American Literature Essay
When the English preacher and writer Sidney Smith asked in 1820, “In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book? ” little did he suspect that less than two hundred years later the answer in literate quarters would be “just about everyone. ” Indeed, just a few years after Smith posed his inflammatory question, the American writer Samuel Knapp would begin to assemble one of the first histories of American literature as part of a lecture series that he was giving.
The course materials offered by American Passages continue in the tradition begun by Knapp in 1829. One goal of this Study Guide is to help you learn to be a literary historian: that is, to introduce you to American literature as it has evolved over time and to stimulate you to make connections between and among texts. Like a literary historian, when you make these connections you are telling a story: the story of how American literature came into being.
This Overview outlines four paths (there are many others) by which you can narrate the story of American literature: one based on literary movements and historical change, one based on the American Passages Overview Questions, one based on Contexts, and one based on multiculturalism. TELLING THE STORY OF AMERICAN LITERATURE Literary Movements and Historical Change American Passages is organized around sixteen literary movements or “units. ” A literary movement centers around a group of authors that share certain stylistic and thematic concerns.
Each unit includes ten authors that are represented either in The Norton Anthology of American Literature or in the Online Archive. Two to four of these authors are discussed in the video, which calls attention to important historical and cultural influences on these authors, defines a genre that they share, and proposes some key thematic parallels. Tracking literary movements can help you see how American literature has changed and evolved over time. In general, people think about literary movements as reacting against earlier modes of writing and earlier movements. For T E L L I N G T H E S T O R Y O F
A M E R I C A N L I T E R AT U R E 3 example, just as modernism (Units 10–13) is often seen as a response to realism and the Gilded Age (Unit 9), so Romanticism is seen as a response to the Enlightenment (Unit 4). Most of the units focus on one era (see the chart below), but they will often include relevant authors from other eras to help draw out the connections and differences. (Note: The movements in parentheses are not limited to authors/works from the era in question, but they do cover some material from it. ) Century Fifteenth– Seventeenth Eighteenth Era Renaissance American Passages Literary Movements.
(1: Native Voices) 2: Exploring Borderlands 3: Utopian Promise (3: Utopian Promise) 4: Spirit of Nationalism (7: Slavery and Freedom) 4: Spirit of Nationalism 5: Masculine Heroes 6: Gothic Undercurrents 7: Slavery and Freedom (1: Native Voices) 6: Gothic Undercurrents 8: Regional Realism 9: Social Realism (1: Native Voices) 10: Rhythms in Poetry 11: Modernist Portraits 12: Migrant Struggle 13: Southern Renaissance 1: Native Voices 2: Exploring Borderlands 12: Migrant Struggle 14: Becoming Visible 15: Poetry of Liberation 16: Search for Identity Enlightenment Nineteenth Romanticist Nineteenth Realist
Twentieth Modernist Twentieth Postmodernist Each unit contains a timeline of historical events along with the dates of key literary texts by the movement’s authors. These timelines are designed to help you make connections between and among the movements, eras, and authors covered in each unit. 4 W H AT I S A M E R I C A N L I T E R AT U R E ? Overview Questions The Overview Questions at the start of each unit are tailored from the five American Passages Overview Questions that follow. They are meant to help you focus your viewing and reading and participate in discussion afterward. 1. What is an American?
How does literature create conceptions of the American experience and American identity? This two-part question should trigger discussion about issues such as, Who belongs to America? When and how does one become an American? How has the search for identity among American writers changed over time? It can also encourage discussion about the ways in which immigration, colonization, conquest, youth, race, class, and gender affect national identity. 2. What is American literature? What are the distinctive voices and styles in American literature? How do social and political issues influence the American canon?
This multi-part question should instigate discussion about the aesthetics and reception of American literature. What is a masterpiece? When is something considered literature, and how is this category culturally and historically dependent? How has the canon of American literature changed and why? How have American writers used language to create art and meaning? What does literature do? This question can also raise the issue of American exceptionalism: Is American literature different from the literature of other nations? 3. How do place and time shape the authors’ works and our understanding of them?
This question addresses America as a location and the many ways in which place impacts American literature’s form and content. It can provoke discussion about how regionalism, geography, immigration, the frontier, and borders impact American literature, as well as the role of the vernacular in indicating place. 4. What characteristics of a literary work have made it influential over time? This question can be used to spark discussion about the evolving impact of various pieces of American literature and about how American writers used language both to create art and respond to and call for change.
