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American literature is the written or literary work produced in the area of the United States and its preceding colonies. For more specific discussions of poetry and theater, see Poetry of the United States and Theater in the United States. During its early history, America was a series of British colonies on the eastern coast of the present-day United States. Therefore, its literary tradition begins as linked to the broader tradition of English literature.
However, unique American characteristics and the breadth of its production usually now cause it to be considered a separate path and tradition.
* | Colonial literature Owing to the large immigration to Boston in the 1630s, the high articulation of Puritan cultural ideals, and the early establishment of a college and a printing press in Cambridge, the New England colonies have often been regarded as the center of early American literature. However, the first European settlements in North America had been founded elsewhere many years earlier.
Towns older than Boston include the Spanish settlements at Saint Augustine and Santa Fe, the Dutch settlements at Albany and New Amsterdam, as well as the English colony of Jamestown in present-day Virginia. During the colonial period, the printing press was active in many areas, from Cambridge and Boston to New York, Philadelphia, and Annapolis. The dominance of the English language was hardly inevitable.  The first item printed in Pennsylvania was in German and was the largest book printed in any of the colonies before the American Revolution.
 Spanish and French had two of the strongest colonial literary traditions in the areas that now comprise the United States, and discussions of early American literature commonly include texts by Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and Samuel de Champlain alongside English language texts by Thomas Harriot and John Smith. Moreover, we are now aware of the wealth of oral literary traditions already existing on the continent among the numerous different Native American groups. Political events, however, would eventually make English the lingua franca for the colonies at large as well as the literary language of choice.
For instance, when the English conquered New Amsterdam in 1664, they renamed it New York and changed the administrative language from Dutch to English. From 1696 to 1700, only about 250 separate items were issued from the major printing presses in the American colonies. This is a small number compared to the output of the printers in London at the time. However, printing was established in the American colonies before it was allowed in most of England. In England restrictive laws had long confined printing to four locations: London, York, Oxford, and Cambridge.
Because of this, the colonies ventured into the modern world earlier than their provincial English counterparts.  Back then, some of the American literature were pamphlets and writings extolling the benefits of the colonies to both a European and colonist audience. Captain John Smith could be considered the first American author with his works: A True Relation of Such Occurrences and Accidents of Noate as Hath Happened in Virginia… (1608) and The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles (1624).
Other writers of this manner included Daniel Denton, Thomas Ashe, William Penn, George Percy, William Strachey, Daniel Coxe, Gabriel Thomas, and John Lawson. The religious disputes that prompted settlement in America were also topics of early writing. A journal written by John Winthrop, The History of New England, discussed the religious foundations of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Edward Winslow also recorded a diary of the first years after the Mayflower’s arrival. Other religiously influenced writers included Increase Mather and William Bradford, author of the journal published as a History of Plymouth Plantation, 1620–47.
Others like Roger Williams and Nathaniel Ward more fiercely argued state and church separation. And still others, like Thomas Morton, cared little for the church; Morton’s The New English Canaan mocked the religious settlers and declared that the Native Americans were actually better people than the British.  Puritan poetry was highly religious in nature, and one of the earliest books of poetry published was the Bay Psalm Book, a set of translations of the biblical Psalms; however, the translators’ intention was not to create great literature but to create hymns that could be used in worship.
 Among lyric poets, the most important figures are Anne Bradstreet, who wrote personal poems about her family and homelife; pastor Edward Taylor, whose best poems, the Preparatory Meditations, were written to help him prepare for leading worship; and Michael Wigglesworth, whose best-selling poem, The Day of Doom, describes the time of judgment. Nicholas Noyes was also known for his doggerel verse. Other late writings described conflicts and interaction with the Indians, as seen in writings by Daniel Gookin, Alexander Whitaker, John Mason, Benjamin Church, and Mary Rowlandson.
John Eliot translated the Bible into the Algonquin language. Of the second generation of New England settlers, Cotton Mather stands out as a theologian and historian, who wrote the history of the colonies with a view to God’s activity in their midst and to connecting the Puritan leaders with the great heroes of the Christian faith. His best-known works include the Magnalia Christi Americana, the Wonders of the Invisible World and The Biblia Americana. Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield represented the Great Awakening, a religious revival in the early 18th century that asserted strict Calvinism.
