Timeline of Literary America

Ms. Sloan's American Literature Semester 1 Final Project


Pre-Colonial America

1000 - 1609

Pre-Colonial America was home to the Native Americans. This time period truly started in 40,000 B.C. which was when people first ventured onto the North American Continent. Unlike Europeans, the Natives were much less civilized, but in a way, they were infinitely more civilized. They lived in small tribes instead of large countries, and believed that land could not be owned, but that it was shared amongst all people. They also believed in spirits that roamed freely through the land.

Literary Example: The Chief's Daughter, passed down by Native Oral Tradition.

The Chief's Daughter is a story about two young girls who, through their own greed, get stuck up on a cloud, away from their families. They must realize that being with their families is better than any amount of wealth or peace they may experience elsewhere. This story reflects the time well because this is just one of the many lessons that the Native Americans wanted to teach their young, and it is a very accurate representation of their morals. This is important for us to read today because many of us are lacking these morals today, and it's important for us to realize that, no matter how busy we are, we are part of a greater community, and we need to recognize one another as equal individuals.

Puritan America

1609 - 1725

Puritan America is the time period of early colonization in the Americas. When Britain first heard of the New World, its citizens saw it as an opportunity for religious freedom. These freedom seekers set up what is now known as the thirteen colonies. Most of these people were a form of Christian known as Puritan, which is a deviant known for its strict and literal interpretation of the Bible. There were other religious outposts, but Puritan was by far the most prominent.

Literary Example: The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter is about a woman who commits adultery. In a Puritan community, this is among the worst of sins, and the only reason the woman isn't executed is because they can't find her husband, opening up the possibility that he is dead. He is found to not be dead, however, and the book outlines the perils that she has to go through after the community shuns her for committing this sinful act. This book reflects the time period very well because the main plot of the book wraps around the community being very outspoken against adultery, which goes against the ideas of Puritanism. It is important to read today because it is important to understand what it was like in a normal Puritan society, which was extremely different that what we are used to today.

The Enlightenment/The Great Awakening

1725 - 1765

The Enlightenment was a period of logic, science, and understanding. Philosophers like John Locke and Benjamin Franklin started going beyond religion, and understanding that some things were true due to a logical explanation, not simply because a deity told them it was so. The Great Awakening was an attempt to halt the Enlightenment. It was a comeback of the church and of religious ideals, and began to get people reinvested in religion.

Literary Example: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, a sermon by Jonathan Edwards.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is a sermon about the consequences of deviating from religious teachings. The entire sermon is about how God is going to damn everyone to hell because they aren't following his religious teachings. This is important to the time period because it shows how desperate the church was to get people to return to it, and it is a direct attack against the Enlightenment, both of which are characteristics of the Great Awakening. It's important to read today so that we can understand what the religious teachings were back then, and so we can understand what the colonists' day-to-day lives were like.

Revolutionary America

1765 - 1790

Revolutionary America was a time period in which America was attempting to separate itself from the rule of Great Britain. It involves the struggles of the Colonists, the fight of the American Revolution, and the country that emerged from the ashes.

Literary Example: Common Sense, a pamphlet by Thomas Paine

Common Sense is a pamphlet that outlines many reasons why America should not be ruled by the British. As per the title, it explains that all of these reasons truly are common sense. It is fitting to the time period because it was written for it, and it was one of the documents that got the American people rattled, with six-digit printings. It is important to read today so that we can understand the mindset of America while it was gaining its independence.


1790 - 1865

Romanticism and Transcendentalism were both literary movements and societal movements. Romanticism was about understanding the darker side of life, and realizing that everything was not as it seems, while Transcendentalism was about minority groups rising above their suppression and breaking free, and also spurned the Civil War.

Literary Example: Rip Van Winkle, by Washington Irving

Rip Van Winkle is a book about a man who is having a normal day in a normal life, in which he had a family, a job, and is respected. However, he took it all for granted. He sits down on a park bench, and wakes up to find that 20 years has passed. He now has no family, no life, and everyone thinks he's homeless. This story is a good example of Romanticism because it talks about how we need to appreciate everything we have, and its important to read today, especially in a society where we take everything for granted.


1865 - 1910

Realism and Regionalism were two literary time periods that existed in the period after the Civil War. Realism was a movement against fantasy stories, and a movement toward writing fictional stories that had a possibility of happening in the real world. Regionalism was a movement around writing stories that exhibited a certain region, and showcased the characteristics of that region in its setting, tone, characters, and use of language.

Literary Example: The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by Mark Twain

The Notorious Jumping Frog is a story set in the South about a man telling a story of a man who was notorious for gambling, and trained a frog to jump and catch flies on will. He bets a stranger on the street that his frog can jump higher than any other frog, and, after the stranger poisons the jumping frog, the man loses the bet. This is an example of Regionalism because it is set in the south, and the book it heavily written in southern slang and accent. It is important to read today for the lesson in it, but also for the regionalism that is exhibited, as it allows us to see what it is like in this area of America.