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In the Classroom > Picturing America Lessons > Paul Revere's Ride

Back to Paul Revere's Ride: the Story, the Hero, the Truth

Suggested Answers for "Paul Revere's Ride: the Story, the Hero, the Truth" Questions

Answers to Examining Expressive Content Questions

What mood did Grant Wood set in his painting, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere"?

cartoonish, child-like, simplified, unreal, idealized, sanitized

How did he achieve it?

Wood used bold, crisp lines, clear light, geometric shapes & too-perfect trees, flat colors, exaggerated unreal moonlight, viewpoint- looking down from above

What effect does looking down upon this scene create?

setting looks more like a child created it with building blocks; an emotional distance is created- the viewer is not part of the scene

How does he focus the viewer's eye on the most important activity happening in the picture?

The light is brightest at that spot and the eye moves down the lit steeple to the figures below, the rider is by the tallest building at a point where the road curves away into the background

What ties the scene together?

The road

Wood was not concerned with historical accuracy with this image. What evidence do you see of that? Why might he have chosen to not be historically accurate with his details?

the moonlight and lights in houses (supposedly lit by candles) are too bright, trees look like lollipops, architectural styles depicted are not all correct for the time period, the cliffs are fanciful. Wood created the setting- he is not representing an actual town. He wanted his image to appear dreamlike, unreal.

John Singleton Copley's painting of Paul Revere: Where does the artist focus the viewer's eye and how does he do that?

The viewer's eye is focused on Revere's face, specifically his eye and eyebrow. Copley has provided a frame of Revere's face by placing his hand beneath his chin and by placing the dark, unbroken background behind him. Half of Revere's face is in shadow, which further accents his eye and eyebrow. Revere's position is that of a triangle and the viewer's eye is drawn to his face at the top of that triangle.

Why might Paul Revere have considered himself to be worthy of a Copley portrait?

He was well-known in Boston for his skills as a silversmith and engraver; he was a successful businessman and artisan of a highly regarded craft.

What did Copley, or possibly Revere, do to make Revere's craft of silversmith appear to be a worthy art?

The surface of the table shines and is unmarred, and the teapot gleams. Revere is clean- no smudged clothing, dirty hands, or broken fingernails, but he was the head of his shop and except for perhaps the engraving (which would not have dirtied his clothing or hands), he hired other men to do the work of making the teapots, etc.

What clues do you get from this painting about what Revere thought of himself? What did he want viewers to see?

He appears self-assured, confident; he might have wanted viewers to see that he would get the job done and do it well.

In most portraits from this time period male sitters were fully dressed in their best clothing, which included a coat, something around the neck, and sometimes a wig. What message did Revere want to give by dressing this way?

He was proud of being an artisan and was not concerned with appearing to be a gentleman.

Answers to Teaching Plan Questions

1. How do the poem and deposition differ?

  • Revere did not ride alone. He was accompanied by William Dawes and Samuel Prescott.
  • No mention is made in the poem that Revere had been instructed and did warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock, both in Lexington, of the advancement of the British troops.
  • No mention is made in the poem of Revere's capture, his being questioned at gunpoint and released.
  • In reality, Revere did not make it all the way to Concord. He was captured and released in Lexington and made it no further. Only Dawes rode all the way to Concord.

Why might Longfellow have chosen to depict Revere as riding alone and why might he have omitted Revere's capture and release?

Longfellow was more concerned with making Revere appear as brave and heroic as possible rather than sticking to the truth. It was easier to identify one man as a hero.

Longfellow wrote this poem in 1860. What was going on in the nation then? Why might he have chosen to write this poem at that time?

The Civil War was just beginning. The country was breaking in two and the immediate future appeared bleak, frightening, and uncertain. The general public needed comfort, reassurance, and to cling to positive aspects from the nation's past.

Why, in Longfellow's eyes, might Revere have made a good hero?

He was brave- willing to fight and take risks for what he thought was right and important; he was a good representation of the common man with a family and a reputable craft for which he was admired and with which he made a decent and honest living.

2. Grant Wood's image of Paul Revere's ride: What was going on in the nation in 1930 and 1931?

The Great Depression- unemployment was extremely high, there were food shortages; banks were collapsing.

Why might this have been a good time to "save bits of American Folklore that are too good to lose", and this story in particular?

National morale and pride in one's country were low. It was heartening to remember humble, selfless heroes such as Revere who arose from common, everyday backgrounds and who put himself on the line for liberty. It was a time to bring forth positive aspects of American identity and to remember that individuals matter and can make a difference. Wood was, in the words of the writers of the Picturing America Teachers Resource Book, "committed to his dream of a truly American art that would link the present to the past and preserve all the stories that made up the American heritage." (pg. 16)

Why might it have been a good time to highlight an American hero from the past in this way?

The nation was dealing with enough worry, fear, poverty, and loss. Wood's image, with its dreamy, childlike quality, is free of anything negative and provided a bit of relief and hope.

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