Other Puritan and religious writers include Thomas Hooker, Thomas Shepard, John Wise, and Samuel Willard. Less strict and serious writers included Samuel Sewall (who wrote a diary revealing the daily life of the late 17th century), and Sarah Kemble Knight. New England was not the only area in the colonies; southern literature is represented by the diary of William Byrd of Virginia, as well as by The History of the Dividing Line, which detailed the expedition to survey the swamp between Virginia and North Carolina but which also comments on the different lifestyles of the Native Americans and the white settlers in the area.
 In a similar book, Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West, William Bartram described in great detail the Southern landscape and the Native American peoples whom he encountered; Bartram’s book was very popular in Europe, being translated into German, French and Dutch.  As the colonies moved towards their break with England, perhaps one of the most important discussions of American culture and identity came from the French immigrant J.
Hector St. John de Crevec? ur, whose Letters from an American Farmer addresses the question what is an American by moving between praise for the opportunities and peace offered in the new society and recognition that the solid life of the farmer must rest uneasily between the oppressive aspects of the urban life (with its luxuries built on slavery) and the lawless aspects of the frontier, where the lack of social structures leads to the loss of civilized living.
 This same period saw the birth of African American literature, through the poetry of Phillis Wheatley and, shortly after the Revolution, the slave narrative of Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. This era also saw the birth of Native American literature, through the two published works of Samson Occom: A Sermon Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul and a popular hymnbook, Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs, “the first Indian best-seller”.
 The revolutionary period also contained political writings, including those by colonists Samuel Adams, Josiah Quincy, John Dickinson, and Joseph Galloway, a loyalist to the crown. Two key figures were Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine. Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac and The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin are esteemed works with their wit and influence toward the formation of a budding American identity. Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense and The American Crisis writings are seen as playing a key role in influencing the political tone of the period.
During the revolution itself, poems and songs such as “Yankee Doodle” and “Nathan Hale” were popular. Major satirists included John Trumbull and Francis Hopkinson. Philip Morin Freneau also wrote poems about the war’s course. During the 18th century, writing shifted focus from the Puritanical ideals of Winthrop and Bradford to the power of the human mind and rational thought. The belief that human and natural occurrences were messages from God no longer fit with the new human centered world. Many intellectuals believed that the human mind could comprehend the universe through the laws of physics as described by Isaac Newton.
The enormous scientific, economic, social, and philosophical, changes of the 18th century, called the Enlightenment, impacted the authority of clergyman and scripture, making way for democratic principles. The increase in population helped account for the greater diversity of opinion in religious and political life as seen in the literature of this time. In 1670, the population of the colonies numbered approximately 111,000. Thirty years later it was more than 250,000. By 1760, it reached 1,600,000.
 The growth of communities and therefore social life led people to become more interested in the progress of individuals and their shared experience on the colonies. These new ideals are accounted for in the widespread popularity of Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography.????????? Post-independence In the post-war period, Thomas Jefferson’s United States Declaration of Independence, his influence on the United States Constitution, his autobiography, the Notes on the State of Virginia, and his many letters solidify his spot as one of the most talented early American writers.
The Federalist essays by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay presented a significant historical discussion of American government organization and republican values. Fisher Ames, James Otis, and Patrick Henry are also valued for their political writings and orations. Much of the early literature of the new nation struggled to find a uniquely American voice in existing literary genre, and this tendency was also reflected in novels. European forms and styles were often transferred to new locales and critics often saw them as inferior.
First American novels It was in the late 18th and early 19th centuries that the nation’s first novels were published. These fictions were too lengthy to be printed as manuscript or public reading. Publishers took a chance on these works in hopes they would become steady sellers and need to be reprinted. This was a good bet as literacy rates soared in this period among both men and women. Among the first American novels are Thomas Attwood Digges’ “Adventures of Alonso”, published in London in 1775 and William Hill Brown’s The Power of Sympathy published in 1791.
 Brown’s novel depicts a tragic love story between siblings who fell in love without knowing they were related. This epistolary novel belongs to the Sentimental novel tradition, as do the two following. In the next decade important women writers also published novels. Susanna Rowson is best known for her novel, Charlotte: A Tale of Truth, published in London in 1791.  In 1794 the novel was reissued in Philadelphia under the title, Charlotte Temple. Charlotte Temple is a seduction tale, written in the third person, which warns against listening to the voice of love and counsels resistance.