What is the individual’s responsibility to uphold the community’s traditions, and when are individuals compelled to resist them? What is the relationship between the individual and the community? 5. How are American myths created, challenged, and re-imagined through this literature? This question returns to “What is an American? ” But it poses the question at a cultural rather than individual level. What are the myths that make up American culture? What is the American Dream? What are American myths, dreams, and nightmares? How have these changed over time? T E L L I N G T H E S T O R Y O F A M E R I C A N
L I T E R AT U R E 5 Contexts Another way that connections can be made across and between authors is through the five Contexts in each unit: three longer Core Contexts and two shorter Extended Contexts. The goal of the Contexts is both to help you read American literature in its cultural background and to teach you close-reading skills. Each Context consists of a brief narrative about an event, trend, or idea that had particular resonance for the writers in the unit as well as Americans of their era; questions that connect the Context to the authors in the unit; and a list of related texts and images in the Online Archive.
Examples of Contexts include discussions of the concept of the Apocalypse (3: “Utopian Visions”), the sublime (4: “Spirit of Nationalism”), and baseball (14: “Becoming Visible”). The Contexts can be used in conjunction with an author or as stand-alone activities. The Slide Show Tool on the Web site is ideal for doing assignments that draw connections between archive items from a Context and a text you have read. And you can create your own contexts and activities using the Slide Show Tool: these materials can then be e-mailed, viewed online, projected, or printed out on overhead transparencies.
Multiculturalism In the past twenty years, the field of American literature has undergone a radical transformation. Just as the mainstream public has begun to understand America as more diverse, so, too, have scholars moved to integrate more texts by women and ethnic minorities into the standard canon of literature taught and studied. These changes can be both exhilarating and disconcerting, as the breadth of American literature appears to be almost limitless.
Each of the videos and units has been carefully balanced to pair canonical and noncanonical voices. You may find it helpful, however, to trace the development of American literature according to the rise of different ethnic and minority literatures. The following chart is designed to highlight which literatures are represented in the videos and the units. As the chart indicates, we have set different multicultural literatures in dialogue with one another. Literature African American literature Video Representation.
7: Slavery and Freedom 8: Regional Realism 10: Rhythms in Poetry 13: Southern Renaissance 14: Becoming Visible 15: Poetry of Liberation Study Guide Representation 4: Spirit of Nationalism 5: Masculine Heroes 7: Slavery and Freedom 8: Regional Realism 9: Social Realism 10: Rhythms in Poetry 11: Modernist Portraits 13: Southern Renaissance 14: Becoming Visible 15: Poetry of Liberation 16: Search for Identity 6 W H AT I S A M E R I C A N L I T E R AT U R E ? Native American literature 1: Native Voices 5: Masculine Heroes 14: Becoming Visible.
1: Native Voices 2: Exploring Borderlands 3: Utopian Promise 4: Spirit of Nationalism 5: Masculine Heroes 7: Slavery and Freedom 8: Regional Realism 14: Becoming Visible 15: Poetry of Liberation 16: Search for Identity 2: Exploring Borderlands 5: Masculine Heroes 10: Rhythms in Poetry 12: Migrant Struggle 15: Poetry of Liberation 16: Search for Identity 9: Social Realism 12: Migrant Struggle 16: Search for Identity 9: Social Realism 11: Modernist Portraits 14: Becoming Visible 15: Poetry of Liberation 16: Search for Identity 1: Native Voices 2:
Exploring Borderlands 3: Utopian Promise 4: Spirit of Nationalism 5: Masculine Heroes 6: Gothic Undercurrents 7: Slavery and Freedom 8: Regional Realism 9: Social Realism 10: Rhythms in Poetry 11: Modernist Portraits 12: Migrant Struggle 13: Southern Renaissance 14: Becoming Visible 15: Poetry of Liberation 16: Search for Identity 2: Exploring Borderlands 5: Masculine Heroes 10: Rhythms in Poetry 11: Modernist Portraits 12: Migrant Struggle 13: Southern Renaissance 14: Becoming Visible 15: Poetry of Liberation 16: Search for Identity Latino literature 2:
Exploring Borderlands 10: Rhythms in Poetry 12: Migrant Struggle 16: Search for Identity Asian American literature 12: Migrant Struggle 16: Search for Identity Jewish American 9: Social Realism literature 11: Modernist Portraits 14: Becoming Visible 15: Poetry of Liberation 16: Search for Identity Women’s literature 1: Native Voices 2: Exploring Borderlands 3: Utopian Promise 6:
