American Literature

american literature

American Literature

The period of American literature from the 17th to the 19th century encompasses the early colonization of America, the exploration of the land, and the diverse cultural backgrounds of the people who settled there. Here are some key points about American literature during this time:

1. Cultural Diversity: The early settlers in America were a mixture of wanderers, explorers, travelers, settlers, religious outlaws, landless individuals, political refugees, and Native Americans. This multiculturalism created a “melting pot” of different cultures and traditions.

2. Native Americans: Among the various groups, Native Americans were the minority and marginalized population. They had their own tribal cultures, religions, and systems of government. Native American oral literature was rich and diverse, including various forms such as lyrics, chants, myths, fairy tales, anecdotes, riddles, proverbs, epics, and legendary histories. These oral traditions often focused on themes like the origin of the world, tribal histories, and tales of heroes.

3. Pre-Colonial Era: Before the arrival of European settlers, more than 500 tribal cultures existed in North America. Each tribe had its own unique practices, languages, and beliefs. Their forms of government varied as well, ranging from democracies to councils of elders and theocracies.

4. Exploration: The exploration of America began with Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer sponsored by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. In 1492, Columbus discovered the “New World” of the Americas, mistakenly believing he had reached India. His expedition included three ships: Santa Maria, Pinta, and Niña. Columbus landed in the Bahamas Islands in the Caribbean, marking the beginning of European contact with the Americas.

5. Spanish Settlements: Following Columbus’s voyage, various European powers established settlements in America. The Spanish founded St. Augustine and other colonies, while the Dutch established Albany and New Amsterdam (later renamed New York after the English conquered it in 1664). The Dutch language was initially prevalent in New Amsterdam before English colonization.

 This era laid the foundation for the development of diverse literary traditions and themes in American literature that continued to evolve in the following centuries.


Nina Pinta Santa Maria 002 qzm5fw
Santa Maria, Pinta, and Niña were the three ships used by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage to the Americas in 1492. The Santa Maria was the largest of the vessels and served as Columbus's flagship. The Pinta and Niña were smaller ships that were faster and more maneuverable. The voyage lasted for more than two months, with the three ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean and arriving in the Bahamas in October 1492. It was a significant event in world history as it marked the beginning of European exploration and colonization of the Americas. Although the original ships are long gone, replicas of the Santa Maria, Pinta, and Niña can be seen in various ports and museums around the world, allowing people to learn about the historic voyage and the impact it had on global history.

The arrival of the British in America marked a new chapter in colonization efforts. Here are some key points about this period:

1. Initial Colonization Attempts: Early English attempts at colonization in America faced many challenges and were unsuccessful. However, the first permanent English colony was established in Jamestown in 1607. In the 17th century, a second wave of permanent colonists, including pirates, adventurers, and explorers, arrived in America, bringing their families, tools, and equipment.

2. Thirteen Colonies: During the 17th and 18th centuries, thirteen British colonies were established in America. These colonies were Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts Bay, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

3. Early Literature of Exploration: The early literature of exploration consisted of diaries, letters, travel journals, ships’ logbooks, and reports to the financial backers of explorers. Christopher Columbus’s journal, printed in 1493, recounted his voyage, including the fears and uncertainties experienced by his crew. Captain John Smith provided details about the settlement at Jamestown in his accounts.

4. Two Early Works: “A True Relation” by Captain John Smith is a semi-historical account that provides information about the state of Virginia. “The History of New England” by John Winthrop is a journal that documents the early history of the New England colonies.

5. Development of Printing Press: In 1630, the establishment of a printing press in Cambridge, Massachusetts marked an important development in the New English colonies. The first printed item in the colonies was a German book in Pennsylvania. This marked the beginning of a growing literary culture in America.

6. “The Power of Sympathy”: Published in 1775, “The Power of Sympathy” by William Hill Brown is considered the first American novel. It is an epistolary novel, written in the form of letters, and explores themes of love, passion, and social constraints.

7. The Colonial Period in New England: New England, the northern side of America, was home to many Puritans. Education held great importance for them as a means to understand and carry out God’s will. Puritans believed that earthly success was a sign of being chosen for eternal life. They valued hard work, ambition, and sought success in all aspects of life.

8. Puritan Writing Style: Puritan writing encompassed various forms such as metaphysical poetry, journals, and religious history. Themes revolved around life as a test, the consequences of failure leading to damnation, and the absence of a clear distinction between the secular and religious spheres.

9. Pilgrim Fathers: The Pilgrim Fathers were the first Puritan colonists who settled in New England. They were devout in their interpretation of the Bible and sought religious freedom. In 1620, they left Jacobean England on the Mayflower and settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts. They later came to be known as the Pilgrim Fathers, symbolizing their quest for religious liberty.

