American Literary Movements


Native American Period

1620 - 1840

Characteristics of the period: Celebrates the natural and spiritual worlds.
Authors and works: oral tradition, original authors, and works are largely unknown.

Colonial Period

1620 - 1750

Characteristics: Focuses on historical events, daily life, moral attitudes (Puritanism), political unrest

Authors and Works: William Bradford (Of Plymouth Plantation), Anne Bradstreet ("To My Dear and Loving Husband," Jonathan Edwards (Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God), Benjamin Franklin (Poor Richard's Almanack)

Nationalism/Revolutionary Period

1750 - 1815

Characteristics: Celebrates nationalism and patriotism and examines what it means to be "American"

Authors and Works: Political writings by: Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson

Romanticism and Trancendtalism

1800 - 1855

Characteristics: Celebrates individualism, nature, imagination, and emotions

Authors and Works: Washington Irving (Legend of Sleepy Hollow"), Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter), Herman Melville (Moby Dick), Ralph Waldo Emerson ("Self-Reliance"), Henry David Thoreau (Walden)


1850 - 1900

Examines realities of life, human frailty; regional culture (local color)

Authors and Works: Stephen Crane (The Red Badge of Courage), Willa Cather (O, Pioneers), Emily Dickinson ("Because I Could Not Stop for Death"), Mark Twain (Huckleberry Finn)


1880 - 1940

Characteristics: Views life as a set of natural laws to be discovered

Authors and Works: Theodore Dreiser (Sister Carrie), James T. Ferrell (Studs Lonigan: A Trilogy), Jack London (The C-Wolf), Frank Norris (The Octopus)

Modern Period

1900 - 1950

Characteristics: Themes of alienation, disconnectedness; experiments with new techniques; use of irony and understatement

Authors and Works: T.S. Eliot (The Waste Land), F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby), Ernest Hemingway (For Whom the Bell Tolls) Langston Hughes ("Theme for English B"), Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God)

Post Modern

1950 - 2012

Characteristics: Non-traditional topics and structures; embrace of changing reality

Authors and Works: Norman Mailer (The Armies of the Night), Joyce Carol Oates (Bellefleur), J. D. Salinger (Catcher in the Rye), Kurt Vonnegut (Breakfast of Champions)