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American Literature

1. Colonization and Revolution
2. Romanticism
3. Realism
4. Naturalism
5. Modernism
Colonization and Revolution
Early 17th century to the end of 18th century
The first permanent English settlement in
North America
American Puritanism
Colonization and Revolution
American Puritanism
Emphasize the hard work, piety, sobriety
Include diary, traveling books, journals, letters,
sermons, government contracts
The earliest writer: Benjamin Franklin
Other: Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson (The
Declaration of Independence)
First half of the 19th century
Industrial Revolution; western expansion,
immigrant’s contribution, political ideal of
equality and democracy
Influenced by European Romanticist
American Romanticism; New England
American Romanticism
Beginning of American literature
Emphasize upon imaginative and emotional
Picturesque, exotic, sensuous, sensational, the
New England Transcendentalism
Romanticism on the Puritan soil
Emphasis on the spirit, the Oversoul “a
transparent eyeball”
Individual is the most important elements of
the society
Nature is the symbolic spirit of God
- Washington Irving (father of American Short
stories) >> Rip Van Winkle, the Legend of Sleepy
- James Fenimore Cooper (father of American
- Edgar Alan Poe (father of American detective
stories) >> The Murders in the Rue Morgue
- Hawthorne (black vision of life and human being)
>> The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven
Gables, Young Goodman Brown
- Henry Melbville – Moby Dick
- Walt Whitman – a pioneer poet .. Leaves of
- Emily Dickinson – death and immortality (I
heard a fly buzz – when I died; My life closed
twice before its Close)
- Ralph Waldo Emerson - Transceendentalism
Latter half of the 19th century
American civil war
Increasing industrialization, widening contrast
of wealth and poverty; popular feeling of
frustration and disillusionment
American Realism; Local Colorism
Reaction against Romanticism, moving away
from the bias towards romance and self-
creating fiction
Great interest in the realities of life, everyday
existence, brutal, class struggle
William Dean Howells, Mark Twain, Henry
Local Colorism
The presentation and interpretation of the local
character, the truthful color of local life
- Mark Twain (father of American literature: rough
humor and social satire; magic power with
language, the use of vernacular and colloquial
speech) .. Huckleberry Finn, Adventure of Tom
- Henry James – the inner life of human beings,
instead of human actions (stream-of
consciousness) >> Wings of the Dove, The
Portrait of a Lady, the Ambassador
Last decade of the 19th century
Impact of Darwin’s evolutionary theory on the
American thought
Influenced by French literature
American Naturalism
American naturalism
- Lower ranks of the society
- Portrayed misery and poverty of the
- Human bestiality >> explanation of sexual
- Stephen Crane – Red Badge of Courage,
Maggie a girl of the Street
- Frank Norris, McTeague
- Jack London: The Call of the Wild
The 20th century
Booming industry and material prosperity in
contrast with a sense of unease and
A decline in moral standard described as
spiritual poverty
Impact of war: feeling of fear, loss,
disorientation, and disilusionment
Imagist movement,
- Direct treatment of poetic subjects
- Elimination of merely ornamental or
superfluous words
- rhythmical composition in the sequence of the
musical phrase
- William Carlos William:The Red Wheelbarrow
Modernism in poetry
- Feeling of frustration and failure
- Commercialization and debasement of art
- Ezra Pound
- T.S. Eliot (spiritual crisis of postwar Europe >> The
Waste Land
- E.E. Cummings (disregarded grammar and
punctuation, i ,,a protest against self-importance
- Robert Frost
The Lost Generation
- Spiritual crisis
- American renaissance (2nd),
- Expatriate movement
- Modern warfare was not glorious or heroic
- Feeling of gloom and despair and cut-off
- Sense of doom, dislocation, fragmentation
- Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway..
- “Man can be physically destroyed but never
defeated spiritually” “grace underpressure”
- “iceberg analogy”
- “Less is more” simple and natural diction but
tightly controlled, suggestive and connotative
- The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, The Old
Man and the Sea
>Scott Fitzgerald: Jazz Age, the Great Gatsby, :
frivolity and carelessness
> William Faulkner: mythical kingdom mirrors
the decline of southern society, spiritual
wasteland of the whole American society.
- Stream-of-consciousness to emphasize the
reactions and inner musings of the narrator
- Juxtaposing the past with the present
- The Sound and the Fury, A Rose for Emily
Sherwood Anderson: exploring the
motivations and frustration in terms of Freud’s
psychological theory
 Sinclair Lewis: a sociological writer
Depression Period – The Great Depression
- Novels of social protest
- John Steinbeck ‘The Grapes of Wrath” journey
of man on the way to find some truth about
life and himself, a record of the dispossessed
and the wretched farmers
The Beat Movement
- Impact of WWII, cold war, Korean war,
Vietnam war, assassination of Kennedy and
Martin Luther King
- Life is a big joke or an absurdity
- The more disintegrating and fragmentary
world, more estranged and despondent
- Allen Ginsberg “The Howl”
American fiction after WWII
- Writings about traumatic war experience
- Jewish experience (Saul Bellow, Issac Singer)
- Black people (Ralph Ellison)
- Alienated youth (The Catcher in the Rye, J.D.
- Middle class (John Updike)
New Fiction
- 1960, 1970
- Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse Five),
- Joseph Heller (Catch-22_
- Human beings are trapped in a meaningless
- Neither God nor man can make sense of the
human condition
Twentieth Century
- American realistic theatre
- Expressionist theatre
- Metatheatrical arts
- American feminist theater