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November 21st, 2016


An Analysis of Early-American Fiction Authors and their Contributions

American literature is the among the youngest of all the works published in the world.

The early authors of this time had to work harder to establish a sense of individuality and distinct

style. By constantly forming unique styles and honing in on creative skill sets inspired by

various authors, writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Washington Irving

created unique pieces that are what is now considered early-American literature. Without their

contributions, literature would not be the same or hold the diversity they helped invent by being

ahead of their time. Despite the immense pressure to stay afloat in a world of politics, these

exceptional authors managed to make a splash that is undeniably one of the most monumental in

American literature history (Castronovo 419).

Washington Irving, the first of the trio to begin his career in literature, changed the scene

in America with his short stories Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. He is

best known for his transcendence in proclaiming a certain independence from British critics in

American literature and creating various styles through his short stories (Duyckinck 69). The

humor that Irving portrayed in his work were peculiar and had varying themes, ranging from

dark and romantic to whimsical and lighthearted. A prime example would derive from a quote

taken from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, All these, however, were mere terrors of the night,

phantoms of the mind that walk in darkness; and though he had seen many spectres in his time,

and been more than once beset by Satan in divers shapes, in his lonely pre-ambulations, yet

daylight put an end to all these evils; and he would have passed a pleasent life of it, in despite of
the devil and all his works, if his path had not been crossed by a being that causes more

perplexity to mortal man than ghosts, goblins, and the whole race of witches put together, and

that was - a woman. (Irving 32). Irving was arguably the first American author to display a

wide range ability to alter his style dramatically, depending on the effect he was hoping for. His

works did not appeal to any one type of person but could be universally enjoyed throughout

society, gave him the title of one of the highest esteemed American writers in history. Irving

even turned his attention to producing historical literature and managed to create a respected

name for himself in the field. Not only did he have a wide spectrum of creativity, he also had an

ability to project constant amusement and benevolent characters, even in his darkest works

(Gale). It is undeniable that Washington Irving cleared the expectations and paved way for

writers to produce original, creative pieces that reflected the progress of America.

Edgar Allan Poe is renowned for his grotesque themes and macabre style that is

captivating and outrageous. He is considered the Father of the Detective Story for his creepy,

mysterious stories that later would capture the attention of people all around the world. Despite

his addiction with drugs and alcohol, Poe managed to create a game changing way of writing that

America had never seen before. He incorporated gothic poetry with drama and strong, romantic

emotion that captivated readers unlike any author had achieved. For example, this dramatic

excerpt from The Tell-Tale Heart, It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain;

but once conceived, it haunted me day and night (Poe). Poe was a misunderstood man who

used his madness to his advantage by developing plots and dark themes that had never before

been achieved in Americas literature history. He inspired a genre that is still going strong and

countless readers have been able to enjoy his groundbreaking style for years after his death.
Finally, Nathaniel Hawthorne, an early American writer whose distinct writing style and

subject matter contributed directly to the modern evolution of American Literature is known for

his creativity. He chose themes that would greatly involve political issues and defy social norms,

such as The Scarlet Letter, which centered around a woman who committed adultery but was

still the heroine of the novel. Hawthorne was especially unique because he was involved with

the Salem witchcraft trials on a personal level. He quickly made a name for himself with his

controversial pieces that challenged the norm society accepted. By writing about adultery, the

Salem trials, and even Puritanism on a satirical level that included a very serious note.

Hawthorne birthed a style of writing that would be admired for years to come and challenge the

societal acceptance of his readers (Perkins 427). For example this quote from The Scarlett

letter highlights his willingness to disregard boundaries, "Let men tremble to win the hand of

woman, unless they win along with it the utmost passion of her heart! Else it may be their

miserable fortune, when some mightier touch than their own may have awakened all her

sensibilities, to be reproached even for the calm content, the marble image of happiness, which

they will have imposed upon her as the warm reality" (Hawthorne). He even wrote several

biographies and was mentor to Herman Melville, who would later attribute his novel Moby

Dick to Hawthornes dark style. The work Nathaniel created was dominated by his need to tell

the real story and incorporate a devils advocate to all sides of the coin. He was extremely

successful and would later go on to achieve great recognition for his contributions to society and

literature, despite his controversial subjects and the critics.

While the authors mentioned are distinct in their own styles and themes, they each

brought work to the table that changed early American literature forever. They marched to the

beat of their own drum and in turn were able to open the minds of many closed minded readers.
Hawthorne, Poe, and Irving were masters at their individual works and would later become

world famous for the unique pieces they wrote. Without their contributions, American literature

could have remained the same for many years. With their hard work and ability to hone their

unmistakable writing traits, each author opened a window to a new genre for the future. It is

undeniable that these three talented writers were unlike any at the time and would create a style

that would be remembered hundreds of years later. The inspiration and dedication presented by

these individuals made way for revolutionary breakthroughs in literature during a time that

produced and admired cookie cutter work. The forms, themes, and styles of Irving, Poe, and

Hawthorne transformed early American literature into a diverse country that could appreciate the

dark, unique, individual author who was responsible for the extraordinary work.
Works Cited

Castronovo, Russ. "Something Else: The Politics of Early American Literature." Early American

Literature. vol. 51. no. 2. (2016) p. 419. Literature Resource Center, Web. 21

Nov. 2016.

Duyckinck, Evert. "Writings of Washington Irving." Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism,

edited by Janet Mullane and Robert Thomas Wilson, vol. 19, Gale, 1988. Literature

Resource Center, 23 Nov. 2016. Originally published in The Southern Quarterly Review,

vol. 8, no. 15, July 1845, pp. 69-93.

Gale, Susan. "Irving as a Writer." Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, edited by Juliet

Byington, vol. 95, Gale, 2001. Literature Resource Center, 23 Nov. 2016. Originally

published in Ladies' Repository, vol. 8, July 1848, pp. 217-220.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Modern Library, 1950. Print. 26 Nov.


Irving, Washington, and Arthur Rackham. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. (1820): 32.

Literature Resource Center, 26 Nov. 2016.

Perkins, George B., et al. "Hawthorne, Nathaniel (1804-1864)." Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia

of American Literature, vol. 1, HarperCollins, 1991, p. 427. Literature Resource Center,

Accessed 29 Nov. 2016.

Poe, Edgar Allan, and Hervey Allen. The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe.

New York: Modern Library, 1938. Print.