In addition to this best selling novel, she wrote nine novels, six theatrical works, two collections of poetry, six textbooks, and countless songs.  Reaching more than a million and a half readers over a century and a half, Charlotte Temple was the biggest seller of the 19th century before Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Although Rowson was extremely popular in her time and is often acknowledged in accounts of the development of the early American novel, Charlotte Temple is often criticized as a sentimental novel of seduction.
Hannah Webster Foster’s The Coquette: Or, the History of Eliza Wharton was published in 1797 and was also extremely popular.  Told from Foster’s point of view and based on the real life of Eliza Whitman, this epistolary novel is about a woman who is seduced and abandoned. Eliza is a “coquette” who is courted by two very different men: a clergyman who offers her the comfort and regularity of domestic life, and a noted libertine. She fails to choose between them and finds herself single when both men get married. She eventually yields to the artful libertine and gives birth to an illegitimate stillborn child at an inn.
The Coquette is praised for its demonstration of this era’s contradictory ideals of womanhood.  Both The Coquette and Charlotte Temple are novels that treat the right of women to live as equals as the new democratic experiment. These novels are of the Sentimental genre, characterized by overindulgence in emotion, an invitation to listen to the voice of reason against misleading passions, as well as an optimistic overemphasis on the essential goodness of humanity. Sentimentalism is often thought to be a reaction against the Calvinistic belief in the depravity of human nature.
 While many of these novels were popular, the economic infrastructure of the time did not allow these writers to make a living through their writing alone.  The first author to be able to support himself through the income generated by his publications alone was Washington Irving. He completed his first major book in 1809 entitled A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty.  Charles Brockden Brown is another early American novelist, publishing Wieland in 1798, Ormond in 1799, and Edgar Huntly in 1799.
These novels are of the Gothic genre. Of the picaresque genre, Hugh Henry Brackenridge published Modern Chivalry in 1792-1815; Tabitha Gilman Tenney wrote Female Quixotism: Exhibited in the Romantic Opinions and Extravagant Adventure of Dorcasina Sheldon in 1801; Charlotte Lennox wrote The Female Quixote in 1752, and Royall Tyler wrote The Algerine Captive in 1797.  Other notable authors include William Gilmore Simms, who wrote Martin Faber in 1833, Guy Rivers in 1834, and The Yemassee in 1835. Lydia Maria Child wrote Hobomok in 1824 and The Rebels in 1825.
John Neal wrote Logan, A Family History in 1822, Rachel Dyer in 1828, and The Down-Eaters in 1833. Catherine Maria Sedgwick wrote A New England Tale in 1822, Redwood in 1824, Hope Leslie in 1827, and The Linwoods in 1835. James Kirke Paulding wrote The Lion of the West in 1830, The Dutchman’s Fireside in 1831, and Westward Ho! in 1832. Robert Montgomery Bird wrote Calavar in 1834 Niguel Miller and Tacoya Hughes and Nick of the Woods in 1837. James Fenimore Cooper was also a notable author best known for his novel, The Last of the Mohicans written in 1826.
 Unique American style Edgar Allan Poe portrait. With the War of 1812 and an increasing desire to produce uniquely American literature and culture, a number of key new literary figures emerged, perhaps most prominently Washington Irving, William Cullen Bryant, James Fenimore Cooper, and Edgar Allan Poe. Irving, often considered the first writer to develop a unique American style (although this has been debated) wrote humorous works in Salmagundi and the satire A History of New York, by Diedrich Knickerbocker (1809).
Bryant wrote early romantic and nature-inspired poetry, which evolved away from their European origins. In 1832, Poe began writing short stories – including “The Masque of the Red Death”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” – that explore previously hidden levels of human psychology and push the boundaries of fiction toward mystery and fantasy. Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales about Natty Bumppo (which includes The Last of the Mohicans) were popular both in the new country and abroad.
Humorous writers were also popular and included Seba Smith and Benjamin P. Shillaber in New England and Davy Crockett, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, Johnson J. Hooper, Thomas Bangs Thorpe, and George Washington Harris writing about the American frontier. The New England Brahmins were a group of writers connected to Harvard University and its seat in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The core included James Russell Lowell, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. Ralph Waldo Emerson.
