American Literature Essay
Exploration Period, 1492-1607 Characteristics The first European writings about North America are written in this period. European writings describe the explorers’ travels and impressions of the continent and its Native people. Major Writers or Works Prose: Christopher Columbus, Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, Bernal Diaz del Castillo, Thomas Harriot, and Samuel de Champlain. Oral narratives: Seneca legend “How America was discovered. “
•Colonial Period, 1607-c. 1765 Characteristics The Colonial period was dominated by Puritan beliefs and thus literature of this period is usually historical, religious, or didactic. The most common genres were tracts, polemics, journals, narratives, sermons, and some poetry. The first slave narratives were written at this time. Imaginative literature was rare; in some colonies, it was banned for being immoral. Major Writers or Works Poetry: Michael Wigglesworth, Anne Bradstreet, Edward Taylor.
Prose: John Smith, Roger Williams, Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanacks. Narratives: Mary Rowlandson’s A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson.
•Revolutionary Period, 1765-1790 Characteristics This period begins with the passing of the Stamp Act in England and ends in 1790. The Revolutionary period usually refers to writings that are politically motivated, either in support of British rule, in support of American patriotism and independence, or relating to the Constitution. Major Writers or Works Prose: Thomas Jefferson’s Autobiography, “Declaration by the Represent-atives of the United States of America,” Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison’s Federalist Papers. Drama: Royall Tyler’s The Contrast.
Verse and Ballads: “Yankee Doodle,” “The Liberty Song. ” •Early National Period, 1775-1828 Characteristics During this period, a body of distinctly American imaginative literature began to emerge. As with the novel, poetry, essays, and sketches also began to flourish. The publishing world and readership in America also began to grow. Slave narratives were published with increasing frequency. This period is sometimes called the Federalist period after the conservative federalists in power at the time. Major Writers or Works Poetry: Phillip Freneau, William Cullen Bryant, Phillis Wheatley.
Prose: Judith Sargent Murray, Mercy Otis Warren, Washington Irving, Lydia Maria Child Narratives: Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative of the Lfe of Olaudah Equiano. Novels: Hannah Webster Foster’s The Coquette. •Romantic Period, 1828-1865 Characteristics The Romantic period covers the period between Jacksonian democracy to the end of the Civil War. This period was the first major explosion of a distinctly American body of literature; for this reason, this period is also referred to as the American Renaissance. Many of American literature’s most well-known writers emerged during this time.
Readership increased significantly and the 1850s saw a number of immensely popular novels. Issues and subjects addressed in the literature of this time ranged from the American identity, to the slavery debate, to historical narratives, to poems and narratives inspired by romanticism, to prose works examining national unity. Major Writers or Works Poetry: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Lydia Sigourney, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Emily Dickinson. Prose: Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Rebecca Harding Davis, William Lloyd Garrison. Narratives: Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
Novels: James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Herman Melville, Susan Warner, Maria Susanna Cummins’ The Lamplighter, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, William Wells Brown, Harriet E. Wilson. Drama: George Aiken’s play, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, based on Stowe’s novel. •The Age of Transcendentalism, 1836-1860 Characteristics Transcendentalism, though varied, investigated the relationship between nature, humanity, society, and the divine.
Major Writers or Works Prose: Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Nature,” “Self-Reliance,” and “The American Scholar,” Margaret Fuller’s “Woman in the Nineteenth Century,” Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Bronson Alcott. •Realism, 1865-1900 Characteristics The post-Civil War period was an era of increased industrialization and urbanization as the nation attempted to recover emotionally, culturally, and politically from the aftermath of the war.
Though there were still elements of romanticism, this period was considered realistic in its emphasis on unidealized and truthful depictions. Major Writers or Works Poetry: Walt Whitman, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Emily Dickinson’s poems published posthumously. Prose: Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary E.
Wilkins Freeman, Zitkala-Sa, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” George Washington Cable, Kate Chopin. Novels: Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, William Dean Howells, Bret Harte, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Henry James, Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona, Frances E. W. Harper’s Iola Leroy. •Naturalism, 1900-1914 Characteristics An offshoot of realism, naturalism claimed to give an even more realistic and unflinching depiction of contemporary life. Naturalism was characterized by a pessimistic view of humanity and human existence.
Major Writers or Works Prose: Frank Norris, Jack London, Stephen Crane, Hamlin Garland. Novels: Frank Norris’ McTeague, Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, Jack London’s The Sea-Wolf, Stephen Crane’s Maggie: a Girl of the Streets. •Modern Period, 1914-1939 Characteristics A period in British and American literature spanning the years between WWI and WWII. Works in this period reflect the changing social, political, and cultural climate and are diverse, experimental, and nontraditional.
Major Writers or Works Poetry: Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, T. S. Eliot, Edna St. Vincent Millay, e. e. cummings, H. D. Novels: Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Sherwood Anderson, John Dos Passos, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway. Drama:
Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones, Susan Glaspell’s, Trifles, Clifford Odets. •Harlem Renaissance, 1920s and 1930s Characteristics The Harlem Renaissance was the first major burgeoning of visual, literary, and performing arts by African Americans concerned with African-American life, art, culture, and politics. The influence of the Harlem Renaissance remained strong for the remainder of the 20th century.
Major Writers or Works Poetry: Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay. Prose: W. E. B DuBois, Jean Toomer. Novels: Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, Passing, Jessie Redmon Fauset, James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay. Drama: Randolph Edmonds, Langston Hughes.
•Lost Generation, 1920s Characteristics After WWI, a group of American writers grew increasingly disillusioned by, and resistant to, what they saw as hypocrisy in dominant American ideology and culture. Many of these writers left America in search of a more artistic life in London or Paris. Major Writers or Works Poetry: Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot. Prose: Gertrude Stein, T. S. Eliot. Novels:
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. •Beat Writers, 1950s Characteristics Beat Writers’ writing was generally anti-traditional, anti-establishment, and anti-intellectual. Major Writers or Works Poetry: Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Prose: Gertrude Stein, T. S. Eliot. Novels: William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. •Postmodern or Contemporary, 1940-present Characteristics In British and American literature, the postmodern period refers to literature written after WWII.
The postmodern period reflects anxieties concerning, and reactions to life in the 20th century. Postmodern works are often highly experimental and anti-conventional. Major Writers or Works Poetry: Sylvia Plath, Marianne Moore, Robert Penn Warren, Anne Sexton, Gwendolyn Brooks, Adrienne Rich, Philip Larkin. Prose: Eudora Welty, Raymond Carver, John Cheever, Alice Walker.
Novels: Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. , Richard Wright, Thomas Pynchon, E. L Doctorow, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison. Drama: Edward Albee, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Lorraine Hansberry, August Wilson, David Mamet.