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The American Tradition in Literature, Volume 2 Book Cover
The American Tradition in Literature, Volume 2, 10/e
George Perkins, Eastern Michigan University
Barbara Perkins, University of Toledo-Toledo

Basic Concepts

  1. Mythology
  2. Early American Literature
  3. The Dualistic Universe
  4. God as "First Cause"
  5. The "Great Chain of Being" Theory
  6. Insight and Inverse Logic
  7. Introduction to Argument
  8. Scholasticism, Rationalism, and Empiricism: Epistemology and Three Western Reasoning Systems
  9. Archetypal Theory
  10. The Renaissance
  11. Divine Right
  12. The Protestant Reformation: Lutheranism
  13. Protestantism: Calvinism
  14. Puritanism
  15. Separatism (The "Separatists")
  16. The Salem Witchcraft Trials (Witchcraft, Magic, and Spectral Evidence)
  17. Witchcraft
  18. Classicism and Neo-Classicism
  19. Deism
  20. Frederick Jackson Turner's "Significance of the Frontier"
  21. Allegory
  22. Metaphysical Poetry
  23. Scansion
  24. Mysticism, Neurosis, and Asceticism: The Complexities of Jonathan Edwards
  25. Two Processes of Abstraction: Burlesque and Idealization
  26. American Literary Romanticism
  27. The Romantic Conception of Nature and Spirit
  28. The Romantic Theory of the Intuition
  29. Transcendentalism
  30. Unitarianism
  31. The American Abolitionist Movement
  32. The Flowering of Romanticism: Sentimentality and the "Ubi Sunt" Theme
  33. Primitivism and the Noble Savage
  34. The American Gothic Tradition
  35. Contrasting Neo-Classic and Romantic Motifs
  36. Adventurism: Fascination with the Far Away in Time, Place, and Human Experience
  37. Regional Literature
  38. Realism
  39. Naturalism
  40. The Affinity and the Alter-Ego
  41. Romantic Individualism
  42. "Art for Art's Sake"
  43. Symbolism (Symbolist School)
  44. Surrealism
  45. Expressionism
  46. Impressionism
  47. Modernism
  48. Post-Modernism
  49. Globalization of Literature
  50. Literature as Social Criticism
  51. Literature of the "Beat Generation"
  52. Contemporary Indigenous Literature
  53. Harlem Renaissance
  54. Imagism
  55. Existentialism
  56. Theater of the Absurd
  57. Stream of Consciousness

1) Mythology

Mythology (myth) is a form of narrative that embodies a variety of motifs from both traditional and progressive cultures: origin tales, hero tales, adventure stories, cultural values, and tales of the supernatural. The late Dr. Joseph Campbell, arguably the world's leading authority on religion and mythology in the twentieth century, notes that myths, rather than simply "false stories," in fact, express "truth" at various levels. He sites the four primary functions of myth:

  1. the pedagogical function--myths teach the rules for right and wrong
  2. the sociological function--myths teach how to live appropriately in community
  3. the cosmological function--myths teach our place in the cosmos
  4. the mystical function--myths can lead to sense of the sublime

(Moyers and Campbell, The Power of Myth: Part 2: "The Message of the Myth")

Campbell claims that all the world's great religions are "misunderstood myths" ("The Vitality of Myth" 1974). By that he suggests that what lead the parishioners of every religion to a sense of the sublime are its symbols and rituals, what Campbell refers to as "activated symbols." Myths embody the images, the symbols, and the rituals that serve that end in every religion, and when they cease to do so, the religions are abandoned. He discounts as insignificant the roles of doctrine and their respective priesthoods unless understood as manifestations themselves of symbols and rituals.

From the limited library of existing early American indigenous recordings or writings, ritual use of language, congruent with Campbell's interpretation of mythology is found in selections from various tribes who encountered the European settlers during the colonial and national periods.

Online Connections

For a glossary of American Indian mythology, see the Probert Encyclopedia <> website. One of the most extensive sites with links to electronic texts of aboriginal and later American Indian literature is the "Electronic Texts Center: Subject: Native Americans

Textual Connections

Native American texts include speeches and selected ritual songs.

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2) Early American Literature

"American Indian Literature" is a misnomer, since "literature," as it is defined conventionally, flowers only in the twentieth century. In the nineteenth century and earlier, indigenous narrative belongs almost exclusively to the oral tradition, featuring the passing along of sacred tales, ritual language, and legends from generation to generation over centuries.

Very little was recorded of Indian speeches, stories, or oral ritual in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Interest in collecting Indian traditional narrative evolved slowly in the nineteenth century as more and more European settlers and their progeny moved westward. Much more attention is now being given to the recovery and transmission of early Indian records and communications.

Online Connections

For a comprehensive library of electronic texts of early Indian literature, see "Native American Texts." Scroll down to "Traditional American Indian Texts <>."

Textual Connections

See the selections in "The Native American Heritage" in The American Tradition in Literature, Volume I.

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3) The Dualistic Universe

The "Dualistic Universe" refers to Plato's concept of the two natures of the universe. Plato perceived that the universe is characterized as both "material/physical" and "non-material/non-physical." Clearly, ideas exist, but they are obviously of a different state of reality than is that which we perceive around us in the physical world. Ideas must be non-material or non-physical, as must be all knowledge.

For Plato, there is no "disconnect" between the physical and non-physical states. Human beings illustrate in their own natures the presence of both the material and non-material.

Online Connection

To read Plato's text on the "dual universe," see his discussion in the "Timaeus" <> in the "Dialogues of Plato."

Textual Connections

The "Dual Universe" is relevant as a Western interpretation of spirituality that influenced the Concord "transcendentalists" and their Eastern philosophy of the dual nature and unity of all things. Emerson read and annotated Plato's works extensively.

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4) God as "First Cause"

The Greeks, predating the triumvirate of the greatest of Greek philosophers--Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle--believed in God and developed arguments for God's existence. Plato employed reasoning to assign "first cause" as an attribute of God, a concept shared by his student, Aristotle. Through observation and intuitive speculation, Plato argued:

Among living things, we can distinguish "creator" and "created."

We can speculate that non-living phenomena are also created.

Nothing, living or inert, that we see around us demonstrates that it created or could have created itself.

All that we perceive must have been created by something.

That which is living demonstrates its ability to pro-create its own kind, but nothing living demonstrates the ability to pro-create outside its own category of being.

That which is non-living, likewise, cannot create outside of its own category of being.

We can perceive the "cause/effect" relationship between generations of being, projecting future generations and accounting for generations in our relative past.

As we reflect backwards, we are lead, by necessity, to the concept of the "first cause" and to question its nature.


  1. If all in the physical universe has been created, and
  2. If nothing in the physical universe has created itself, and
  3. If nothing in the physical universe can create new categories of being, therefore
  4. The creator of the physical universe must be non-physical.

