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American Literature

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Tara Boldrin

on 10 June 2014

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Transcript of American Literature

1800
1900
2000
1600
American Literature
Colonial Literature
During the Colonial period, Literature was mostly religious and encouraged participation, support of religious endeavors and appropriate moral choices.

Revolutionary War
Literature in this era aimed stressed logic and the importance of uniting identities to gain freedom as a new country.
New Nation
Literature in this area aimed to solidify moral values and further the growing sense of nationalism that was growing within America. Additionally, authors began to entice the reader by using elements of scandal, horror, and imagery.
Antebellum America
Literature in this era emphasized the importance of intellectual values, and uniting with the forces of nature and peace to form an individual identity.
Civil War
Literature in this era strived to illustrate the horrors of slavery and the difficulty of war.
Gilded Age Literature
Literature in the Gilded Age aimed to expose the harsh realities of life, and the corruption that lied underneath the false coat of gold.
Progressive Era
During the Progressive Era, literature challenged traditional American ideals, and sought to implement social change.
Over the decades, American literature has been greatly affected by the current political, social, and cultural movements and has significantly changed from emphasizing religion and stringent morals, to calling for social change and radical measures, exposing personal accounts of what it is like to be a human.
Artifact:
Bay Psalm Book

Analysis: Printed in 1640, the Bay Psalm Book was the first British book printed in the new world. The book was filled with English translations of old Hebrew prayers, hymns, and psalms. Written for Puritans, the book helped those who wanted to further their religious practices. Translated by a group of the Puritan elect, the new translations would be in the vernacular, or everyday language of the colonists. Thus, it would be easier for colonists to memorize the psalms and integrate them into their daily life and church services. This book is extremely important because it furthered the Puritan religion in the colonies and made religious practices more accessible. In the future, the Bay Psalm Book would continue to be updated to adapt to the changing Religion and continue embody the values of Puritan culture.
Artifact:
Common Sense
by Thomas Paine
Analysis: A pamphlet published by Thomas Paine in 1776, Common Sense stressed logical reasons for America to separate from Britain. Geared at the colonists, Paine emphasized reasons for withdrawing from Britain such as the fact that the countries were so far apart, it would not make sense for them to be ruled by the same leader. A large supporter of Republican ideals, Paine strictly opposed the British monarchy. At this time tensions were high in the colonies with the various acts Britain had pushed on the colonists: The Sugar Act, The Stamp Act, and the Intolerable Acts. The logical arguments on top of the growing anger towards the British was enough to influence the colonists to draft the Declaration of Independence and ultimately go to war.

Artifact:
Federalist Papers
by Hamilton, Jay, & Madison
Analysis: Written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, the Federalist Papers aimed to persuade the American people to support Federalist ideas such as a loose interpretation of the constitution, a National Bank, and a strong central government. When the papers were published 1786-1800, the nation was in a crisis.Hamilton was pushing the country towards federal power, while Jefferson and the Jeffersonian Republicans favored states right and a strict interpretation of the Constitution. The writers of the Federalist Papers wanted to assert their ideals so they could attain more supporters, which they felt would give them power over Jeffersonian Republicans. These papers are significant because they helped educate the American people about their government. This literature allowed the reader to obtain more information about the Federalists, so they could make their own decision about what they believed in. This was persuasive literature, and aimed to gain support for the Federalist Party the same way
Common Sense
aroused sentiment to separate from Britain.

Artifact:
The Last of the Mohicans
by James Fenimore Cooper
Analysis: James Fenimore Cooper’s works are often labeled as the “first great American novels”. Cooper wrote about American landscape and wilderness. In 1826, The Last of the Mohicans was published even though Fenimore’s work was set during the French and Indian War. The story follows Cora and Alice as they are captured by another Indian tribe. The novel also features Natty Bumppo, or Hawkeye, a reappearing Native American in many of Cooper’s books. The book illustrates the New York landscape, the background of which Cooper was from. Additionally, the book exemplifies the conflict between different races that had been an issue in America ever since the arrival of the colonists, and that still plagued the country at the time it was written. Unlike
The Federalist Papers
and
Bay Psalm Book
, the chief purpose of this novel was to entertain Americans. This was one of the first great adventure stories in American literature.
Artifact:
The Power of Sympathy
by William Hill Brown
Analysis: The book is epistolary, meaning it is composed of a series of letters from the various characters. Based upon a Boston scandal that Brown himself witnessed, the book published in 1789, revolves around Harrington and Harriot, who are deeply in love and find out later that they are brother and sister. This results in Harriot’s death of a broken heart and Harrington committing suicide. Directed at the people of his town, Brown wanted to illustrate the consequences of desire and propose more fitting values for the townsfolk. He wanted them to avoid seduction and instead focus on appropriate moral decisions. This work is significant because it is regarded as one of the first great American novels. It also helped advance the “Sympathetic” novel, or books focusing on feelings and love, which was a popular trend in the first American novels. This also came along at a time when peoples morals were being compromised, like Brown himself saw with the incestuous Boston scandal that inspired his work, and he wanted to solidify good morals. However, unlike
Common Sense
and
The Federalist Papers
, this was not persuasive literature, and thus took more creative liberties regarding style, vocabulary, and diction. This novel marked a shift in literature to focus on moral fortitude and sentimental entertainment.

