecone that he throws after fleeing the battle makes a squirrel scurry, he believes that
he has stumbled upon a universal truth: each being will do whatever it takes, including
running from danger, in order to preserve itself. Henry gets much mileage out of this
revelation, as he uses it to justify his impulse to retreat from the battlefield. His conceits
namely that the good of the army and, by extension, the world, requires his survival
drive him to behave abominably. He not only runs from battle, but also abandons the
tattered soldier, though he knows that the soldier is almost certain to die if he does not
receive assistance. Soon after his encounter with the squirrel, Henry discovers the
corpse of a soldier. This sets in motion Henrys realization that the world is largely
indifferent to his life and the questions that preoccupy him. Courage and honor endow a

man with a belief in the worth of preserving the lives of others, but the pervasiveness of
death on the battlefield compels Henry to question the importance of these qualities.
This weighing of values begs consideration of the connection between the survival
instinct and vanity.
The Universes Disregard for Human Life
Henrys realization that the natural world spins on regardless of the manner in which
men live and die is perhaps the most difficult lesson that Henry learns as a soldier. It
disabuses him of his nave, inexperienced beliefs regarding courage and manhood.
Shortly after his encounter with the squirrel in the woods, Henry stumbles upon a dead
soldier, whose rotting body serves as a powerful reminder of the universes indifference
to human life. As the drama of the war rages on around him, Henry continues to occupy
his mind with questions concerning the nature of courage and honor and the possibilities
of gaining glory. Death, he assumes, would stop this drama cold. Yet, when he
encounters the corpse, he finds that death is nothing more than an integral and
unremarkable part of nature. As he reflects at the end of the novel: He had been to
touch the great death, and found that, after all, it was but the great death.
Together, Henrys encounters with the squirrel and the corpse form one of the most
important passages in the novel, for it is here that Crane establishes the formidable
opposing forces in Henrys mind: the vain belief that human life deserves such
distinctions as courage and honor, and the stark realization that, regardless of such
distinctions, all human life meets the same end.
Noise and Silence
Great and terrible sounds saturate much of the novel. The book opens with soldiers
chattering, gossiping, and arguing about when and if they will see action on the
battlefield. Soon enough, the pop of gunfire and exploding artillery drown out their
conversations. The reader comes to associate these sounds with boys, battleboth
physical and mentaland bravado. Wilson, who often airs his opinions indignantly,
embodies these associations early in the novel when Crane refers to him almost
exclusively as the loud soldier. The transformation of Wilson and Henry into men of
quiet resolve marks a process of maturation, wherein a peaceful disposition wins out
over an unquiet one and the security of feeling courage internally silences the need for
public recognition.
Youth and Maturity
Although the novel spans no more than a few weeks, the reader witnesses a profound
change in the characters of both Henry and Wilson. Though these men do not grow
considerably older during the course of the narrative, one can best describe the
psychological development that the novel charts for them as the passage from youth into
maturity. Innocence gives way to experience, and the unfounded beliefs of boys make
way for the quietly assured, bedrock convictions of men.
The Dead Soldier
In writing The Red Badge of Courage, Crane tried to render battle, and the lives of
common soldiers, as authentically as possible. Accordingly, a realistic, almost
journalistic style of writing dominates the narrative, leaving little room for the