Gothic Undercurrents 7: Slavery and Freedom 8: Regional Realism 9: Social Realism 11: Modernist Portraits 12: Migrant Struggle 13: Southern Renaissance 15: Poetry of Liberation 16: Search for Identity Gay and lesbian literature 2: Exploring Borderlands 5: Masculine Heroes 10: Rhythms in Poetry 11: Modernist Portraits 15: Poetry of Liberation 16: Search for Identity T E L L I N G T H E S T O R Y O F A M E R I C A N L I T E R AT U R E 7 Literature cont’d Working-class literature Video Representation 2: Exploring Borderlands 4: Spirit of Nationalism 5: Masculine Heroes 7: Slavery and Freedom 9: Social Realism 12: Migrant Struggle 16: Search for Identity
Study Guide Representation 2: Exploring Borderlands 4: Spirit of Nationalism 5: Masculine Heroes 7: Slavery and Freedom 9: Social Realism 10: Rhythms in Poetry 12: Migrant Struggle 14: Becoming Visible 15: Poetry of Liberation 16:
Search for Identity LITERATURE IN ITS CULTURAL CONTEXT When you study American literature in its cultural context, you enter a multidisciplined and multi-voiced conversation where scholars and critics in different fields examine the same topic but ask very different questions about it. For example, how might a literary critic’s understanding of nineteenthcentury American culture compare to that of a historian of the same era?
How can an art historian’s understanding of popular visual metaphors enrich our readings of literature? The materials presented in this section of the Study Guide aim to help you enter that conversation. Below are some suggestions on how to begin. Deep in the heart of the Vatican Museum is an exquisite marble statue from first- or second-century Rome. Over seven feet high, the statue depicts a scene from Virgil’s Aeneid in which Laocoon and his sons are punished for warning the Trojans about the Trojan horse.
Their bodies are entwined with large, devouring serpents, and Laocoon’s face is turned upward in a dizzying portrait of anguish, his muscles rippling and bending beneath the snake’s strong coils.
The emotion in the statue captured the heart and eye of critic Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, who used the work as the starting point for his seminal essay on the relationship between literature and art, “Laocoon: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry. ” For Lessing, one of the most common errors that students of culture can make is to assume that all aspects of culture develop in tandem with one another. As Lessing points out, each art has its own strengths.
For example, literature works well with notions of time and story, and thus is more flexible than visual art in terms of imaginative freedom, whereas painting is a visual medium that can reach greater beauty, although it is static. For Lessing, the mixing of these two modes (temporal and spatial) carries great risk along with rewards.
As you study literature in conjunction with any of the fine arts, you may find it helpful to ask whether you agree with Lessing that literature is primarily a temporal art. Consider too the particular 8 W H AT I S A M E R I C A N L I T E R AT U R E ? strengths of the media discussed below. What do they offer that may not be available to writers?
What modes do they use that complement our understanding of the literary arts? Fine Arts Albrecht Durer created some of the most disturbing drawings known to humans: they are rife with images of death, the end of the world, and dark creatures that inhabit hell. Images such as The Last Judgement (below) can be found in the Online Archive.
In Knight, Death, and the Devil (1513), a devout Christian knight is taunted by the Devil and Death, who gleefully shakes a quickly depleting hourglass, mocking the soldier with the passing of time. Perhaps the tension and anxiety in Durer’s print resonated with the American poet Randall Jarrell in his struggle with mental illness. In “The Knight, Death, and the Devil,” Jarrell opens with a description of the scene: Cowhorn-crowned, shockheaded, cornshucked-bearded, Death is a scarecrow—his death’s-head a teetotum . . . Jarrell’s description is filled with adjectives in much the same way that the print is crowded with detail. The poem is an instance of what critics call ekphrasis: the verbal description of a work of visual art, usually of a painting, photograph, or sculpture but sometimes of an urn, tapestry, or quilt.
Ekphrasis attempts to bridge the gap between the verbal and the visual arts. Artists and writers have always influenced one another: sometimes directly as in the case of Durer’s drawing and Jarrell’s poem, and other times indirectly.
