Our fifth speaker, John Ronan, shared his unique, evolving, and very compelling reading of the public historical connections and purposes behind Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown.”
John’s reading forms the basis for a forthcoming article in the New England Quarterly, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to spoil its details here. So instead I’ll just say this: “YGB” is as familiar, for American Studiers and scholars, as an American short story gets, and John’s reading opens it up in a host of new ways. He also breathes new life into a couple equally well-trodden paths: the story of Hawthorne’s relationship to the Salem Witch Trials; and the story of the Witch Trials themselves, and of how we make meaning of them in America.
At the end of the day, and as this blog has proved time and again, I’m pretty antiquarian in what I hope is the best sense: believing that there’s significant value in our continuing engage with some of the most old-school, canonical, traditional American texts and figures, questions and narratives. The key, of course, is to find ways to keep that engagement fresh and compelling, and to make clear why it matters to contemporary audiences and conversations. John’s talk and ideas are great examples of that work, and I can’t recommend highly enough that you check them out in the NEQ.
Final speaker this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Any takes on “YGB” or any historical short stories?5/18 Memory Day nominee: Frank Capra, one of 20th century America’s greatest mythmakers and yet a filmmaker entirely willing to portray some of America’s darker and more complex narratives and themes as well.
All of this has been very thought-provoking, as usual. This entry has made me think of the many memorials for May 4 at Kent State University, probably because I'm back in Northeast Ohio and stopped off at my parents' house yesterday, who live right across the street from KSU. May 4 has always been a part of my life, beginning with my father working in Taylor Hall--right where all the action took place. I went to KSU and taught there as well. Over the years, many various memorials were created, none without controversy. When I was fairly young, the University decided to build a a larger gym which would cover some of the land involved in the shooting. Students camped out on the property all summer and it was referred to as tent city. These were different times and Kent, without its 25,000 student, is just 10,000 strong, and my parents weren't concerned when my sister and I and our neighborhood gang (mostly professor's kids) moved up to tent city also. I was teaching at KSU as a grad student for the 20th anniversary of May 4. There was huge national coverage. Now, various spots in the parking lot of Taylor Hall are memorials--another controversy.
In the end, since this is going on too long, what I can say from the perspective of both a Townie and a student is that none of the memorials have ever been totally successful. The biggest walk through one is perhaps the nicest, but it was originally designed to be much bigger and then scaled back due to the lack of fund-raising. It is clear that something needs to be done, but no one ever gets it just right.
On the other hand, perhaps the best memorial to May 4 at KSU is that it is a demonstrative school. I grew up in Kent and then went there for two degrees, and it was a rare day when, walking across the library plaza, there wasn't someone standing on an amplifier shouting out a cause. I have seen people handcuff themselves to railings (including some of my friends in Amnesty International), and marched in Take Back the Night projects there. The legacy is that you do protest and you do speak up.
Sadly, my parents have reported back that in recent years, some of this has gotten out of hand at KSU with riots going on; I didn't believe it until I read about it on line. But I guess I'll take that over the silence I see all too often at Fitchburg, where I now teach.
Too long a note. Sorry, but you got me thinking. And by the way, I'm really taken with the idea of sports as the place where American identity is truly being forged these days.