An Overview of the American Literary Periods Mr. Lawrence BLITZ Week: Day 2
What is American Literature? American Literature is exactly what it sounds like literature that is specific to America. So what exactly does that mean?
Early American Fiction (1492-1789) The history of American Lit. begins with the 1st Americans…which are who? Literature is told through the oral tradition (what’s the problem here?) Works largely consist of origin myths, legends, chants, and other stories Spiritual forces show up in water, land, animals, etc. which shows a major theme in Native American literature…reverence for nature.
Early American Fiction (1492-1789) The next period goes from the people that were already here to the people that “discovered” America. This period is called the Exploration Period. The main writers during this time were explorers (Christopher Columbus, John Smith, William Bradford) who mainly wrote their accounts down in diaries, journals, and histories. Many of which are more fiction than fact.
Early American Fiction (1492-1789) The Early Colonial Period the main writers were Puritans which is why this age is often referred to as “Puritanism”. Puritan life focused on two things…God and work. They lived what we would consider to be lame lives from the way they dressed to their conversations. The main writers from the Puritan age: Edward Taylor “Huswifery”, Anne Bradstreet “To My Dear and Loving Husband”, and Jonathan Edwards “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”
Early American Fiction (1492-1789) Early American Fiction features the birth of two unique narratives. The captivity narrative are stories of people captured by "uncivilized" enemies. The narratives often include a theme of redemption by faith in the face of the threats and temptations of an alien way of life. The most famous of these being Mary Rowlandson’s Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson.
Early American Fiction (1492-1789) The second unique genre is the slave narrative which is an autobiographical account of life as a slave. The most famous of these are The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas: An American Slave, and Up from Slavery (by: Booker T. Washington)
The Revolutionary Period (1776-1820) The Revolutionary Period produced some of America’s finest political and philosophical writings. It also marked a movement into what is known as the Age of Reason or Age of Enlightenment. Key works of this period focus more on reason and common sense over tradition, scientific investigation over dependence on religious doctrine, and democracy over monarchy.
The Revolutionary Period (1776-1820) The major writers and works of the Revolutionary Period are: Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography and Poor Richard’s Almanac, the writings of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Patrick Henry
The Revolutionary Period (1776-1820) As you can tell the Revolutionary Period did not produce much creativity in it’s writings with the exception of one standout…Phillis Wheatley. PhillisWheatley was a slave purchased by John Wheatley who was lucky enough to be taught to read. She was well versed in the classics (Shakespeare, mythology, the Bible, etc.)
The Revolutionary Period (1776-1820) On Being Brought from Africa to America 'Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,Taught my benighted soul to understandThat there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.Some view our sable race with scornful eye,"Their colour is a diabolic die."Remember, Christians, Negro's, black as Cain,May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.
The Romantic Period (1820-1860) This is where American fiction begins to become unique and develop a truly “American” voice. Romantic writings focus on feelings and the individual. Characters in these works are often heroic and larger than life. They strive to find their identity in hostile and lonely settings. Romantics believe in “individualism” and that manifests itself in the beauty of nature and the power of imagination.
The Romanic Period (1820-1860) In the early Romantic we see writers such as James Fennimore Cooper (The Last of the Mohicans), Washington Irving (Rip Van Winkle, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and The Devil and Tom Walker), Edgar Allan Poe (“The Raven”, The Tell-Tale Heart, etc.), Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter), Herman Melville (Moby Dick).
The Romantic Period (1820-1860) A crucial literary development occurred during the Romantic Period called transcendentalism. This movement started with the thoughts of philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson and it was the belief that the world and God were one. According to Emerson each person’s soul was a part of nature and therefore it was identical to God. And that man can reach a God-like state through his own genius, imagination, self-reliance, and connection to nature. Emerson fully explains the principles of Transcendentalism in his essay “Nature”
The Romantic Period (1820-1860) Emerson had a protégé named Henry David Thoreau who was also a transcendentalist. In his book Walden he describes the joy he took living in his cabin on Walden Pond depending on no one but himself for survival. In 1844 Emerson wrote an essay “The Poet” in it he claimed that we were in need of a truly American poetic voice we were too much like England. This essay changed the course of American Poetry forever!
