American Literary History

Historical facts

Jamestown (Virginia): 1º English colony

1607

Plymouth (Massachusetts): 1º puritan colony

1620

Enlightment era (Europe)

1700 - 1800

Influence in the US as well. Rational thought above religious and superstitious inclinations.

Independence War

1775 - 1783

Tomas Jefferson's Independence Declaration.
Treaty of Versailles.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

1783

Civil War

1861 - 1865

Initial cause: slavery. Lincoln opposed to extend the slavery system to the west. The north had already abolished it but in the south it was a common practice. The southern states formed the Confederacy and called for secession.
After the war, slavery was abolished. Lincoln was assassinated.

Abolition of slavery

1865

Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

E.E. Cunnings

1894

Typical modernist poet.
"She being Brand-new" (1926)

W.W. I

1914 - 1918

It was a catastrophe that changed Western perception of politics, social behavior and also art. The world had to be reconfigured.
The human being was no longer the centre of the universe (Darwin, Marx, Einstein).
It meant the beginning of the modern era in the sense that they want a break with the past (although western civilizations are based on classical traditions). It is featured by reason, progress, science, faster changes and, in short, moves.
On the other hand, the modern landscape was anything but ruins, also the mind was in this situation: misery, spiritual poverty and intellectual chaos.
In the US, this loss of identity gave room for the most prolific of the Ame. letters, the Ame. Golden Age. The main authors, also known as the "Lost Generation" and who are also the main authors of Ame. Literature in general, are Hemingway, Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, Erich Maria Remarche, John Dos Pasos, W. Faulkner.

Sacco and Vanzetti case

1920

Two italian immigrants, workers and anarchists, were executed after being accused of the murder of two in Massachusetts.
International repercussion. There were demonstrations all over the world and the public opinion always support the two italians.
The judge, the jury and the prosecutor were accused of anti-italian, anti-anarchists and anti-immigrant ideas. They were victims of the "red scare" (promotion of fear of a potential rise of communism or radical leftism, used by anti-leftist proponents)
Nowadays their guiltiness is still questioned.

WW II

1939 - 1945

Literature

John Winthrop

1587

Migrated to Ame in 1630.
Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony.
"A model of Christian Charity": sermon in the Arabella ship that contained the biblical expression "the city upon a hill" to refer to the new project colony --> http://www.campusvirtual.uniovi.es/mod/resource/view.php?id=146991
"The History of New England from 1630 to 1649"

William Bradford

1590

Arrived in Ame in 1620 on board the Mayflower ship. He was one of the Plymouth founders.
First Governor of the puritans in Ame. Governor of Plymouth for 30 years.
"Of Plymouth Plantation"

Anne Hutchinson

1591

She's considered the best poet of her time.
She organized women's meetings between 1636-1638, then they were forbidden and she was threw out from Massachusetts by Winthrop so she moved to Rhode Island

Roger Williams

1603

Exiled from Plymouth and Massachusetts.
In 1936 found the new colony of Rhode Island, a place for religious toleration.
Critic of imperialism, believed in separation church/state, believed in equality and democracy.
"Key into the Language of Ame" (1645): contained narrative and vocabulary lists from native languages, whites could also learn from them.

Anne Bradstreet

1612

First major female poet in Ame.
"The tenth muse lately sprung up in Ame" (1650).
Subjects from daily life: marriage, death, faith.

Puritanism: the basis of American culture and literature

1620 - 1740
  • Puritans, also called the Pilgrim Fathers, had to run away from England as they were considered heretic. They saw Ame as the new promised land so in 1620 a group of 100 borded on the Mayflower with really high expectations. They consider Ame as a virgin place where they could practice and extend their way of understanding religion. They looked for freedom, but just THEIR freedom, they weren't tolerant.
    If Ame was the promised land, just like Israel, they had to be the elected people. This idea is the main pillar of the whole conception of Ame.
    American exceptionalism: the new land was a land full of possibilities,of liberty, of democracy, of economic prosperity, of equality, of the true religion, of nature. Thus it's an exceptional place, above any other land (and population). This idea is still current in the Ame imaginary (note all the interferences in conflicts). Must not be forget that IT IS an european invention, as the Puritans themselves were, naturally, European.
    Just like the new colonizers brought this idea of predestination and supremacy from Europe, they also carried with them, naturally, the European idea of being the centre of the world. That included the view of history, the Christian religion, the European values and expectations, the post-Gutenberg printing technology, the science and tech, the ways of commerce...
    As I said, they weren't tolerant people so they just wanted from the beginning to impose their way of life. The wars with the native Ame were continuous and they actually were a masacre of the Ame indians. At the same time that colonizers fought against the evil indians, they sought for an expansion to the west (Manifest destiny) in order to make use of that exceptional land and also to spread democracy and freedom across the west frontier. There started the idea of the "melting pot" concerning immigration, for the goal was to melt every different culture in Ame territory into the mainstream culture which was the "puritan", or at least the european-based one.
    They saw life as a test, or the temptations should be overcome and left aside (including most kinds of entertainment) in order to get to Heaven. Hard work and discipline led to success and success was a synonym of heavenly bless, while failure led to external domination and hellfire. Therefore life was a constant struggle between the good and the devil.

