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Pre-reading exercises: Discussion: *Pull up a brainstorm of terms that touch everything you can recall about New England society between the revolution and the civil war. Let’s see how much of what we know turns up in the story.

*Tolstoy wrote:“The aim of an artist is not to solve a problem irrefutably, but to make people love life in all its countless, inexhaustible manifestations.”   Later he said the aim of fiction was to make people “good by choice.” John Gardner, in On Moral Fiction says authors have a duty to discover through writing the Good, True, and Beautiful. But here’s another view from his contemporary:

“People look for morals in fiction because there has always been a confusion between fiction and philosophy. Fiction is experimentation; when it ceases to be that, it ceases to be fiction.”– John Cheever

In different eras, different writers, and different books, the understanding of the relationship between factual accounts, moral values,  escapism/wish fulfillment, “deeper truths,” “insights,” “empathy,” “alternate lives,” “Catharsis” and fiction has varied widely, as has the discourse about what that relationship should be, and what the purposes of fiction are, anyway. Look at the following quotes and discuss which you agree with, and why. What do you want from fiction?

While reading: When we see an injured or eccentric person, we tend to write a backstory in our head. Why? What backstory do you have or can you create at first for Ren’s hand? For Benjamin’s personality? For Tom’s alcoholism? For Dolly’s occupation? For Doctor Milton’s research interests?

After reading: Comment on the segments/factors of society in Tinti’s version of New England:

Church                        Science

Education        Family

Agriculture      Military

Industry           Women’s roles

Women’s roles Seagoing

*Investigate New England funeral customs and graveyards, particularly epitaphs. Write a good New-England style epitaph for each person who dies (or who is mentioned but has died before the story).

*Both Melville and Twain wrote about confidence men. Poe, in many ways, was one. The relationship between confidence men and fiction writers is interesting. Elaborate. Write on how, in many ways, the confidence man is the iconic American character.

*The orphan is a frequent topic in literature. Why?  Modern American authors of domestic dramas tend to include abused children and broken adults healing each other. Why do you think that trend exists?  In what ways is America itself an orphan?