The Romantic Period (1820-1860) Free Style Free Verse
The Romantic Period (1820-1860) The last great writer of The Romantic Period is normally considered to be Harriet Beecher Stowe. She wrote a book called Uncle Tom’s Cabin which shocked America by presenting the horrors of slavery told through the eyes of a white woman.
Realism & Naturalism (1860-1914) Realism and Naturalism usually begins with the Civil War and ends with WWI. Realism is the exact opposite of Romanticism. There is nothing fantastic about it. The characters, settings, themes, plots are all realistic. Realism and Naturalism reflect the daily life and language of American life. Characters in the these stories have both virtues and vices and reflect a society that is far more industrialized and urban than the agricultural society seen in Romanticism.
Realism & Naturalism (1860-1914) The fiction writer realism has to offer is Samuel Clemens who wrote under the pseudonym Mark Twain. His classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn brings readers face to face with the issues of slavery, education, morality. However Twain does this by using humor, a realistic plot, and regionalism)
Realism & Naturalism (1860-1914) Other famous novelists of Realism include William Dean Howells, Henry James, and Edith Wharton. These writers produced works that portray wealthy Americans who have to deal with their own spiritual blindness, selfishness, and greed. Sometimes they come out of it okay as in Howell’s The Rise of Silas Lapham. Which tells the story of a wealthy business man who chooses bankruptcy over immorality.
Realism & Naturalism (1860-1914) Toward the end of this period in the late 1800s and early 1900s we see what are called “Naturalistic” writers. Naturalism focuses on deep social problems caused by industrialization, a loss of morality, alienation, and over crowded cities. The concentrated on the lives of the poor and the outcasts. And the overwhelming environmental forces that alter a person’s ability to make the best decisions.
Realism & Naturalism (1860-1914) Famous writers and works of Naturalism include: Jack London (The Call of the Wild), Stephen Crane (The Red Badge of Courage and Maggie: A Girl of the Streets), Theodore Dreiser (An American Tragedy).
Modernism & Experimentation (1914-1945) This period shows a wide range of themes and characters largely in part because of all the challenges America was facing (WWI, the Great Depression, and WWII). In this periods you see themes such as the horrors of war, racism, innocence, disillusionment, the consequences of greed and materialism, and loneliness vs. love).
Modernism & Experimentation (1914-1945) Famous writers include: F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby), Ernest Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea),William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying, Absalom, Absalom!)
Modernism & Experimentation (1914-1945) Here you also see the Social Protest writers John Steinbeck (Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath), Sinclair Lewis (Babbit, It Can’t Happen Here). The Harlem Renaissance also falls here with writers like Richard Wright (Native Son), Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God), Langston Hughes (“I Too, Sing America”, “Harlem”), Loraine Hansberry (A Raisin in the Sun).
Postmodernism & Innovation (1945- ) Here you see EVERYTHING…this is the literary period that America is in now. Writers are influenced by the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, drugs, religion, globalization (I’m tired of typing…just make note everything!!!)
Postmodernism & Innovation (1945- ) Metafiction-the blending of fiction and non-fiction Existentialism-literature that focuses on extreme despair Magical Realism-literature in which magic (like ghosts) is viewed as something everyday to the characters
Postmodernism & Innovation (1945- ) Here you see many writers from other cultures burst onto the American literature scene. Hispanics like Sandra Cisneros (House on Mango Street) and Rudolfo Anaya (Bless Me, Ultima). And members of the Asian community such as Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club) and Maxine Hong Kingston (The Warrior Woman) .
Good Luck Class of 2012 GO TIGERS!!!!!!!!!!!