This argument enters Western Christian religious thought and theology through the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas in the Roman Catholic Church. He addressed the problem in his treatise (essay), "On Causes." <>

Online Connection

To read more on the concept of God as "first cause," see "The Doctrine of Causality in Aquinas and The Book of Causes: One Key to Understanding the Nature of Divine Action." <>

Textual Connection

In his "Age of Reason," Thomas Paine repeats the argument above in his attempts to justify Deism as the only natural religion


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5) The "Great Chain of Being" Theory

One of the most influential concepts in Western philosophy, the "Great Chain of Being" Theory is attributed to Plato, although it was never formulated until the First Century by Plotinus, in his "neo-Platonism," a body of speculative beliefs rejected as heresy by the Roman Catholic Church.

The "Great Chain of Being" suggests a hierarchy of being that starts with the "god-head" as pure spirit and ends through a process of creative emulation with inert matter:

God as Spirit
Spiritual Being(s)
Human Beings
The Animal Kingdom
The Plant Kingdom
The Material (Inert) World

Humanity lies midway in the hierarchy and participates in both the knowledge of God and knowledge of the physical world. The knowledge of God we share is knowledge of abstract ideas and ideals, knowledge of categories. Knowledge of the physical world we gain through our senses.

Plato distinguished what he called "Ideal Forms," the patterns of material being that exist in the mind of God. Plato suggested we are born with knowledge of "Ideal Forms" and other abstract knowledge (knowledge of categories). Innate knowledge came to be known as "a priori" knowledge, or knowledge derived "before experience."

Online Connection

For more information on the concept of the "Great Chain of Being" and its elaboration in Western philosophy, see Dr. Peter Suber's "The Great Chain of Being." <>

Textual Connection

The concept of the "Great Chain of Being" is implied to one degree or another in all the religious writings found throughout early American literature, to the extent that that writing is Christian in its orientation. The "transcendentalists," many of whom rejected essential Christian elements such as belief in miracles and several key doctrines, also reflect in their religious writings elements of the theory in their salute to Eastern mysticism as embraced in the Upanishads, the Hindu holy scriptures. The "Chain of Being" theory complements the concept of the "dual" nature of the universe most celebrated in the writings of Emerson ("Self Reliance") and Whitman ("Song of Myself").

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6) Insight and Inverse Logic

Insight is an instance of comprehension, the understanding of knowledge. According to Jesuit priest and American philosopher, Dr. Bernard Lonergan (1904 -1984), in Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, inverse logic--the comprehension of opposites--ranks as one of the highest, most abstract forms of insight. Inverse insight is the sense that if a concept is not one thing, it must be its opposite. The logic can be expressed in the following frame:

  1. A is the opposite of B (hence, B is the opposite of A).
  2. If not A, then B.
  3. Not B.
  4. Then A.


  1. A is the opposite of B (hence, B is the opposite of A).
  2. If not A, then B.
  3. Not A.
  4. Then B.

Online Connection

For further discussion of insight and inverse logic, see Joe Fitzgerald's review of Dr. Lonergan's concept of cognition <>. For a discussion of "inverse logic" and illustrations, see Jim Loy's page, "Converse, Inverse, and Contrapositive." <>

Textual Connection

Inverse insight is key to Plato's concept of the dual nature of the universe and the dichotomy between "creator" and "created." These concepts are implied in the project of opposites in religious writing, particularly the mysticism of Emerson ("Self Reliance"), Edwards ("Personal Narrative"), Franklin ("Letter to Ezra Stiles"), Paine ("Age of Reason"), Taylor (selected poems), and Whitman ("Song of Myself").

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7) Introduction to Argument

In a popular sense, an argument is a confrontational dispute, often exhibited in fiery words and hurt feelings. In logic, however, an argument is a formal set of claims, including premises (reasons) that lead to a conclusion. Here is an example of a simple argument:

  1. Only Democrats support excessive government spending.
  2. John is a Democrat.
  3. John supports excessive government spending.

In the claims above, we sense that claims #1 and #2 are meant to "lead to" claim #3. Nevertheless, because we may find fault with either claim #1 or #2, we may or may not be comfortable with the only possible conclusion. Even though there is no other possible conclusion, given the first two claims, clearly, arguments are not always acceptable. We tend to choose one position or another in response to controversial issues depending on our preference for the reasons (or premises) offered in support of a position.

Argument is inherent in much of the social, religious, and philosophical/political writing of early America.

Textual Connection

From Paine's formal appeal on behalf of religious faith in "Age of Reason" to the "Federalist Papers" to essays promoting the adoption of the Constitution, argument is a key element of numerous American texts. The "Declaration of Independence" is often cited as a classic example of deductive argumentation.

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8) Scholasticism, Rationalism, and Empiricism: Epistemology and Three Western Reasoning Systems

In philosophy, the study of knowledge is called epistemology. While various cultures will derive far different answers, the three essential questions of any culture's epistemology include the following:

  1. What can I know?
  2. How do I know?
  3. How can I know if I know?

The first question--"What can I know?"--addresses the categories of knowledge and their discrete definitions (concepts). The second question--"How do I know?"--explores the mechanisms or technologies for knowing anything. The third question--"How can I know if I know?"--considers the demonstration of a "grammar of truth." To frame it in a religious or theological context, by what capacity do we recognize "revelation" as "revelation"? Are we born with a mechanism that can evaluate "truth" as "truth"?

How we answer these questions reflects, in part, how we derive conclusions in the process of reasoning. More to the point, how we answer these questions reflects the foundation of the premises that lie behind the conclusions. Three systems of reasoning dominate the world views developed in the western world. These three systems of thinking are scholasticism, rationalism, and empiricism.


Scholasticism is any system of reasoning that derives conclusions from premises based upon faith. This faith, of course, is not necessarily religious. For example, a person who votes "straight lever" Republican or "straight lever" Democrat does so on the basis of various preconceptions and beliefs about his or her political party. Any person of a narrow religious persuasion who decides major issues in life on the basis of belief statements is equally scholastic in reasoning.

In the tradition of the Christian Church (as it is in any religion), doctrinal statements are "truth" or "belief" statements which the parishioner is obliged to accept on the basis of faith. Christian scholasticism is a system of reasoning that premises all conclusions on the tenets (beliefs) of the Christian faith. While contemporary Christianity tends generally to accept reasoning derived from the senses, on issues of faith, the doctrines of faith are to be accepted as given and without question. Each denomination points to a set of beliefs outside of which lies heresy and non-belief. In the face of contradictions derived from other reasoning systems (i.e. rationalism and empiricism), the Church stands upon its dogma, ambiguity or no ambiguity.

With the coming of the Enlightenment in Europe, however, a few courageous thinkers dared to ask questions and to publish findings that flew squarely in the face of Church doctrine. As it evolved, scholasticism was a process of reasoning designed to confirm belief, to put down heresy, and, after Martin Luther's protest in 1511, to resist the influence of the Reformation. With the advent of "natural philosophy" (science) as an academic discipline, scholastics within the Church felt challenged by more and more discoveries about the natural world and universe, and by rationalism and empiricism, two systems of reasoning which rejected the vagaries of scholasticism.


