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The first colony in North America was founded in 1607, Jamestown, Virginia. Many Europeans who settled down in this new colony were mainly trying to escape religious persecution. The pilgrims of the mayflower arrived at the place they were not aiming for but instead found an abandoned indian village in 1620. Instead of them leaving and going to the correct place they made the Mayflower compact stating that the 41 male signatures will self-govern the colony they named Plymouth, Massachusetts. Virginia and Massachusetts were the main places where authors published their American literature because many authors were exploring “the new world” since these were the first colonies. For example, John Smith published in 1624 his Generall Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles, which also included his rescue by Pocahontas. His first publishes were in 1608; His two booklets were written in America and got him a place in American colonial literature. Another example, Samuel Sewall published The Selling of Joseph, which was thought to be the first antislavery expression in American literature. Sewall was originally from Hampshire, England but came to America in 1635 and graduated Harvard in 1671 and became Chief justice of Massachusetts. The main influences these authors had was free to write about anything. Most of the colonial literature writers were from England but came to America because of the restrictions England had against its citizens whereas the mood of colonist in North America was mainly focused on setting up their lives and dealing with working out the new type of government. The main styles of writing for this time were travel writing, Historical writing, religious writing, and philosophy. Although it was not popular there was an interest in nature and science but most authors didn’t write about that until the revolutionary period. The main religions were puritans, separatists and church of England. The Mayflower was a product of people fleeing the church of England and wanting to explore the “New world” and although they have some of the same objections as puritans they were not called that, they were referred to as separatists.
In this time period the stamp act, Boston tea party, Declaration of independence, and the most influential the revolutionary war caused a change in culture which changed the type of literature. This time period produced several authors, for example, Benjamin Franklin (Poor Richard’s Almanack published in 1732) ,Thomas Paine (Common Sense published in 1776 and Crisis papers which encouraged the colonists to keep fighting), Mercy Otis Warren (Mercy wrote some of the best known plays like The Adulateur: A tragedy published in 1773) , etc. . The colonial fascination with science, nature, freedom, and innovation started to become more common in the revolutionary period. The colonist also developed their own way of speaking to break off from the formal style of british writers. Noah Webster published the Blue-Backed Speller in 1783 which helped to standardize the American version of english. As well as nature and science many of the writings from this time are written from the battlefront or from a perspective of the revolutionary. They featured a strong sense of patriotism and support for the soldiers. Most of the colonies were eager for the war to end in victory. Many authors were excited as well because most books were reviewed in England therefore making americans dependent on the english literary model. Most of the colonist were still puritans and although the strong influential power that the puritans had when they first created the colonies their power was fading.
The Romantics time period was a turning point for American writers. Since the US became a country the industrial revolution, trail of tears, california gold rush and the civil war occured. The US was quickly expanding and growing as a country in value and Americans were trying to find their true American identity. This lead to writers drifting away from Europe’s instructional texts and writing more stories, novels, and poetry. There was five common characteristics that you could see in Romantics writings; Imagination and escapism, individuality, nature and spirituality, wisdom from the past, and the common man hero. The industrial revolution really fueled imagination and escapism because it was progressing the country which lead to immigration and overpopulation. Since more people were in the cities it became dirtier and not the nicest place to live in. This lead to people imagining a different life and “escaping” reality. For example, Washington Irving was the author of a story called Rip Van Winkle published in 1819 that describe a man entering the forest to leave his house because he didn’t want to do the chores his wife assigned him with and sleeping for 20 years to avoid the chores and his wife. When he woke up and returned to his house his wife died and he didn’t have to do any chores. As mentioned before Americans were trying to find their identity and that’s where the characteristic of individuality took place. As immigration to the US continued to happen more and more people were coming together to create a new identity. This shows up in literature by writer writing novels about people living on the outskirts of society where the character is embracing the freedom and becoming their own individual. Through the colonist and revolution time periods Puritans planted deep roots in the country and Romantics writers wanted to embrace those roots through nature and spirituality. William Cullen Bryant was a poet who published a poem called Thanatopsis that explored death through the life cycle and found peace for death and life stating that death is a chance to go back to nature. Although, most of America was trying to break free from european influence there was a group called fireside poets who thought it was wise to still use the same format and techniques but create content that was unique to America. Some of these firesides poets included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Russell Lowell. Last but not least the romantics also created the realm of viewing a common man as a hero. James Fenimore cooper published The Pioneers in 1823 that starred a man who was young and awkward but had strict moral codes, he doesn’t change as he goes through the adventures that face him but his heart is always in the right place.
Realism literature was a reaction from the romantics. The historical events that encouraged this reaction was the Assassination of president Lincoln, Civil war ending, Indians are placed in reservations, and coal mine accidents. The romantics were all about fantasising and imagining a different reality, which then sparked the realists to want to view the world how it is. The literature of the realists was more focused on the harsh conditions of social life of working people and poverty. So instead of fantasy novels that were common with romantics, you see more psychological novels with realists. Some Major realist writers were Mark Twain and Edith Wharton. Mark Twain grew up in Missouri so he was surrounded by racism and general oppression of African Americans. Mark would write novels and articles that described that active life around him and his thoughts and views based off of his surroundings, such as, The Private History of a Campaign That Failed, The War Prayer and Letters from Earth. Edith Wharton was a realist author who liked to observe human life and interactions. Many of her novels were based on society, for example, House of Mirth, Xingu and The Children pub.
In this time period, the US was experiencing a time of change, confusion, discovery, invention, and war. Modernism is a movement that began in Europe but moved to the US and is very similar to realism. Modernism is the struggle that people had coming to terms with new ideas and discoveries that previously challenged their lives. City life, Technology, and wealth is what fueled modernism. World War l , World War II, Women gaining the right to vote and stock market crash/ great depression beatdown citizens patriotic mood. When the United States were first trying to come together things were much simpler and during the modernism time more things because hard and confusing for the country. Thats what was reflected in Modernism Literature. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby which created a modern world filled with young people who had too much money, too much time and no structure in their lives, this was a representation of post-World War I. Ernest Hemingway was another writer who wrote about the loss of this generation. His writing seemed simple but it was a break from the flowery language and drawn out writings of 19th century. Hemingway also struggled with both the war and post war experience and it shows through his writing in A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises.
Contemporary literature was developed through modernism literature in the sense that novels no longer focused on the plot but mainly the characters thoughts. After World war II ended contemporary authors were stuck with the overwhelming curiosity of the action of world war II and why the human mind would so violent. Super traditional American values soon took place after the war such as capitalism, traditional courtship, sobriety, segregation, and oppression against women. Contemporary writers wrote mainly as backlash to the social norms and traditional values. Arthur Miller wrote a novel called Focus which went more into detail about Anti-semitism. J.D Salinger was a U.S army soldier and served in world war II so he had first hand experience of human perception and how people handle situations. He published Catcher in the rye in 1951 which had a lot of references to the war and the military academy.
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