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AShortHistoryofAmericanLiterature

Chapter1.
ThePeriodofColonizationandRevolution(theearly17thcenturytotheendof
the18thcentury)
1.Socialbackground:ThefirstpermanentEnglishsettlementinNorthAmericawas
establishedatJamestown,Virginiain1617TheWarforIndependencelastedforeight
years(17761783)
2.Literature:AmericanPuritanismisoneofthemostenduringshapinginfluencesin
AmericanthoughtandliteratureTherepresentativesoftheEnlightenmentset
themselvesthetaskofdisseminatingknowledgeamongthepeopleandadvocating
revolutionaryideas.TheyalsoactivelyparticipatedintheWarforIndependence.
*thePuritansemphasizehardwork,pietyandsobrietyTheearliestwritingsinclude
diaries,travelingbooks,journals,letters,sermonsevengovernmentcontracts.
*theearliestwriterBenjaminFranklinandPoorRichardsAlmanacand
Autobiographywhichistherecordingofhisrisingfromastateofpovertyand
obscuritytowealthandfame.MottosinPoorRichardsAlmanac
Losttimeisneverfoundagain.
Apennysavedisapennyearned.
Fishandvisitorsstinkinthreedays.
Earlytobedandearlytorisemakesamanhealthy,wealthyandwise.
*otherimportantfiguresThomasPaineandCommonSense,AmericanCrisis
ThomasJeffersonandTheDeclarationofIndependencePhilipFreneauandhis
poems

ChapterII.
ThePeriodofRomanticism(thefirsthalfofthe19thcentury)
1.Socialbackground:IndustrialRevolutionwesternexpansionimmigrants
contributionpoliticalidealofequalityanddemocracytheinfluenceofEuropean
Romanticists

2.Literature:AmericanRomanticismNewEnglandTranscendentalism
*AmericanRomanticismtherealbeginningofAmericanliteraturethefirstAmerican
Renaissanceemphasisupontheimaginativeandemotionalqualitiesofliterature,a
likingforthepicturesque,theexotic,thesensuous,thesensationalandthesupernatural
thestrongtendencytoexalttheindividualandthecommonman
*NewEnglandTranscendentalismtheRomanticismonthePuritansoilemphasison
spirit,ortheOversoulatransparenteyeballthestressoftheimportanceofthe
individualasthemostimportantelementofsocietyafreshperceptionofnatureas
symbolicofthespiritorGodinspirationofawholenewgenerationoffamous
authorssuchasEmerson,Thoreau,Hawthorne,Melville,WhitmanandDickinson.

*WashingtonIrvingfatherofAmericanshortstoriesthefirstwho woninternational
famerepresentativeworksTheSketchBookandtwoimportanthumorousshortstories
RipVanWinkleandTheLegendofSleepyHollow
*JamesFenimoreCooperfatherofAmericanfictionLeatherstockingTales,aseries
offivenovelsaboutthefrontierlifeofAmericansettlers
*EdgarAllanPoefatherofAmericandetectivestoriesTheMurdersintheRue
Morgueagreatwriteroffiction,apoetofthefirstrank,andacriticofacumenand
insightimportantshortstoriesTheFalloftheHouseofUsher,Ligeia
*Hawthornehisblackvisionoflifeandhumanbeingevilasthetrademarkof
humanbeinghisnovels:TheScarletLetter,TheHouseoftheSevenGablesshort
storylikeYoungGoodmanBrown
*Melvillebestknownastheauthorofonebook,MobyDick,
anencyclopediaofeverything,history,philosophy,religion,
etc.aShakespeareantragedyofmanfightingagainst
overwhelmingoddsinanindifferentandevenhostileuniverse
*WaltWhitmanapioneerpoetfreeverseLeavesofGrass,
SongofMyselfWhenLilacslastintheDooryardBloomd
*freeversepoetrybasingontheirregularrhythmiccadence,
noconventionaluseofmeter,rhymemayormaynotbepresent.
*EmilyDickinsonveryuniquepoetthelargestportionofherpoetryconcernsdeath
andimmortalityIheardaflybuzzwhenIdied,Mylifeclosedtwicebeforeits
Closenotitles,alwaysquotedbytheirfirstlinesdashesareusedasamusicaldevice

tocreatecadenceandcapitallettersasameansofemphasisasingleimagenotedfor
laconicbrevity,directnessandplainness.
*RalphWaldoEmersonthechiefspokesmanofTranscendentalismNatureregarded
astheBibleofNewEnglandTranscendentalismTheAmericanScholarregardedas
AmericasDeclarationofIntellectualIndependence.
HenryDavidThoreaurepresentativeofTranscendentalismWalden,afaithfulrecord
ofhisreflectionswhenhewasinsolitarycommunicationwithnature.

