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Periods of American Literature:Historical & Cultural Context English III WFISD Curriculum (2013-2014)
What shapes who you are? 1. List at least three things that make you the person you are. Prepare to share.
We are the product of our time and culture. The year we are born, the places we’ve lived, the people in our lives – all these things affect the people we become.
Writers, too, are influenced by the time and place in which they live. As readers, we can better understand and appreciate a writer’s work if we learn about the history and culture that inspired it.
Historical & Cultural Context The time, place, and social conditions that influence a work of literature are called the historical and cultural context.
History, Culture, & You To better understand how history and culture influence writers, let’s first look at how you are affected by your times.
Think about who you are – your values and beliefs, your likes and dislikes, even your sense of style. You’re you because of how you’ve grown up. Your family and friends, your personal experiences, and the world in which you live have all influenced you as a person.
Notes-Question 3: Using the items just mentioned and/or the items you listed in Question 1, write a paragraph (5-8 sentences) specifically explaining how you have become the person you are today. Prepare to share.
Both the time period and location in which you grew up have influenced who you are today. If it’s difficult to see how, try to imagine growing up in a different time & place.
For Example… How would your life be different if you were growing up during the Great Depression?
The Great Depression forced many young people to: • give up school • take on the roles of adults • take jobs if they could find them • stand in long bread lines to bring home food to their families • leave home when their families could not feed them • look for work while traveling the country on freight trains
Discuss with a partner… What kind of person would you be if you had grown up during these harsh times? Discuss this with a partner. Prepare to share.
Like us, writers are influenced by the times in which they live. • Whether they realize it or not, some writers reveal their beliefs, values, and concerns in their works. • Sometimes those beliefs are echoed in themes, or messages about life that a writer wants to communicate. Other times, a writer’s concerns are revealed through his or her descriptions of settings, conflicts, or characters.
Specific factors that affect writers • Events - wars, medical breakthroughs, natural disasters, etc. • Cultural values – a culture’s belief about right and wrong • Social concerns – expression of feelings about the social and political issues of the day • Personal experiences – drawing on personal experience to create a powerful, emotional impact
When we learn more about the events and experiences that have shaped a writer’s life, we are considering the context and “reading” between the lines, leading us to a deeper understanding of literature.
For example… Read the following passage from Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” about a man traveling through the wilderness and bitter cold.
“He knew there must be no failure. When it is seventy-five below zero, a man must not fail in his first attempt to build a fire—that is, if his feet are wet. If his feet are dry, and he fails, he can run along the trail for half a mile and restore his circulation. But the circulation of wet and freezing feet cannot be restored by running when it is seventy-five below.”
What can you infer, or make a reasonable guess, about the setting of this story? • It has a large population. • It is extremely harsh. • It is rarely sunny.
“B” is the correct answer. Both the phrase “he knew” and the description that follows reflect the character’s understanding of the harsh setting.
The story behind the story… Now, read this background information about Jack London’s life. Consider how this information helps you understand the inspiration behind London’s story.
Jack London’s Background In 1897, at the age of 21, London traveled to the wilderness of Alaska and Northwest Canada to prospect for gold. He was fascinated by the life-and-death struggles he experienced, as well as the tales he heard from other prospectors. The harsh conditions and challenges of the Yukon appear in many of his works.
What evidence of London’s personal experience appears in the passage you read? London knows firsthand about the dangers and bitter cold of a setting like this one. Perhaps he based his descriptions on the “life-and-death struggles he experienced.”
What might the author have been trying to communicate to his readers? Through his vivid descriptions, London might have wanted to show how harsh and unforgiving that setting had been to the prospectors living there.
Since different writers were affected by the same factors, we are faced with specific periods of time in which these different writers address the same issues and convey similar themes.
