American Unseen Analysis - Essay

876 words - 4 pages

Write a critical appreciation of this passage, relating your discussion to your reading of
American Literature 1880-1940

The passage is told from the perspective of a man named March, from New York City, and
so immediately, we can infer that the air will not be objective and that what we read
will be March's opinions and views. In the extract, Howells touches upon ideas typical
of this period of American literature, such as the American Dream and the exploitation of
vulnerable members of society. The boy's character is a device used to
explore these ideas. The extract is descriptive and takes the reader
through a waterside area.
In the beginning, the narrator describes quaintness which will later be contrasted,
becoming sordid as the journey furthers. Howells describes the hereditary Sabbatarianism
of the narrator's wife. The use of hereditary here reminds us of a time when religion was
integral to many lives, a time before religion was replaced by consumerism. The wife's
dedication to faith, which keeps her at home on a Sunday, emphasizes this idea at a
time when commitment to religion began to become a commitment to parties. A quaint
image is created, with streets of tiny brick houses, fluted pillars, and the
picturesqueness of clothes-lines fluttering far aloft. Although this image is later
contrasted, the reader begins by being presented with a description of a pleasant Sunday
stroll. Holloway writes that March found a lingering quality of pure Americanism in the
region, perhaps foreshadowing the report of immigrants that will follow, as there was
a common resentment of immigrants during this time when thousands of people moved
to and across America to pursue the American Dream.
Howells writes how unfamiliar faces and foreign tongues prevailed in Greenwich Village
, and the use of prevailed suggests these people have had to prove themselves and put
up a fight, again linking to the idea of the persecution of immigrants. The focus on faces
and tongues almost objectifies the people and removes their identities by reducing them
to simple features. The alliteration of repeated f creates an angry, forceful sound
reminiscent of the hate that might have been directed toward immigrants. Howells also
describes the eyes and earrings of Italians, following on from a similar phrase earlier,
using alliteration and reducing the Italians to two features. The Italians are told to be
in and out of alleyways and basements, and they seem to abound even in the streets
as if they hide out of sight, almost like animals hiding underground from humans. Another
race is descri...

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