EARLY AMERICAN LITERATURE
American literature begins with the orally transmitted myths, legends, tales, and lyrics (always songs) of Indian cultures. There was no written literature
Indian stories, for example, glow with reverence for nature as a spiritual as well as physical mother. Nature is alive and endowed with spiritual forces; main characters may be animals or plants, often totems associated with a tribe, group, or individual.
• Dances with wolves
Some of the earliest forms of American literature were pamphlets and sermons, writings extolling the benefits of the colonies to both a European and colonist audience.
The religious disputes that prompted settlement in America were also topics of early writing.
• A journal, a diary
Other late writings described conflicts and interaction with the Indians
• Captain John Smith could be considered the first American author
• Thanksgiving day
Two Important New England Settlements
• The Plymouth ColonyFlagship Mayflower arrives - 1620Leader - William BradfordSettlers known as Pilgrims and Separatists"The Mayflower Compact" provides forsocial, religious, and economic freedom,while still maintaining ties to Great Britain.
• The Massachusetts Bay ColonyFlagship Arbella arrives - 1630Leader - John WinthropSettlers are mostly Puritans or Congregational Puritans"The Arbella Covenant" clearly establishesa religious and theocratic settlement,free of ties to Great Britain.
I. Basic Puritan Beliefs
1. Total Depravity - through Adam and Eve's fall, every person is born sinful - concept of Original Sin.
2. Unconditional Election - God "saves" those he wishes - only a few are selected for salvation - concept of predestination.
3. Limited Atonement - Jesus died for the chosen only, not for everyone.
4. Irresistible Grace - God's grace is freely given, it cannot be earned or denied. Grace is defined as the saving and transfiguring power of God.
5. Perseverance of the "saints" - those elected by God have full power to interpret the will of God, and to live uprightly. If anyone rejects grace after feeling its power in his life, he will be going against the will of God - something impossible in Puritanism.
Typology: The belief that God's intentions are present in human action and in natural phenomenon. Failure to understand these intentions are human limitations. Puritans believed in cyclical or repetitive history; they use "types" - Moses prefigures Jesus, Jonah's patience is reflected in Jesus' ordeal on the cross, and Moses' journey out of Egypt is played out in the Pilgrims' crossing of the Atlantic. God's wrath and reward are also present in natural phenomena like flooding, bountiful harvest, the invasion of locusts, and the lightening striking a home.
Manifest Destiny: The concept of manifest destiny is as old as the first New England settlements. Without using the words, John Winthrop articulated the concept in his famous sermon, the Arbella Covenant (1630), when he said: " ... for we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; ..." Winthrop exhorts his listeners to carry on God's mission and to set a shining example for the rest of the world. From this beginning, the concept has had religious, social, economic, and political consequences. The words manifest destiny were first used by editor John L. O'Sullivan in 1845.
II. The Function of Puritan Writers
To transform a mysterious God - mysterious because he is separate from the world.
To make Him more relevant to the universe.
To glorify God.
III. The Style of Puritan Writing
Protestant - against ornateness; reverence for the Bible.
Purposiveness - there was a purpose to Puritan writing - described in Part II above.
Puritan writing reflected the character and scope of the reading public, which was literate and well-grounded in religion.
IV. Common Themes in Early Puritan Writing
Idealism - both religious and political.
Pragmatisms - practicality and purposiveness.
• Believe in God
Romanticism: a movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that marked the reaction in literature, philosophy, art, religion, and politics from the neoclassicism and formal orthodoxy of the preceding period.
The aspect most stressed in France is reflected in Victor Hugo's phrase "liberalism in literature," meaning especially the freeing of the artist and writer from restrains and rules and suggesting that phase of individualism marked by the encouragement of revolutionary political ideas.
• On American Romanticism
• Definitions from A Handbook to Literature, Sixth Edition
• C. Hugh Holman and William Harmon.
