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Power in Literature: Nonfiction

The power of freedom as seen through nonfiction.

What do modern Afghan women, the American founding fathers, and African-American slaves have in common (other than all having an "A" in their names)? Answer: motivated by a desire for freedom, they've written nonfiction that's changed the world. But inspiring great nonfiction is only one of freedom's powers. What else will people do for it? And why? What would you do for freedom (and we're not just talking about the freedom to stay out past 10 on a week night, even if you would mow the lawn for it).

We'll answer these questions in this Power in Literature course by examining some big-deal documents written by our founding fathers—yep, those guys in tight pants and wigs. Their flawless fashion sense wasn't the only good thing they had going on: they were also able to marshal a sense of purpose and a command of tone to craft governing documents that are still guaranteeing our freedom two hundred years later (bet you can't say the same for that lawn you mowed). And though Afghan women and African-American slaves used poetry instead of prose, they, too, did so with a purpose: to express their desire for freedom and take down what stood in their way.

So go ahead: discover what freedom can do, along with some powerful analytical tools for reading non-fiction. Put them together, and you've got the "Power of Freedom." Please use it for good.

The Power in Literature Series

Have you ever wondered what makes you keep turning the pages of the latest page-turner? Why those "Happy Anniversary" Hallmark cards come with cheesy love poems inside? Or maybe you're curious about why, when you get on the internet to find out how tall Tom Cruise is (because he looks really short next to Katie Holmes, and she wasn't even wearing heels), you emerge three hours later an expert on the mating habits of ducks. What gives language in all its forms—whether prose, poetry, or on a web page—its power to entertain, persuade, and make us lose all sense of time and decency?

Shmoop's Power in Literature nano-series investigates this question by taking apart some literature genres—short stories, poems, nonfiction, and web reading—to figure out what makes them go. Each twelve-lesson, fully Common Core-aligned course for grades 9–10 introduces students to the basic nuts and bolts of the genre. And just to make things really interesting, we look at the power of money, love, freedom, and fame while we're doing it.

Course Breakdown

Unit 1. The Power of Freedom (Nonfiction)

In this nano course, we shake the dust off of documents like the Constitution, Emancipation Proclamation, and Gettysburg Address and make them come alive. It's all in the name of getting students to appreciate the power of their freedom and understand where it comes from—not to mention hitting those 9th to 10th grade Common Core standards about reading informational texts.

Sample Lesson - Introduction

Lesson 3: BE Objective, B-E Objective

Picture this: You're hanging out with a friend, chatting about your plans for Saturday night, when all of a sudden, before you know it, you've offered to host an enormous party at your own house while your parents are out of town. Whoa. Did your friend do a Jedi mind trick on you?

Your house after that party your friends have planned.


Not quite. What your friend did—and what writers sometimes do—is called swaying. No, we're not talking about what happens when you get up too fast or when you're pretending to slow dance. To sway someone is to have a bit of influence over her thoughts or actions. You didn't intend to offer up your house, but that mind trick clearly worked. You never even saw it coming.

So, how do writers exert this influence? Sometimes you'll read an article that appears to be objective, or fact-based, but it's full of bias, or what we call a "slant"—a prejudice, or a particular point of view that's based more on opinions than facts. These articles are trying to sway you into thinking the way the author does. Some writers can sneak this in pretty stealthily, like thieves in the night or your party-loving friend, and others can be totally blatant, like a carjacker robbing his next-door neighbor. But whether they're sneaky or OMG so obvious, both are subjective—that is, they're based on opinion, rather than fact. Learning how to recognize subjective sources when they appear is the difference between controlling your own mind, and letting others control it for you. Yep, it's really that important.