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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing, 1815-1850
The Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing
Topic: Culture of the Common ManTopic: Cult of DomesticityTopic: ReligionTopic: ExpansionTopic: America in 1850
Topic: Cult of Domesticity
Overview of Triumph of Nationalism
Resource Menu: Cult of Domesticity
Text 1. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps
» Reading Guide
•  Link

Text 2. Caroline Gilman
Text 3. Catharine E. Beecher
Text 4. Harriet Jacobs
Text 5. Fanny Fern
Text 6. Godey's Lady's Book
Text 7. Rev. Theodore Parker
Text 8. Elizabeth Cady Stanton

RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
1.  Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, "The Angel over the Right Shoulder," 1852

Introducing this short story about a northern urban woman is the following exchange:
  --Husband: "Don't you wish you had never been married?"
  --Wife, after suppressing a "yes" response: "I should like the good, without the evil, if I could have it."

From this evolves an experiment in which the wife strives to create a life more fulfilling than merely keeping her "house and family in order." After her experiment fails, she has a dream in which the worth of her role as a wife and mother is revealed to her. Phelps, a well-known author of the time who addressed social issues, leads her story to a conclusion that is quintessentially nineteenth-century . . . or is it? Worthwhile to compare with Gilman's "The Planter's Bride." Appropriate for classroom use. 6 pages.

Discussion questions
  ·  How does Mrs. James define a "fulfilling life" before and after her dream?
  ·  Who is the judge of a woman's success or failure in fulfilling her role? Who or what bestows dignity on her daily duties?
  ·  Is Mrs. James reassured or distressed by the message of her dream?
  ·  How would Fanny Fern or Elizabeth Cady Stanton respond to this story?
  ·  Refer to the discussion questions for Gilman's "The Planter's Bride" to compare these two pieces.

Reading highlights
  ·  Note the change in tone in the sections before and after the dream. Why does irony disappear?

» Link

Topic Framing Questions
  •  How did women of this period define themselves? What stories did they choose to tell?
  •  In what ways did these women exercise—and define—power and influence?
  •  How did the “cult of domesticity” shape the debate over woman’s place in antebellum American society?
  •  In what ways did this debate reflect the prevailing tensions of race, class, region, and religion in American society?

Toolbox: The Triumph of Nationalism / The House Dividing
Common Man | Cult of Domesticity | Religion | Expansion | America in 1850

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