Alcove Activities: First Level: Paraphrasing a Text, The Nineteenth-Century American
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First Level: Paraphrasing a Text, The Nineteenth-Century American
In this set of activities you will be both paraphrasing and explicating the thesis of several classic texts. You will paraphrase each excerpt section by section, followed by explicating the texts by stating your understanding of each one in your own words, then elaborating, exemplifying and illustrating them. In other words, for each of the texts in this section, you will begin by articulating them in your own words, sentence by sentence, or in parts, as we have presented them. Then you will explicate each one at level two.

After writing out your paraphrases in your own words, and explicating them, click on the thinker icon to see our specimen answers. You will first read the text as a whole at the beginning of each section, along with its background information, and then you will find the same text divided into parts for your practice.

The Nineteenth-Century American

Background Information:
This excerpt is from the book, The American Mind, by the distinguished historian Henry Steele Commager.

In one realm the American was a conformist, and that was the realm of morals. Although he did not always observe them, he accepted without question the moral standards of the Puritans, and if a later generation was to find him repressed and inhibited, there is little evidence that he was conscious of his sufferings... Conformity and conventionalism in matters of morals sometimes assumed aggressive form, and the willingness to resign control of the whole field of culture to women combined with the tradition of Puritanism to encourage intolerance and justify censorship. Language was emasculated, literature expurgated, art censored. Piano legs were draped with pantalets, words like belly and breast dropped from polite conversation, the discussion of sex confined to men and obstetrics to women, while Shakespeare and Fielding joined French writers generally in disrepute. Early in the century a furor was raised when Hiram Powers exhibited his undraped “Greek Slave,” and at the end of the century Thomas Eakins, perhaps the greatest of American painters, was driven from the Pennsylvania Academy when he used male models in mixed classes. Dancing, plays, and mixed bathing came under the ban. Censorship of art and literature slid easily into censorship of morals, especially those having to do with love and drinking; modesty degenerated into Comstockery and the temperance movement into prohibition.

Now that you have read the full text above, you will find the same text in sections below. Write out your paraphrase of each section in the box provided. Then see our specimen answers by clicking on the thinker icon.


In one realm the American was a conformist, and that was the realm of morals.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: Though Americans may have been independent thinkers in some domains of their lives, they did not think independently about social and religious understandings of right and wrong.




Although he did not always observe them, he accepted without question the moral standards of the Puritans...



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: Though Americans did not always live in accordance with a Puritanical view of right and wrong, they nevertheless did not question the dominant idea that a Puritan outlook was morally correct andobligatory.




...and if a later generation was to find him repressed and inhibited, there is little evidence that he was conscious of his sufferings.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: If a historical view now shows the nineteenth-century American to be hampered and inwar dly intimidated by these Puritanical rules, there is little proof that he had any awareness of the negative impact that these beliefs were having on him.




Conformity and conventionalism in matters of morals sometimes assumed aggressive form, and the willingness to resign control of the whole field of culture to women combined with the tradition of Puritanism to encourage intolerance and justify censorship. Language was emasculated, literature expurgated, art censored.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: The whole range of “acceptable” behavior significantly narrowed, especially anything having to do with human sexuality or sensuality. The enforcement of a narrow set of norms became militant and warlike. As women increasingly dictated what is and is not “moral” within society, and as Puritanism increasingly influenced culture, intolerance and censorship seemed equivalent to standing up for what is right, decent, and just. Freedom of speech and expression were undermined and curtailed. Officials assumed the authority to make sweeping judgments about printed material, movies, and the arts, and to suppress any parts of these materials on the basis of “obscenity” and a perceived threat to security. As a result, books, movies, and the arts considered acceptable were generally those with questionable literary and artistic quality. Conversely, the range of ideas and practices considered “offensive” was greatly expanded.




Piano legs were draped with pantalets, words like belly and breast dropped from polite conversation, the discussion of sex confined to men and obstetrics to women, while Shakespeare and Fielding joined French writers generally in disrepute. Early in the century a furor was raised when Hiram Powers exhibited his undraped “Greek Slave,” and at the end of the century Thomas Eakins, perhaps the greatest of American painters, was driven from the Pennsylvania Academy when he used male models in mixed classes.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: Essentially anything considered overtly, or even subtly, sexual, was removed from public viewing and could not be publicly discussed. People who disagreed with puritanical views were ridiculed and ostracized, if not persecuted or prosecuted. Even piano legs had to be covered because they appeared to the puritanical mind to be sexually erotic. Many commonly used words were no longer socially acceptable because they seemed crude and vulgar. Women were not allowed to discuss sex, and men were not allowed to discuss childbirth. Writers of classics such as Shakespeare and Fielding were considered vulgar, along with the French writers, and an artist who used nude male models in classes with both genders was banned from an art academy.




Dancing, plays, and mixed bathing came under the ban. Censorship of art and literature slid easily into censorship of morals, especially those having to do with love and drinking; modesty degenerated into Comstockery and the temperance movement into prohibition.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: Due to this religious fervor sweeping the country, dancing, attending plays, and swimming in mixed company were all banned. Disallowing certain ideas to be exhibited in the arts and literature led to the disallowing of personal rights, such as the right to drink alcohol and the freedom to choose one’s own behavior within romantic relationships. Being sexually reserved was transformed into obsessive puritanism and censorship, and prudent drinking of alcohol transformed into laws against all drinking, whether public or private.