In a real sense, rationalism is a system of reasoning with roots in the Platonic philosophy of the 5th century B.C. Plato's "Great Chain of Being" theory hypothesized that everything in existence in the physical world is a product of a non-material "first cause" called God. Through "ideal forms"--patterns in the mind of God--everything is extruded into existence in the physical universe through the mind of God. In Plotinus's reconstruction of Plato's though in the Third Century A.D.--a system called "neo-Platonism" that was rejected by the early church as heresy--that full "Chain of Being" theory is elaborated: Those elements further removed in the creative "chain" lose more and more features or attributes of the pure God-head. Human beings, highest element in the creative chain within the physical universe, participate with God in the knowledge of "ideal forms," or categories of knowledge and the rules of the mind that conceptualize them.

Similarly, rationalism, dating back to the writings of Rene Descartes in the 17th century, holds that the mind--not revelation, as for the scholastics--is the source of primary knowledge. Descartes' experiment with wax helped demonstrate "cause and effect" reasoning and knowledge of categories. Descartes examined a block of solid wax, noting in writing each of its physical properties. Then he melted the same over a burner and noted the properties of the liquid wax. Clearly, both were wax, but the identification of each was not to be found in the contrasting lists of features. Both were wax, but wherein was the concept "wax"? Only in the mind, of course!

Rene Descartes had begun his "Discourse on the Method" (1637) by acknowledging the existence of God which kept him in good graces with the Church. Yet the essay strikes at the heart of scholastic reasoning of any kind. Descartes searches for a ground for knowledge, not faith. "What can I know?" he asks, and "How do we know?" What is the most fundamental fact? Had we been born without senses and the perceptions that arise from them, how would we know even that we are? Because we know that we can doubt our sense experience, the doubt itself implies the doubter. His answer rings down the centuries afterwards: "Cogito! Ergo sum!"--"I think! Therefore, I am."


If the purpose of scholasticism is to equate faith and reason, the purpose of rationalism to define the relationship between the mind and the world, then the purpose of empiricism is to define the relationship between the senses and an external physical universe.

For the empiricist, you and I live in an externally real world that exists outside our awareness of it but which is accessible, more or less accurately and completely, through our senses. To the whimsicalities and vagaries of both scholasticism and rationalism, the empiricists would merely laugh. The empiricist rejects "blind faith" in anything and scoffs at the notion of "innate knowledge." In his "Essay on Human Understanding" (1703), John Locke rejected all arguments for "innate" or "a priori" knowledge (knowledge acquired prior to birth). For him and the other early eighteenth-century empiricists, all knowledge is accessed through the senses. The mind is no benign factor but the reservoir of all types and levels of knowledge derived through the senses. In a sense, our whole world view is a factor of sense perception. Our minds are a "tabula raza"--or "blank slate"--on which our senses write the history and every evolving world view.

Online Connections


A useful thumbnail outline of scholasticism with links to key representative scholastic philosophers.

Western Philosophical Concepts of God/The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Discussions of Platonism, Neo-platonism, and the "Chain of Being."


Descartes' Epistemology
A comprehensive discusion of the principles of Descartes's "First Meditation" and objections to its methodologies.

Epistemology and Descartes
Class notes by Stephen Daniel, Texas A&M University.

"Meditations on First Philosophy" (1631)
The Haldane English translation.


A concise definition of the term with links to essential philosophers of empiricism.

Two Dogmas of Empiricism
A discussion of the failures of two principle doctrines of empiricism.

Rationalism and Empiricism
A webliography of links to primary sites of the major philosophers of rationalism and empiricism.

Textual Connection

Arguably, those of us raised in Western cultures can be classified as either "scholastics," "rationalists," or as "empiricists," as can the writers whom we study in this course. Fundamentally, the beliefs on which we choose to act and to relate with one another socially, religiously, and politically hinge on one of these three systems or another. Early colonial religious writers exhibit scholastic principles. Rationalism influenced Jonathan Edwards and Jefferson. Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin were ardent empiricists.

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9) Archetypal Theory

Archetypal Theory proposes that human experience reflects, in part, universal patterns common to all cultures and civilizations and that we project these patterns of experience in universal sets of images and symbols. Plato's notion of "Ideal Forms" suggests the concept of archetypes. To stereotype men and women or the old and young by common attributes is, in part, an attempt to define archetypal or universal characteristics.

Because imaginative literature characterizes human experience as much as it reflects, works of fiction, drama, poetry often exhibit such patterns.

Online Connections

See "Gender Stereotypes and Sexual Archetypes," an engaging introduction to archetypal patterns. Other brief introductions can be found in "Ancient Archetypes and Modern Manifestations," "Jung: On the Archetypes," "Carl G. Jung: Description of the Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious."

Textual Connections

The study of archetypal elements in American literature is an engaging study. Although he lacked the familiar twentieth-century jargon to reference them, Washington Irving's folk heroes of the Yankee and Frontiersman in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" are pitted against each other in their amorous conflict over the attention of one of the quintessential female archetypes in the characterization of the coquette, Katrina Van Tassle. Young Goodman Brown of the same story by Nathaniel Hawthorne can be compared with the "Hero of Initiation." Herman Melville's Billy Budd suggests the "scapegoat hero" role.

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10) The Renaissance

The term "renaissance" means "rebirth." As applied to a period of cultural history in Western Civilization, the "renaissance" is usually consigned to a range of centuries between the fourteenth and late eighteenth centuries. The rebirth referenced in this period was an awakening of appreciation for the art, architecture, and values of the Greek and Roman civilizations at their zenith, which occurred for the Greeks between 470 - 322 B.C., during the rise and dominance of Athens among the Greek city-states, and for the Romans, between 44 B.C. and about 200 A.D., the period of the great Caesars, sometimes referred to as the "Pax Romana" ("Roman Peace").

Since the Romans adopted so many of the cultural trappings of the Greeks, the two civilizations and their ideals became synthesized as the "Neo-Classical Period," or the "new Classical period."

In literature, the arbiters of style during the "Neo-Classical Age" called for the imitation of the ancient models in poetry, elocution, and rhetoric. The principles espoused in his esthetic theory, "The Poetics," made Aristotle the supreme voice in matters of beauty. European dramatists adopted the styles and forms of Virgil and Homer in their emulation of the heroic epics. Neo-classical lyrical poetry adopted the metrical patterns and rhyme schemes of the Greek poets.

Online Connections

For a webliography of literary-related sites, see the Rutgers University page, "Literature and the Renaissance."

Textual Connections

A number of the writers of the colonial period reflect some of the premises of Neo-classical literary style. They include colonial poets Anne Bradstreet, Philip Freneau, and Phillis Wheatley. So sensitive was she to the severity of her male critics that in her "Prologue" to The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America (1650), Anne Bradstreet matches the catalog of Neo-classical poetic elements stanza by stanza as an object lesson to her male would-be detractors in England!