This period marked the establishment of British colonies in America, laying the foundation for the development of American literature and culture in the years to come.

thirteen colonies
The Mayflower was a ship that famously transported English Puritans, known as the Pilgrims, to the New World in 1620. The journey began in England and lasted several months, during which the passengers endured harsh conditions, sickness and death. The Pilgrims were seeking religious freedom and a new life in America, and they eventually landed in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Mayflower Compact was signed by the Pilgrims before they disembarked, which established a set of laws for the new colony and served as a precursor to modern constitutions. The arrival of the Pilgrims marked the beginning of European colonization of the New World, and their story has become a significant part of American history and culture.

William Bradford (1590-1657)

He was the governor of Plymouth and traveled on the Mayflower to Plymouth. He wrote “Of Plymouth Plantation” in 1651, which is an account of the colony’s beginnings. Bradford is also known for recording the first document of colonial self-governance in the English New World, known as “The Mayflower Compact,” which was drawn up while the Pilgrims were still aboard the ship.

Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672)

was the first American to publish a book of poems. Her work, “The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America” (1650), was influenced by English metaphysical poetry, particularly the works of Edmund Spenser and Philip Sidney.

Other colonial writers in New England include Edward Taylor, known for his “Metrical History of Christianity,” Michael Wigglesworth, author of “The Day of Doom” (1662), Samuel Sewall, whose diary is often compared to Samuel Pepys’s English diary, and Cotton Mather. Mary Rowlandson was another notable writer of the period.

In the southern and middle colonies, early English immigrants were attracted by economic opportunities rather than religious freedom. The literate upper class in the South led a more leisure-oriented life, and pre-revolutionary southern literature tended to be aristocratic and secular. Some writers of the period include Jupiter Hammon, an African American poet who published “An Evening Thought,” the first poem published by a black male in America, and William Byrd and Robert Beverley.

During the colonial period (1607-1775), writings in America were often religious, political, or historical in nature. Journals and travelogues were common, and African American writings began to emerge.

Religion played a significant role in the colonies, with Christian religious groups exerting influence and attempting to enforce strict religious observance. Anglicanism and Congregationalism were the main organized denominations, but Protestant movements such as Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, and Unitarians also emerged. Dissenters, or those who deviated from the dominant faith in a community, were often seen as troublemakers.

The Salem Witch Trials took place in colonial Massachusetts in 1692-1693. These trials and prosecutions accused people of witchcraft, resulting in the execution of twenty individuals. The trials were fueled by religious mass hysteria.

Protests against taxes, including the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Boston Tea Party of 1773, eventually led to the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War in 1775. The Declaration of Independence was proclaimed on July 4, 1776.

The Boston Tea Party was a political protest that occurred in 1773 in Boston, Massachusetts. The protest began when a group of American colonists, frustrated and angry over Britain's imposition of high taxes on tea, gathered to dump chests of tea, imported by the British East India Company, into the Atlantic Ocean. This act of defiance became known as the Boston Tea Party and is considered a pivotal event that contributed to the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. The British government responded to the event with harsh measures, closing Boston Harbor and implementing a series of punitive laws known as the Coercive Acts, which further inflamed tensions between the colonists and the British government. As a result, many Americans became more vocal in their calls for independence, setting the stage for the Declaration of Independence and the eventual formation of the United States of America.

The Founding Fathers

The Founding Fathers were key figures in the establishment of the United States of America. Here are some details about them:

1. George Washington: He served as the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War and became the first President of the United States.

2. John Adams: Adams played a crucial role in the American Revolution and served as the second President of the United States.

3. Thomas Jefferson: Jefferson is best known for drafting the Declaration of Independence, and he later served as the third President of the United States.

4. James Madison: Madison is often referred to as the “Father of the Constitution” for his contributions to the drafting and ratification of the United States Constitution. He also served as the fourth President of the United States.

5. Alexander Hamilton: Hamilton was an influential figure in the establishment of the United States as a strong and centralized government. He served as the first Secretary of the Treasury.

6. James Monroe: Monroe was the fifth President of the United States and is known for the Monroe Doctrine, which declared that the Americas should be free from European colonization.

7. Benjamin Franklin: Franklin was a polymath who made significant contributions in various fields, including science, literature, and politics. He played a crucial role in the American Revolution and was one of the Founding Fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration of Independence, drafted primarily by Thomas Jefferson, is a seminal document in American history. It proclaims the belief in inherent rights and the right to self-governance, stating that governments are established to secure these rights and can be altered or abolished if they become destructive.