Artifact:
Wieland
by Charles Brockden Brown
Analysis:
Wieland
is one of the first American Gothic Horror Books and was published in 1798. It chronicles the Wieland family as brother and sister Clara and Theodore begin to hear voices in their heads. Later they realize that these voices are caused by Carwin, a mysterious stranger of whom the Wielands become acquainted with. The novel aimed to illustrate the importance of both mental and moral strength, as Clara ignored the voices in her head. Additionally, this literary achievement proved the importance of looking deeper and searching for hidden meaning in simple things as Clara was forced to figure out the strange occurrences. The novel is told going back in time, and its written in the form of a letter from Clara’s perspective, similar to the epistolary style used in
The Power of Sympathy
. The gothic style, with underlying themes of sorcery and magic differed from the literature in the Colonial Era, because which craft was loathed, thus this was the first novel of it's time. Brown’s Gothic literary style was greatly significant and influenced later works by Edgar Allan Poe.
Artifact:
The Scarlet Letter
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Analysis: Published in 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel reflected the high levels of nationalism, or national pride, that was highly prevalent in American society at that time. The story chronicles Hester Prynne as she is forced to wear an “a” to atone for her adulterous affair that resulted in a child. Hester is a symbol for American pride and standing up for one’s self-- Hawthorne stresses the idea that an individual should be true to himself or herself and create their own identity, rather than be pushed into the mold that society creates for them. The idea of nationalism reflected what was going on in America at this time because it backed up the nationalistic ideas going on in the country. America had just won the war with Mexico and had acquired new land. Earlier, America proved it did not need interference from Britain in the War of 1812. Just as America fought for their beliefs and proved it could stand alone, so did Hester Prynne in Hawthorne’s novel. Hawthorne is a key writer of the Romantic Movement, which largely emphasized the importance of the individual over society. This romantic ideal contrasts ideas presented in
The Power of Sympathy
because romantic authors argue that the individaul should be placed above society. Moral novels like the latter

and even Puritan books would argue, rather, that the individual is the one that needs to conform to society.
Artifact:
Essays: Series 1
by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Analysis: Ralph Waldo Emerson was a key figure in the Transcendentalist movements. Transcendentalists emphasized the importance of the individual and their beliefs over societal beliefs and the importance of nature. Geared towards the American people, Emerson wrote that individuals were stronger when they did what they believed in, he wrote “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself” in his essay “Self Reliance.” He believed that a man standing alone had more power than a man conforming to the beliefs of society. As a country, it was necessary for America to rely on itself too, and prove that Americans could be autonomous. Whereas earlier writers before the American Revolution pushed for religious devotion, Emerson was a proponent of nature and individuality. Emerson's ideas continue to influence Americans today by showing that one must truly believe in themselves and focus on morality rather than materialism.

Artifact: “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe
Analysis: Edgar Allan Poe is known from his very distinctive Gothic Romantic style. Poe was a Romantic, meaning his writing was full of emotion and philosophical undertones and was influenced by Charles Brockden Brown, the author of
Wieland
. Poe’s poem, “The Raven”, is often regarded as one of his greatest literary achievements. The poem shows the narrator’s descent into madness as he mourns the death of his lover and finds a Raven outside his door. The poem was well received among his audience, the American people. It’s dark and ambiguous theme intrigued yet baffled readers as the raven uttered, “Nevermore”. Poe’s poem and other works are significant because as an author he rejected obvious meanings, and aimed to achieve a metaphorical masterpiece with a message that would rest differently with different people. His rejection of didacticism separates Poe from the Puritan authors in the religious colonies because he did not try to instigate moral adherence and religious participation. Instead, Poe's works combine romantic language and description with elements of horror that doesn't necessarily have a clear moral. Poe purposefully differentiated himself from Transcendentalist writers because he did not agree with their emphasis on nature and virtue. Frequent themes of his novels included revenge, guilt, and mystery as he helped popularize the detective novel. This added element of horror sets Poe apart from fellow writers. His ability to twist the story with horror elements and emotion made his works highly compelling. This asset makes Poe the most well known gothic-romantic author. His Gothic style has influenced many writers over the years and is still prevalent in the literary world today.


