American Romanticism - Essay

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American Romanticism
Romanticism originates from the Germany of the 1770s and from that time on it has captured the rest of Europe and from about the 1820s America, as well (Hampson, par. 1). In America, there had not been a long literary tradition as was the case in Europe, and therefore their Romantic period also helped with the build of the foundations of a national literary tradition. The Declaration of Independence had only been signed on 4 July 1776 (, par 4). This means the country was not yet a century old during the start of the Romantic period in the United States. American Romanticism became both an imitation of European, especially British romanticism, but it was also innovative. There are many elements used to describe American Romanticism, but here some of the more important ones will be discussed with the use of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven and poem 260 I’m Nobody! Who are you? by Emily Dickinson. The first element of great importance to American Romanticisim is individualism. The individual is important with his or her personal feelings and ideas, which results in a subjective view of the world. During the Romantic Period, both writers and poets wanted to be a true individual. They did not want to be part of the great mass, even if this meant they would not fit in. Poem 260 I’m Nobody! Who are you? from Emily Dickinson expresses this idealisation of individualism:

“I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!” (Dickinson, 1204)

There was negative side to being an individual that is different from the rest of society. Edgar Allan Poe for instance lived a tragic life, filled with almost as much darkness as his stories (Levine, 671-674). Emily Dickison was lonely, although she had created her own isolation. Her poetry “reflects her loneliness and the speakers of her poems generally live in a state of want” (, par.3). Nathaniel Hawthorne also preferred to live in privacy, he was “a deeply private man”(Levine, 589). Now we that we have come to Hawthorne, it is time to discuss our the second, crucial element of American Romanticisim, namely the use of symbolism. As discussed in the second Introduction to American Studies lecture from period two, one should even look for symbolism when reading Hawthorne, because that will help with interpreting his work. Here is an example of symbolism from Young Goodman Brown: “ He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind” (Hawthorne, 606). Hawthorne uses symbolism to create a dark atmosphere here. Symbolism is used frequently in prose and poetry, but the vast amount of it and the associations concerned with it (for instance nature or gloomy places), is typical for Romanticisim. Poe also uses a variety of symbolism in The Raven. It is noticeable that there is soundssymbolism in The Raven, which we did not find in Hawthorne’s prose:

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door –

Only this and nothing more.” (Poe, 675)

The last element of American Romanticism that will be discussed here is escapism and finding Truth. This results in literature that focuses on places the writer/poet has escaped to, such as the past, exotic places, nature and the abnormal. This can possibly be an effect of the harshness the writer/poet had to face in his/her everyday life. Individualism is closely related to...
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