ChapterIII.
ThePeriodofRealism(thelatterhalfofthe19thcentury)
1.Socialbackground:theimpactofAmericanCivilWarincreasingindustrialization
thewideningcontrastofwealthandpovertypopularfeelingoffrustrationand
disillusionment
2.Literature: AmericanRealismLocalColorism
*RealismareactionagainstRomanticismoramoveawayfromthebiastowards
romanceandselfcreatingfictionsagreatinterestintherealitiesoflife,everyday
existence,whatwasbrutalorsordidandclassstrugglethreedominantfigures,
WilliamDeanHowells,MarkTwain,andHenryJames.
LocalColorismthebeginningofRealismthepresentationandinterpretation
ofthelocalcharacter,thetruthfulcoloroflocallife.
*MarkTwainthetruefatherof AmericanliteraturebyH.L.Menckenpennameof
SamuelLanghorneClemensroughhumorandsocialsatiremagicpowerwith
language,theuseofvernacularandcolloquialspeechrepresentativeworks:
AdventureofHuckleberryFinn,LifeontheMississippi,TheAdventureofTomSawyer
*HenryJamespsychologicalapproachtohissubjectmatterconcernedmorewith
theinnerlifeofhumanbeingsthanwithoverthumanactionstheforerunnerofthe
20thcenturystreamofconsciousnessnovelsandthefounderofpsychological
realisminternationalthemeorAmericaninnocenceinfaceofEuropean
sophisticationrepresentativeworks:ThePortraitofaLady,TheAmbassador,The
WingsoftheDove,TheGoldenBowlpointofview
*Howellsfocusonthe risingmiddleclassandthewaytheylived.

ChapterIV.
AmericanNaturalism(lastdecadeofthe19thcentury)

1.Socialbackground:theimpactofDarwinsevolutionarytheoryontheAmerican
thoughttheinfluenceofthe19thcenturyFrenchliterature
2.Literature:AmericanNaturalism
*NaturalismThenaturalistschosetheirsubjectsfromthelowerranksofthesociety,
portrayedmiseryandpovertyoftheunderdogswhoweredemonstrablyvictimsof
societyandnature.AndoneofthemostfamiliarthemesinAmericanNaturalismisthe
themeofhumanbestiality,especiallyasanexplanationofsexualdesire.
*StephenCraneRedBadgeofCourageMaggie,AGirloftheStreet
FrankNorrisMcTeague
TheodoreDreiserSisterCarrieAnAmericanTragedy
JackLondonTheCalloftheWildMartinEden

ChapterV.
ModernisminAmerica(the20thcentury)
1.Socialbackground:boomingindustryandmaterialprosperityincontrastwithasense
ofuneaseandrestlessnessunderneathadecline inmoralstandarddescribedasa
spiritualpovertytheimpactofwarfeelingsoffear,loss,disorientationand
disillusionment
2.Literature:ImagistMovementmodernisminpoetrytheLostGenerationdepression
period the Beat Movement American fiction after WWII new fictionTwentiethcentury
AmericanDrama
*ImagistMovementPoundandFlintlaiddownthreemainprinciples:direct
treatmentofpoeticsubjects,eliminationofmerelyornamentalorsuperfluouswords,
andrhythmicalcompositioninthesequenceofthemusicalphraseratherthaninthe
sequenceofametronome.PoundandInaStationoftheMetroSandburgandthe
FogWilliamCarlosWilliamsandTheRedWheelbarrow.
*modernisminpoetrythefeelingoffrustrationandfailurethecommercialization
anddebasementofartinPoundsMauberleyPoundsattempttoimpose,through
art,orderandmeaninguponachaoticandmeaninglessworldinCantos
T.S.EliotrevealedthespiritualcrisisofpostwarEuropeinhisepochalepicThe
WasteLand,atrivialworldoftotalemptinessandthesplitnatureofmodernmanin
LoveSongofJ.AlfredPrufrock

E.E.cummingsdisregardedgrammarandpunctuation,alwaysusediinsteadofI
asaprotestagainstselfimportance
WallaceStevensfocusedhisattentiononmanandthingsinhisworld
RobertFrostcanhardlybeclassifiedwiththeoldorthenew
*theLostGenerationaperiodofspiritualcrisisthesecondAmericanRenaissance
theexpatriatemovementyoungpeoplevolunteeredto takepartinthewartoend
wars,onlytofindthatmodernwarfarewasnotgloriousorheroicthefeelingof
gloomanddespairandcutoffthesenseofdoom,dislocationandfragmentationthe
termnamedbyGertrudeSteinHemingwayasthemostrepresentative

