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Teen Reader

The Man Without a Country

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Edward Everett Hale

About the Author

Edward Everett Hale (April 3, 1822-June 10, 1909)

Edward Hale was born on April 3, 1822, in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Nathan Hale (1784–1863), proprietor and editor of the Boston Daily Advertiser, and Sarah Preston Everett; and the brother of Lucretia Peabody Hale, Susan Hale, and Charles Hale. Edward Hale was a nephew of Edward Everett, the orator and statesman, and grand-nephew of Nathan Hale (1755–1776), the Revolutionary War hero executed by the British for espionage. Edward Everett Hale was also a descendant of Richard Everett and related to Helen Keller.

Hale was a child prodigy who exhibited extraordinary literary skills. He graduated from Boston Latin School at age 13 and enrolled at Harvard College immediately after. There, he settled in with the literary set, won two Bowdoin Prizes and was elected the Class Poet. He graduated second in his class in 1839 at age 17 and then studied at Harvard Divinity School.  His best known work was "The Man Without a Country", published in the Atlantic in 1863 and intended to strengthen support for the Union cause in the North. As in some of his other non-romantic tales, he employed a minute realism which led his readers to suppose the narrative a record of fact.


“The Man Without a Country”

The protagonist is a young US Army lieutenant, Philip Nolan, who develops a friendship with the visiting Aaron Burr. When Burr is tried for treason (that historically occurred in 1807), Nolan is tried as an accomplice. During his testimony, he bitterly renounces his nation and, with a foul oath, angrily shouts, "I wish I may never hear of the United States again!" The judge is completely shocked at that announcement and, on convicting him, icily grants him his wish. Nolan is to spend the rest of his life aboard US Navy warships in exile with no right ever to set foot on US soil again and with explicit orders that no one shall ever again mention his country to him.

Questions for “The Man Without a Country”

1. At the beginning of the story, most readers are as shocked as the court officers at Nolan's lack of patriotism.  By the end of the story, most readers sympathize with Nolan.  How does Hale bring about this transformation in readers' sympathies?  Point to specific incidents in the story.

2. Writing in the midst of the Civil War, Hale, like Lincoln, wants people to give their primary allegiance to the country as a whole, not to an individual state or to a region.  How does the story work to accomplish this goal?  Refer to specific evidence. 
3. Nolan compares a country to a home and to a family.  He claims that you belong to your country "as you belong to your own mother".  What sorts of duties and obligations does that sense of belonging entail?  Do you agree with Nolan's analogy?  Why or why not?

4. Lincoln and Hale share many beliefs about the nature of the nation/country to which people should owe their allegiance.  Nonetheless, their views are not identical.  Discuss some of the differences and the implications of those differences.  Compare, for instance, Lincoln's notion of a "government of the people, by the people, and for the people" with Nolan's statement that "behind the officers, and government, and people even, there is the Country Herself". 

5. At the end of the story, does Danforth do the right thing to tell Nolan about the United States, even though he is disobeying orders?  Are there conditions in which someone is justified to disregard the law or proclamations of the government?  If so, what are those conditions?  If not, why not? 



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