Artifact:
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Analysis: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel was crucial in illustrating the cruel horrors that slaves had to endure. The story starts off on the Shelby plantation, where both Tom and Eliza, two of the main characters, are treated fairly. When Eliza hears that her young son is to be sold she decides to take him and flee to Canada. Tom is less fortunate and is sold to a different owner who treats him well. After that owner dies, he is sold to the nefarious slave owner Mr. Legree. There he is tortured and ultimately dies as he tries to protect the other slaves. Published in 1852, just a few years before the Civil War started in 1861, the novel showed how much the slaves were struggling. In the south slaves were forced to work and were often torn apart from their families, as exhibited in the novel. This novel made the ever growing tensions between North and South even higher. As the North praised the publication of an honest book, the south was strongly opposed. This book is important because it served as a catalyst for the Civil War by furthering the divide between the states and it was written to speak up against the horrors that were going on in America. Instead of pretending nothing was wrong, this book honestly portrayed an antagonizing issue, which makes it stand out so much among literature today.

Artifact: “A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim” by Walt Whitman

Analysis: Upon hearing of his injured brother, Whitman journeyed to the battlefield to see him. After listening to the stories of his brother and his fellow comrades, Whitman penned “A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim”. In the poem, a man see the faces of the dead, and claims to have seen Christ himself ,“Dead and divine and brother of all”. The poem, written to show the horrors of the war to both the north and south, proves that war sees no race, gender, or background, as it chooses it’s victim. This poem was significant because it differed from his earlier words. “A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim” was more realistic, and accurately illustrated the feelings of the soldiers in a honest light. Unlike the poets of the Colonial Era, Whitman's prose used simpler English and was lyrical, full of imagery as he described the dolefulness of the Civil War campsites. However, like Wheatley and Taylor, Whitman referenced Christ, who was present in the dead face of a comrade.
Artifact:
Sister Carrie
Theodore Dreiser
Mark Twain, who coined the term “Gilded Age,” penned Huckleberry Finn in 1884. This novel follows Huckleberry Finn as he journeys down the Mississippi River, along side of a runaway slave named Jim. Unlike literature in centuries before, Gilded Age literature implemented Realism. This meant that authors aimed to illustrate pressing social issues, specifically in this case, racism. Huckleberry himself must decide what is right and wrong base on his own conflicting morals over what to do with Jim. The theme of the novel is the importance of creating one’s new identity, rather than conform to societies belief, which can be related to the past literary trend of nationalism. However, this greatly relates to the corruption in Gilded Age society-- it was important for individuals to become independent from a society filled with corrupt political bosses, factories, and businesses. This book has greatly influenced American literature collectively. Ernest Hemingway once said, "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn." Not only was the novel honest, pinpointing the hypocritical faults of society, but it also incorporated humor and adventure. This aggregation of traits makes this novel memorable and classic, and influenced F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway who regarded it as a very important novel that conveyed the American spirit.
Artifact:
Huckleberry Finn
by Mark Twain
The 1920s & 1930s
In the 1920s and the 1930s, literature highlighted the deterioration of morals, and the growing disillusionment in the American Dream.
Artifact:
The Awakening
by Kate Chopin
Analysis: The Awakening, by Kate Chopin chronicles the “awakening” of a Louisianian woman, Edna Pontellier, as she rejects the traditional values associated with motherhood. Edna is conflicted between society’s expectations for her as a woman, like the Cult of Domesticity, and her feelings toward her lover that she meant on a family vacation. Her stifling feelings of gender inequality ultimately lead to her demise. This book was received with very critical reviews. Though some praised it for it’s bold feminist views that would back the movement for women’s suffrage, supported through the years by Alice Paul, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, others viewed it as unacceptable due to it’s liberal ideas on womanhood and sexuality. Originally from the South, Chopin thought it important to address Southern ideas on womanhood to expose feminist ideas to people in the South. This scandalous novel greatly differed from earlier American literature, and would have been greatly loathed by religious figures who would deem this book as greatly inappropriate. The idea of female liberation, and finding a place for women in society was a theme brought up in Sylvia Plath's novel
The Bell Jar
from the 1960s.