In 1836, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882), an ex-minister, published a startling nonfiction work called Nature, in which he claimed it was possible to dispense with organized religion and reach a lofty spiritual state by studying and responding to the natural world. His work influenced not only the writers who gathered around him, forming a movement known as Transcendentalism, but also the public, who heard him lecture. Emerson’s most gifted fellow-thinker was perhaps Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), a resolute nonconformist. After living mostly by himself for two years in a
cabin by a wooded pond, Thoreau wrote Walden, a book-length memoir that urges resistance to the meddlesome dictates of organized society. His radical writings express a deep-rooted tendency toward individualism in the American character. Other writers influenced by Transcendentalism were Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, George Ripley, Orestes Brownson, and Jones Very.  Just as one of the great works of the Revolutionary period was written by a Frenchman, so too was one of the great works about America from this generation, viz.
, Alexis de Tocqueville’s two-volume Democracy in America, which (like the colonial explorers) described his travels through the young country, making observations about the relations between democracy, liberty, equality, individualism and community. The political conflict surrounding Abolitionism inspired the writings of William Lloyd Garrison and his paper The Liberator, along with poet John Greenleaf Whittier and Harriet Beecher Stowe in her world-famous Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
These efforts were supported by the continuation of the slave narrative autobiography, of which the best known examples from this period include Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. At the same time, Native American autobiography develops, most notably in William Apess’s A Son of the Forest and George Copway’s The Life, History and Travels of Kah-ge-ga-gah-bowh.
Moreover, minority authors were beginning to publish fiction, as in William Wells Brown’s Clotel; or, The President’s Daughter, Martin Delany’s Blake; or, The Huts of America and Harriet E. Wilson’s Our Nig as early African American novels, and John Rollin Ridge’s The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta: The Celebrated California Bandit, which is considered the first Native American novel but which also is an early story about Mexican American issues. Nathaniel Hawthorne. In 1837, the young Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864) collected some of his stories as Twice-Told Tales, a volume rich in symbolism and occult incidents.
Hawthorne went on to write full-length “romances”, quasi-allegorical novels that explore such themes as guilt, pride, and emotional repression in his native New England. His masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter, is the stark drama of a woman cast out of her community for committing adultery. Hawthorne’s fiction had a profound impact on his friend Herman Melville (1819–1891), who first made a name for himself by turning material from his seafaring days into exotic and sensational sea narrative novels.
Inspired by Hawthorne’s focus on allegories and dark psychology, Melville went on to write romances replete with philosophical speculation. In Moby-Dick, an adventurous whaling voyage becomes the vehicle for examining such themes as obsession, the nature of evil, and human struggle against the elements. In another fine work, the short novel Billy Budd, Melville dramatizes the conflicting claims of duty and compassion on board a ship in time of war. His more profound books sold poorly, and he had been long forgotten by the time of his death. He was rediscovered in the early decades of the 20th century.
Anti-transcendental works from Melville, Hawthorne, and Poe all comprise the Dark Romanticism subgenre of literature popular during this time. American dramatic literature, by contrast, remained dependent on European models, although many playwrights did attempt to apply these forms to American topics and themes, such as immigrants, westward expansion, temperance, etc. At the same time, American playwrights created several long-lasting American character types, especially the “Yankee”, the “Negro” and the “Indian”, exemplified by the characters of Jonathan, Sambo and Metamora.
In addition, new dramatic forms were created in the Tom Shows, the showboat theater and the minstrel show. Among the best plays of the period are James Nelson Barker’s Superstition; or, the Fanatic Father, Anna Cora Mowatt’s Fashion; or, Life in New York, Nathaniel Bannister’s Putnam, the Iron Son of ’76, Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon; or, Life in Louisiana, and Cornelius Mathews’s Witchcraft; or, the Martyrs of Salem. Early American poetry Walt Whitman, 1856. See also: American poetry.
America’s two greatest 19th-century poets could hardly have been more different in temperament and style. Walt Whitman (1819–1892) was a working man, a traveler, a self-appointed nurse during the American Civil War (1861–1865), and a poetic innovator. His magnum opus was Leaves of Grass, in which he uses a free-flowing verse and lines of irregular length to depict the all-inclusiveness of American democracy. Taking that motif one step further, the poet equates the vast range of American experience with himself without being egotistical.