The Study Guide will help you navigate through these webs of influence. For example, Unit 5 will introduce you to the Hudson River  Albrecht Durer, The Last School, the great American landscape painters Judgement (1510), courtesy of the of the nineteenth century. In the Context focusprint collection of Connecticut ing on these artists, you will learn of the interCollege, New London. connectedness of their visual motifs.
In Unit 11, William Carlos Williams, whose poems “The Dance” and “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” were inspired by two paintings by Breughel, will draw your attention to the use of ekphrasis. Williams’s work is a significant example of how multiple traditions in art can influence a writer: in addition to his interest in European art, Williams imitated Chinese landscapes and poetic forms. When you encounter works of fine art, such as paintings, photographs, or sculpture, in the Online Archive or the Study Guide, you may find two tools used by art historians helpful: formal analysis and iconography. Formal L I T E R AT U R E I N I T S C U LT U R A L C O N T E X T 9 
Thomas Cole, The Falls of Kaaterskill (1826), courtesy of the Warner Collection of the Gulf States Paper Corporation, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. analysis, like close readings of poems, seeks to describe the nature of the object without reference to the context in which it was created. A formal analysis addresses such questions as Where does the central interest in the work lie?
How is the work composed and with what materials? How is lighting or shading used? What does the scene depict? What allusions (mythological, religious, artistic) are found in the work? Once you have described the work of art using formal analysis, you may want to extend your reading by calling attention to the cultural climate in which the work was produced. This is called an iconographic reading.
Here the Context sections of the Study Guide will be useful. You may notice, for example, a number of nineteenth-century paintings of ships in the Online Archive. One of the Contexts for Unit 6 argues that these ships can be read as symbols for nineteenth-century America, where it was common to refer to the nation as a “ship of state. ”
The glowing light or wrecked hulls in the paintings reflect the artists’ alternating optimism and pessimism about where the young country was headed. Below are two possible readings of Thomas Cole’s painting The Falls of Kaaterskill that employ the tools of formal analysis and iconography. W R I T E R A : F O R M A L A N A L Y S I S
In this painting by Hudson River School artist Thomas Cole, the falls that give the painting its name grab our attention. The shock of the white falls against the concentrated brightness of the rocks ensures that the waterfall will be the focus of the work. Even amidst this brightness, however, there is darkness and mystery in the painting, where the falls emerge out of a dark quarry and crash down onto broken tree limbs and staggered rocks. The descent is neither peaceful nor pastoral, unlike the presentation of nature in Cole’s other works, such as the Oxbow. The enormity of the falls compared to the lone human figure that perches above them also adds to the sense of power the falls embody.
Barely recognizable as human because it is so minute, the figure still pushes forward as if to embrace the cascade of the water in a painting that explores the tension between the individual and the power of nature. W R I T E R B : I C O N O G R A P H Y I agree with Writer A that this painting is all about the power of nature, but I would argue that it is about a particular kind of power: one that nineteenthcentury thinkers called the “sublime. ”
Cole’s portrait of the falls is particularly indebted to the aesthetic ideas formulated by Edmund Burke in the eighteenth century. Burke was interested in categorizing aesthetic responses, and he distinguished the “sublime” from the “beautiful.
” While the beautiful is calm and harmonious, the sublime is majestic, wild, and even savage. While viewers are soothed by the beautiful, they are overwhelmed, awestruck, and sometimes terrified by the sublime. Often associated with huge, overpowering natural 10 W H AT I S A M E R I C A N L I T E R AT U R E ? phenomena like mountains, waterfalls, or thunderstorms, the “delightful terror” inspired by sublime visions was supposed to both remind viewers of their own insignificance in the face of nature and divinity and inspire them with a sense of transcendence. Here the miniature figure is the object of our gaze even as he is obliterated by the grandeur of the water.
During the nineteenth century, tourists often visited locales such as the Kaaterskill Falls in order to experience the “delightful terror” that they brought. This experience is also echoed in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Nature,” in which he writes of his desire to become a “transparent eyeball” that will be able to absorb the oversoul that surrounds him. The power that nature holds here is that of the divine: nature is one way we can experience higher realms. How do these readings differ? Which do you find more compelling and why? What uses can you see for formal analysis or iconographic readings? When might you choose one of these strategies over the other?
As historian Ray Kierstead has pointed out, history is not just “one damn thing after another”: rather, history is a way of telling stories about time or, some might say, making an argument about time. The Greek historian Herodotus is often called the father of history in the western world, as he was one of the first historians to notice patterns in world events.
