Sunday, February 15, 2015

Outline of American Literature

Colonial Literature

v     Some of the earliest writings in America were pamphlets used as advertising to encourage more settlers to come from Europe.

v     Most of the writing focused on religion and religious debates.

v     English was not the only language in use. Many people spoke Spanish, French, Dutch, and German.

v     The earliest colonial printing presses were in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Annapolis, Maryland.

v     The first book of poetry was the Bay Psalm Book, which translated biblical Psalms.

v     Hector St. John de Crevecoeur wrote Letters from an American Farmer, discussing what it meant to be an American, and comparing urban and rural life in the colonies.

Poets: Anne Bradstreet, Edward Taylor, Phillis Wheatley

Noted Historian: Cotton Mather

Revolutionary Literature

v     Consisted mostly of political pamphlets, arguing for independence.

v     Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense arguing for American independence from Britain.

v     Benjamin Franklin wrote Poor Richard’s Almanac, and an autobiography.

Post Independence

v     The Federalist Papers became a public forum for debate, printed in newspapers, they were widely read and distributed throughout the states, primarily a debate between Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.

v     Sentimental Novels – typically revolve around themes of women’s social equality, resisting emotional passions with reason and logic, and emphasizing the goodness of humanity.

v     Susanna Rowson, wrote Charlotte Temple, the best seller of the time. It was a seduction story warning against falling in love.

v     Hannah Webster Foster wrote The Coquette, about a young woman suited by two men. She couldn’t decide which she wanted, and they both married other women, one of them first getting her pregnant with an illegitimate child.

Transcendentalism - 1820-1850

Transcendentalism was a religious and philosophical movement that believed in the goodness of mankind and the corrupting influences of organized society, specifically of the kind of intellectualism supported at Harvard University, and the Unitarian church (intellectualism stresses the importance of logic over emotion and feelings). The term ‘transcendentalist’ first came from critics who thought it transcended sanity.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was a poet and ex-minister who wrote the essay Nature, saying that man could quit organized religion, or transcend it, by studying nature. Emerson influenced Henry David Thoreau who lived alone in a cabin for two years and wrote his memoir Walden Pond, about the importance of independent thought and nonconformity.

Transcendentalism led to a failed attempt at a utopian society called Brook Farm, outside of Boston. All member would do an equal share of the work, choosing the tasks they preferred, and take an equal share of the profits, believing this would lead to more leisure time for all. It didn’t. They tried to raise money through selling crafts, and teaching, starting a primary and secondary school, but after a fire burned down their (uninsured) central building, the project was ruined.

American Gothic/Dark Romantic Literature – considered anti-Transcendentalism

While transcendentalists could be called optimists, believing in people’s wisdom to make the world better, the dark romantics are more cynical. They portrayed characters whose moral weakness leads to bad decisions, self-destruction, and ruin.

Washington Irving (1783-1859) was the first full-time American writer to earn a living from his writings. He wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle.

James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) wrote The Last of the Mohicans, part of a series of novels called the Leatherstocking series.

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) wrote Twice-Told Tales and The Scarlet Letter. He was one of the founders of Brook Farm, but was disillusioned with its failure, writing the satire The Blithedale Romance, where a similar utopian farm is ruined through love triangles and arguments.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849): wrote many short stories and poems dealing with death, horror, and one of the first detective stories, The Murders in the Rue Morgue. He also wrote The Raven, Tell-Tale Heart, The Pit and the Pendulum, and The Fall of the House of Usher. He was an outspoken critic of transcendentalism, and was such a harsh literary critic, he was called the Tomahawk man. Poe became more popular in Europe than America, though a lack of copyright law kept him poor.

Herman Melville (1819-1891) wrote Moby Dick, a whaling voyage that becomes a way for Melville to examine obsession, the nature of evil, and man’s struggle against nature.

Abolition of Slavery

Slavery was legal in the US until emancipation in 1863. It was a source of contention all throughout the 19th century. Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) was an abolitionist who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The book shows the lives of several slaves, as they are bought and traded, their lives dictated by cruel fate.

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) was a slave who escaped and wrote about his experiences, surprising Americans with his prose and public speaking skills. He proved that the arguments of slaves’ intellectual inferiority were false, and dedicated his life to promoting equality for all, including women, native Indians, and immigrants.

Fireside Poets

The name for these poets comes from their popularity. Before TV, radio, and cinemas, reading was the most common form of entertainment. Many families would read their poems at home by the fire, and students would memorize them in school. The poems explored domestic life, mythology, and US politics. Mark Twain called them all drunkards in a satirical speech at one of their parties.

William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878),
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882),
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892),
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809-1894),
James Russell Lowell (1819-1891).

Other Poets: Walt Whitman (1819-1892) wrote Leaves of Grass
                     Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

American Realism & Naturalism

Mark Twain (1835-1910) actual name Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was the first major American writer not to come from the east coast. He wrote Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Henry James (1843-1916) wrote about Americans living in Europe. He wrote The Turn of the Screw.

Stephen Crane (1871-1900) wrote The Red Badge of Courage.

Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, advocating socialism.


Edith Wharton (1862-1937) wrote The Age of Innocence.
Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) wrote Three Lives.
William Faulkner (1897-1962) wrote in stream of consciousness.
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1899-1961) wrote The Great Gatsby.
Ernest Hemingway
John Steinbeck (1902-1968) wrote Grapes of Wrath
Henry Miller (1891-1980) wrote Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn.
John Updike (1932-2009) wrote his Rabbit series
Philip Roth (1933-) wrote the Zuckerman series, American Pastoral
Gore Vidal (1925-2012) wrote Myra Breckinridge, the screenplay Ben-Hur

Poets: Robert Frost (1874-1963),
           Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)
           William Carlos Williams (1883-1962)
           Ezra Pound (1885-1972) the fascist
           Marianne Moore (1887-1972)
           Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
           E.E. Cummings (1894-1962)
           Hart Crane (1899-1932)
           Langston Hughes (1902-1967)
           W. H. Auden (1907-1973)

Post Modern Literature, Post WWII

Richard Wright (1908-1960) wrote Native Son
Harper Lee (1926-) wrote To Kill a Mockingbird
JD Salinger (1919-2010) wrote The Cather in the Rye
Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) wrote On the Road
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (1922-2007) wrote Slaughterhouse-Five
Joseph Heller (1923-1999) wrote Catch-22
Norman Mailer (1923-2007) wrote The Naked and the Dead
Toni Morrison (1931-) wrote The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon and Beloved
Cormac McCarthy (1933-) wrote The Road, No Country for Old Men, and All the Pretty Horses.
Thomas Pynchon (1937-) wrote Gravity’s Rainbow


Pop Fiction Genres:

Madeleine L'Engle (1918-2007) wrote science fiction: A Wrinkle in Time
Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) wrote science: I Robot
Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) wrote science: The Illustrated Man
Michael Crichton (1942-2008) wrote science fiction, most notably Jurrasic Park
Stephen King (1947-) writes stories about horror and fantasy.
John Grisham (1955-) writes novels about crime and lawyers.

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