It was an age of great westward expansion, of the increasing gravity of the slavery question, of an intensification of the spirit of embattled sectionalism in the South, and of a powerful impulse to reform in the North.
Romantic Period in American Literature, 1830-1865.
1. Nineteenth century marked by the influence of French revolution of 1789 and its concepts of liberty, fraternity, equality:
• Democracy of the frontier.
• Intellectual and spiritual revolution.
• Middle colonies
2. America basically middle-class and English - practicing laissez-faire (live and let live), modified because of geographical expansion and the need for subsidies for setting up industries, building of railroads, and others.
3. Institution of slavery in the South - myth of the master and slave –
Elements of Romanticism
• Frontier: vast expanse, freedom, no geographic limitations.
• Optimism: greater than in Europe because of the presence of frontier.
• Experimentation: in science, in institutions.
• Mingling of races: immigrants in large numbers arrive to the US.
• Growth of industrialization: polarization of north and south; north becomes industrialized, south remains agricultural.
Romantic Subject Matter
1. The quest for beauty: non-didactic, "pure beauty."
2. The use of the far-away and non-normal - antique and fanciful:
§ In historical perspective: antiquarianism; antiquing or artificially aging; interest in the past.
§ Characterization and mood: grotesque, gothicism, sense of terror, fear; use of the odd and queer.
3. Escapism - from American problems.
4. Interest in external nature - for itself, for beauty:
§ Nature as source for the knowledge of the primitive.
§ Nature as refuge.
§ Nature as revelation of God to the individual.
§ Appeals to imagination; use of the "willing suspension of disbelief."
§ Stress on emotion rather than reason; optimism, geniality.
§ Subjectivity: in form and meaning.
§ Remoteness of settings in time and space.
§ Improbable plots.
§ Inadequate or unlikely characterization.
§ Authorial subjectivity.
§ Socially "harmful morality;" a world of "lies."
§ Organic principle in writing: form rises out of content, non-formal.
§ Experimentation in new forms: picking up and using out of date patterns.
§ Cultivation of the individualized, subjective form of writing.
It was a Renaissance in the sense of a flowering, excitement over human possibilities, and a high regard for individual ego. It was definitely and even defiantly American, as these writers struggled to understand what "American" could possibly mean, especially in terms of a literature which was distinctively American and not British.
The glory years were 1850-1855 (roughly 1840-1865)
Realism is a technique, it also denotes a particular kind of subject matter, especially the representation of middle-class life.
It is a reaction against romanticism, an interest in scientific method, the systematizing of the study of documentary history, and the influence of rational philosophy all affected the rise of realism.
Realism in American Literature, 1860-1890
In American literature, the term "realism" encompasses the period of time from the Civil War to the turn of the century during which William Dean Howells, Rebecca Harding Davis, Henry James, Mark Twain, and others wrote fiction devoted to accurate representation and an exploration of American lives in various contexts.
The second half of the 19th c. saw America becoming increasingly self-conscious. At the very time regional writers began to write about its various aspects. American wanted to know what their country looked like, and how the varied races which made up their growing population lived and talked. It was the age of the first mappings and surveyings of the West; it was the age in which the rails of the first transcontinental railroad had bound East and West.
Principles Of Realism
§ Insistence upon and defense of "the experienced commonplace".
§ Character more important than plot.
§ Attack upon romanticism and romantic writers.
§ Emphasis upon morality often self-realized and upon an examination of idealism.
§ Concept of realism as a realization of democracy.
Characteristics Of Realistic Writing
§ The philosophy of Realism is known as "descendental" or non-transcendental. The purpose of writing is to instruct and to entertain. Realists were pragmatic, relativistic, democratic, and experimental.
§ The subject matter of Realism is drawn from "our experience," - it treated the common, the average, the non-extreme, the representative, the probable.
§ The morality of Realism is intrinsic, integral, relativistic - relations between people and society are explored.
