Enlightenment and Romanticism in American Literature

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Rather than seeing one common theme that linked all of these readings together, I saw a shift from one literary period to another through the changing writing styles and ideas of these authors. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine seem to exemplify the Enlightenment period of American literature whereas Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper exemplify a shift towards the Romantic period in American literature. While themes of Enlightenment connect Franklin, Jefferson, and Paine, those themes differ from the themes that will connect Irving and Cooper. Each of these Enlightenment authors has a theme in their writing that exemplifies the themes of the Enlightenment period. The first is Benjamin Franklin whose writing shows an interest in human nature. Throughout Franklin’s lifetime he was constantly focusing on himself and how he conducted himself in everyday life. This can be seen through some of his 13 virtues such as 1) Silence: speak not what may benefit others of yourself, 2) Resolution: resolve to perform what you ought, and 3) Justice: wrong none, by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your Duty (Norton, 526-527). These virtues show that Franklin was always considering his own human nature and how he acted in his daily life. Another theme of Enlightenment includes a belief in progress. This is exemplified by Franklin also as he was constantly keeping track of his behavior: “I enter’d upon the Execution of this Plan for Self-examination, and continu’d it with occasional Intermissions for sometime. I was surprised to find myself so much fuller on Faults than I had imagined, but I had the Satisfaction of seeing them diminish” (Norton, 520). Both Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine exemplify one last theme of Enlightenment which is a rational approach to the world. This means that the authors presented arguments and supported their beliefs by using logic and reasoning. In Section III of Paine’s Common Sense, which...
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