Eugene O'Neill

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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...
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