development of an overt, more literary system of symbols. However, there are a few
noteworthy symbols in the novel. One of these is the dead soldier, who represents the
insignificance of mortal concerns. Henry encounters the corpse, decaying and covered
by ants, at a crucial moment: he has just reassured himself that he was right to flee battle
and that the welfare of the army depends upon soldiers being wise enough to preserve
themselves. Then the dead soldier, whose anonymity strips him of any public
recognition of courage and glory (regardless of whether or not he deserved them), forces
Henry to begin to question himself and the values by which he measures his actions.
Plot Overview
It is just before dawn, and not far off the coast of Florida, between the open sea and the
surf, are four men in a dinghy. The ship on which they were sailing sank overnight, and
they are the only survivors, left to bob up and down in the waves until their bathtubsized boat capsizes and they too drown. They do not have a moments peace. The ocean
is so rough that one indelicate move will upset the dinghy and send them into the winter
waters. Each man, despite not having slept for two days, works tirelessly to keep the
boat afloat. The correspondent and the oiler share the work of rowing, while the cook
huddles on the floor of the dinghy, bailing water. These men take their direction from
the captain, who was injured during the shipwreck and sits grimly in the bow, the
memory still fresh of his ship engulfed in the sea and the crews dead faces in the water.
As day breaks and the cook and correspondent bicker about being rescued, the men
begin to make progress toward the shore. Fighting hopelessness, they row silently. Gulls
fly overhead and perch on the water. The gulls are at ease on the ocean, so much so that
one lands on the captains head. The men see this as a sinister, insulting gesture, but the
captain cannot swat the bird off because the sudden movement would likely topple the
Eventually, the captain shoos the bird away, and they go on rowing until the captain sees
a lighthouse in the distance. Although the cook expresses reservation that the nearby
lifesaving station has been abandoned for more than a year, the crew heartens at
approaching land, almost taking pleasure in the brotherhood that they have formed and
in attending to the business of the sea. The correspondent even finds four dry cigars in a
pocket, which he shares with the others.
The mens optimism evaporates when, approaching land yet unable to master the
turbulent surf, they realize that help isnt coming. They again make for the open sea,
exhausted and bitter. Another sign of hope comes when the captain sees a man on shore.
Each crew member looks for signs of hope in the mans gestures. They think the man
sees them. Then they think they see two men, then a crowd and perhaps a boat being
rolled down to the shore. They stubbornly think that help is on the way as the shadows
lengthen and the sea and sky turn black.
During the night, the men forget about being saved and attend to the business of the
boat. The correspondent and oiler, exhausted from rowing, plan to alternate throughout
the night. But they get tired in the early hours of the morning, and the cook helps out.
For the most part, the correspondent rows alone, wondering how he can have come so
far if he is only going to drown. Rowing through phosphorescence and alongside a
monstrous shark, the correspondent thinks of a poem he learned in childhood about a
soldier dying in a distant land, never to return home.

When morning comes, the captain suggests that they try to run the surf while they still
have enough energy. They take the boat shoreward until it capsizes, and then they all
make a break for it in the icy water. The oiler leads the group, while the cook and
correspondent swim more slowly and the captain holds onto the keel of the overturned
dinghy. With the help of a life preserver, the correspondent makes good progress, until
he is caught in a current that forces him to back to the boat. Before he can reach the
dinghy, a wave hurls him to shallower water, where he is saved by a man who has
appeared on shore and plunged into the sea to save the crew. On land, the correspondent
drifts in and out of consciousness, but as he regains his senses, he sees a large number
of people on the shore with rescue gear. He learns that the captain and cook have been
saved but the oiler has died.
Analysis of Major Characters
The Correspondent
For Crane, each crewmember is an archetype that, when joined with his fellow
castaways, constitutes part of a microcosm of society. The captain represents the
leaders; the cook the followers; the oiler the good, working men; and the correspondent
the observers and thinkers. As his profession as a reporter suggests, the correspondent
functions as the eyes and voice of the story. Crane underlines this point in his
introduction of the characters in the first section. While the cook is cowering on the
boats floor and the oiler is silently working at his oar, the correspondent watches the
waves and wonders why he is caught on the ocean, a question that reveals the
correspondents search for purpose in life. With this question alone, the correspondent
begins to shape our perceptions of the ordeal the men are undergoing.
In the first five sections of The Open Boat, the correspondents challenges to the sea,
which he associates with nature and fate, reveal his desire to make sense of surviving
the ship only to drown in the dinghy. Although he understands that nature and fate do
not act and think as men do, the correspondent nevertheless goads them because he
believes that there is a purpose to nature, that it in some way validates his struggle for
survival. The correspondent initially thinks he finds the answer when he considers the
subtle brotherhood of men that develops among the crew in response to the
overwhelming cruelty of nature. At this point, he takes pleasure in the pain caused by
rowing in the rough sea because he believes that this pain is the healthy byproduct of his
effort at community, which nature has forced them to create and is the only thing that
really matters. As the men realize that no one is coming to save them, however, the
correspondent comes to lose hope in the subtle brotherhood that had seemed to be the
noble purpose of submitting to natures punishment.
The Captain
The captain is the consummate leader, a man who never shirks from the responsibility
he takes for those who have entrusted their safety to him. When he loses his ship to the
sea at the beginning of the story, the captain suffers infinitely more than the other
survivors. Deprived of his ship, he becomes a broken man who has lost the very thing
that grants him his authority. Yet the captain, through his dedication to guiding the men
to safety, retains a degree of dignity to go with the ineffable sense of loss he feels at
having failed in his charge. In this sense, the captain is at once a majestic and tragic
figure, one who has not measured up to the standards he has set for himself but
continues to fight for his fellow men. His quiet, steady efforts in the boat are not self-