*ErnestHemingwayawardedtheNobelPrizeinliteraturein1954forhispowerful
styleformingmasteryoftheart
HemingwayCodeheroesMancanbephysicallydestroyedbutneverdefeated
spirituallygraceunderpressure
HemingwayiceberganalogyThedignityofmovementofanicebergisduetoonly
1/8ofitbeingabovewater.
Lessismorehislanguageordictionseeminglysimpleandnatural,actually
polishedandtightlycontrolled,highlysuggestiveandconnotative
TheSunAlsoRisestheimpactofwaronawholegeneration
AFarewelltoArmsmanisdoomedtobeentrapped
ForWhomtheBellTollsavolunteerAmericanfightingintheSpanishCivilWar
TheOldManandtheSeaarepresentationoflifeasastruggleagainstunconquerable
naturalforces
*Fitzgeraldmirroroftheexcitingageinalmosteverywayliteraryspokesmanof
theJazzAgeTheGreatGatsbytheJazzAgeofthe1920scharacterizedbyfrivolity
andcarelessness
*Faulknerhiscreationofamythicalkingdomthatmirrorsnotonlythedeclineofthe
southernsocietybutalsothespiritualwastelandofthewholeAmericansocietythe
useofstreamofconsciousnesstoemphasizethereactionsandinnermusingsofthe
narratortheuseofmultiplepointsofviewgivingthestoryacircularformtheuseof
montage,tofragmentthechronologicaltimebyjuxtaposingthepastwiththepresent

representativeworks:TheSoundandtheFuryLightinAugustAbsalom,Absalom!
GoDown,MosesARoseforEmily
*SherwoodAndersonexploringthemotivationsandfrustrationsintermsofFreuds
theoryofpsychology,especiallyinWinesburg,Ohio
*SinclairLewisasociologicalwriter,Babbitasthepresentationofa
documentarypictureofthenarrowandlimitedmiddleclassmind
*theDepressionperiodtheGreatDepression(19291933)novelsofsocialprotest
JohnSteinbeck,arepresentativeofthe1930s,hisTheGrapesofWrath,asymbolic
journeyofmanonthewaytofindsometruthaboutlifeandhimself,andarecordof
thedispossessedandthewretchedfarmersduringtheGreatDepression
*theBeatMovementtheimpactofWWII,thecoldwar,theKoreanwar,the
Vietnamwar,theassassinationofKennedyandofMartinLutherKingtheideaof
lifeasabigjokeoranabsurditythemoredisintegratingandfragmentaryworld
moreestrangedanddespondentpeopleAllenGinsberg,theHowl,themanifestoof
theBeatMovement.
*AmericanfictionafterWWIIwritingsabouttraumaticwarexperience,TheNaked
andtheDeadbyNormanMailer,WindandWarbyHermanWoukwritingsabout
SouthernlifefollowingFaulknersfootsteps,AGoodManisHardtoFindby
FlanneryOConnerwritingsaboutJewishexperience(SaulBellow,IssacSinger)
writingsaboutblackpeople(RalphEllison)writingsaboutthealienatedyouth,The
CatcherintheRyebyJ.D.Salingerwritingsaboutmiddleclasslife(Updike)
*NewFictionAmericanfictioninthe1960sand1970sprovestobedifferent
writerslikeKurtVonnegut(SlaughterhouseFive),JosephHeller(Catch22),John
Bath,etc.sharedalmostthesamebeliefthathumanbeingsaretrappedina
meaninglessworldandthatneitherGodnormancanmakesenseofthehuman
condition.
Twentiethcentury American Drama has gained itself an indispensable position in the world
literature and also established its international reputation for its achievements in the realistic
theatre,expressionisttheatre,metatheatreandfeministtheaterthatarerootedinAmericansocial
reality.Itproducesabandofimportantplaywrights,twoNobelPrizelaureatesamongthem.
AmericanrealistictheatrefeaturesagenreofmoderntragedyinthestrandthatstartswithEugene
ONeill, continues with Tennessee Williams and consummates with Arthur Miller, whose The
Death of a Salesman depicts the social reality of ordinary American people. The legacy is
preservedinthelatergenerationsofAmericanplaywrightlikeMarshaNorman.
Expressionist theatre gained a firm foothold in U.S. since Eugene ONeill thematically uses
expressionistic devices in his HairyApeand other plays.TennesseeWilliams and Arthur Miller

also use their expressionist dramaturgy effectively in Glass Menagerie and The Death of a
Salesman,respectively.
Metatheatrical arts are intensively and effectively invented by American playwright Thornton
WilderinhisOurTown,anAmericanclassicthatstillholdsthestagefornearlyeightyyears.
American feminist theater remains active in United States since 1970s. Marsh Normans Night
Mother is regarded as one of the most important plays written by women playwrights who not
onlyrivalmenplaywrightswithequallybrilliantdramaticartbutalsoimproveAmericantheater
withaspecialinsightsofwomenplaywrights.