American literature traces back to the time of the Native Americans and Puritans, and over time developed many literary movements influenced by Transcendentalists and Realists. The beliefs of the Native Americans and Puritans as well as the philosophy of the Transcendentalists and Realists contrast with one another.
These four major groups of American writers all differ in the sense that all of them look to a different power head or ideology for truth. For example, Native Americans look outside themselves to nature; while Puritans look to God, and Transcendentalists look within themselves; whereas realists question whether there is truth.
The Native Americans have enriched our history of American literature with their stories and songs that depict their nature oriented beliefs. The Native Americans were polytheistic, meaning they believed in multiple gods. The gods they worshiped were all elements of nature such as the sun, the sky, and the earth.
The Indians had a strong spiritual connection with nature which is shown quintessentially in a Native American piece, Song of the Sky Loom, when the poem reads, “Oh Mother Earth, oh Father Sky, your children are we” (Tewa 34). The Indians believed without qualms that the truth is found in nature, which differed greatly with another group of American writers that became very popular in this time.
The Puritans had a very strict religious ideology, and only looked to one place for truth; God. Unlike the Native Americans, the Puritans were monotheistic, in other words they only believed in one god. The structure of their life and their actions all revolved around the word of the bible. The Puritans believe that God is the creator of everything and therefor legislated by his law making Puritans very strict, moralistic, and conservative.
Puritans looked to God for truth and faith which is expressed when a Puritan poet writes, “And when I could no longer look, I blest His name that gave and took, that laid my goods now in the dust” (Bradstreet 141), showing her devotion and respect towards God. Further down the road in American literature, a new philosophy was developed with a liberating idea of truth.
The idea that truth can be found not outside of man, as other groups of writers suggest, but within man, had evolved. This idea is called Transcendentalism and it emphasizes the idea that truth is found in man’s own thoughts and intuition. Transcendentalists stress individualism and self- reliance while straying away from the desire for material things.
They are religious; however, do not find it necessary to worship instead just stay in tune with one’s introspective thoughts and nature. Walt Whitman, a famous transcendentalist poet, wrote, “I celebrate myself, and what I assume you shall assume, for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” (Whitman 400), showing that every person is an individual but is also unified with the world and nature.
Realists conceptualize their beliefs through questioning whether we can even find truth. Realists tend to try and dig beneath the facades that society so blindly accepts. One of the key strategies realists use to enable readers to question the truth is satire. Mark Twain was a famous Realist writer in early American literature that became very famous for using satire in his novels. Twain used satire to poke fun at social norms, potentially giving readers a new perception of the social normality people succumb to.
Mark Twain’s famous novel, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn consists of several uses of satire, for example, when the main character of the novel responds to a women’s lecture on heaven by saying, “Well, I couldn’t see no advantage in going where she’s going so I made up my mind I wouldn’t try for it.” (Twain 12). This quote allows readers think of religion less seriously and question whether it is even a place worth striving to get to.
Although Native Americans, Puritans, Transcendentalists, and Realists differentiate from each other, they all embellish American literature with a wide range of ideologies and point of views towards where to seek truth. This variety allows readers to develop their own individual thought and conceptualize where they can also find truth.