motivated and afford him no personal redemption. Instead, his actions are directed
toward the others.
The Oiler (Billie)
Of the four characters in the boat, the oiler represents the everyman, the one whom
Crane intends to resemble the average person most closely. The oiler functions as the
lynchpin of the crew, holding everyone together through his staunch heroism. He has
the fewest delusions about the mens physical plight, but he never gives in to the
hopelessness that the others mask with idle talk about nonexistent opportunities for
rescue or meditations about the cruelty of nature. Instead, the oiler maintains an image
of strength, warmth, and integrity. He echoes the captains orders, reinforcing the social
structure of the crew and instilling confidence in the others, whose outlook rises and
falls with the waves.
Themes, Motifs, and Symbols
Natures Indifference to Man
Despite the narrators profusion of animistic (animal-like), humanistic (manlike), and
deistic (godlike) characterizations of nature, Crane makes clear that nature is ultimately
indifferent to the plight of man, possessing no consciousness that we can understand. As
the stranded men progress through the story, the reality of natures lack of concern for
them becomes increasingly clear. The narrator highlights this development by changing
the way he describes the sea. Early in the story, the sea snarls, hisses, and bucks like a
bronco; later, it merely paces to and fro, no longer an actor in the mens drama. In
reality, the sea does not change at all; only the mens perception of the sea changes. The
unaltered activity of the gulls, clouds, and tides illustrates that nature does not behave
any differently in light of the mens struggle to survive.
Crane strengthens the idea that nature is indifferent to man by showing that it is as
randomly helpful as it is hurtful. For every malevolent whim that the men suffer, they
experience an unexpected good turn in the form of a favorable wind or calm night. The
fact that the men almost seem to get assistance from nature destroys the notion of nature
as an entirely hostile force. Nothing highlights this point so much as the correspondents
final rescue. Plowed to shore and saved by a freak wave, the correspondent must
embrace the fact that the very thing that has put him in harms way has saved him. This
freak wave, however, may also be responsible for killing the much hardier oiler, a turn
of events that demonstrates two ideas: nature is as much a harsh punisher as it is a
benefactor, and nature does not act out of any motivation that can be understood in
human terms.
Mans Insignificance in the Universe
The Open Boat conveys a feeling of loneliness that comes from mans understanding
that he is alone in the universe and insignificant in its workings. Underneath the mens
and narrators collective rants at fate and the universe is the fear of nothingness. They
have an egotistical belief that they should have a role in the universe, that their existence
should mean something. When the correspondent realizes by section VI that fate will
not answer his pleas, he settles into despair. His subsequent recollection of the poem
about the soldier who lies dying in Algiers reflects his feelings of alienation at being
displaced from his position in the universe. Like the soldier who dies in alien territory,

the correspondent fears that he too will perish without a connection to whatever gives
him his sense of self.
Throughout The Open Boat, the correspondent understands pain to be the necessary
byproduct of his efforts to overcome nature, the willful enemy. He comes to value his
suffering because it is nobly derived; in the earlier sections, the correspondent, whom
the narrator says is cynical, is often cheerful and talkative in his descriptions of the
physical pain he experiences. By the end of the story, however, the correspondents new
awareness that the universe is unconcerned with the situations outcome makes him
physically and spiritually weary. He decides that there is no higher purpose to surviving
other than prolonging a life that is meaningless. His comment in section VII that the
coldness of the water is simply sad underscores this despair. At this point, all
sensations of pain and pleasure are merely physical and have no spiritual meaning.
Society as Meaning in a Harsh World
In assembling the men in the dinghy and creating a microcosm of mankind, Crane sets
up mans greatest invention, society, against what first seems to be a cruel, unrelenting
nature. When faced with the savage, stormy sea, the men in the dinghy immediately
band together because they recognize that society is the best defense against the chaos
of nature. The men derive meaning from their fellowship, created to oppose nature,
which they view as the force that seeks to undo them. Even when they become
disheartened by the fact that nature shows no regard for them, they can still turn to one
another. In creating society, they have created an obligation to one another that they
must honor to survive. The narrator observes that the mens cooperation is personal
and heartfelt, which suggests that the men derive some spiritual satisfaction from the
arrangement. Although they are shut out of the realm of cosmic importance, these men
nevertheless construct something that is meaningful to them.
As the narrator attempts to capture the mens thoughts as they endure many
demoralizing episodes, he inserts a refrain into the text three times that suggests that the
mens general fear of death is exacerbated by the unconcern of nature. The refrain is a
rant against fate, which the narrator personifies as an incompetent fool unable to govern
mens lives. The narrator is not really trying to tell us that fate is cruel. Instead, he is
suggesting that the men are furious because they believe that fate has toyed with their
lives. The men consider their situation unfair, and in the refrain, they protest against it.
The fact that the narrator intrudes on the story with this refrain at the moments when
fate seems to have let the men down creates the impression that this is, in fact, the mens
reaction. The refrain acts as the narrators interpretation of how the men themselves
interpret their situation
Hidden deeper in the refrain is the narrators conviction that a higher power does not
exist to weigh in on mens affairs. By making outright references to the seven mad
gods who rule the sea, the narrator clues us in to the mythical implications of the story,
insinuating that these pagan gods, who are traditionally involved in mens lives, have
abandoned the stranded men. More important, the narrator hints at the absence of an
overseeing God through a subtle use of numerology. The thrice-repeated phrase If I am
going to be drowned in the refrain alludes to the New Testament Gethsemane scene in
which Peter denies Jesus three times. In the Bible, man denies God, but Crane inverts
the scene so that it is God denying man.

