CHAPTER – I
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 its cultures their forms of interpretation and narrative, their Christian history and iconography.
This American when first came into existence out of writing – European writing – and then went on to demand a new writing which fitted the harshness and grandeur of its landscape, the mysterious potential of its seemingly boundless open space. But “America” existed in Europe long before it was discovered, in the speculative writings of the classical, the medieval and the then the Renaissance mind.
“He invented America; a very great man ”.
Mademoiselle Nioche says about Columbus in Henry James’ The American (1877). 1.1.1. Periods of American Literature
The division of American literature into convenient historical segments, or “periods,” lacks the consensus among literary scholars. The many syllabi of college surveys reprinted in Reconstructing American Literature, ed. Paul Lauter (1983), and the essays in Redefining American Literary History, ed. A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff and Jerry W. Ward (1990), demonstrate how variable are the temporal divisions and their names, especially since the beginning of efforts to do justice to literature written by women and by ethnic minorities.
1607-1775 : This era, from the founding of the first settlement at Jamestown to the outbreak of the American Revolution, is often called the Colonial Period, in which writings were for the most part-religious, practical, or historical. William Bradford, John Winthrop, and Cotton Mather are the notable writers. The period between 1765 and 1790 is sometimes distinguished as the Revolutionary Age. It was the time of Thomas Paine’s influential revolutionary tracts; of Thomas Jefferson’s “Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom,” “Declaration of Independence,” and many other writings. The years 1775-1828, the Early National Period, ending with the triumph of Jacksonian democracy in 1828, signalized the emergence of a national imaginative literature, including the first American stage comedy...
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