The Great Awakening was an evangelical movement that swept through Protestant Europe and the American colonies in the 18th century. Led by preachers such as Jonathan Edwards, it emphasized personal religious experience and encouraged spiritual revival. The Great Awakening had a lasting impact on American Protestantism.

The American Revolution, which took place from 1775 to 1783, was a struggle for independence from Britain and is considered the first modern war of liberation against a colonial power. The revolution led to a search for native culture among American writers, who faced challenges in establishing their own literary identity due to their roots in England.

During the Revolutionary Period, early American writers faced difficulties in finding publishers and an audience. Many American readers preferred the works of well-known European authors, and copyright laws were not in place to protect American writers. However, writers such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison emerged during this period and contributed to the literature of the revolution.

The American Enlightenment, which took place in the 18th century, emphasized reason, scientific inquiry, and representative government. Enlightenment thinkers and writers championed ideals such as justice, liberty, and equality as natural rights of humanity. Their ideas heavily influenced the political and intellectual climate during the founding of the United States.

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Benjamin Franklin

January 6, 1705] – April 17, 1790) was an American polymath who was active as a writer, scientist, inventor, statesman, diplomat, printer, publisher, and …


Thomas Paine (1737-1809) was a British-born political activist, writer, and philosopher who played a significant role in the American and French Revolutions. Here are some key points about his life and famous works:

Neoclassicism in American literature

Neoclassicism in American literature during the 18th century encompassed various forms, including epic poetry, mock epic, and satire. Here are some key points about this literary movement:

1. Neoclassical Style: Many writers during this period embraced a neoclassical style, drawing inspiration from classical Greek and Roman literature. They aimed to emulate the literary forms and ideals of ancient Greece and Rome.

2. Epic Poetry: American literary patriots believed that the American Revolution was best expressed in the form of an epic. They wrote long dramatic narrative poems using elevated language to celebrate the heroic feats of legendary figures.

3. “The Conquest of Canaan” (1785): Written by Timothy Dwight, this epic poem is based on the biblical story of Joshua’s struggle to enter the Promised Land. Dwight allegorically cast General Washington as Joshua, drawing parallels between the biblical narrative and the American Revolution.

4. Mock Epic: The mock epic was a popular literary form during this period. It used the grandeur and elevated style of an epic poem to satirize or mock a subject or person.

5. “M’Fingal” (1776-1782): Written by John Trumbull, “M’Fingal” is a notable example of a mock epic in American literature. It satirizes a Tory character named M’Fingal, ridiculing his loyalty to the British crown and his opposition to the American Revolution.

Neoclassicism in American literature allowed writers to express patriotic sentiments, celebrate the ideals of the American Revolution, and engage in social and political criticism through the use of epic poetry, mock epic, and satire. These literary forms reflected the influence of classical literature and provided a means for writers to shape and comment on the emerging American identity.

philip freneau

Philip Freneau’s poetry reflected the spirit of the American Revolution and expressed his nationalist and democratic ideals.

charles brown brockden

He was an American writer who played a significant role in developing the genre of American gothic literature.

Portrait of Washington Irving by John Wesley Jarvis in 1809

Washington Irving (1783-1859) was an American author known for his contributions to literature and his influence on the development of American literature during the 19th century.

fennimore cooper

James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) was an American writer known for his contributions to historical fiction, particularly in the genre of frontier and adventure novels.

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) was an African-born American poet who became one of the most prominent literary figures of her time. Her life and works are remarkable because she achieved literary recognition and success during a period when African Americans, especially women, were enslaved and denied access to education.

19th century in American literature

The 19th century in American literature was a period of significant social and cultural changes that greatly influenced the literary works of the time. Here are some key aspects of the social background during that period:

1. Industrial Revolution (1820-1870): The Industrial Revolution brought about major technological advancements and the rise of factories, transforming the American economy and society. This period witnessed the growth of urban centers, the development of industries, and an increase in immigration.

2. Westward expansion: Starting with President Thomas Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803, the United States experienced a period of westward expansion. This expansion was facilitated by the building of the first Transcontinental Railroad (1863-1869), which connected the East and West coasts of the country. The frontier and the idea of the American West became significant themes in literature.

3. Immigration: The 19th century saw significant waves of immigration to the United States, particularly from Europe. The influx of immigrants from different cultural backgrounds contributed to the diversity and cultural richness of American society, influencing literary themes and perspectives.

4. Political ideal of equality and democracy: The American Revolution and the founding principles of the United States emphasized the ideals of equality and democracy. These ideals shaped the social and political landscape and provided a backdrop for literary exploration of individual freedom, justice, and national identity.