Analysis: Published in 1900, Theodore Dreiser's classic novel reflects the “Age of the City” and the transition from an agrarian society to bustling cities. Primarily focused around Carrie, an 18 year old girl from Wisconsin, the novel chronicles her search for happiness and wealth in Chicago. Initially living with her sister, Carrie acquires a job to pay rent, and is exposed to the grotesque horrors, uncleanliness, and low-wages of factories. Befriending a man named Charles Drouet, she later becomes his mistress, and he helps find her a role in a theatrical production. She also starts an affair with a married man, George Hurstwood, whom she later leaves when they move to New York City and he goes bankrupt while she achieves success as an actress. This novel shows the trials and tribulations of success and shows that money cannot achieve happiness. Though Carrie rose from a rural background to achieve fame in the theatre, George started out wealthy only to lose it all, and ultimately kill himself. This rebuttals the rags-to-riches stories often seen in the Gilded Age, written specifically by Horatio Alger, and shows the scandalous side of attaining the American Dream. This was the beginning of the portrayal of the deterioration of the American Dream in literature, which was later furthered by the Lost Generation in the aftermath of WW1.

Artifact: Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck
Analysis: Steinbeck's famous novel, published in 1939, chronicles the Joad family’s journey from Oklahoma to California in search of work. Originally sharecroppers on the arid land, the Joads were forced off their land when it was overtaken by the bank. When their family arrives in California after a grueling journey, they cannot find work and realize the deceitful nature of their dream. Grapes of Wrath illustrates the journey that many Americans took to California in search of a better life during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, but it approaches it in a realistic fashion. Like many of the writers of the Lost Generation, and Twain, Steinbeck used realism to portray the unlikelihood of attaining the “American Dream.” This novel deviates from earlier American literature, that romantically illustrates the possibilities of life, and even from other famous novels of the 1930s. Popular novels during the Great Depression were escapist, and could provide the reader with some sort of satisfaction, and would let them escape the ugly realities of American life during the recession. However, Grapes of Wrath was not one of these books. Steinbeck's novel directly contradicts the dime novels written in the Gilded Age, specifically by Alger, that glorify rags to riches tales.

Artifact:The Sun Also Rises
by Ernest Hemingway

Analysis: Published in 1926, Ernest Hemingway's classic novel is highly associated with the “Lost Generation.” He illustrates the damaging nature of World War I, and the impossibilities of soldiers readjusting to civilian life after the fighting is over. The novel follows Jake Barnes, whose masculinity has been challenged during the war leaving him impotent, and his new life in Paris. Falling in love with Brett Ashley, a headstrong woman who represents the growing freedom of the American woman, Barnes and Ashley try to make their relationship work, but to no avail-- Jake’s condition makes it impossible for Ashley to sustain a relationship with him. Hemingway's writing is known for it’s terse nature and compactness, which strays from the romantic novels in the earlier eras, like The Scarlet Letter, and is very simply written. Like F.Scott Fitzgerald, he realistically exemplifies his disillusionment with the shallow and materialistic nature of America during the 1920s, showing that not everyone has a happy ending.

Artifact: This Side of Paradise
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Artifact: “On Being Brought from Africa to America” by Phillis Wheatley
Analysis: Though rather short, the poem “On Being Brought from Africa to America” by Phillis Wheatley pacts a large punch as it illustrates the the journey from Africa to America and Wheatley's adaptation of Christian beliefs. Wheatley herself had been taken from West Africa and had experienced firsthand the early forms of slavery. She was purchased by the Wheatley family, where she was educated and taught to read and write. Wheatley wanted her audience, both other Blacks and whites, to know that all races should be equal. She illustrates that the journey to America spurred her to believe in Christianity. She is a converted Christian capable of change and reading and writing, and proves her purpose: Blacks and Whites are quite similar. This poem is significant because it would foreshadow the tensions that would arise over slavery and equality. Additionally, it came along at a significant time in 1773, when slavery was becoming more common in the colonies. It reflected the issue of African American equality that was arising and also shows how religion plays a big role in colonial life, slave or free. The issue of equality continued to be a common theme in American literature, specifically in novels like
To Kill a Mockingbird
and Civil Rights literature.