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11) Divine Right

The concept of "divine right" refers to the belief that monarchs rule by the "divine" designation of God. The concept is ancient with examples found in Asia, Africa, as well as Europe. It was best formulated, perhaps by the French apologist for King Louis XIV, Jacques-Benigne Bossuet (1627-1704). In his extreme argument for "divine right rule," Bossuet justifies the rule of one person.

Online Connection

A number of websites help illuminate the concept of "divine right rule." See "The European Enlightenment Glossary" and "Divine Right of Kings."

Textual Connection

The English King James I, under whom Plymouth Plantation was instituted, accepted the theory of "divine right rule." Philip Freneau rails against monarchy in championing the "Rights of Man" during the American Revolutionary War against England.

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12) The Protestant Reformation: Lutheranism

The Protestant Reformation began on October 31, 1517, when parish priest Martin Luther, in the little village of Wittenberg, Saxony, in north central Europe, posted his "Ninety-five Theses", the first public display of the growing rift within the Roman Catholic Church that had been widening for two centuries between the Popes and liberal reformers within the Church.

Luther attacked the Church and the Papacy for blatant abuses and for unfounded doctrinal authorities. He protested the "Sale of Indulgences," billets of sale, allegedly applicable to reduction of the period of time in Purgatory suffered by the designated souls of departed relatives of purchasers. Nowhere could he find in Holy Scriptures a parallel between the coffers of the Vatican, currently under construction, and the salvation of souls. Luther also questioned even the principle of Papal infallibility, challenging the authority of the seat of the Church itself.

Refusing a summons by the Pope to answer for his heresies, Martin Luther accepted sanctuary with Frederick III, the Prince of Saxony. Word of his denunciations fired protests across Europe, and as the secular authorities sought to promulgate their own insurrections against the Church and Emperor Charles V, magistrate of the "Holy Roman Empire," which claimed most of Europe under its authority, the Protestant Reformation gained strength, dividing the European continent into Protestant and Catholic enclaves.

Martin Luther's basic beliefs were these five:

  1. The belief in the inerrant Word of God--Luther believed that, as the divinely inspired revelation of God, the Holy Bible was literally and historically accurate.
  2. The belief in only two Sacraments--Luther could find Biblical authority for only two of the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church: baptism and the celebration of the Eucharist.
  3. The belief in "justification by faith"--Luther came to believe that faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus alone earns the believer for salvation; "good works" alone are insufficient.
  4. The belief in "consubstantiation"--against the Catholic doctrine of transubstatiation, which held that in the celebration of the Eucharist the elements miraculously are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus, Luther believed that in the act of the celebration, the spirit of Christ becomes present or "with" ("con") the community of celebrants.
  5. The "priesthood of believers"--Luther took literally the promise of Christ that "wherever two or more are gathered together" in faith, there also abides the Holy Spirit. In other words, Luther denounced the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic priesthood that allegedly acted as a conduit of revelation from God through the Pope and his vicars to the churches. Luther's belief became the foundation for "congregationalism," which held that the supreme authority on matters of religion resides in the local body of communicants.

Online Connections

See the Protestant Reformation webliography for links to primary sources.

Textual Connections

Settlers of the New England colonies were members of various Protestant congregations and denominations. The influence of congregationalism would have a profound impact on the framing of local governments on the expanding western frontier.

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13) Protestantism: Calvinism

John Calvin was a second-generation participant in the European Protestant Reformation. He is best remembered for his monumental compilation, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, written over the decade of 1526 to 1536. While visiting Geneva, Switzerland, Calvin was summoned to serve as the chief protestant magistrate of the city. A jurist and logician, John Calvin was imminently suited in training and personality for the arduous position that promulgated the Protestant cause from the legal bench for almost thirty years.

Calvin's Institutes became extremely popular in Protestant communities and functioned as the foundation of faith for the Reformed Churches that spread across Europe, England, and Scotland. Calvin's five principles, generally referred to as "Calvinism," are remembered widely as the "TULIP" acrostic:

  1. Total Depravity--All people are condemned by the original sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden.
  2. Unconditional Election--Because of the inherent evil nature of all people, no condition that God might impose as a factor in salvation could any human being ever hope to satisfy. For this reason, if anyone is to enjoy salvation and eternal life, the process of redemption must be "unconditional" and freely manifested by God.
  3. Limited Atonement--Although God has made possible the salvation of the human race through the death and resurrection of Jesus, that process is extended only to those who will accept that process. Therefore, those who refuse to accept through faith God's process of redemption, through their own free will, elect damnation.
  4. Irresistible Grace--Once accepting God's process of salvation through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ, believers are transformed immediately into the ranks of the "Elect" and "Saints" of God, fit to do the work of promoting the prophesied coming of the Kingdom of God on Earth.
  5. Perseverance of the Saints--The "Elect" will naturally persevere in their service to God, a belief that complements the "Protestant Work Ethic."

Online Connections

For a brief biography of John Calvin, see "John Calvin." Online also is the full compilation of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. A webliography devoted to an interpretation of Calvin and his influence is found in the online John Calvin Lecture Hall.

Textual Connections

Calvinism was most influential on theologians and magistrates including the likes of William Bradford, John Winthrop, Increase and Cotton Mather, and Jonathan Edwards.

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14) Puritanism

"Puritanism" refers to both a body of cultural values and a religious/political movement in the English seventeenth century that attempted to address perceived moral deterioration in English social life and the rising influence of Catholicism in the Church of England. It began as an attempt to "purify" the Church of England of corruption and Catholic influences, but later expanded into a full-fledged political insurrection against the monarchy. The Puritan revolt, led by Oliver Cromwell, overthrew King Charles I and beheaded him in a public execution in Whitehall in 1648. Cromwell replaced the English monarchy with a Puritan-led Commonwealth that rested control of the Church of England and sent Catholic sympathizers to the gallows. It was Puritan magistrates who supported continued colonization in New England and who controlled the land companies that sponsored the colonial development. Disillusioned with the inept leadership of Richard Cromwell, the floundering son of Oliver Cromwell, the English Parliament restored the monarchy in 1666 and recalled Charles II from exile in France.

Censorship under Puritan rule was severe and its consequences readily visible. Under Puritan influence and policies, English theaters were closed. Literary style rejected the alleged excesses of Elizabethan metaphysical poetry, calling for a restrained style, free of "wit" and devoted to high moral purpose.

Often perceived popularly as somber, dour, and colorless, Puritans, however, were joyful celebrants of their faith, and Puritan settlers in New England wore brightly colored clothes when they could get them.

Online Connections

For a brief overview of English Puritanism, see "Puritanism." For a more extensive review, see this discussion by the same name, "Puritanism," which also contains a discussion of American Puritanism.