Herodotus saw that the course of empires followed a cyclical pattern of rise and fall: as one empire reaches its peak and self-destructs out of hubris (excessive pride), a new empire or new nations will be born to take its place. Thomas Cole’s five-part series The Course of Empire (1833) mirrors this Herodotean notion of time as his scene moves from savage, to pastoral, to consummation, to devastation, to desolation.
This vision of time has been tremendously influential in literature: whenever you read a work written in the pastoral mode (literature that looks back with nostalgia to an era of rural life, lost simplicity, and a time when nature and culture were one), ask yourself whether there is an implicit optimism or pessimism about what follows this lost rural ideal. For example, in Herman Melville’s South Sea novel Typee, we find the narrator in a Tahitian village.
He seeks to determine if he has entered a pastoral or savage setting: is he surrounded by savages, or is he plunged in a pastoral bliss? Implicit in both is a suggestion that there are earlier forms of civilization than the United States that the narrator has left behind. Any structural analysis of a work of literature (an analysis that pays attention to how a work is ordered) would do well to consider what notions of history are embedded within.
In addition to the structural significance of history, a dialogue between history and literature is crucial because much of the early literature of the United States can also be categorized as historical documents. It is helpful, therefore, to understand the genres of history. Like literature, history is comprised of different genres, or modes. Historian Elizabeth Boone defines the main traditional genres of history as res gestae, geographical, and annals.
Res gestae, or “deeds done,” organizes history through a list of accomplishments. This was a popu- L I T E R AT U R E I N I T S C U LT U R A L C O N T E X T 11 lar form of history for the ancient Greeks and Romans; for example, the autobiography of Julius Caesar chronicles his deeds, narrated in the third person.
When Hernan Cortes and other explorers wrote accounts of their travels (often in the form of letters to the emperor), Caesar’s autobiography served as their model. Geographical histories use travel through space to shape the narrative: Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative is an example of a geographical history in that it follows her through a sequence of twenty geographic “removes” into Indian country and back. Annals, by contrast, use time as the organizing principle.
Information is catalogued by year or month. Diaries and journals are a good example of this genre. These three genres can also be found in the histories of the Aztecs and Mayans of Mesoamerica and in those of the native communities of the United States and Canada.
For example, the migration legend, a popular indigenous form of history, is a geographical history, whereas trickster tales often tell the early history of the world through a series of deeds. Memoirists also mix genres; for example, the first section of William Bradford’s Of Plimouth Plantation is a geographical history, whereas the second half is annals.
Today the most common historical genres are intellectual history (the history of ideas), political history (the story of leaders), and diplomatic history (the history of foreign relations). To these categories we might add the newer categories of “social history” (a history of everyday life) and “gender history” (which focuses on the construction of gender roles).
Finally, history is a crucial tool for understanding literature because literature is written in—and arguably often reflects—a specific historical context. Readers of literary works can deepen their understanding by drawing on the tools of history, that is, the records people leave behind: political (or literary) documents, town records, census data, newspaper stories, captivity narratives, letters, journals, diaries, and the like.
Even such objects as tools, graveyards, or trading goods can tell us important information about the nature of everyday life for a community, how it worshipped or what it thought of the relationship between life and death. 12 W H AT I S A M E R I C A N L I T E R AT U R E ? Material Culture 
Archibald Gunn and Richard Felton Outcault, New York Journal’s Colored Comic Supplement (1896), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USZC4-25531]. When you look at an object, it may call up associations from the past. For example, for the first-time viewer the clown figure in the image above may seem innocuous, yet at the end of the nineteenth century his popularity was so intense that it started a newspaper war fierce enough to spawn a whole new term for sensationalist, irresponsible journalism—“yellow journalism. ” Objects such as this comic supplement constitute “material culture,” the objects of everyday life.
In Material Culture Studies in America, Thomas Schlereth provides the following useful definition of material culture: Material culture can be considered to be the totality of artifacts in a culture, the vast universe of objects used by humankind to cope with the physical world, to facilitate social intercourse, to delight our fancy, and to create symbols of meaning. . . . Leland Ferguson argues that material culture includes all “the things that people leave behind . . . all of the things people make from the physical world—farm tools, ceramics, houses, furniture, toys, buttons, roads, cities. ” (2) When we study material culture in conjunction with literature, we wed two notions of “culture” and explore how they relate.