5. Influence of European Romanticism: The Romantic movement, which originated in Europe, reached America around 1820. Romanticism in America coincided with the period of national expansion and the discovery of a distinctive American voice in literature. Romantic ideas focused on art as inspiration, the spiritual and aesthetic dimensions of nature, the development of the self, and the belief in the individual’s moral duty to reform society.

6. Socio-political changes: The 19th century was an era of significant socio-political changes in the United States. This period witnessed the Gold Rush, the concept of the American Dream, and the idea that hard work, courage, and determination would lead to success. It also saw the rise of the American Renaissance, a flourishing of literary and intellectual activity, and the divisive issue of slavery, which ultimately led to the Civil War (1861-1865).

The social background of the 19th century, with its emphasis on expansion, democracy, individualism, and the clash of cultures, greatly influenced American literature of the time. It gave rise to works that explored themes of nature, identity, social inequality, and the American experience, reflecting the spirit and aspirations of the era.

American Renaissance

American Renaissance

The American Renaissance, also known as the American Romantic period, refers to a flourishing of literary and intellectual activity in the United States during the 1850s. The term was coined by F.O. Matthiessen in his book “American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman” published in 1941. This period is characterized by the emergence of major literary works and influential figures. Here are some key aspects of the American Renaissance:

Major Works:
1. Ralph Waldo Emerson: Emerson’s influential works, including “Representative Men” (1850), explored the concept of individualism, self-reliance, and the transcendentalist philosophy.

2. Nathaniel Hawthorne: Hawthorne’s novels, such as “The Scarlet Letter” (1850) and “The House of the Seven Gables” (1851), delved into moral and psychological complexities, exploring themes of guilt, sin, and the consequences of hidden secrets.

3. Herman Melville: Melville’s masterpiece, “Moby-Dick” (1851), examined the nature of obsession, the conflict between man and nature, and the exploration of metaphysical and symbolic themes.

4. Henry David Thoreau: Thoreau’s “Walden” (1854) is a reflection on his experiences living in solitude in nature. It explores themes of simplicity, self-reliance, and the search for a meaningful existence.

5. Walt Whitman: Whitman’s first edition of “Leaves of Grass” (1855) introduced a new and groundbreaking style of poetry. His work celebrated democracy, individualism, and the beauty of the human body.

Ideas from Europe:
The American Renaissance drew inspiration from European Romanticism and Transcendentalism. Some key ideas that influenced the literature of this period include:

1. Individualism: Emphasizing the uniqueness of each individual, their own emotions, and ideas. The internal self was seen as distinct from the external world of nature.

2. Nature: Nature was viewed as a living organism, a mysterious and ever-changing force. It was seen as a source of inspiration and spiritual truth.

3. Emotion: Emphasis was placed on passion, intuition, and imagination as higher sources of truth than reason. Emotional experiences were valued and explored in literature.

4. Diversity: Acceptance of different lifestyles and a belief in progress and optimism. This period reflected the growing democratic ideals of the time.

Two predominant genres of the American Renaissance were:

1. The Sentimental Novel: Influenced by Samuel Richardson, these novels focused on emotions, religious faith, moral virtue, family values, and traditional ideals. They often tackled social issues and advocated for reform, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.”

2. The Romance: This genre explored imagination, mystery, and the supernatural. It often involved elements of fantasy and explored themes of the individual’s inner life and spiritual journey.

The American Renaissance marked a significant period in American literature, where writers grappled with profound questions of individualism, nature, morality, and social issues. The works of this period continue to be celebrated for their intellectual depth, artistic innovation, and enduring literary value.

Harriet Elizabeth Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)

She was an influential American author and abolitionist known for her impactful writings that contributed to the antislavery movement and sparked national conversations about the institution of slavery.

Harriet Jacobs (1818-1897)

She  was an African American writer and abolitionist who is known for her autobiographical work, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” (1861). Here are some key points about her life and work:

Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery in Edenton, North Carolina, in 1818. She endured a difficult and abusive childhood as a slave. However, her mistress, Margaret Horniblow, taught her to read and write, which was a rare opportunity for an enslaved person.

Jacobs faced significant challenges throughout her life, including unwanted sexual advances from her mistress’ husband. To escape this situation, she entered into a relationship with Samuel Tredwell Sawyer, a white attorney, with whom she had two children. She lived in hiding for several years in an attic crawl space to protect herself and her children.

Famous Work:
“Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” (1861): Harriet Jacobs wrote her autobiography under the pseudonym Linda Brent. In her narrative, she recounts her experiences as an enslaved woman, focusing on the sexual exploitation and abuse she endured. Jacobs’ work exposed the sexual violence faced by enslaved black women, shedding light on a topic that was often ignored or denied. The book also provides insights into the daily struggles, resilience, and resistance of enslaved individuals.