  • Writing features:
    All this cultural baggage affects very much literature. Not only the texts of the time but also the whole Ame literary history.
    Puritans considered entertaining texts as an evil distraction, that's why the suppressed any kind of ornaments and imaginative figures from their texts. It's the known as "plain style".
    The structures that best fitted their purposes were: the historical narratives, about their journeys (Bradford, Winthrop, Cotton Mather); the sermon, which is the essential form of the puritan style and whose main purpose was to indoctrinate and promove the faith (John Cotton); the autobiography, they were a form of self-scrutiny for it constituted a pattern for salvation, plus acces to Puritan's inward life, they treated domestic -public and private- events (Jonathan Edwards).
    Poetry was also written at this times, above all at the end of the 17th ct. The main motif was that of the chosen people (Cotton Mather, Edward Taylor, Anne Bradstreet).

Dissenting voices and exclusions (by the puritanists)

1620 - 1740

People who didn't agree with the puritan view.

Mary Rowlandson

1637

"A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson": captivity narrative during the war with the Indians between 1675-1678. --> http://www.campusvirtual.uniovi.es/mod/resource/view.php?id=147271

Edward Taylor

1642

Major puritan poet. His work remained unkown till the 20th ct. though.
Influenced by metaphysical-religious poetry.
"Determinations touching his elect".

Cotton Mather

1663

The 3º in line Mather dynasty in Ame.
Minister and most distinguished clergyman in New England.
The embodiment of puritanism.
500 book, including sermons, theological theories or biographies.
"In Magnolia Christi America" (1702) --> http://www.campusvirtual.uniovi.es/mod/resource/view.php?id=146990

Start of the dicline of puritan style

1700

1700 more or less

Jonathan Edwards

1703

Considered the last puritan. He was responsible for the "great awakeness" of religiosity.
More personal narrative (to his beloved).
http://www.campusvirtual.uniovi.es/mod/resource/view.php?id=147274

Benjamin Franklin

1706

Politician, inventor, journalist, writer. One of the Founding Fathers of the US.
"Autobiography" (1771-1790), often considered the first American book to be taken seriously by Europeans as literature.

The First Great Awakening

1730

Initiator: Jonathan Edwards

Olaudah Equiano

1745

Beginning of the Slave Narrative in North Ame.
In the 19th ct. it started to influence Ame novels and then regain popularity with the Harlem Reinassence and in the 60's with the Civil Rights Movement.
"The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the african, written by himself" (1789). Double identity: african, English. Assimilation into the dominant culture, but he maintained a balance. Some picaresca influence --> himself as an anti-hero.

Susanna Rowson

1762

One os the first novelist. "Charlotte Temple" (1794).

Washington Irving

1783

Initiator of the Ame. novel with "A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty" (1810).
"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1820).

James Fenimore Cooper

1789

"The Last of the Mohicans" (1826)

Start of the novel

1790 - 1810

These fictions were too lengthy to be printed as manuscript or public reading.
It meant the beginning of that unique American style.
Susanna Rowson: "Charlotte Temple" (1794). Best seller
Washington Irving: first major book "A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty" (1809).

Ame Gothic Romantic Movement

1790 - 1900

R. W. Emerson

1803

N. Hawthorne

1804

"The Scarlet Letter" (1850)

Edgar Allan Poe

1809

Writer, journalist, literary critic.
Considered part of the American Romantic Movement.
His short stories were a mix of mystery and the macabre and an exploration of human psychology.
Also considered the inventor of the detective genre.
"The Fall of the House of Usher" (1839), " The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841).

Harriet Beecher Stowe (woman)

1811

"Uncle's Tom Cabin" (1851): Anti-slavery novel. It helped lay the groundwork for the Civil War. It was the best-selling novel of the 19th ct.

Harriet Jacobs

1813

"Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl" (1861). Autobiographical novel.

H. D. Thoreau

1817

"Walden": a book-length memoir that urges resistance to the meddlesome dictates of organized society.

Walt Whitman

1819

Transition from Trascendentalism to philosophic realism. Father of the modern poetry (free verse).
"Leaves of grass" (1855).

Herman Melville

1819

"Moby-Dick" (1851).

Emily Dickinson

1830

Along with Whitman, the main poet of the time, although she almost got none of her poems published.
Quite different from Whitman. She usually deals with death and the oppression within a male-based society.

Mark Twain

1835

"Adventures of Huckelberry Finn" (1884).

