AMERICAN LITERARY HISTORY THE NEW LAND (1500-1800) LITERARY NATIONALISM(AMERICAN CLASSIC) (1800-1870) NEW FORMS (1870-1915) THE INTERWAR PERIOD (1915-1945) MODERNISM (1945 1980) POSTMODERNISM (1980 -)
THE NEW LAND (1500-1800) HISTORY: 1498 Columbus arrives > Spanish and English settlements: In the South and Southwest the Spanish established settlements(Arizona, Florida, San Francisco, Los Angeles etc. came to be part of Mexico and were later lost to the US in 1848) In the North East (New England)English Puritans (fled religious persecution in Europe) their first settlement was the infamous Jamestown Settlement In the South East European aristocrats arrived. They established large plantations requiring endless shiploads of servants and slaves.
THE NEW LAND VALUES AND LITERARY THEMES Some common elements of the North American experience: a) Fascination with the wilderness (needed to civilize the new land > the lonely hero who is able to survive in the wilderness) b) A devotion to fair government (the European Americans did not want to reinstitute the feudal system of Europe>e.g. large-scale banking made it possible for middleclass people to establish their own businesses) c) A concern with practical affairs (needed to survive while civilizing the new land)
THE NEW LAND WRITERS AND THEIR WORKS The Chronicles from the exploration of the New Land e.g. John Smiths Description of New England (1616) they were composed to attract future settlers and provide news and information for the curious back in England Moral writings in the North emphasizing Puritan virtues of practical wisdom and self-discipline e.g. Benjamin Franklins Autobiography on how to attain Moral Perfection. Franklins plain speaking and down-to-earth humor are considered by some critics to be the keynotes of American Literature Political writings: serving to unify, explain and justify a new American Nation. E.g. The Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson. In it is the core of American Identity. In Hector de Crevecoeurs What is an American? The riddle of nationhood and identity is discussed - this would also become a central theme for most American writers to come.
LITERARY NATIONALISM (1800-1870) HISTORY: The new nation saw the country expand both: a) Physically/psychologically: The new settlers had increased the nation by settling/civilizing an increasing number of squaremiles and in the minds of people there was always new land to be explored and settled. You were always able to begin anew. b) Culturally: America had been critized for not producing American Culture and it stung the national pride > appearance of new distinctively American literature appeared:
LITERARY NATIONALISM(AMERICAN CLASSICS) WRITERS AND THEIR WORKS 1 The Myth of the Frontiersman: e.g.James Fenimore Coopers The Leatherstocking Tales and The Last of the Mohicans where he depicts his romantic vision of the noble savage, the heroic frontiersman, and the beauty of the American wilderness. The fireside writers: cosy reading for settlers sitting by the fireside. E.g. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who tends to celebrate the common man and communal solidarity The Abolition of Slavery: e.g. David Walkers Appeal for a black war of independence and Black spirituals(songs) (Edgar Allan Poe): was more acclaimed in Europe than in the US. Poe argued that American literature should not imitate European literature, but he was also concerned that it was becoming merely nationalistic as opposed to universal in nature. THEMES EXPLORED BY THE AUTHORS OF THIS PERIOD: The frontier character/heroic action/The beauty of nature/The celebration of the common/the humanitarian spirit
LITERARY NATIONALISM(AMERICAN CLASSICS) WRITERS AND THEIR WORKS 2 From puritanism to transcendentalism: The Puritans belief in the notion of the original sin and determinism were replaced by Emersons transcendentalism. The new focus was upon the beliefs in the basic goodness and innate free will of the individual. The transcendent (or spiritual) reality rather than the material world, is the ultimate reality. Individualism and self-reliance are important traits.
LITERARY NATIONALISM(AMERICAN CLASSICS) WRITERS AND THEIR WORKS 3 Transcendentalists: a) Ralph Waldo Emerson is thought to have discovered/invented transcendentalism e.g. Nature and Self-reliance b) Henry D. Thoreau was a good friend of Emersons and he also opposed the conformity to values of society, when it conflicted with his own values. Withdrawal and contemplation of nature were his dogmas e.g. Walden and Civil Disobedience (M. Gandhi was inspired by Thoreau when developing his techniques of passive resistance) Other important authors of the time were: Nathaniel Hawthorne(The Scarlet Letter) and Herman Melville(Moby Dick)
NEW FORMS (1870-1915) HISTORY: The end of the Civil War The South was exploited during the reconstruction. The Afro-Americans tended to move North partly due to suppresion in the South, but also due to> Industrialisation(production was needed to reconstruct the country after the war) and accesible transportation: A) > increased wealth>increased gap between the rich and the poor>increased immigration(to work in the new industry) CONSEQUENCES: Industrialisation + immigration laid the foundations of modern American society and literature. The growth of a prosperous, literate middle class, who especially thirsted for practical information and fiction representing real life. There was an increased focus on materialism as opposed to spirituality.
NEW FORMS(1870-1915) VALUES AND LITERARY THEMES: America teemed with subjects and audiences. Authors wanted to find a new point of departure in theme, in content, in form and in the use of language> Regionalism/realism/naturalism as opposed to transcendentalism/romantic relationsship with nature.