Textual Connections

Puritan settlers had a profound effect on the development of American thought and writings. As is predictable, much of their time was devoted to religious and theological discourse. (It was once reported that the Puritan lecturer and theologian Cotton Mather, consultant to the Salem witchcraft hearings, wrote some 444 books!) They also kept extensive and enlightening diaries and journals. A few in public offices wrote whole histories of their colonial enterprises. Other Puritan writing was directed at education. Puritans printed chapbooks and primers, but the exercises of writing poetry and drama was looked upon with strong reservation. Even Michael Wigglesworth's popular poem, "The Day of Doom," begins with an apology, the author dedicating his excursion into a discredited form for the high purpose of spiritual education.

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15) Separatism (The "Separatists")

Among the extremists in the ranks of the English Puritans was a small community of religious enthusiasts called "Separatists." Led by the Reverend William Brewster of Leyden, England, the "Separatists" found the efforts of the Puritans to fall far short of the mark in rectifying inherent problems in the Church of England. The Separatists sought a complete dismantling of the Church of England, espousing a strict Congregationalist model that rejected any administrative or ecclesiastical hierarchy beyond the authority of the local congregations. So vehement were they in their denunciations that Bishop Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, expelled them from England. In 1608, they fled to Holland where they faired better in the atmosphere of religious toleration but found physical and social life unbearable, accepting the most inhospitable employment in a land where they could not speak the language or understand their hosts.

Returning only briefly to England, the Separatists negotiated a contract with the Virginia Company to establish a colony in the name of James I, the first of the Stuart kings of England. They left late in the autumn of 1620 from Plymouth and Leyden, England, on the "Goodspeed" and the "Mayflower." After twice floundering off the English coast, the "Goodspeed" was abandoned, and all remaining passengers took passage in the "Mayflower," the smaller of the two little commercial boats.

William Bradford's history "Of Plymouth Plantation" records the difficulties of the developing colony that was settled on the forbidding Massachusetts coastline in 1620. Serving as their governor for more than thirty years, Bradford called them the "Pilgrims," a term that has become mythologized in American cultural history. Of the 101 who set sail to make the initial passage, fewer than half of them survived the hardships of the first winter. Nevertheless, their colony prospered, and their small colony grew over the next ten years, only to be absorbed in decades that followed by the larger Massachusetts Bay Colony that had been settled at Boston to the north.

Online Connections

For an informal and highly readable overview of the rise of English "Puritanism," see Norris Taylor's website, "Our English/Puritan Heritage." An interesting history of the Scrooby Separatists is found at "Separatists Escape to Holland."

Textual Connections

Readings from William Bradford's history "Of Plymouth Plantation" reveal the Separatists' daily experiences in the New World. Bradford' "History" remains one of the keenest insights we have to seventeenth-century order and community in the colonies.

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16) The Salem Witchcraft Trials (Witchcraft, Magic, and Spectral Evidence)

In 1692 the courts in Boston ordered hearings of "Oyer and Terminer" (Examine and Decide) to investigate allegations of witchcraft in Salem Village, a small community of Puritans north of Salem, Massachusetts. Such reports weren't new. Witchcraft, if not a common phenomenon, was, according to common acceptance, an unfortunate, periodic harassment in the colonies. A number of respected divines had addressed the subject in various formal discourses. King James I of England was better known as the author of "Daemonology" (Demonology) than he was as the "executive producer" of the King James Version of the Bible that bore his imprimatur.

The belief in witchcraft was ubiquitous in the colonies; there was certainly a receptive context of belief to embrace new "discoveries" of devilry. Satan was constantly at work, so it was believed, to undermine the "Saints," and when children and young people in Salem Village confessed to being bedeviled by, among others, some of the most respected elders of the community, their grievances were worthy. As targets of such malevolent molestations, innocent children, of course, couldn't lie, and in a court of inquiry, could be trusted to speak the truth. By the time they had completed their "truth telling," 155 men and women had been cried out against and charged with witchcraft, eighteen had been hanged (along with two dogs), and one elderly man, Giles Corry, had been pressed to death in an attempt to force a confession from him. Five others died in prison.

The testimonies of the hearings were tediously preserved in hand-written records still extant and available, in copies, for scholars and the public to study. These records reveal more, however, than the words of distressed young ladies. What becomes clear are deep divisions in the community of Salem Village. Political, social, and economic scisms divided the pious believers. Samuel Paris, the new minister-come-to-town, had contributed to the rift. Indeed, it was in his own house that the infestation of witchery had been discovered. Clearly, the first citizens named by the girls, after the Indian servant Tituba's confession and accusations were social/political opponents of the Paris household.

The hearings closed late in 1692 when William Stoughton, the Lieutenant Governor, returned from the Indian wars to find his own wife charged and waiting examination--clearly, matters were out of control. The new Governor, Sir William Phipps, ordered the hearings ended and the jails emptied. Feelings remained strained for many generations. Samuel Sewall, one of the three chief magistrates in the hearings and one of the most respected jurists in Boston, came to regret deeply his participation in the whole set of affairs. Five years afterwards, he stood before his own congregation and asked public pardon for his own responsibilities in the proceedings.

The awful events of 1692 have since become symbolic of the darkest side of human nature-in-community and a cautious warning about the limitations of misguided faith and beliefs. American playwright Arthur Miller used the trial records of the Elizabeth Proctor hearing as the background for "The Crucible" to attack the anti-communist "witch hunts" of the McCarthy hearings in the United States Senate in the early 1950's. In 1992, at the Third Centenary Memorial of the events in New England, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Elie Weisel, survivor of the German holocaust in World War II, spoke at ceremonies dedicating monuments to the victims of the Salem witch hysteria. His presence reminded the world of the importance of courageous vigilance against fundamentalists of any persuasion who willingly threaten others in the name of their own beliefs.

Our Course Connections

Read the "Diary" of Samuel Sewall to gain insight into the mind and personality of one of the most important leaders of the third-generation Puritans in Massachusetts Bay Colony. For an excursion into the dark corners of the Puritan world view, read Increase Mather's "Wonders of the Invisible World."

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17) Witchcraft

Few citizens of Salem Village (present day Danvers, Massachusetts) doubted the existence of Satan and his diabolical machinations through the medium of witchcraft. Its belief, held by members of the clergy and the highest cultural and social levels, guaranteed its pervasive influence throughout New England.

In The Golden Bough, Sir James Fraser distinguishes between witchcraft and magic. Magic attempts to control the natural order through the occult knowledge of the "magician" or "sorcerer." Witchcraft, on the other hand, attempts to control the natural order through a liaison between the devil and a human being dedicated and covenanted to his service. It is through the medium of the human party that change in the natural world is affected by the devil or the supernatural.

Much of what the colonists of New England believed about witchcraft was rooted in English and European traditions and folklore. Wtches were believed to fly about as specters in the night and to remain at the ready to do the work of the devil to lead believers into the snares of sin and damnation. Certainly, as the events in Salem Village transpired, collectively, they were frightful enough to lead the courts to condemn eighteen men and women and two dogs to gallows hill for hanging.