Native American Period (pre to 1620) Characteristics • Oral literature: epic narratives, creation myths, stories, poems, songs. Use stories to teach moral lessons and convey practical information about the natural world. • Deep respect for nature and animals • Cyclical world view Major Works The World on the Turtle’s Back – Iroquois Creation Myth
Puritanism (1620-1750) Characteristics • sermons, some poetry, personal narratives, & diaries in plain style of writing • saw religion as a personal, inner experience. • believed in original sin and a person’s fate is determined by God
Puritanism (1620-1750) Major Works/Author • Jonathan Edwards • The Crucible (Arthur Miller-1950) • William Bradford • Mary Rowlandson • Anne Bradstreet
Puritanism (1620-1750) Historical Events • colonies established • Salem Witch Trials
Rationalism (1750-1800) Characteristics • also known as the The Age of Reason or The Enlightenment and includes the Revolutionary Period • mostly comprised of philosophers, scientists, & politicians writing speeches & pamphlets; includes some poetry • believed human beings could arrive at truth (God’s rules) by using deductive reasoning, rather than relying on the authority of the past, on religious faith, or intuition • reaction to Puritanism
Rationalism (1750-1800) Major Works/Authors • Patrick Henry • The Declaration of Independence • Thomas Paine • Benjamin Franklin • Phyllis Wheatley
Rationalism (1750-1800) Historical Events • Boston Tea Party • Revolutionary War • Creation of American government
Romanticism (1800-1860) Characteristics • appreciation of nature • sensory feelings valued over intellect • obsession with passions & inner struggles of the hero & genius • encouragement of creativity & imagination • interest in diverse cultural origins & grotesque and barbaric origins
Romanticism (1800-1860) Major Works/Authors • Emily Dickinson • Walt Whitman • Washington Irving • The Scarlet Letter
Romanticism (1800-1860) Historical Events • Industrialism • War of 1812 • California Gold Rush
Transcendentalism (1840-1860) Characteristics • also known as American Renaissance • self-reliance & individualism over external authority & blind conformity • intuition, or insight, reveals God’s spirit in nature & human beings • idealistic search for Utopia
Transcendentalism (1840-1860) Major Works/Authors • Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson • Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau • Margaret Fuller
Transcendentalism (1840-1860) Historical Events • abolitionist movement • women’s suffrage movement • utopian movement
American Gothic Period (1800-1855) Characteristics • also known as Dark Romanticism • contains cold, dark settings • evokes a mysterious, suspenseful, &, sometimes, sad mood • often contains supernatural events, revelation of the dark side of human beings, and/or feelings of abandonment from God or a loved one
American Gothic Period (1800-1855) Major Works/Authors • Edgar Allen Poe • some Nathaniel Hawthorne works • Moby Dick
Realism (1850-1900) Characteristics • Reflects feelings of disillusionment • Contains common subjects – slums of rapidly growing cities, factories replacing farmlands, poor factory workers, & corrupt politicians • Seeks to explain psychological & social behaviors
Realism (1850-1900) Major Works/Authors • Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce • The Open Boat by Stephen Crane • Call of the Wild • Historical Events • The Civil War • Reconstruction
Regionalism (1880-1910) • Major Works/Authors • The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by Mark Twain • The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin Characteristics Represents mannered and environment of everyday life & ordinary people as realistically as possibly
Modernism (1900-1950) Characteristics • Loss of faith in The American Dream • Emphasis on bold experimentation in style & form • Interest in the inner workings of the human mind (stream of consciousness)
Modernism (1900-1950) Major Works/Authors • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald • Poetry of Robert Frost • “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot • Of Mice and Men • Historical Events • World War I • The Great Depression • World War II
Harlem Renaissance (1920-1940) Characteristics • African American cultural (literature, art, & music) movement in Harlem, NY • Poetry sometimes based on spirituals & jazz • Sometimes contained diction from the street talk of the ghettos
Harlem Renaissance (1920-1940) Major Authors/Works • Langston Hughes • Claude McKay • “How it Feels to be Colored Me” by Zora Neale Hurston Historical Events • New Negro Movement • Prohibition
Postmodernism (1950-present) Characteristics • also known as Contemporary period • influenced by studies of media, language, and information technology • sense that little is unique; culture endlessly duplicates and copies itself • new literary forms and techniques: works composed of only dialogue or combining fiction and nonfiction, experimenting with physical appearance of their work
Postmodernism (1950-present) Major Works/Authors • Martin Luther King, Jr. • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings • The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan • E.E. Cummings • Death of a Salesman • Sandra Cisneros