"Huswifery" by Edward Taylor
Analysis: A Puritan minister in Westfield for over 50 years, Taylor is well known for his religious poetry. Taylor was a metaphysical poet, meaning that he wrote about complex introspective issues and aimed to explore meaning in a logical fashion. An established intellectual, Taylor attended Harvard for three years and decided to become a minister in Massachusetts. His poetry highlights the prevalent religious devotion common in American during the 17th century. Many of his poems show his ability to find the beauty of God in everyday life and ordinary objects. Though many of his most famous works were forgotten for 200 years after his death, Taylor’s most renowned poem is “Huswifery”. In this work, he illustrates the importance of seeing god through even the most monotonous daily tasks, specifically through the spinning wheel. Brimming with symbolism, Taylor’s poem shows how God can be integrated into life, and how easily God can change someone's life. He writes, “Then cloath therewith mine Understanding, Will, Affections, Judgment, Conscience, Memory; My Words and Actions, that their shine may fill... That I am Clothd in Holy robes for glory”. Here Taylor also shows how the different components of yarn and a spinning wheel, like Christian values such as will and affection, can unite as one to form “Holy Robes” or a good devoted Christian.

Artifact: A Century of Dishonor by Helen Hunt Jackson
Analysis: Helen Hunt Jackson felt incredibly passionate about the Native American Tribes inhabiting the Western Plains, and wrote the non fiction book A Century of Dishonor in 1881. Jackson’s book chronicles the history of many tribes, and depicts the injustices that Americans have unfairly inflicted upon Native Americans throughout American history. She writes, “It makes little difference...where one opens the record of the history of the Indians; every page and every year has its dark stain”. She shows that every generation of Indians has endured some sort of injustice against them, and the importance of recognizing these conflicts, rather than ignoring them. To make her point known, Jackson sent a copy of her book to every person in congress in order to persuade them to recognize Native American Rights, and inspired the Dawes Act, which gave individual Indians the right to own land. Rachel Carson employed a similar strategy with her novel Silent Spring to persuade the government to enact the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1960s.This non-fiction work was crucial in exposing the truth, and all the hardships that the Native American people have had to overcome, no matter how harsh and ugly the reality, which set the precedent for other Muckraker novels in late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Artifact: The Age of Innocence
by Edith Wharton
Analysis: Though published in 1920, after World War I ended, Wharton’s classic American novel takes place in high society New York during the 1880s. The Age of Innocence follows Newland Archer, a wealthy New Yorker, who is engaged to May Welland, as he falls in love with his fiance’s cousin, Countess Olenska. Wharton uses Welland to symbolizes the hollowness of upper class life, as she tries desperately to fit the expectations of the elite. On the contrary, Countess Olenska represents the rejection of social norms and the triumph of individuality. Though in love with the Countess and her eccentric perspective on life, Archer cannot betray his fiance and pushes their wedding date closer. Though in the end Archer follows the traditional lifestyle, progressive elements can be seen in Countess Olenska. The Progressive Movement of 1890 to 1920 implemented social change and a shift from traditional American ideals to a more liberal American society. Similarly, Olenska’s perspective on life deviated from the traditional values of high society life, but allowed her to live the life the way she wanted instead of the way traditional society told her she should. She also represents the “modern” woman that was becoming more prevalent in society during the plight for women’s suffrage.
WWII and 1950s
Artifact: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Beat Generation
Artifact: "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg
Artifact: On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Artifact: The Crucible
by Arthur Miller
The 1960s and Crisis of Authority
