Shall the great North go Sylla’s way?
Proscribe? prolong the evil day?
Confirm the curse? infix the hate?
In Unions name forever alienate?
Lee in the Capitol
A nation’s literature offers deep insight into its history and culture. Literature can also reveal truths about human nature in more artful ways that philosophical or political documents. The stories, plays, and poems here are only a few in the body of literature that explores ideas of citizenship, belonging, and American history and culture.
These plays take place in Rome, Coriolanus at the birth of the Republic and Julius Caesar at its fall, and focus on the politics of the Roman Republic. Each offers insight into the roles of individuals in a democratic society, how the ruling class and public interact with each other, and the virtues of duty and honor.
“Bartleby the Scrivener” is one of Herman Melville’s most famous short stories. Bartleby is a clerk in a law office who one day refuses to comply with a request from his boss, only offering the phrase “I prefer not to” as his reason why. The rest of the story follows the narrator, Bartleby’s boss, as he tries to figure out what to do with Bartleby.
After the Civil War, Confederate General Robert E. Lee was summoned to the Capital to be interviewed by the Reconstruction Committee. This poem by Melville is about Lee’s trip to Washington and a fictional response Lee gives in his testimony pondering what will come of the relationship between the North and the South.
Billy Budd is a young sailor on a naval ship who stands trial for the murder of an officer after the officer accuses him of planning a mutiny. The trial exposes the contradiction that sometimes exists between upholding the law and abiding by one’s moral principles.
Edward Everett Hale
This short story by Edward Everett Hale depicts the life of a U.S. Army officer who, during his court martial for committing treason, wishes he would never hear the name of the United States again. The judge makes his wish his punishment – he is sentenced to spend the rest of his life aboard U.S. Navy ships and is never to hear anything about the United States every again. The story, originally published in The Atlantic in 1863, was written to garner support for the Union during the Civil War.
Ralph Ellison, most famous for his novel Invisible Man, wrote many short stories and essays often exploring the topics of racism, identity, and belonging. “In a Strange Country” tells the story of a black American in the U.S. Navy in a small Welsh town. “The Little Man at Chehaw Station” is an essay based on some advice Ellison received while studying music at Tuskegee Institute. He investigates the challenges of artists in the United States.
Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: Leadership and a Global Stage
Poetry of the Great War: From Darkness to Light
Activism through Literature: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Slavery, and Justice
Bill of Rights Institute