The Chambered Nautilus Essay

Oliver Wendell Holmes
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Scott Trudell is a doctoral student of English literature at Rutgers University. In the following essay, he discusses the didactic, or moral, emphasis on productivity in “The Chambered Nautilus,” arguing that Holmes is ambivalent about his own moral message.

Immediately before “The Chambered Nautilus” is recited in The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, the autocrat asks, “Can you find no lesson in this?” In this way, he emphasizes that the poem will have a didactic, or a moral or instructional, quality. It is clear from the surrounding context that the poem's “lesson” will relate the ideas Holmes has been developing throughout the fourth chapter of his breakfast-table conversation series, which focuses on age, memory, productivity, personal development, and the spiritual journey through life's various stages. The autocrat's comments toward the end of the chapter about the “direction we are moving,” the importance that “we outgrow all that we...

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This section contains 1,589 words
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Buy The Chambered Nautilus Study Guide
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