A Brief Introduction to American Literature

Topics: Romanticism, Nathaniel Hawthorne, American literature Pages: 14 (3382 words) Published: May 24, 2004
Introduction

American literature, to my eyes, like American history, although short, however, still full of glories and shining masterpieces and writers. Those American writers, while conquering this wild America, also had conquered the great field of American literature. From its first imitative activities to innovative attempts nowadays, American literature gradually gains its unique style, theme and form, and I¡¯m always excited to see their works are more and more America in its true sense. American literature is part of world¡¯s literature, however, it always has its unique flavor that cannot be easily ignored.

Most critics hold that the history of American literature can be divided into six parts, orderly, colonial period, romanticism, realism, naturalism, modernism and post-modernism.

Although American literature in its true sense did not begin until 19th century, however, we always talk about colonial period as a preparatory introduction to American literature. To follow the suit, I¡¯d like to take the colonial period also as the first part to introduce.

Chapter 1 Colonial Period ©¥ A Utilitarian Literary period

(1) Background

This period is unique in American literature, and the literature in this period is mainly a literary expression of the Puritan idealism.

The first settlers came to America with the wish to ¡°purify¡± the religious practice in the church, because they left Britain for the reason that they were religiously and politically persecuted. Therefore, they were called ¡°Puritans¡±. Puritans soon established their own religious and moral principles, which has influenced the American thought and American literature a lot.

(2) Characteristics

To express their puritanical thoughts, many types of writing were used, such as letters, autobiographies, sermons, diaries and poems. Therefore, it¡¯s safe to conclude that the literature at this period is utilitarian. It should teach some kind of lesson, and therefore, the content of the writing had been predetermined by a practical consideration.

In terms of its style, puritans placed much stress on plainness and directness in writing because they were unusually interested in influencing the simple-minded people. Writers wrote without unnecessary ornament and references that the common people would not understand.

In terms of its content, they relied on the Bible. Not only did they argue by quoting the Bible, but also they saw their whole situation in Biblical terms, and therefore all events, however small, were created by God.

(3) Representative Writers

During this period, two prominent writers emerged. They were Jonathan Edward and Benjamin Franklin.

Edward was well known as a powerful and strong preacher. In 1734-1735, Edward was responsible for a wave of religiosity that swept Northampton. More than three hundred persons were converted. In 1740 he wrote The Personal Narrative, which tells a story of how a sinner learns his mistakes and converts to Christianity. He¡¯s narrative is lyrical.

Benjamin Franklin was a rare genius in America. He was an enthusiastic researcher and inventor and was truly Enlightment thinker. His place in literature owes much to his almanac and autobiography and his Poor Richard¡¯s Almanac gives advice in commonsense witticisms and maxims.

Chapter 2 Romanticism ©¥ An Age of Idealism

1. Background

The term ¡°romantic¡± was a designation for a school of literature opposed to the Classic. Romanticism, as a literary movement, stretches from the end of eighteenth century through the outbreak of the Civil War.

At that time, to some liberal thinkers, and to a group of writers, it was felt that the Age of Reason had run its course. Man¡¯s reason seemed separated from the world of nature, of beauty and of emotion for a long time. Then, the romantic writers used their understanding of nature in order to understand human consciousness, as well as imaginative power, which allowed them to enter...
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