Online Connections

Search the documents of "Witchcraft in Salem Village" for the historical records. For an extended definition and a discussion of its application in Salem, see "Salem Witchcraft."

Our Course Connections

Increase Mather's "Wonders of the Invisible World" chroniclesreports of witchcraft in New England prior to the outbreak of the Salem witchcraft hysteria in 1692.

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18) Classicism and Neo-Classicism

The word "classical" refers to the ideal, a norm, or a standard against which everything else in its class must be measured. Patterns which capture the popular taste often enjoy the mantle of a "classic"--the "classic" Chevy (1957 sedan), the "classic" Ford (1964 Mustang), etc. In Western cultural history, "classic" refers to a period of development in two civilizations--the Greek (470-322 B.C.) and the Roman (44 B.C. to approximately 200 A.D.). These periods are so characterized because their values, arts, architecture, legal system, administration, and many other elements came to be regarded in latter-day Europe as the very best that could be achieved through human effort.

The "Neo-Classical Period" is a term that refers to a period of centuries in European cultural history when the enthusiasm for things Greek and Roman came to dominate the tastes of whole nations. The so-called "new Classical Age" began in thirteenth-century Italy and its values gradually swept most of the European continent and finally across the Atlantic to the New England settlements, culminating during the late eighteenth century in the United States.

Two other terms associated with the period are the "Age of Reason" or the "Age of Enlightenment." Generally, the terms designate a shift from scholastic reasoning to rationalism and empirical investigation. It was a dynamic period, marked by growing conflict between ecclesiastical and secular authorities on matters pertaining to the nature of the physical universe. Increasing investigations of the natural world outside the narrow limitations of Christian doctrine fueled even further discord between the "natural philosophers" and the clerics. The Church prelates responded with simplistic "theories" of their own, like their adoption of the "Theory of Catastrophism" and their promotion of "the science of creationism" to account for contradictions between doctrine/Biblical "authority" and the uninterrupted data flow about the physical universe. So compelling were the principles of empiricism that the standards employed in investigations by the empiricists were extended to the emerging modern disciplines later to make up the "social sciences."

Some Neo-Classical Elements

  1. Reason--Reliance on reason (logic), rather than emotion, to support arguments became one of the defining values.
  2. Nature(Naturalness)--Striving to follow what is "natural" in the physical world suggested patterns for social order.
  3. Universality and the General--Neo-classical emphasis on "universality" and "the general" reflects to criteria for defining "truth."
  4. The Ideal--After Plato's concept of "Ideal Forms," the Neo-classical definition of the "Ideal" acknowledges a pattern that lies behind all living things in the universe; every natural tree is striving to become the "ideal tree."
  5. Form and Order--Neo-classical values emphasize the importance of fixed form and order observable in a universe governed by immutable natural laws.
  6. Things Classical (Greek and Roman)--Neo-classical values had their foundation on Greek and Roman models, collectively referred to as the "Ancients."
  7. Decorum--Neo-classical manners and style emphasized the importance of acting in ways natural to the occasion in support of the well-being of the majority.

Some Neo-Classical Principles

  1. Evil results from blindness to natural order and the laws of nature.
  2. Perfection is attainable.
  3. The arts should reflect Greek and Roman forms, patterns, and styles.
  4. All human cultures are essentially the same.
  5. Rationalism and empiricism oust scholasticism as patterns for reasoning.

Some Neo-Classical Literary Conventions

  1. Imitate classical forms.
  2. Reflect principles defined in Aristotle's "Poetics."
  3. The subject of art should be universal, elevating, natural, and of general significance.
  4. A work should aspire to epic stature and significance.
  5. Literary works should employ heroic forms, character, and themes.

Online Connections

The Internet hosts a number of very useful resources related to the ancient Classical civilizations and Neo-classicism. See "Neo-classicism: General (1750-1880)" a webliography of related sites. For an overview of the Neo-classical musical period, see "Neo-Classicism." For a review of art in the Neo-classical period, see "Neo-classicism and the French Revolution." For a broad, general webliography of the full movement, see "Styles and Movements: Neo-classicism." A most informative resource is "Lecture: The Enlightenment and the Romantic Era."

Textual Connections

The influence of the Neo-Classical Age and its values shaped the American nation from the rationalism inherent in the claims of the "Preamble" to the "Declaration of Independence" to the arguments of the "Federalist Papers" in support of the "United States Constitution." In the arts and literature, the best examples in our readings include the poetry of Anne Bradstreet, Phillis Wheatley, and Philip Freneau; the political and social writings of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine; and the philosophical essay, "Age of Reason," by Thomas Paine.

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19) Deism

Deism is a set of religious and philosophical assumptions that became popular in the American colonies in the 18th century. Rejecting specific tenets of most religions and antagonistic particularly to orthodox Christianity, the basic principles of deism complemented the spirit of the Enlightenment and expansive humanism.

  1. There is a god, creator of the universe.
  2. Humans have souls.
  3. The greatest service is doing good to one's fellow human.
  4. Good or ill will be rewarded in life after death.
  5. The universe is governed by discernible natural law.

Additionally, most deists declined to accept the claims of miracles and dismissed the supernatural character of both Jesus and Mohamed.

To the extent that these principles or assumptions are to be found in several of the world's religious systems, deism acknowledges them as universal truths, more deserving of respect than the particular tenets unique to any of those same religions.

Online Connections

For an extensive introduction to the influence of deism on major seventeenth and eighteenth-century English philosophers, see English Deism. The "European Enlightenment Glossary: Deism" explores the radical deism of the French revolution. You will find in "The Victorian Web: Deism" a useful definition and delineation of the major points of Deism. Thomas Paine wrote extensively on the deistic philosophy, including his essay, "Of the Religion of Deism Compared with the Christian Religion."

While you should be cautious of sites by any apologist, "The Deist Roots of the United States of American" details the deist believes of several major colonial American "founding fathers."

Textual Connections

Several influential members of the Continental Congress and other "founding fathers" embraced the ideology of deism including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and George Washington.

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20) Frederick Jackson Turner's "Significance of the Frontier"

In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner, a young University of Wisconsin historian of the American scene, announced that the American frontier was closed and delivered one of the most influential interpretations of the American westward experience. According to his interpretation, no other factor has been more important in shaping American character and values than the fact of the moving Western frontier. That influence is seen in the evolution of democracy over 150 plus years, selected in the wisdom not of the philosophers and social theorists but by the farmers and laborers who discovered that democracy was best on the frontier simply because it worked best to get the job done. That we failed to adopt even the style of the European aristocrat is due to nothing more complex than such costuming got tattered pretty quickly when rubbing up against prickly pear cactus, sage brush, and barbed wire fence. Aristocratic institutions would have faired no better in the rough and tumble necessities of decision making on the frontier.

Online Connections

Click here to read a full online copy of Turner's "The Significance of the Frontier in American History." Read "Frederick Jackson Turner's Frontier Thesis of American History" for a brief review of Turner's influence.