§ The style of Realism is the vehicle which carries realistic philosophy, subject matter, and morality. Emphasis is placed upon scenic presentation, de-emphasizing authorial comment and evaluation. There is an objection towards the omniscient point of view.
There is the belief among the Realists that humans control their destinies; characters act on their environment rather than simply reacting to it. Character is superior to circumstance.
The Use Of Symbolism And Imagery
The Realists generally reject the kind of symbolism suggested by Emerson when he said "Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact." Their use of symbolism is controlled and limited; they depend more on the use of images.
• Settings thoroughly familiar to the writer
• Plots emphasizing the norm of daily experience
• Ordinary characters, studied in depth
• Complete authorial objectivity
• Responsible morality; a world truly reported
"Naturalism is a manner and method of composition by which the author portrays 'life as it is' in accordance with the philosophic theory of determinism.“
There are two approaches to the concept of naturalism:
• That it is an extension or continuation of Realism with the addition of pessimistic determinism.
• That it is different from Realism.
The subject matter:
§ The subject matter deals with those raw and unpleasant experiences which reduce characters to "degrading" behavior in their struggle to survive. These characters are mostly from the lower middle or the lower classes - they are poor, uneducated, and unsophisticated.
§ The milieu is the commonplace and the unheroic; life is usually the dull round of daily existence. But the naturalist discovers those qualities in such characters usually associated with the heroic or adventurous - acts of violence and passion leading to desperate moments and violent death. The suggestion is that life on its lowest levels is not so simple as it seems to be.
§ There is discussion of fate that affect a character; generally the controlling force is society and the surrounding environment.
The concept of a naturalistic character:
§ Characters are conditioned and controlled by environment, heredity, chance, or instinct; but they have compensating humanistic values which affirm their individuality and life - their struggle for life becomes heroic and they maintain human dignity.
§ The Naturalists attempt to represent the intermingling in life of the controlling forces and individual worth. They do not dehumanize their characters.
§ C. A Naturalist believes that a character is fundamentally an animal, without free will. To a Naturalistic writer, a character can be explained in terms of the forces, usually heredity and environment, which operate on him/her.
The Naturalists introduced new topics and helped broaden the scope of American fiction:
• Prostitution and seduction - in Maggie, Vandover and the Brute, The Octopus, and Sister Carrie.
• Exposure of social conditions and social evils - Main-Travelled Roads, A Spoil of Office,A Member of the Third House, McTeague, and The Octopus.
• Free Will or Determinism -
In Naturalism, characters do not have free will; external and internal forces, environment, or heredity control their behavior. This belief is called determinism. All determinists believe in the existence of the will, but the will is often enslaved on account of different reasons.
The movement of transcendentalism is reaction toward rationalism in 18 century. This movement is based on faith with unity between world and god.
Transcendentalism related closely with Concord, a small village in New England 32 kilometers from Boston.
One way to look at the Transcendentalists is to see them as a generation of well-educated people who lived in the decades before the American Civil War and the national division that it both reflected and helped to create.
Time for literary independence
Most of the Transcendentalists became involved as well in social reform movements, especially anti-slavery and women's rights.
Transcendentalism club made without unity in 1836 and involved in different periods, Emerson, Thoreau, Channing, Broncon Alcott, and Fuller.
Ideas and Thought
1. Perspective of Nature
Man learns that Nature is awe-inspiring, all-powerful and full of dangerous beauty.
Both Emerson and Thoreau believed that emotional and spiritual rebirth was an important tool of Nature's glory.
Emerson and Thoreau realized that Nature is elusive, an infinite circle that man would never really quite grasp.
2. Social and Political Reform
To understand transcendental attitudes toward reform, it's necessary to have a grasp of just what was going on, politically and socially, at the time.
Confrontation of the rights of slaves, women, and Indians was definitely NOT on the agenda for either party and differences between classes (and financial resources) grew, vocal reforms were generally the path; speeches were made, essays were written, and some people even totally rearranged their lives, establishing small communities to correct problems in education, family and class structures, including sexual and gender norms.