Analysis: Salinger’s classic novel, The Catcher in the Rye, follows Holden Caulfield after he is expelled from Pencey Prep School, and his self alienation to New York City. Salinger uses Holden to illustrate the disillusioned youth through his cynically, sarcastic language, and rejection of materialism. Holden feels as though he is stuck at the precipice of adulthood and youth and tries to cling on to his fleeting innocence despite his aging. This book is written as a first person narrative, which is used to strategically illustrate Holden’s disconnect with a “phony” society. Published in 1951, during the aftermath of WWII, Salinger’s novel reflected the American people’s desire to disengage from their culture. In this way, Salinger’s novel’s context is very similar to that of the post WWI novels from the Lost Generation. Both showed the detachment from modern societies in the aftermath of destruction and the rejection of commonplace ideals. Salinger himself served in WWII and fought in the infamous Battle of the Bulge. After two years of service, he was institutionalized for a nervous breakdown. These aspects of his life can be detected in his work from Holden’s rejection of culture to his anxiety issues. This book has frequently been censored for it’s profane language and discussion of sexuality, which was unprecedented in literature. This book greatly deviates from earlier American literature, which aimed to highlight religious morals rather than illustrate the corruption of modern society.
Analysis: Published in 1956 in Howl and Other Poems, Ginsberg’s poem inspired the “Beat Generation”. The Beat Generation was a group of writers and people characterized by their use of drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sexual behavior, and repudiation for American culture in response to WWII and societal disillusionment. “Howl” is a poem comprised of three sections that illustrates the growing madness of the American people. Ginsberg illustrates the vile cities and exploitation of morals as he explores issues of drug use and mental instability. He also combines biblical language with profanity to bring light to modern issues. Like Catcher in the Rye, this poem was frequently censored and was the cause for an Obscenity Trial in 1957. The associated trial was critical for American literature, and ruled that literature and authors had the right to free expression. Again, this work along with the other works of the Beat Generation, deviate from earlier American literature by almost glorifying unconstrained morals that earlier novel like
The Power of Sympathy
and
Wieland
tried to protect. However, like The Awakening, Beat Generation literature showed the freedom of sexuality and morals of the individual.
Similarly to Literature in the 1920s, post WWII literature illustrated the growing disconnect between individuals and American society, as individuals lamented the devastation of the war and refused to conform to a materialistic, homogeneous society.
Analysis: Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible illustrates the drama from the Salem Witch Trials in the 1690s, while also paralleling McCarthy’s crusade to expose communists in the 1950s. Miller’s play heightens the tensions plaguing Americans during the Communist Red Scare as hundreds of artists and civilians were put on trial for support of the Communist Party. As a result of Miller’s play, he was put on trial for “Contempt of Congress” in 1957 after his play premiered. During the Red Scare, panic and hysteria were highly prevalent, just as during the Salem Witch Trials as heinous accusations were tossed around to benefit the individual. Miller tells the story of Abigail Procter, who pretends to be afflicted by the devil in order to obtain the man she loves, John Proctor, who is married with a wife and kids. Abigail and the other young females of Salem accuse townspeople as if it is a game, and as a result many characters are hanged for witchcraft. In the end John Proctor represents the triumph of character as he refuses to admit to witchcraft and sacrifices his life for the sake of a good reputation. Miller’s play is a prime example of American drama and continues to be performed in theaters today.
Artifact: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Artifact: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Artifact: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
Analysis: Jack Kerouac himself is responsible for conceiving the nickname “The Beat Generation”. His most famous work
On the Road
is one of the staples of Beatnik literature and is autobiographical, based on Kerouac’s own cross country experiences. The novel follows Sal Paradise as he searches for deeper meaning on the road, and his interactions with Dean Moriarty, his friend whom he idolizes, and other artists they encounter (like Allen Ginsberg under a pseudonym). Like “Howl,” Kerouac work explores drug use, loose morals, and poetry as Sal searches for a purpose in a seemingly meaningless society. Kerouac reflects realism, as found in the 1920s and 1930s novels, that portrayed life in a realistic manner. Just like
Grapes of Wrath
, it chronicles parts of life on the open road. Similarly to Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Kerouac demonstrated the desire for a purpose in life during a state of disillusionment.