A ceaseless presence in the story and constant nuisance to the refugees, the ocean waves
suggest both the forces of nature and uncontrollability of life. At the beginning of the
story, the narrator presents the waves as the mens primary concern, the thing they must
master if they are to survive the shipwreck. In this sense, the waves resemble the everchanging demands of the present, the part of life that demands the most attention but
allows for the least reflection. Crane seems to imply that because the men cannot
control the waves ebb and flow, man in general cannot affect the outcomes of his life
and can hope only to respond constructively to what he encounters. Just as the waves
are constantly changing, becoming sometimes violent and sometimes favorable, the
pressures in mans life will continue to jostle his progress toward whatever he seeks.
The narrators final mention of the waves as pacing to and fro emphasizes this point
by suggesting that the waves, in their motion, are impatiently waiting for the men, who
must eventually venture out again onto the seas of fortune.
The Boat
The boat, to which the men must cling to survive the seas, symbolizes human life
bobbing along among the universes uncertainties. The boat, no larger than a bathtub,
seems even smaller against the vastness of the ocean. The boat is inconsequential and
always in danger of capsizing, much as we as humans are inconsequential and frail in
the context of the world around us. The fact that the boat is characterized as open
supports this interpretation: the boat is unprotected and thus open to suffering the
unexpected turns of fortune that are unavoidable in life. For the men, being in the open
boat becomes the reality of their lives, and they realize from their experience on the boat
how little control they have over where they can go and what they can do. Through the
boat, Crane implies that life is not something we can control, but rather life is what we
must hang onto as we make our way in the world.
The Oilers Death
The oilers death and lack of explanation surrounding it reinforce the randomness of
natures whims and symbolize the indifference of nature toward man. Because he is no
more deserving of death than any other crew member, and in some cases is less
deserving because he has worked the hardest under the most physical strain, his death
highlights the fact that nature is arbitrary in how it chooses its victims. The events
surrounding the oilers death also uncover the fact that the subtle brotherhood of men
sensed by the crew is nothing more than a delusion. The men make a break for land on
their own, and the good-natured oiler leaves everyone behind to reach the shore. In this
way, Crane illustrates that there is a limit to what working together can accomplish and
that all men ultimately end up alone.
The Poem
The poem that the correspondent recites about the soldier who pitifully lies dying in a
foreign land represents the correspondents understanding of his own plight. Just as in
youth he never considered it a tragedy that the fictitious soldier dies away from home,
the correspondent realizes that, as a grown man, his situation is like the soldiers and
that it is nature that now regards his death as inconsequential. This understanding forces
the correspondent to see the soldiers story as tragic because it is the only way to give
his own life weight. The correspondent endows the fictitious soldier with humanity, a
gesture that reveals both his maturity at understanding what his life really amounts to

and his self-delusion for using fiction to give meaning to his own situation. In truth, the
poem does not make the correspondents plight any more real. Rather, it only reinforces
the meaningless of his struggle, which the narrator later describes as the plight of the
The Cigars
The four wet cigars and four dry cigars serve as a complex symbol of hope for spiritual
salvation and as the ultimate loss of that salvation. When the correspondent finds these
cigars in his pockets, Crane makes it clear that there are two interpretations of the mens
plight. First, like the four sodden cigars, the four men are physically and spiritually
soaked by the heavy, demoralizing forces of naturethey are broken and useless.
Second, like the four dry cigars hidden deep inside the correspondents pocket, there is
something inside the men that remains untouched by the cold, drenching despair that the
sea imparts. At the moment when the correspondent digs through his pocket, the men
are likely to see themselves optimisticallyas the four dry cigarsbecause their
cooperation and hard work has seemingly put them on track to defeat nature. Yet by the
end of the story, the mens optimism is not intact, and they feel misery, not triumph. The
wet cigars more aptly illustrate the tragedy of the mens spirits.