It could be argued that ideas about learning and growing intellectually and spiritually, education, in a word, are the heart of American transcendentalism.
Major principles of Transcendentalism: each person must act as an individual.
Six spiritual practices: Nature, Contemplation/Prayer/Meditation, Reading/Sacred Texts,
Writing/Journal-Keeping, Conversation, Sacred Space/Sacred Time, Creative Expression.
Writers and Literary Works
1. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson’s works: Nature, Self-reliance, the American Scholar, Circles, Concord Hymn.
His famous work is nature. It is in this essay that the foundation of transcendentalism is put forth, a belief system that espouses a non-traditional appreciation of nature.
Another work was an essay entitled Self-Reliance.
It contains the most thorough statement of one of Emerson's repeating themes, the need for each individual to avoid conformity and false consistency, and follow his or her own instincts and ideas.
It is the source of one of Emerson's most famous quotes, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."
2. Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau was an American author, poet, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian, philosopher, and leading transcendentalist.
Thoreau got an idea to help Americans to get out from materialistic, consumptive and mechanism of life like machine. He observed indication of Americans tending to such kinds of lifestyle because of the negative of revolution industry.
Most of his work is critique toward American lifestyle in 19 century. It can be seen in his works: Natural History of Massachusetts, Civil Disobedience, life without principles, and his popular work is Walden.
Walden emphasizes the importance of solitude, contemplation, and proximity to nature in transcending the "desperate" existence that, he argues, is the lot of most people. The book is not a traditional autobiography, but combines autobiography with a social critique of contemporary Western culture's consumerist and materialist attitudes and its distance from and destruction of nature.
• American modernism like modernism in general is a trend of thought that affirms the power of human beings to create, improve, and reshape their environment, with the aid of scientific knowledge, technology and practical experimentation, and is thus in its essence both progressive and optimistic
• The general term covers many political, cultural and artistic movements rooted in the changes in Western society at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century.
• Definitions in Generally
1. A period that ended in 1940s
2. Unlike romanticism or classicism does not refer to the qualities of the works of art in a given period
3. Underlines their break with the past
4. Connected with the loss of legitimacy of public authority
5. The arts took onto themselves more of the job of defining the human horizon
6. The consequence of the transformation of society brought about by industrialism and technology in the course of the nineteenth century
• American modernism is an artistic and cultural movement in the United States starting at the turn of the 20th century with its core period between World War I and World War II and continuing into the 21st century.
• The Post-war period that followed is termed late Modernism.
• The Postmodernist era is generally considered characteristic of the art of the late 20th century beginning in the 1980s.
Modernist art has a tendency to abstraction, is innovative, aesthetic, futuristic and self-referential. It includes visual art, literature, music, film, design, architecture as well as life style.
• The Centers of Modernism
– Stylistic innovations è disruption of traditional syntax and form.
– Artist's self-consciousness about questions of form and structure.
– Obsession with primitive material and attitudes.
– International perspective on cultural matters.
• Modern Attitudes
– The artist is generally less appreciated but more sensitive, even more heroic, than the average person.
– The artist challenges tradition and reinvigorates it.
– A breaking away from patterned responses and predictable forms.
IV. The Jazz Age
• Jazz is a music genre that originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States from a confluence of African and European music traditions
• In New Orleans, often considered to be the birth place of jazz, In this city, a unique ethnic cultural mix and looser racial prohibitions allowed African Americans more influence than in other regions of the South.
• Jazz music, as a central element of American culture, has its roots in Black slave culture
• An age of the desperate celebration of youth and its simultaneous disillusionment
• Fitzgerald considered the Jazz Age a result of America's “unexpected energy” in the war
• American lifestyle and American fashion began to invade Europe, which was tired of suffering and longing to have a good time
V. Visual arts
• Modernist Painting in the US
– Alfred Stieglitz
– Georgia O'Keeffe
– Armory Show, 1913, staged the first American exhibitions of Matisse, Toulouse Lautrec, Rousseau, and Picasso
• Modernist photography
– At the beginning of American modernism, photography was still struggling to be recognized as a form of art.