Analysis: F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote
This Side of Paradise
in 1920, using remnants of his first major attempt at writing
The Romantic Egoist.
Fitzgerald’s work chronicles the life of Amory Blaine as he grows up, his years at Princeton, and his experiences with love before and after WWI. This Side of Paradise is based on Fitzgerald's own experiences; he too attended Princeton and almost served in WWI, but the war ended before his unit could be mobilized. Amory grows up with his eccentric mother, which provides him with many opportunities to obtain a higher education. As Amory enrolls in schools he believes that he is better than the other students both intellectually and physically. Before his service in WWI, Amory has ambitions to get involved in politics and live in the city with his friends, but upon his return he finds that his dreams are impossible and harbors a new-found love of alcohol to blur his experiences overseas. He attempts to woo a girl of high class, but she will not marry him because he does not have much money. This Side of Paradise shows the material obsessions of the upper class, which is also demonstrated in The Great Gatsby, and shows how the war can ruin a man. Amory started out brimming with promise, and ends up lost and confused. Thus the age of realistic literature and broken dreams begins!
"Then cloath therewith mine Understanding, Will,
Affections, Judgment, Conscience, Memory;
My Words and Actions, that their shine may fill
My wayes with glory and thee glorify.
Then mine apparell shall display before yee
That I am Cloathd in Holy robes for glory."
"Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
Their colour is a diabolic die.
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train."
" Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer."
"Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of government, and it is equally undeniable, that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede to it some of their natural rights in order to vest it with requisite powers... the people of America that they should, to all general purposes, be one nation, under one federal government, or that they should divide themselves into separate confederacies, and give to the head of each the same kind of powers which they are advised to place in one national government." - John Jay Federalist No. 2
"Since, then, we are born to suffer, and pain must attend us
in all the stages of our journey, let us philosophically welcome our companion... Let us trust that our burden will not be heavier than we can bear — When we adopt this plan, and are sensible we have this trust, our lesson is Complete — we have learned all — we are arrived to the perfection of sublunary happiness. "
"This, in the effects which immediately flowed from it, I count among the most extraordinary incidents of my life. This face, seen for a moment, continued for hours to occupy my fancy, to the exclusion of almost every other image."
“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”
"So use all that is called Fortune. Most men gamble with her, and gain all, and lose all, as her wheel rolls. But do thou leave as unlawful these winnings, and deal with Cause and Effect, the chancellors of God... A political victory, a rise of rents, the recovery of your sick, or the return of your absent friend, or some other favorable event, raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you. Do not believe it. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles."
"And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!"
“Mas’r, if you was sick, or in trouble, or dying, and I could save ye, I’d give ye my heart’s blood; and, if taking every drop of blood in this poor old body would save your precious soul, I’d give ’em freely, as the Lord gave his for me. Oh, Mas’r! don’t bring this great sin on your soul! It will hurt you more than’t will me! Do the worst you can, my troubles’ll be over soon; but, if ye don’t repent, yours won’t never end!”
"Then to the third--a face nor child, nor old, very calm, as of
beautiful yellow-white ivory;
Young man, I think I know you--I think this face of yours is the face
of the Christ himself;
Dead and divine, and brother of all, and here again he lies."
"All right then, I'll go to hell."
“When a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse.”
“But whatever came, [Edna] had resolved never again to belong to another than herself.”