Trascendentalism

1836 - 1860

It's a kind of continuation with Puritanism. The difference is that nature is finally celebrated for it is a way of reaching God. Transcendentalist are also critical with society. Ralph Wald Emerson was the initiator and leader of the movement.
Authors: Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne ("The Scarlet letter", 1850), Walt Whitman, who initiated the transition from trascendentalism to philosophic realism and it's considered the father of modern poetry cause the use of the free verse ("Leaves of Grass", 1855, quite sexual).

Henry James

1843

Confronted the Old World-New World dilemma by writing directly about it. Although born in New York City, he spent most of his adult years in England.
With its intricate, highly qualified sentences and dissection of emotional and psychological nuance, James's fiction can be daunting.
"The Turn of the Screw", an enigmatic ghost story.

Start of the Social Realism

1880

an international art movement that draw attention to the everyday conditions of the working classes and the poor, and who are critical of the social structures that maintain these conditions.

T.S. Eliot

1888

One of the 20th ct. major poets.
"The Waste Land" (1922): modern world as a scene of ruins.
Nobel Prize.

Henry Miller

1891

The anti-novel. He was an expatriate.
His works were banned in the US because of their obscenity.
With novels as "Tropic of Cancer" (Paris 1934, NY 1961), he opened up the path for the sexually liberated works of Phillip Roth e.g. in the 60s

Edna Vincent Millay

1892

She won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.
"Justice denied in Massachusetts" (1927), about Sacco and Venzetti's case.

John Dos Passos

1896

Stream of consciousness technic.
"U.S.A Trilogy": comprising "The 42nd Parallel" (1930), "1919" (1932), and "The Big Money" (1936). Dos Passos used experimental techniques in these novels, incorporating newspaper clippings, autobiography, biography and fictional realism to paint a vast landscape of American culture during the first decades of the 20th century.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

1896

He captures the restless, pleasure-hungry, defiant mood of the 1920s --> Disillusionment.
"The Great Gatsby" (1925)
"The curiose case of Benjamin Button" (1921).

William Faulkner

1897

One of the most important writers of the Southern Literature.
Also was into the stream of consciousness technic.
Won the Nobel Prize in 1949.
"The Sound and the Fury" (1929), "As I Lay Dying" (1930), "Light in August" (1932), and "Absalom, Absalom!" (1936).

Ernest Hemingway

1899

He cut out unnecessary words from his writing, simplified the sentence structure, and concentrated on concrete objects and actions. He adhered to a moral code that emphasized grace under pressure, and his protagonists were strong, silent men who often dealt awkwardly with women. "The Sun Also Rises" and "A Farewell to Arms" are generally considered his best novels; in 1954, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Golden Age of Ame. Lit.

1900 - 1940

WW I was a catastrophe that changed Western perception of politics, social behavior and also art. The world had to be reconfigured.
This age cover the works from authors born at the very end of the 19 ct. and who published their major works in the roaring 20s and then in the years of the economic depression and post-depression in the 30's and 40's.
The human being was no longer the centre of the universe (Darwin, Marx, Einstein).
It meant the beginning of the modern era in the sense that they want a break with the past (although western civilizations are based on classical traditions). It is featured by reason, progress, science, faster changes and, in short, moves.
On the other hand, the modern landscape was anything but ruins, also the mind was in this situation: misery, spiritual poverty and intellectual chaos, as most of the authors were in the war.
In the US, this loss of identity gave room for the most prolific of the Ame. letters, the Ame. Golden Age. The main authors, also known as the “Lost Generation” and who are also the main authors of Ame. Literature in general, are Hemingway, Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, Erich Maria Remarche, John Dos Pasos, W. Faulkner.

During the depression years, the outlook changed again, the works tended to present a pessimist vision. The American Dream had failed, above all for the immigrants who had put all their hopes in the promised land. There were a sense of shame and fear of everything. --> Dark image of the Ame. Dream.
But it also meant a renewal of the progressive impulses and radical views. The political implication was bigger (author usually related to the left).
Revival of naturalism and urban and documentary realism (Anderson, Dos Passos).

Also in these years, American drama attained international status, with the works of Eugene O'Neill, who won four Pulitzer Prizes and the Nobel Prize. In the middle of the 20th century, American drama was dominated by the work of playwrights Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, as well as by the maturation of the American musical.

Tom Wolfe

1900

Voice of hope to the despair of the 30's.
Search of sel-realization.
Past: can't go back to it but can't either entirely leave it behind.
Corrupt society destroys the individual.
Nostalgic utopia: reasons of the corrupt present by measuring it against what has been lost and what might be gained.
"The web and the Rock" (1939), "You can't go home again" (1940), both postume.

John Steinbeck

1902

Main author of the depression era.
often wrote about poor, working-class people and their struggle to lead a decent and honest life.
"The Grapes of Wrath" (1939), considered his masterpiece.
"Of nice and men" (1937), a stage play.
In those two works the protagonists are agricultural workers.