NEW FORMS(1870-1915) WRITERS AND THEIR WORKS: The Frontier: was still a theme that fascinated e.g. Huckleberry Finn and other works by Samuel Clemens(=Mark Twain). Publishers began to produce cowboy song books and dime novels romanticizing outlaws like Jesse James etc. Civil War literature: e.g. Ambrose Bierces An Ocurrence at Owl Creek Bridge Social Satire: The problems of materialism and poverty caused by the industrialization aroused many writers to social satire and protest: e.g. Edith Wharton in The Age of Innocence where her world of New York high society is satirized in its snobbery. Real life in general: Walt Whitman the self-proclaimed poet of America used bold images, colloquial speech, and symbols drawn from workaday life to capture a truth of the American experience. Emily Dickinson in her poetry drew on the small events of household life for her comments on the inner self, on the self facing death and on conflicts between doubt and religious faith.
THE INTERWAR PERIOD (1915-1945) HISTORY: This period was paradoxical with: a) Prosperity(1920s) >
MODERNISM (1945-1980) HISTORY: The 2nd World War was over and the world faced a bipolar division of the world: Capitalism vs. Communism and the Cold War was a fact. In America the fear of a communist turn-over was immense> McCarthyism>many writers took refuge in despair and cynicism(Faulkners warning in his Noble Prize Address of 1950)> 1950s was a time of complacency, materialism, political apathy and tension and suspicion caused by the Cold War politics. 1960s saw the rise of a counterculture. The postwar boom gave birth to an affluent society and millions of Americans entered the middle class for the first time. Their children, the baby-boomers grew up taking prosperity for granted. Society needed educated labor>young people entered the universities>this increase in education + TV as a new unifying media > an awareness of social injustice> fights for minority groups e.g. Blacks, women, homosexuals etc..
MODERNISM(1945-80) LITERARY VALUES AND THEMES: Modernism could be described as the experimentation and fragmentation of the human experience, characterized by deviations from the norms of society Poetry: intellectual objectivity, stylistic complexity, and suppression of emotion or personal statement. Literature must be studied without reference to either the life of its authors or the time in which it was created (intellectual detachment perfect in the 1950s since few writers were willing to commit themselves to any stands> a shrinking audience. Social critique analyzing, and satirizing the plastic middle- class culture of status symbols e.g. Henry Millers The Death of a Salesman(1949) Sloan Wilsons The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955)
MODERNISM(1945-1980) WRITERS AND THEIR WORKS: War novels: e.g.Norman Mailers The Naked and the Dead. Irwin Shaws The Young Lions and Karl Shapiro V-Letter and Other Poems. The Southern Renaissance: e.g. William Faulkner, Alice Walker, William Styron whose themes reflect the effect on Southerners, both black and white, of new social patterns and ways of thinking. Rebellion: Baby-boomers became the first generation to drop out of the systeme.g. Jack Keruac On the Road (1957) and Allan Ginsbergs Howl. The Beats cultivated cool - an attitude of ironic detachment from social conventions and political concerns their writing was personal, socially commited and written in the language of the streets. They satirize the plastic society of suburbia. Critical conformity: those in flight of alienation and apathy and in search of ideals worthy of commitment found inspiration in JFKs words: ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country>volonteers within civil rights/Anti-war. E.g. James Baldwin, Joyce Carol Oates. Reexamination of the American Identity: It was easier to become a recognized author if you were from a minority group than if you were WASP in these days of counterculture> the rise of many new minority writers who reflect upon their past. After the 60s and 70s they go beyond the political concerns and treat broad universal themes. They tend to be reflective and introspective.
POSTMODERNISM(1980>) HISTORY: This period saw the consequences of the disappearence of a center. Until now you if you were a Western WASP and male you were entitled to decide what was considered culturally relevant. You wrote the history books. The world had been relatively ethnocentric so far. The postcolonial period: The world was no longer ruled by the colonial powers(France, England etc.) After the 2nd World War the former colonies gained their independence>looking for a new and independent culture, which would be in opposition to the former colonial rulers >many new centers and a new acceptence of cultural relativism (one culture could be as good as the next) Minority groups(women, ethnic groups, homosexuals etc.) had entered the ruling class after the civil rights movement of the 60s and 70s. They needed to rewrite history so that it included their view of the world.
POSTMODERNISM (1980>) LITERARY VALUES AND THEMES Postcolonialism after World War II contributed to the idea that one cannot have an objectively superior lifestyle or belief. Philosophers argued that rationality was neither as sure nor as clear as modernists asserted. Postmodernism seemed to be the lack of belief in absolute truth or the idea of a reality constructed Minority groups in the west had an urge to rewrite history and reveal it as a piece of fiction, which had been constructed in order to sustain a certain ideology. Especially women and Afro-Americans needed a new history to write themselves into the American history(become part of the rulers of ideology) Everything is constructed and postmodern authors are very aware of the author as a creator. They will use intertextuality to reveal the classics as a creation produced within a certain ideological context. There is not one truth/center/everything is relative: pop culture/elitist culture/everything is equally good or bad just a construction to satisfy our needs. New journalism arose to underscore the fact that everything is constructed by an author with a specific ideological platform.
POSTMODERNISM (1980>) WRITERS AND THEIR WORKS: The author as a creator: Paul Auster most often include a meta-narrator or a character with his own personal traits, to underscore the authors place within the ideological construction e.g. A New York Triology(1987)etc. The relative truth and lack of belief in universal rationality. There is more than one culture, but postmodernists accept that we all live in a homogenous consumer society e.g. Generation X by Douglas Coupland and Brett Easton Ellis American Psycho History as an ideological construction: e.g. Toni Morrisons The Bluest Eye, which attacks the way blacks have been treated and give voices to ordinary Afro-American (intra- history>