VI. Feminism, gender, and sexuality
• Development of feminism
– (1830s) Women were openly challenging the women's sphere and demanding greater political, economic and social rights.
– Feminists in both Britain and the United States concentrated on political and legal issues, the vote in particular, and other important women's issues regarding the domestic roles of women and the organization of domestic life in general.
– The National Organization for Women (NOW) was founded in 1966 by a group of feminists
– The largest women's rights group in the U.S. NOW aimed to end sexual discrimination, especially in the workplace, by means of legislative lobbying, litigation, and public demonstrations.
• Gender and sexuality
– The roles of gender and sexuality in American modernism were elaborated through studies of national identity and citizenship, racial identity and race politics, queer identity and aesthetics, magazine culture, visual culture, market economies, and historical accounts of 20th century political modernity.
VII. American icons in the European mind
• Definition of "American Icon"
– This section focuses on persons and objects which are representative of American modernism. Generally speaking, these famous human beings and well-known objects are called icons since, apart from radiating an aura of uniqueness as well as originality (cf. Wagner 2006: 121.)
• American icons in the European mind
1. New York City
– New York City is one of the most iconic cities in the United States and one of the major global cities of the world due to its important business, financial, trading and cultural organizations, such as Wall Street, United Nations, the Metropolitan Museum of Arts and Broadway theaters with their (in that time innovative) electric lighting. It is regarded as the birthplace of many American cultural movements
2. Charlie Chaplin
– Charlie Chaplin is regarded as a movie icon. Born in London, and while not a U.S. citizen, he had a strong sense of belonging to American society. Chaplin became famous after starring in his first movie, Making a Living, (1914).
3. The Model-T Ford
Icons are usually capable of conveying, on the one hand, awareness of tradition and, on the other hand, the notion of progress (cf. www.ikonothek.de).
VIII. American modernist literature
• American Modernism covered a wide variety of topics including: racial relationships, gender roles, and sexuality to name a few. It reached its peak in America in the 1920s up to the 1940s.
• Celebrated Modernists include Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, and while largely regarded as a romantic poet, Walt Whitman is sometimes regarded as a pioneer of the modernist era in America.
• The folk-oriented poetry of Sterling Brown and Langston Hughes
– Written in a rhythm fit to be either sung or told as a story, melancholically describes the joyful attitude of Afro-Americans towards life, in spite of all the hardships they were confronted with. The protagonists of these poems are shown in such a light which offers insight into their cultural identity and folklore.
– An insight into culture and folklore is also a topic that prose deals with, such as, for example, Jean Toomer's Blood-Burning Moon and William Faulkner's That Evening Sun.
• Prose and Drama
– Racial relations between blacks and whites, the gap between what was expected of each of the two and what the actual facts were, or, better said, prejudice in the society of the time are themes dealt with in most of the modernist American literature
– Prose : Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway
– Drama : Eugene O’Neill
• Ernest Hemingway's The Battler
– The Afro-American character in this short story proves out to be a kind, calculated and polite man, whose good manners and carefully chosen vocabulary are easily noticeable from the first moment he appears in the story.
• The New Criticism in America
– From the 1930s to the 1960s, New Criticism became a critical force in the United States. It was the most powerful perspective in American literary criticism. The representatives were John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren.
– New Criticism privileged the evaluation of poetry as the justification of literary scholarship
• Literary forms appropriate to modern life
• The urgent necessity to discover new meanings and create new forms in a world that had lost shape and meaning for many
X. Paradoxes Surrounding American Modernism
• The material practices from which intellectual and aesthetic modernism drew its stimulus:
– the machines
– the new transport and communication systems
– skyscrapers and bridges
• The incredible instability and insecurity that accompanied rapid innovation and social change