Textual Connections

Read Turner's essay in the context of other American writers who address the physical frontier in their commentaries, particularly St. Jean de Crevecœur, the diarists like Sarah Kemble Knight and William Byrd, Franklin, Edwards, and Bryant.

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21) Allegory

Allegory is both a figure of speech and one of the oldest types of story forms in Western literature. As symbolic literature, an allegory has both literal meaning and implied meaning. Each of the characters, the action or narrative line, the images and setting--all are representative of concepts beyond their usual or expected meanings. In Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," all three names suggest something more than a seventeenth-century youth, usually referred to socially as "goodman," a term denotating a male not quite old enough to be considered a mature adult. The character, "Goodman Brown," is meant to suggest a common young man, that is, someone very much like every other young man. The name of his wife, Faith, is meant to suggest Brown's religious "faith" as well. The journey that Brown makes into the forest is meant to represent the "path" or "journey of life" everyone must take, a route filled with the unknown and frightful encounters, sometimes so severe as to challenge people's sense of personal identity and most highly cherished values.

Among notable examples of allegories, see Plato's "Allegory of the Caves," Dante's "Divine Comedy," Milton's "Paradise Lost," Spencer's "The Faerie Queen," and the medieval work, "Everyman."

Online Connections

See the UVic Writer's Guide for a short discussion of allegory. See "allegory" for links to related figures of speech.

Textual Connections

Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" and Herman Melville's "Billy Budd" are the two examples of allegory.

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22) Metaphysical Poetry

Metaphysical poetry is a style of poetry made popular in Jacobean England (the period during the reign of King James I, from 1603-1625) by poet John Donne and others of the "metaphysical school." Generally, metaphysical poetry is poetry that employs elaborate and extravagant comparisons (figures of speech). These figures are called "conceits" (thoughts). An often-used "conceit" compares an abstract thought or concept with a domestic (household or commonplace image) or natural image. The abstract ideas are often religious principles or doctrines like "redemption," "salvation," or "nature of Man."

Online Connections

See "Metaphysical Poetry" for observations, period quotations and reactions, and characterizations of metaphysical poetry. For a brief definition of English metaphysical poetry, see "Metaphysical Poetry."

Textual Connections

The representative colonial American poet in the metaphysical tradition is Edward Taylor, Puritan pastor in Westfield, Connecticutt. Written often as private devotionals, his poems exhibit the style and constructions that Puritan taste and manners disdained as "witty."

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23) Scansion

A "scansion" is an identification and interpretation of 1) the rhythm and 2) the ending rhyme scheme of a poem.

  • Rhythm

Words in every language are pronounced in syllables, some of which receive a heavier stress than others. Stressed syllabus can be identified by reading slowly a word, phrase, or complete line, noting where the natural emphasis or stress occurs.

The rhythm of a poem is the progression of stressed and unstressed syllables in the words that compose any single line of a poem. Here is an example from Thomas Hardy's "The Darkling Thrush":

"I leant upon a coppice gate when Frost was spectre grey."

Read the line slowly and note where the stressed accents occur:


The terms used to describe the rhythm come from classical Greek poetics (study of poetry):

Monometer - one stress per line
Dimeter - two stresses per line
Trimeter - three stresses per line
Tetrameter - four stresses per line
Pentameter - five stresses per line
Hexameter - six stresses per line
Heptameter - seven stresses per line
Octameter - eight stresses per line

Basic Metrical Feet (Patterns of Stresses Syllables)
There are four basic combinations of stressed and unstressed syllables that, along with the number of stresses per line, identify the patterns of rhythm:

  1. iambic - unstressed syllable followed by an accented syllable
    Example: The word "arrive" is pronounced "ar-rive."
  2. anapest - the expansion of iambic, two unstressed syllables followed by an accented syllable
    Example: The word "interrupt" is pronounced "in-ter-rupt."
  3. trochaic - stressed syllable followed by an unaccented syllable
    Example: The word "active" is pronounced "ac-tive."
  4. dactyl - the expansion of trochaic, one stressed syllable followed by two unaccented syllables
    Example: The name "Jennifer" is pronounced "Jen-ni-fer."
  • Rhyme

"Rhyme" refers to the repetition of the same sound pattern within a line or between two or more lines. There are many possible combinations, each of which has its own category: ending rhyme, sight rhyme, feminine rhyme, masculine rhyme, Spenserian rhyme, internal rhyme, broken rhyme, close rhyme, to name a few.

An analysis of the "ending rhyme" is the second component of a scansion. The ending rhyme is determined by identifying the syllabic rhyme at the ends of each line of poetry. This will include both "assonance" and "alliteration."

"Assonance" is the repetition of the same vowel sounds (if not the same letters). "Alliteration" is the repetition of the same consonant sounds (if not the exact letters).

Ending rhyme patterns are usually identified for stanzas (separate sections of a poem composed of two or more lines of poetry). To identify the ending rhyme of any stanza, assign the first letter of the alphabet ("a") to the sound pattern of the end of the first line. Assign that same letter ("a") to the same ending sound pattern that occurs at the end of any other line in the stanza. If the sound pattern of the second line differs from the first, then assign the second letter of the alphabet ("b") to that ending sound pattern. Assign that same letter to the recurring pattern within the same stanza.

Here's an example from the first stanza of Hardy's "The Darkling Thrush":

I leant upon a coppice gate when Frost was spectre grey, (a)
     And Winter's dregs made desolate the weakening eye of day. (a)
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky like strings from broken lyres, (b)
     And every Spirit upon earth seemed fervorless as I. (b)

Note: the sound of "lyres" and "I" at the ends of lines 3 and 4 are considered "imperfect rhyme."

  • Rhythm and Rhyme in Poetic Style

In different periods of a society, values and preferences outside the arts often influence the "rules" of creativity. A good example is the influence of Greek and Roman literary style on European and colonial American poetry. Arbiters of literary taste and style in the Neo-classical period (roughly the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) dictated what constituted "good" literature. Believing that the very best possible literature had been composed by the master Greek and Roman poets (Homer and Virgil, for examples), the literary critics whose opinions determined what would be published or not insisted that poetry had to conform to the patterns of the Greek and Roman antecedents. Later, poets of the Romantic Period would rebel against both the styles and the principles of the Neo-classicists, defining their own elements and principles of style, hence, the sharp contrasts in both subject and use of poetic devices.

  • The Meaning of Rhythm and Rhyme

Identifying the rhythm and rhyme schemes is the mechanical part of poetic scansion. After the scansion of these two elements, interpreting their effects is the next step. Poetry is the richest application of human language creativity. Rhythm and rhyme patterns in poetry work in conjunction with other elements of poetry to produce the total "effect" of the work. The critical question about rhythm and rhyme is the same that is necessary to address after analyzing every other poetic device or element: Why? Why has the poet employed these devices? To what effect or to what purpose?

