Discussion for Henry Adams’s, “The Dynamo and the Virgin”
Henry Adams remains, even now, an important figure for literary and historical study. Adams’s The Education of Henry Adams is a key historical text to understand the end of the 19th century and the dawn of the “modern” era of the 20th century. His history/autobiography is important, not for the facts that it records, but for Adams’s descriptions of his reactions to the incredible changes and scientific discoveries occurring during that era.
One of those key events was the World’s Fair of 1900 at Paris. The Fair offered the first public display of mechanical engines able to harness electricity. The vision of technology able to control such invisible forces made a deep and disturbing impression upon Adams. He records these impressions in the most famous chapter of his autobiography: “The Dynamo and the Virgin.”
Adams uses the terms “Dynamo” and “Virgin” as symbols to represent different forces working their way through history.
1. Find 2 key passages from the text where Adams describes what the “Virgin” symbolizes to him. What was the influence of this force?
(Hint: “Virgin” refers to the image of women in religion and art. Throughout ancient history, women were the inspiration to make men achieve things, like make great art, music, sculpture, architecture—even more.)
2. Find 2 key passages from the text where Adams describes what the “Dynamo” symbolizes to him. What kind of force does the Dynamo symbolize?
(Hint: Look up some old black and white photos of electric dynamos. They were these towering machines with large antennae that had electricity running up and down them. These original electricity-harnessing machines are what Adams saw. They symbolize the new power of science and technology.)
3. Adams sees the world moving slowly away from the power of the Virgin and toward the power of the Dynamo. Why does this movement disturb Adams, especially as a historian? Find 2 passages to support your answer.
(Hint: Do you think Adams is comfortable with the new rising power of science? Does he understand how these new electric machines work?
ANSWER SHOULD BE IN the Sandwich method and add the page numbers for the passages. You should use this method of writing the short essays for my discussion questions .pls add the page numbers for the quotes.