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American Literature History

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Native literature before the 19thc

Before the 19thc, there were American writers, but we are going to study the 19thc in American Literature.

Before the 19thc, we have the colonial literature, in the 17thc and 18thc, under British Rule. People had their own reason to write. There are different Forms in colonial literature, but all them have in common there is not fiction.

There were two important zones in America:

-north: Virginia: they were noble people, from the Anglican Church, called gentlemen. They were looking for treasures and adventures.

-south: Massachusetts: puritans who want to expend their religion. They were non-

conformists from Britain

There were four groups:

a)Literature about exploration and development

The most important force that emerges in America. The explorers wrote the impressions and they described everything they saw in the new continent and the danger from the unknown territory. They also described the dangers, the mountains, geography and material things and the native population. They also had a very important reason for writing: to get more money to make more explorations, they needed sponsors. They said that everything was rich, beautiful, good...

They had biblical and mystical proposes, a good landscape, a kind of land of promises.

It was the American dream: they showed the possibilities to enjoy a better life.

Captain John Smith developed some of the meetings with the natives, the dangers with the natives, adventures...

The audience was English people. Colonisers usually were in love with their superiors (Pocahontas). Emphasis in love to people. The audience was English people. The crucial influence was Puritanism: it arrived and organised population in the 17thc. These colonies are going to be crucial also in the development of USA and of the literature. The puritans did not want to go back to the UK, so, America was a fresh start. They wanted people to convert and then, get stronger colonies. Writing had a purpose. Puritan writing had a imp. Characteristics. Nature was very important: it meant wildness; it is away of the city. Woods were scarily, dangerous. In the forest, you can fall, lost and it is a place that is not ruled by religion, so it has a psychological effect. It is also related to sex and pleasure. It represents moral danger, negative view, but also a positive view. It is a place of doubt.

b)sermons and religious readings

The minister is the one who had a higher education, with a high position. Non-fictional writers: Cotton Matter, Jonathan Edwards... district readings.

c)biographies and journals

John Winthrop was a puritan writer, famous for his journals. Puritan tradition as self-examination (text 2). Presence of God in all our daily life. Some of the journals are very interesting because we see people from the beginning of the adventure when they left the motherland to explore. It was the novel of self-knowledge "bildungsroman". We want to understand ourselves with a self-examination. There is the physical trip and the trip of growth in spiritual and psychological. Terms  spiritual concerns.

All those kinds of writings, there is not prose imaginative fiction, not theatre because they are condemned by the puritans. The puritans had a huge importance because they produced the connections between the most spiritual and the most materialistic terms. There is not drama, but there is poetry.


It is allowed in the puritans life. The most famous is Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) who wrote the first volume of American Poetry. Further, Edward Taylor wrote about domestic things, as Before the death of one of my children. Anne wrote and it was very strange because women did not write. Nature poetry -> special purposes. British traditions and canons.

Other kind of literature was the one which wrote the native people, with a clear purpose: the rain, a lover, it was used as a formula. It was oral. It was writing to performance. Example: Paula Gunn Allen.

Writing about America was not important: people had only knowledge about London and UK (metropolitan role in colonial writing)

The Civil War meant a big change (1860-1965). The country had been independent for a short time. It was a new country, free. We will have positive feelings, promises of the new country... it was the Romanticism and the Transcendentalism, because it was taken into its limits. "I celebrate myself" because I am a reflection of the celebration of my country.

It will be broken with the Civil War. The country is marked in the first half by the growing of geography, people, there was the gold rush. The feeling of growing, but in the other hand, there is a text not really easy to see and understand. Behind this euphoria, some people realised of the exploitation of the human beings. There is a growth of the evangelic movement. At the beginning of the 19thc, there was the second re-awaking movement. It inspired other movements:

a)the abolitionist movement, against slavery

b)women's rights

hand to hand c)temperance movement, against drinkers

There were sides of oppression, and they had a coalition to protest, and a consequence was domestic violence, because men were drunk. The evangelism introduced the idea that America was chosen by God to carry on a mission. We have to trust in God because he trusts in US.

Immigration emerged. We have some movements of xenophobia with new people and Irish people and Chinese because they were afraid of becoming poor or ill. There were narrow streets and ghettos. There were social differences. Woman and black people were worst, not treated as equal. With the Industrial Revolution, cities were full of people (strums)

There were social levels: social classes are a reality. They worked



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