Online Connections

There are many fine sites on the Internet that you will find helpful. A thorough explanation of key poetic terms is found in the "Glossary of Poetic Terms." For another resource, see "Rhythm, Rhyme, and Scansion Made Easy."

Textual Connections

The study of early American literature includes readings from several poets of major worth. Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley write outstanding poetry, which, while addressing topical subjects--the absence of a husband, the death of popular figures—have remained examples of outstanding creativity. Others include Edward Taylor, Philip Freneau, William Cullen Bryant, Walt Whitman, and the New England "Fireside Poets" Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and John Greenleaf Whittier.

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24) Mysticism, Neurosis, and Asceticism: The Complexities of Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is recognized as one of the most influential Protestant churchmen of the 18th century. His sermons inspired the "Great Awakening," the first revivalist movement in the English colonies. Perhaps his most renowned sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," reflects his descriptive power and resolute commitment to the Calvinist world view. At the same time, he was a serious theologian whose Freedom of the Will is still a fixture in evangelical seminaries.

Edwards' intensity as a proselytizer is translated to his private writings as well. "Personal Narrative," Edwards' chronicle of his own spiritual journey, reveals a driven personality, divided between his deep love of God and his pulverizing sense of unworthiness. The Edwards of the "Narrative" is a mystic, a seer of visions that keep him entranced and "in a flood of tears" for hours at a time. So intense is the effect of such experiences that Edwards can bear the presence of no others than those who share his intense life of faith. He reads reports of the world only to discover some news favorable to the Kingdom of God.

Edwards' life in faith develops from a childhood where he first established his ascetic postures. He notes how he was given to "set aside" all matters of worldly endeavors so that he might concentrate more fully on spiritual matters. His life becomes a model of worship and private devotion. A mystic by definition, an ascetic by choice, Jonathan Edwards exhibits a palette of neuroses that all but debilitate him socially and emotionally. He retreats from any fellowship other than the community of the "saints," while at the same time, he is obsessed with his own degradation and the mordancy of society. His unwavering insistence on the mechanisms of salvation eventually costs him his ministry, and he retreats to the Berkshire hills to pursue a solitary scholarship.

Online Resources

A number of web resources help to illuminate the enigmatic character of Jonathan Edwards . See "Jonathan Edwards" for a brief biography with links to e-texts. A more extensive biographical note can be found at "Jonathan Edward: Portrait of a Revival Preacher."

Textual Course Connections

"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" and "Personal Narrative" are two defining texts selected from one of the most voluminous of the latter-day Calvinist apologists of the 18th century.

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25) Two Processes of Abstraction: Burlesque and Idealization

"Abstraction" is the process of reducing a subject to a set of distinctive features. As such, abstraction is considered one of the several figures of speech. Of the various types of figures of speech are "burlesques" and "idealization."

  • Burlesque

Burlesque is the process of reducing a subject to a set of distinctive features that are then distorted or exaggerated for purposes of humor or criticism. Two types of burlesque include "high burlesque" and "low burlesque."

"High Burlesque"
In its distortion or exaggeration, high burlesque raises a trivial subject to a position of unnatural high esteem or value. Mock-heroic literature often depicts such distortion. When the Baron snips a locket from Beatrice's hair in Alexander Pope's "The Rape of the Lock," he creates a schism that raises a cry of reproach that reaches to the heavens. Pope's social relationships that motivated his writing the poem aside, clearly, the treatment of the snippet of hair, fully elaborated through the elements of Neo-classical style, is a humorous spoof of the social graces of the aristocrats.

"Low Burlesque"
It its comic or critical treatment of its subject, low burlesque reduces a subject of relative high value to a position of unnatural low esteem or value. Political cartoons are good examples of low burlesque. So, too, was Lincoln's caricature as the "gorilla."

The Psychology of Burlesque
Burlesque is a comparison between a viewer or reader's expectation of a subject (the standard) and the writer's distortion of the subject (the alternative). The effect of the distortion is shock followed by laughter. The greater the distortion, the greater the reaction. Laughter constitutes a rejection of the alternative and a reinforcement of faith in the standard.

Idealization is the process of reducing a subject to only its most highly valued distinctive features. It presents only the "rosiest" picture or interpretation of a subject, omitting any mention of unpleasant or undesirable details.

Idealization is a persuasive technique that complements emotional appeals ("begging the question"), considered one of the logical fallacies.

Online Connections

For a standard definition of burlesque in the context of other literary terms, see "A Glossary of Literary Terms." See the UVic Writer's Guide "Literary and Rhetorical Terms: An Alphabetical List" for a discussion of "high" and "low" burlesque. For the standard definition of "idealization," see the Websters Dictionary (1913).

Textual Connections

Perhaps the earliest examples of idealization is found in the depiction of the colonies in promotional tracks written to attract investors in the English colonies in England. George Alsop idealizes the woods of "Mary-land" in 1666 (?) St. Jean de Crevecœur certainly idealizes family life. Low burlesque is the foundation for much of American humor. Early examples are found in the works of the diarists including Madam Knight and William Byrd of Westover. In its darkest manifestation, it is employed in many racist humorous tracks like the "David Crockett Almanacs" popular throughout the 19th century where, in "sketches," it is used to stereotype minorities.

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26) American Literary Romanticism

The term "Romanticism" refers to a set of principles that belong to a period of cultural history often marked by experimentation, shifting values, and radical new social roles. University of South Carolina cultural historian Morris Peckham assigns the advent of Western Romanticism to a few years before the nineteenth century when a group of intellectuals across Europe began to think of themselves, the human community, and the "nature of nature" down an entirely different course, a period when first the academics and philosophers, then the artists began to doubt some of the key principles of the Neo-classical world view. Dr. Peckham calls the phenomenon "right angle" visioning, stepping outside one's own frame of reference to reflect on the self, its assumptions, and conclusions. This bold thinking resulted in a cultural revolution known as the Romantic Period.

Romanticism and the Cycle of Social History
Another way of approaching the subject of "romanticism" is to think in terms of the cycle of social evolution and devolution. According to twentieth-century historian Arnold Toynbee, societies and civilizations advance through specific stages: a "formative" stage, a "pre-classic" stage, the "classic" stage, and a "post-classic" stage. Each period leading up to the "classic" stage is characterized by creative innovation. The "classic" stage is a period marked by stability, fixed forms, and order. The "classic" period is a time of comfort and reassurance when the society's sense of itself is generally established. The post-classic stage is a period of disaffection, irritation, and boredom, giving rise to the idealism of the past and a lament for its passing. When the past becomes irreconcilable to a society's demands for it, revolt is not far away. Out of the often terrifying consequences of social revolution, the romantic period--with its veritable explosion of new insight and creativity--is born like the phoenix out of the ashes of the past.

The Romantic Interpretation of Nature
The literature of the American Romantic Period reflects such a resurrection and new flowering. It was prompted, in part, by a new attitude about the American landscape. Beginning with the New York Hudson River Valley "School" of painters, artists shifted from painting people to painting the vast frontier and its far-ranging wilderness. