INTRODUCTION 1. 1. Origin and Development of American Literature A fundamental difference subsists between American literature and proximately all the other major literary traditions of the world: it is essentially a modern, recent and international literature.
The American continent possessed major pre-Columbian civilizations, with a deep heritage of culture, mythology, ritual, chant and poetry. Many recent American writers, especially recently, have looked to these sources as something essential to American culture, and the extraordinary variety and vision to be found there contribute much to the complexity and increasing multiethnicity of Contemporary American experience.
But this is not the originating tradition of what we now call American literature. That originated from the meeting between the land and usually despised Red Indians and the discoverers and settlers who left the developed, literatre cultures of Renaissance Europe, first to explore and conquer, then to populate, what they generally considered a virgin continent – a “New World” already promised them in their own mythology, now discovered by their own talent and curiosity.
Owing to the sizably voluminous immigration to Boston in the 1630s, they brought their conceptions of history and the world’s purport; they brought their languages and above all , the book. The book was both a sacred text, the Bible (to be reinvigorated in the King James Authorized Version of 1611), and a general instrument of expression, record, argument, and cultural dissemination. In time, the book became American literature, and other things they shipped with it — from European values and prospects to post-Gutenberg printing technology– shaped the lineage of American writing.
So did the early records kept of the encounter and what they composed of it. Of course a past was being ravaged as well as an incipient present gained when these travelers/ settlers imposed on the North American continent and its cultures their forms of interpretation and narrative, their Christian history and iconography. This American when first came into existence out of writing – European writing – and then went on to demand a new writing which fitted the harshness and grandeur of its landscape, the mysterious potential of its seemingly boundless open space. But “America” existed in Europe long before it was discovered, in the speculative writings of the classical, the medieval and the then the Renaissance mind. “He invented America; a very great man ”.
Mademoiselle Nioche says about Columbus in Henry James’ The American (1877). 1. 1. 1. Periods of American Literature The division of American literature into convenient historical segments, or “periods,” lacks the consensus among literary scholars. The many syllabi of college surveys reprinted in Reconstructing American Literature, ed. Paul Lauter (1983), and the essays in Redefining American Literary History, ed. A.
LaVonne Brown Ruoff and Jerry W. Ward (1990), demonstrate how variable are the temporal divisions and their names, especially since the beginning of efforts to do justice to literature written by women and by ethnic minorities. 1607-1775 : This era, from the founding of the first settlement at Jamestown to the outbreak of the American Revolution, is often called the Colonial Period, in which writings were for the most part-religious, practical, or historical. William Bradford, John Winthrop, and Cotton Mather are the notable writers. The period between 1765 and 1790 is sometimes distinguished as the Revolutionary
Age. It was the time of Thomas Paine’s influential revolutionary tracts; of Thomas Jefferson’s “Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom,” “Declaration of Independence,” and many other writings. The years 1775-1828, the Early National Period, ending with the triumph of Jacksonian democracy in 1828, signalized the emergence of a national imaginative literature, including the first American stage comedy (Royall Tyler’s The Contrast, 1787), the earliest American novel (William Hill Brown’s The Power of Sympathy, 1789), and the establishment in 1815 of the first enduring American magazine, The North American Review.
Washington Irving achieved international fame with his essays and stories; Charles Brockden Brown wrote distinctively American versions of the Gothic novel of mystery and terror; the career of James Fenimore Cooper, the first major American novelist, was well launched. The span 1828-1865 from the Jacksonian era to the Civil War, often identified as the Romantic Period in America, marks the full coming of age of a distinctively American literature.
This period is sometimes known as the American Renaissance, the title of F. O. Matthiessen’s influential book (1941) about its outstanding writers, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne; it is also sometimes called the Age of Transcendentalism, after the philosophical and literary movement, entered on Emerson, that was dominant in New England. In all the major genres except drama, writers produced works of an originality and excellence not exceeded in later American literature.
Emerson, Thoreau, and the early feminist Margaret Fuller shaped the ideas, ideals, and literary aims of many contemporary and later American writers. It was the age not only of continuing writings by William Cullen Bryant, Washington Irving, and James Fennimore Cooper, but also of the novels and short stories of Pow, Hawthorne, Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the southern novelist William Gilmore Simms; of the poetry of Poe, John Greenleaf Whittier, Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and the most innovative and influential of all American poets, Walt Whitman;
And of the beginning of distinguished American criticism of Poe, Simms, and James Russell Lowell. 1865-(1914) The cataclysm of the Civil War and Reconstruction, followed by a burgeoning industrialism and urbanization in the North, profoundly altered American self-awareness, and also American literary modes.
The years 1865-1900 are often known as the Realistic Period, by reference to the novels by Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, and Henry James, as well as by John W. DeForest, Harold Frederic. These works, though diverse, are often labeled “realistic” in contrast to the “romances” of their predecessors in prose fiction: Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville. Some realistic authors grounded their fiction in a regional milieu; these include (in addition to Mark Twain’s novels on the Mississippi River region) Bret Harte in California, Sarah Orne Jewett in Maine, Mary Wilkins Freeman in Massachusetts, and George W.
Cable and Kate Chopin in Louisiana. Chopin has become prominent as an early and major feminist novelist. Whitman continued writing poetry up to the last decade of the century, and was joined by Emily Dickinson; although only seven of Dickinson’s more than a thousand short poems were published in her lifetime, she is now recognized as one of the most distinctive and eminent of American pets.
Sidney Lanier published his experiments in versification based on the meters of music; the African-American author Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote both poems and novels between 1893 and 1905; and in the 1890s Stephen Crane, although he was only twenty-nine when he died, published short poems in free verse that anticipate the experiments of Ezra Pound and the Imagists, and wrote also the brilliantly innovative short stories and short novels hat look forward to two later narrative modes: naturalism and impressions.
The years 1900-(1914) although James, Howells, and Mark Twain were still writing, and Edith Wharton was publishing her earlier novels—are sometimes discriminated as the Naturalistic Period, in recognition of the powerful although sometimes crudely wrought novels by Frank Norris, Jack London, and Theodore Dreiser, which typically represent characters who are joint victims of their instinctual drives and of external sociological forces. (1914)- 1939.
The era between the two world wars, marked by the trauma of the great economic depression beginning in 1929, was that of the emergence of what is still known as “Modern literature”, which in America reached an eminence rivaling that of the American Renaissance of the mid-nineteenth century; unlike most of the authors of that earlier period, however, the American modernists also achieved widespread international recognition and influence.
Poetry magazine, founded in Chicago by Harriet Monroe in 1912, published many innovative authors. Among the notable poets were Edgar Lee Masters, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Robinson Jeffers, Marianne Moore, T. S. Eliot, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and E. E. Cummings— authors who wrote in an unexampled variety of poetic modes. The literary productions of this era are often subclassified in a variety of ways. The flamboyant and pleasure-seeking 1920s are sometimes referred to as “the Jazz Age”, a title popularized by F.
Scott Fitzgerald’s Tales of the Jazz Age (1922). The same decade was also the period of the Harlem Renaissance, which produced major writings in all the literary forms. Many prominent American writers of the decade following the end of World War I, disillusioned by their war experiences and alienated by what they perceived as the crassness of American culture and its “puritanical” repressions, are often tagged ( in a term first applied by Gertrude Stein to young Frenchmen of the time) as the Lost Generation, a number of these writers became expatriates, moving either to London or to Paris in their quest for a richer literary and artistic milieu and a freer way of life.
1939 to the Present, the Contemporary period. World War II, and especially the disillusionment with Soviet Communism consequent upon the Moscow trails for alleged treason and Stalin’s signing of the Russo-German pact with Hitler in 1939, largely ended the literary radicalism of the 1930s. A final blow to the very few writers who had maintained intellectual allegiance to Soviet Russia came in 1991 with the collapse of Russian Communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
For several decades the New Criticism—dominated by conservative southern writers. The Agrarians, who in the 1930s had championed a return from an industrial to an agricultural economy—typified the prevailing critical tendency to isolate literature from the life of the author and from society and to conceive a work of literature, in formal terms, as an organic and autonomous entity.
The eminent and influential critics Edmund Wilson and Lionel Trilling, however—as well as other critics grouped with them as the New York Intellectuals, including Philip Rahv, Alfred Kazin, Dwight McDonald, and Irving Howe—continued through the 1960s to deal with a work of literature humanistically and historically, in the context of its author’s life, temperament and social milieu and in terms of the work’s moral and imaginative qualities and its consequences for society.
The 1950s, while often regarded in retrospect as a period of cultural conformity and complacency, was marked by the emergence of vigorous anti-establishment and anti-traditional literary movements: the Beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac; the American exemplars of the literature of the absurd; the Black Mountain Poets?
Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, and Robert Duncan; and the New York Poets, Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, and John Ashbery. It was also a time of confessional poetry and the literature of extreme sexual candor, marked by the emergence of Henry Miller as a notable author.
The counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s continued some of these modes, but in a fashion made extreme and fevered by the rebellious youth movement and the vehement and sometimes violent opposition to the war in Vietnam. Important American writers after World War II is Eudora Welty, Robert Penn Warren, Saul Bellow, R P.
Warren, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee and many others. 1. 2 RISE OF AMERICAN DRAMA “In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book? Or goes to an American play? ” -Sydney Smith, The Edinburgh Review (1820). This was the most profoundly preconceived thought around the world before the epoch of American Drama among many literary critics as well as the literate people, half of those harsh comments were due to impediment and the remaining were sort of ill-treatment.
“There is not, and there never has been, a literary institution, which could be called the American Drama” • Dion Boucicault This statement provoke very little argument from most American critics more than a hundred years later. In fact, the neglect of American drama is so pervasive that Ruby Cohn, in her history of twentieth-century drama for the Columbia Literary History of the United States (1988), begins with the observation: “Given the chokehold on drama of a misnamed Broadway, given the lure of Hollywood, and given the power of some small-minded reviewers in the daily press, it is a virtual miracle that American drama merits admission to a history of American literature”.
Despite its segregation from the main corpus of American literature, American drama has never been written in a vaccum. It has mirrored peculiarly American social, political, and historical issues in traditional as well as challenging forms and experimental styles. It has been the forum for a plurality of American voices. American drama has always responded to national and regional problems, either in reifying prevailing sentiments or by challenging dominant ideologies. Like other forms of American literature, drama embodies the American struggle.
For decades scholars and critics of American literature, engaged in establishing discipline with canonical hierarchies and feeling embattled in the face of longer-lived English literary studies, have practiced generic hegemony; as a consequence, American drama historically has been the most devalued and overlooked area in American literary studies.
Besides all these, there was great theatrical activity during the 19th century a time when there were no movies, TV, or Radio. Every town of any size had its theater or “opera house” in which touring companies of actors performed. However, no significant drama was performed in this century, with audiences preferring farce, melodrama, and vaudeville to serious efforts.
European drama, which was to influence modern American drama profoundly, matured in the last third of 19th century with the achievements of three playwrights: Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, and Anton Chekhov. Ibsen who was profoundly influenced by psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, tackled subjects such as guilt, sexuality, and mental illness. Strindberg brought to his characterizations a unprecedented level of psychological complexity. And Chekhov shifted the subject matter of drama from wildly theatrical displays of external action and emotions to the concerns of everyday life.
These trio presented characters and situations more or less realistically chiefly known as “slice-of-life” dramatic technique. Soon after the beginning of the 20th century, realism became the dominant mode of American drama. Very soon after the little theaters off Broadway succeeded with realistic plays. In 1916 and 1917, two small theater groups in New York (the Provincetown Players and the Washington Square Players) began to produce new American plays. They provided a congenial home for new American playwrights like Eugene O’Neill, whose first plays were produced by the Provincetown Players in MA.
These small play groups would produce any play, in any style, that commercial theater would not touch. These groups were the beginning of modern American dramatic theater. The post- World War II years brought two important figures to prominence in American drama : Arthur Miller (((1916))-2005) and Tennessee Williams (1911-1983). They remain the dominant figures of the second half of the 20th century. Miller and Williams represent the two principal movement in modern American drama: realism, and realism combined with an attempt at something more imaginative.
From the beginning, American playwrights have tried to break away from the strict realism of Ibsen, Strindberg, and Chekhov and to blend it with a more poetic form of expression. Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949),Williams’ The Glass Menagerie (1944) and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (1938) are some of the best examples of this style of writing. Contemporary American Theater In the mid 19th century, realism in drama was conceived as a revolt against crude theatricalism.
Currently there is a revolt against realism itself and a move toward more theatricalism, with its emphasis on stage effects and imaginative settings. Once again, American drama is changing to reflect the changing attitudes of American theater-going audiences. Dramatists today have the freedom to express their deepest feelings, whatever they may be, in any form they choose- provided that their approach can be made comprehensible to an audience and touch their emotions. 1. 3 LIFE AND CAREER OF EUGENE O’NEILL “I was born in a hotel and, damn it, I’ll die in a hotel”- Eugene O’Neill Eugene Gladstone O’Neill (16- October- 1888 to 27- November-1953), the son of James O’Neill and Ella Quinlan was born in an up-town family hotel, named Barret House on broadway at 43, Street, New York.
James O’Neill, was a successful touring actor in the last quarter of the 19th century whose most famous role was that of the Count of Monte Cristo in a stage adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas novel. Ella accompanied her husband all the times except for the birth of her first son, James Jr,. and for Eugene. His parents were ardent follower of Catholicism. Ella was exceptionally beautiful woman. She loved music and practiced a curled hand-writing. As he was born in a hotel, he spent his childhood in hotel rooms, on trains and backstage. This filled him with a sense of instability and insecurity.
O’Neill later deplored the nightmare insecurity of these early years experience and blamed his father for the tragedies that happened in the life of O’Neill. “Wherever he (O’Neill) lived, the houses he bought were always big, as if their very size would ensure stability: the other side of the picture is, of course, to be seen in his restless experimentation, which ever allowed him exactly to repeat a way of writing he had once essayed. ” O’Neill was educated at boarding schools such as Mt. St. Vincent in the Bronx and Betts Academy in Stamford, Conn. His summers were spent at the family’s only permanent home, a modest house overlooking the Thames River in New London.
He attended Princeton University for one year (1906-07), after which he left school to begin what he later regarded as his real education in “life experience. ” The next six years very nearly ended his life. He shipped to sea, lived a derelict’s existence on the waterfronts of Buenos Aires, Liverpool, and New York City, submerged himself in alcohol, and attempted suicide. Recovering briefly at the age of 24, he held a job for a few months as a reporter and contributor to the poetry column of the New London Telegraph but soon came with tuberculosis.
Confined to the Gaylord Farm Sanitarium in Wallingford for six months then he confronted himself soberly and seized the chance for what he later called his “rebirth”. O’Neill’s first efforts were awkward melodramas, but they were about people and subjects—prostitutes, derelicts, lonely sailors, God’s injustice to man—that had, up to that time, been in the province of serious novels and were not considered an apt subjects for presenting on the American Stage. In the autumn of (1914), O’Neill entered G. P. Baker’s Academy at Harvard to take lessons in playwriting, because of a theatre critic suggestion to his father.
O’Neill’s first appearance as a playwright came in the summer of 1916, in the quiet fishing village of Provincetown, where a group of young writers and painters had launced an experimental theater. In their tiny, ramshackle playhouse on a wharf, they produced his one-act sea play Bound East for Cardiff. The talent inherent in the play was immediately evident to the group, which that fall formed the Playwright’s Theater in Greenwich village. Their first bill, on 03-November-1916, included Bound East for Cardiff—O’Neill’s one-act sea plays, along with a number of his lesser efforts.
By the time his first full length play, Beyond the Horizon? was produced on Broadway, staged in Morosco Theater, when the young playwright already had a small reputation. In 1918 he married Agnes Boulton, and they lived for several summers at Peaked Hill, a reconditioned life-saving station near Provincetown. During the rest of the year, they lived in other places. They had two children before separating in 1827. His third wife, Carlotta Montercy, accompanied him on many long journeys, to Europe, to Asia, to the American West.
They were to be frequently on the move during the rest of O’Neill’s life, and they were to experience many painful things including the suicide of Eugene O’ Neill Jr. O’Neill’s last years were marked by physical suffering ( his hands paralysed so that he could no longer write), by increasing isolation, by family trouble and dissension. He died on 27 November, 1953. 1. 4 O’Neill’s contribution to American Drama In his own life-time, O’Neill was established as the leading American dramatist. He was awarded Pulitzer Prizes for Beyond the Horizon, Anna Christie, Strange Interlude, and Long Days Journey into Night
( he received the highest international recognition in the award of the Nobel Prize in Literature; a considerable number of books and articles have been devoted to his work since the nineteen-twenties, and in recent years the sign of interest has grown markedly pronounced.
His plays are quite popular in the English-speaking world. Despite some critical effort to depreciate O’Neill, he remains America’s outstanding playwright, the only one to win international fame and recognition, and the Novel Prize. He not only built up the American theatre, but also put it on the world map, where now it has a dynamic and distinguished place beside the European and continental theatre—Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams helping to sustain that edifice.
Unlike Shakespeare, whom popular fancy depicts as a wild bird who sat on the bough and warbled his wood-notes wild, O’Neill had the theatre in his blood and made a lifelong strenuous conscious effort to achieve glory in this field and leave foot-prints on the sands of time. Also, unlike Shakespeare, O’Neill was a highly personal writer, in whose case the partions that divide autobiography and objective reality are very thin paper thin so that his dramatic works constitute a series of personal obsessions, ending up with the most personal of them all- Long Day’s Journey into Night.
Full-length plays •BREAD AND BUTTER, (1914) •SERVITUDE, (1914) •THE PERSONAL EQUATION, (1916) •NOW I ASK YOU, 1916 •BEYOND THE HORIZON, 1918 – PULITZER PRIZE, (1920) •THE STRAW, (1919) •CHRIS CHRISTOPHERSEN, (1919) •GOLD, (1920) •ANNA CHRISTIE, (1920) – PULITZER PRIZE, (1922) •THE EMPEROR JONES, (1920) •DIFF’RENT, (1921) •THE FIRST MAN, (1922) •THE HAIRY APE, (1922) •THE FOUNTAIN, (1923) •MARCO MILLIONS, (1923–25) •ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT WINGS, (1924) •WELDED, (1924) •DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS, (1925) •LAZARUS LAUGHED, (1925–26) •THE GREAT GOD BROWN, (1926) •STRANGE INTERLUDE, (1928 – PULITZER PRIZE)
•DYNAMO, (1929) •MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA, (1931) •AH, WILDERNESS! , (1933) •DAYS WITHOUT END, (1933) •THE ICEMAN COMETH, (WRITTEN 1939, PUBLISHED 1940, FIRST PERFORMED 1946) •HUGHIE, WRITTEN (1941, FIRST PERFORMED 1959) •LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, (WRITTEN 1941, FIRST PERFORMED 1956 – PULITZER PRIZE 1957) •A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN, (WRITTEN 1941–1943, FIRST PERFORMED 1947)
•A TOUCH OF THE POET, (COMPLETED IN 1942, FIRST PERFORMED 1958) •MORE STATELY MANSIONS, (SECOND DRAFT FOUND IN O’NEILL’S PAPERS, FIRST PERFORMED 1967) •THE CALMS OF CAPRICORN, (PUBLISHED IN 1983) One-act plays
The Glencairn Plays, all of which feature characters on the fictional ship Glencairn—filmed together as The Long Voyage Home: •BOUND EAST FOR CARDIFF, ((1914)) •IN THE ZONE, (1917) •THE LONG VOYAGE HOME, (1917) •MOON OF THE CARIBBEES, (1918) Other one-act plays include: •A WIFE FOR A LIFE, (1913) •THE WEB, (1913) •THIRST, (1913) •RECKLESSNESS, (1913) •WARNINGS, (1913) •FOG, (1914) •ABORTION, (1914)
•THE MOVIE MAN: A COMEDY, (1914) •THE SNIPER, (1916) •BEFORE BREAKFAST, (1916) •ILE, (1917) •THE ROPE, (1918) •SHELL SHOCK, (1918) •THE DREAMY KID, (1918) •WHERE THE CROSS IS MADE, (1918) •EXORCISM (1919) 1. 5 His Themes.
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