For example, in Song of Myself, the long, central poem in Leaves of Grass, Whitman writes: “These are really the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands, they are not original with me … ” Whitman was also a poet of the body – “the body electric,” as he called it. In Studies in Classic American Literature, the English novelist D. H. Lawrence wrote that Whitman “was the first to smash the old moral conception that the soul of man is something ‘superior’ and ‘above’ the flesh. ” Emily Dickinson (1830–1886), on the other hand, lived the sheltered life of a genteel unmarried woman in small-town Amherst, Massachusetts.
Within its formal structure, her poetry is ingenious, witty, exquisitely wrought, and psychologically penetrating. Her work was unconventional for its day, and little of it was published during her lifetime. Many of her poems dwell on death, often with a mischievous twist. One, “Because I could not stop for Death”, begins, “He kindly stopped for me. ” The opening of another Dickinson poem toys with her position as a woman in a male-dominated society and an unrecognized poet: “I’m nobody! Who are you?
/ Are you nobody too? ” American poetry arguably reached its peak in the early-to-mid-20th century, with such noted writers as Wallace Stevens and his Harmonium (1923) and The Auroras of Autumn (1950), T. S. Eliot and his The Waste Land (1922), Robert Frost and his North of Boston (1914) and New Hampshire (1923), Hart Crane and his White Buildings (1926) and the epic cycle, The Bridge (1930), Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and his epic poem about his New Jersey hometown, Paterson, Marianne Moore, E.
E. Cummings, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Langston Hughes, in addition to many others. Realism, Twain and James Mark Twain, 1907. Mark Twain (the pen name used by Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835–1910) was the first major American writer to be born away from the East Coast – in the border state of Missouri. His regional masterpieces were the memoir Life on the Mississippi and the novels Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Twain’s style – influenced by journalism, wedded to the vernacular, direct and unadorned but also highly evocative and irreverently humorous – changed the way Americans write their language. His characters speak like real people and sound distinctively American, using local dialects, newly invented words, and regional accents. Other writers interested in regional differences and dialect were George W. Cable, Thomas Nelson Page, Joel Chandler Harris, Mary Noailles Murfree (Charles Egbert Craddock), Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary E.
Wilkins Freeman, Henry Cuyler Bunner, and William Sydney Porter (O. Henry). A version of local color regionalism that focused on minority experiences can be seen in the works of Charles W. Chesnutt (African American), of Maria Ruiz de Burton, one of the earliest Mexican American novelists to write in English, and in the Yiddish-inflected works of Abraham Cahan. William Dean Howells also represented the realist tradition through his novels, including The Rise of Silas Lapham and his work as editor of the Atlantic Monthly.
Henry James (1843–1916) confronted the Old World-New World dilemma by writing directly about it. Although born in New York City, he spent most of his adult years in England. Many of his novels center on Americans who live in or travel to Europe. With its intricate, highly qualified sentences and dissection of emotional and psychological nuance, James’s fiction can be daunting. Among his more accessible works are the novellas Daisy Miller, about an enchanting American girl in Europe, and The Turn of the Screw, an enigmatic ghost story.
Realism also influenced American drama of the period, in part through the works of Howells but also through the works of such Europeans as Ibsen and Zola. Although realism was most influential in terms of set design and staging—audiences loved the special effects offered up by the popular melodramas—and in the growth of local color plays, it also showed up in the more subdued, less romantic tone that reflected the effects of the Civil War and continued social turmoil on the American psyche.
The most ambitious attempt at bringing modern realism into the drama was James Herne’s Margaret Fleming, which addressed issues of social determinism through realistic dialogue, psychological insight and symbolism; the play was not a success, as critics and audiences alike felt it dwelt too much on unseemly topics and included improper scenes, such as the main character nursing her husband’s illegitimate child onstage. Beginning of the 20th century Ernest Hemingway in World War I uniform. At the beginning of the 20th century, American novelists were expanding fiction’s social spectrum to encompass both high and low life and sometimes
connected to the naturalist school of realism. In her stories and novels, Edith Wharton (1862–1937) scrutinized the upper-class, Eastern-seaboard society in which she had grown up. One of her finest books, The Age of Innocence, centers on a man who chooses to marry a conventional, socially acceptable woman rather than a fascinating outsider. At about the same time, Stephen Crane (1871–1900), best known for his Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage, depicted the life of New York City prostitutes in Maggie: A Girl of the Streets.