Analysis: Sylvia Plath's infamous novel chronicles the life of Esther Greenwood, as she copes with her depression and navigates through the perils of womanhood. Esther wants to be a a successful writer, yet she feels conflicted because women are expected to have more than just a career. As she feels torn between the different aspects of society, with their domestic expectations of women, Esther begins to sink into a deep depression that prompts her to attempt suicide on a variety of occasions. Esther feels confined by the exploitation of sexuality in the media and magazines, which she finds to be degrading towards women. The 1960s made way for a rebirth of feminism after women were confined to domestic duties in the suburbs of the 1950s. Plath's novel illustrated that females are not inferior to men, and should have the ability to choose their own pathways in life. Plath's novel is regarded as a great work of feminist literature because it was a deeply personal account of depression. Prior to this time period, many American novelists felt uncomfortable with the idea of exploring complex themes like suicide and depression. These topics were almost cultural taboos-- In Puritan times suicide was almost unmentionable. This novel was a roman a clef for Plath's own spiral of depression, which resulted in a tragic ending of suicide. Women felt as though they could really resonate with the novel and appreciated the realistic, personal account of how difficult depression can be.
“In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs.”
“And he could not tell why the struggle was worthwhile, why he had determined to use the utmost himself and his heritage from the personalities he had passed...He stretched out his arms to the crystalline, radiant sky. 'I know myself,' he cried, 'But that is all.'”
“'Oh Jake,' Brett said, 'We could have had such a damned good time together.'
Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.
'Yes,' I said. 'Isn't it pretty to think so?' "
“...And in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”
“Grand. There's a word I really hate. It's a phony. I could puke every time I hear it.”
"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery
of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat
up smoking in the supernatural darkness of
cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities
contemplating jazz,"
“I realized these were all the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, our actual night, the hell of it, the senseless emptiness.”
“We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!”
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor... I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest...”
“As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don't you forget it - whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, he is trash.”
“Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species -- man -- acquired significant power to alter the nature of the world. ”
Analysis: Harper Lee's classic novel chronicled the injustices against African Americans during the 1930s, and showed the maturing of a young, naive little girl as came to terms with the importance of justice. Lee's novel was published in 1960, as the Civil Rights Movement was beginning to gain momentum. Southern African Americans were disillusioned with the Jim Crow Laws that caused segregated public facilities, and felt that the inequality they were facing was not just. Lee's novel reflected this growing fervor for African American rights by illustrating that everyone should have the right to a fair trial, even African Americans. Atticus Finch, a small town lawyer, taught his daughter the importance of standing up for justice, no matter what other people think of you. Speaking up was a major component of the Civil Rights Movement as well, as leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X emerged with their outspoken beliefs.
To Kill A Mockingbird
shows that no innocent people deserve to suffer, and Americans must stand up for justice in and out of the courtroom. However, this novel has been a target for censorship in schools throughout the past few years. Lee's bleak accounts of small town racism, violence, and language offended many readers and schools. This account of truth which brought to light the power of racism causes this book to deviate from earlier literature because it did not mitigate the impact of racism, Lee rather used the power of her story to instigate social change.
Analysis: Prior to the 1960s, there wasn't a large societal emphasis placed on the environment. People would not consider the effects of littering, air emissions, and even depletion of resources.
Silent Spring
by Rachel Carson was a catalyst for the environmental movement because it showed how humans were exploiting their role as caretakers by polluting the earth. She proposed the abolition of DDT, a pesticide that was destroying the food chain through bio- magnification, and decimating the Bald Eagle population. Carson's dedication to the environment was contagious and raised public awareness greatly. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency was created, and in future years the government would even instigate laws that would ban harmful pesticides such as the Clean Air Act in the 1970s. Carson's work was based on scientific data and studies, which makes Silent Spring stand out amongst earlier novels. In a way, Carson was like a scientific-muckraker, because she discovered the corruption behind the way humans were treating the environment.
“Your young white, who gathers his learning from books and can measure what he knows by the page, may conceit that his knowledge, like his legs, outruns that of his fathers’, but, where experience is the master, the scholar is made to know the value of years, and respects them accordingly.”
"The Indian owns no telegraph, employs no press reporter, and his side of the story is unknown to the people. "
Literature of the 1960s highlighted the restlessness of the American people and the new values that were emerging such as feminism, the environment, and civil rights.
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"Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley—stop for no expostulation,
Mind not the timid—mind not the weeper or prayer,
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man,
Let not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s entreaties,
Make even the trestles to shake the dead where they lie awaiting the hearses,
So strong you thump O terrible drums—so loud you bugles blow."
Artifact: "Beat! Beat! Drums!" by Walt Whitman
Analysis: This poem describes a simple town that is destroyed by the harbingers calling for war. Whitman, a strong nationalist, was opposed to the civil war. He hated slavery, and believed the union should stay as one, and the secession of the southern states would jeopardize the country's bond. Whitman’s poem “Beat! Beat! Drums!” was published in 1951, the same year as the Civil War started. The poem proves that war does not stop for anyone. Whitman shows that one’s aspirations are irrelevant in the face of war. He writes that war is “like a ruthless force” and will not stop for the scholar, the new groom, or even a young child. This poem is significant because it marked a national condemnation of war and proves how war can poison the lives of many as soon as they hear the drums, without even heading toward the battlefield. Walt Whitman himself is also crucial to the development of American poetry. Whitman used poetry to express his immense nationalism, while presenting himself as an equal to the common people of America-- he considered himself a voice for them. Earlier poets, like Taylor, expressed religion rather than patriotism. Also, they were greatly influenced by Europe, specifically England, whereas Whitman was not. He was a strictly American poet, and was proud of it.
Artifact: "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving
"The dominant spirit that haunts this enchanted region is the apparition of a figure on horseback without a head. It is said to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannonball in some nameless battle during the Revolutionary War, and who is ever seen by the countryfolk, hurrying along in the gloom of the night as if on the wings of the wind."
Analysis: Washington Irving's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" has become immortalized in pop culture today, but was a significant pillar of American literature, published in 1820. As a romanticist, like future authors Hawthorne and Poe, Irving describes the Hudson River landscape with meticulous detail. Sleepy Hollow is a quiet town, and everyone there seems permanently sleepy and shrouded in mystery. Ichabod Crane, the town's school teacher, wants more money and attempts to woo the rich Katrina Van Tassel, who is also loved by a man named Brom. One night at a party after Katrina no longer expresses interest in Crane, the legendary headless horseman, who lost his head in the revolution, chases Crane. This story combines elements of horror and sets them against a beautiful yet suspenseful landscape. Short stories like this began to engage Americans, not only furthering their nationalism, but by telling stories shrouded with intrigue. Poe also implemented romantic ideas in his gothic stories during the Antebellum era. Additonaly, this story described the American landscape with such awe, similarly to Fenimore Cooper.
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