Compare and contrast how any three of our verbal or visual texts represent the notion of “freedom.” I

Despite Patterson’s warning that the notion of “freedom” is “better experienced than defined,” this essay challenges you to locate a working definition of the term.

Your assignment is to define freedom through a careful analysis of any three texts. By looking closely at three texts of your choosing, you will consider how various Americans have experienced or represented “freedom” in order to develop a nuanced and substantial definition of freedom in the U.S. context.

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When defining the term, avoid the dictionary, or at least don’t include a dictionary definition in your paper. Dictionary definitions (and etymology especially) can be useful, but your task in this essay is to arrive at a definition of this abstract idea not through Webster’s or the Oxford English Dictionary but through the written texts and experiences of Americans who have lived through, longed for, and represented “freedom” and its limits in the U.S.

Assignment

In a thesis-driven, argumentative essay, respond to the following prompt:

Compare and contrast how any three of our verbal or visual texts represent the notion of “freedom.” In your thesis, explain what definition of “freedom” emerges from a comparative analysis of these three texts.

Your essay should attempt to synthesize the three texts that you choose. In other words, come to a conclusion that emerges from an interpretation of all three texts; don’t simply note three different ways that the texts define the term. The texts from this section of the course don’t often declare a surface-level definition of “freedom,” so you will have to infer what notion of “freedom” is operating in your three chosen texts.

Make sure to justify your thesis with evidence from the texts, not just your personal opinion.

You may choose any three of the following texts:

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) by Frederick Douglass
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) by Harriet Jacobs
Testimony on Bill H.R. 40 (2019) by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Simon Pokagon, “The Red Man’s Rebuke” (1893)
Zitkála-Šá, “Impressions of an Indian Childhood” (1900)” / “The School Days of an Indian Girl” (1900) [for this assignment, these two readings will count as one text]
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1855 & 1892) [including “Song of Myself”)
Alexander Stephens, Cornerstone Speech (1861)
Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address (1865)
The Nevada Constitution (1864)
Looking Backward: 2000–1887 (1889) by Edward Bellamy
How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York (1890) by Jacob Riis
“The Problem with Capitalist Philanthropy” (2020) by Zahra Moloo
Atlanta Compromise Address (1895) by Booker T. Washington
The Souls of Black Folk (1903) by W.E.B. Du Bois
“Lynch Law in America” (1900) by Ida B. Wells

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