As critic John Storey notes, the first notion of culture is what is often called “high culture”—the “general process of intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic factors”; and the second is “lived culture”—the “particular way of life, whether of a people, a period or a group” (2). In a sense, material culture (as the objects of a lived culture) allows us to see how the prevailing intellectual ideas were played out in the daily lives of people in a particular era.
Thus, as Schlereth explains, through studying material culture we can learn about the “belief systems—the values, ideas, attitudes, and assumptions—of a particular community or society, usually across time” (3). In reading objects as embedded with meaning, we follow Schlereth’s premise that “objects made or L I T E R AT U R E I N I T S C U LT U R A L C O N T E X T 13
modified by humans, consciously or unconsciously, directly or indirectly, reflect the belief patterns of individuals who made, commissioned, purchased, or used them, and, by extension, the belief patterns of the larger society of which they are a part” (3). The study of material culture, then, can help us better understand the cultures that produced and consumed the literature we read today. Thomas Schlereth suggests a number of useful models for studying material culture; his “Art History Paradigm” is particularly noteworthy in that it will help you approach works of “high art,” such as paintings and sculptures, as well. The “Art History Paradigm” argues that the interpretive objective of examining the artifact is to “depict the historical development and intrinsic merit” of it.
If you are interested in writing an “Art History Paradigm” reading of material culture, you might look at an object and ask yourself the following questions, taken from Sylvan Barnet’s Short Guide to Writing about Art. These questions apply to any art object: First, we need to know information about the artifact so we can place it in a historical context. You might ask yourself: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. What is my first response to the work? When and where was the work made?
Where would the work originally have been seen? What purpose did the work serve? In what condition has the work survived? (Barnet 21–22) In addition, if the artifact is a drawing, painting, or advertisement, you might want to ask yourself questions such as these: 1.
What is the subject matter? What (if anything) is happening? 2. If the picture is a portrait, how do the furnishings and the background and the angle of the head or the posture of the head and body (as well as the facial expression) contribute to our sense of the subject’s character? 3. If the picture is a still life, does it suggest opulence or want? 4. In a landscape, what is the relation between human beings and nature? Are the figures at ease in nature, or are they dwarfed by it? Are they one with the horizon, or (because the viewpoint is low) do they stand out against the horizon and perhaps seem in touch with the heavens, or at least with open air?
If there are woods, are these woods threatening, or are they an inviting place of refuge? If there is a clearing, is the clearing a vulnerable place or is it a place of refuge from ominous woods? Do the natural objects in the landscape somehow reflect the emotions of the figures? (Barnet 22–23; for more questions, see pp. 23–24) Material culture is a rich and varied resource that ranges from kitchen utensils, to advertisements, to farming tools, to clothing. Unpacking the significance of objects that appear in the stories and poems you read may help you better understand characters and their motives. 14 W H AT I S A M E R I C A N L I T E R AT U R E ?
Most of the time we read the hidden meanings of buildings without even thinking twice. Consider the buildings below: Above:  Anonymous, Capitol Building at Washington, D. C. (1906), courtesy of Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-121528]. Right:  Anonymous, Facade of the Sam Wah’s Chinese Laundry (c. 1890 –1900), courtesy of the Denver Public Library.
Even if we had never seen either of these buildings before, it would not take us long to determine which was a government building and which was a smalltown retail establishment. Our having seen thousands of buildings enables us to understand the purpose of a building from architectural clues.
When first seeing a work of architecture, it is helpful to unpack cultural assumptions. You might ask: 1. What is the purpose of this building? Is it public or private? What activities take place within it? 2. What features of the building reflect this purpose?
Which of these features are necessary and which are merely conventional? 3. What buildings or building styles does this building allude to? What values are inherent in that allusion? 4. What parts of this building are principally decorative rather than functional? What does the ornament or lack of it say about the status of the owners or the people who work there? 5. What buildings surround this building?
How do they affect the way the building is entered? 6. What types of people live or work in this building? How do they interact within the space? What do these findings say about the relative social status of the occupants? How does the building design restrict or encourage that status?
7. How are people supposed to enter and move through the building? What clues does the building give as to how this movement should take place? L I T E R AT U R E I N I T S C U LT U R A L C O N T E X T 15 These questions imply two basic assumptions about architecture: (1) architecture reflects and helps establish social status and social relations; and (2) architecture i