And in Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser (1871–1945) portrayed a country girl who moves to Chicago and becomes a kept woman. Hamlin Garland and Frank Norris wrote about the problems of American farmers and other social issues from a naturalist perspective. More directly political writings discussed social issues and power of corporations. Some like Edward Bellamy in Looking Backward outlined other possible political and social frameworks. Upton Sinclair, most famous for his muck-raking novel The Jungle, advocated socialism. Other political writers of the period included Edwin Markham, William Vaughn Moody. Journalistic critics, including Ida M.
Tarbell and Lincoln Steffens were labeled The Muckrakers. Henry Brooks Adams’ literate autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams also depicted a stinging description of the education system and modern life. Experimentation in style and form soon joined the new freedom in subject matter. In 1909, Gertrude Stein (1874–1946), by then an expatriate in Paris, published Three Lives, an innovative work of fiction influenced by her familiarity with cubism, jazz, and other movements in contemporary art and music. Stein labeled a group of American literary notables who lived in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s as the “Lost Generation”.
The poet Ezra Pound (1885–1972) was born in Idaho but spent much of his adult life in Europe. His work is complex, sometimes obscure, with multiple references to other art forms and to a vast range of literature, both Western and Eastern. He influenced many other poets, notably T. S. Eliot (1888–1965), another expatriate. Eliot wrote spare, cerebral poetry, carried by a dense structure of symbols. In The Waste Land, he embodied a jaundiced vision of post–World War I society in fragmented, haunted images. Like Pound’s, Eliot’s poetry could be highly allusive, and some editions of The Waste Land come with footnotes supplied by the poet.
In 1948, Eliot won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Stein, Pound and Eliot, along with Henry James before them, demonstrate the growth of an international perspective in American literature, and not simply because they spend long periods of time overseas. American writers had long looked to European models for inspiration, but whereas the literary breakthroughs of the mid-19th century came from finding distinctly American styles and themes, writers from this period were finding ways of contributing to a flourishing international literary scene, not as imitators but as equals.
Something similar was happening back in the States, as Jewish writers (such as Abraham Cahan) used the English language to reach an international Jewish audience. And a small group of Arab American writers known as the Al-Rabitah al-Qalamiyah (a. k. a. the “New York Pen League”) and under the leadership of Khalil Gibran, were absorbing modernist European influences and thereby introduced innovative forms and themes into Arabic-language literature. American writers also expressed the disillusionment following upon the war.
The stories and novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940) capture the restless, pleasure-hungry, defiant mood of the 1920s. Fitzgerald’s characteristic theme, expressed poignantly in The Great Gatsby, is the tendency of youth’s golden dreams to dissolve in failure and disappointment. Fitzgerald also elucidates the collapse of some key American Ideals, set out in the Declaration of Independence, such as liberty, social unity, good governance and peace, features which were severely threatened by the pressures of modern early 20th century society.
Sinclair Lewis and Sherwood Anderson also wrote novels with critical depictions of American life. John Dos Passos wrote about the war and also the U. S. A. trilogy which extended into the Depression. F. Scott Fitzgerald, photographed by Carl van Vechten, 1937. Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) saw violence and death first-hand as an ambulance driver in World War I, and the carnage persuaded him that abstract language was mostly empty and misleading. He cut out unnecessary words from his writing, simplified the sentence structure, and concentrated on concrete objects and actions.
He adhered to a moral code that emphasized grace under pressure, and his protagonists were strong, silent men who often dealt awkwardly with women. The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms are generally considered his best novels; in 1954, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Five years before Hemingway, another American novelist had won the Nobel Prize: William Faulkner (1897–1962). Faulkner managed to encompass an enormous range of humanity in Yoknapatawpha County, a Mississippian region of his own invention.
He recorded his characters’ seemingly unedited ramblings in order to represent their inner states, a technique called “stream of consciousness”. (In fact, these passages are carefully crafted, and their seemingly chaotic structure conceals multiple layers of meaning. )
He also jumbled time sequences to show how the past – especially the slave-holding era of the Deep South – endures in the present. Among his great works are Absalom, Absalom! , As I Lay Dying, The Sound and th .