Harriet Jacobs’ “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” is a significant contribution to the genre of slave narratives. Her work adds a unique perspective to the abolitionist movement, emphasizing the particular challenges faced by enslaved women. Jacobs’ narrative played a crucial role in bringing attention to the experiences of enslaved black women and contributed to the growing momentum for the abolition of slavery.

Other Notable Figures:
1. Harriet E. Wilson (1807-1870): Harriet Wilson was the first African American to publish a novel in the United States. Her book, “Our Nig” (1859), portrays the difficult life of a black servant in a wealthy white household and addresses issues of racism and mixed-race relationships.

2. Frederick Douglass (1817-1895): Frederick Douglass was an influential African American abolitionist, writer, and orator. His memoir, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” (1845), became one of the most popular slave narratives. Douglass played a crucial role in advocating for the abolition of slavery and establishing an African American identity.

These writers and their works made significant contributions to the abolitionist movement and the broader struggle for racial equality in the United States. Their narratives and writings continue to be studied and celebrated for their historical and literary significance.

Romance genre in American literature

The Romance genre in American literature refers to a specific type of fictional writing characterized by elements of excitement, adventure, dark passions, and often a departure from strict realism. It is important to note that the Romance genre is distinct from the novel genre, as it tends to have different conventions and focuses more on imaginative and emotional aspects rather than realistic portrayals. Here are some notable examples of the Romance genre in American literature:

1. “The Last of the Mohicans” (1826) by James Fenimore Cooper: Set during the French and Indian War, this novel follows the adventures of the protagonist, Hawkeye, and his interactions with Native American tribes. It combines historical elements with thrilling escapades and explores themes of honor, loyalty, and the clash of cultures.

2. “The Scarlet Letter” (1850) by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Set in Puritan New England, the novel delves into themes of sin, guilt, and redemption. It tells the story of Hester Prynne, who wears a scarlet letter “A” as a public symbol of her adultery. The book explores the psychological and emotional turmoil of its characters and reflects Hawthorne’s exploration of the human condition.

3. “Moby-Dick” (1851) by Herman Melville: This epic novel is a complex exploration of obsession, human nature, and the struggle between man and nature. It follows the protagonist, Captain Ahab, on his quest for revenge against the white whale, Moby Dick. “Moby-Dick” combines adventure, philosophical musings, and symbolic depth, making it a prime example of the Romantic genre.

4. Edgar Allan Poe (Gothic Romances): Edgar Allan Poe is known for his Gothic Romances, which often feature dark, macabre themes, psychological exploration, and supernatural elements. His works, such as “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Masque of the Red Death,” showcase his mastery of creating atmospheric settings and delving into the depths of the human psyche.

The Romance genre in American literature allowed authors to explore imaginative and emotional themes beyond the confines of strict realism. It offered readers exciting and adventurous narratives while delving into deeper psychological and philosophical aspects of human existence. These works continue to be celebrated for their contributions to American literature and their enduring impact on literary traditions.

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64)

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was an American writer known for his works of fiction, which often explored moral and psychological themes.

Herman Melville (1819-1891)

He was an American writer born in New York. His life and writings were shaped by his early experiences at sea, as well as his family’s fall from wealth to poverty.

edgar allen poe

He was an American writer who made significant contributions to the genres of short stories, detective fiction, and science fiction.

Transcendental Club

The Transcendental Club, established in 1836, brought together notable figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, EW Channing, and Amos Bronson Alcott. Transcendentalism drew inspiration from English and German Romanticism, Hindu and Buddhist thought, and the teachings of Confucius and Mencius.

Concord, a village located 32 kilometers west of Boston, became the center of Transcendentalism. It was the birthplace of Thoreau and the adopted home of Emerson, who settled there as an adult. Concord also held historical significance as the starting point of the American Revolutionary War in 1775. By the 1850s, Concord had become a pilgrimage site for Transcendentalists.

The Dial, the official magazine of Transcendentalism, was published quarterly from 1840 to 1844. Edited by Margaret Fuller for its first issue, it was described by Emerson as a “Journal in a new spirit.” The title, suggested by Bronson Alcott, evoked the image of a sundial. Emerson took over as editor for the magazine’s final two years.

The beginnings of Transcendentalism were influenced by the works of Montaigne, Swedenborg, Hegel, and Plato. After a tour of Europe, Emerson began his career as a lecturer and settled in Concord, Massachusetts, where he formed friendships with Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau. In the early 1840s, Emerson began writing works that explored different aspects of Transcendentalist philosophy.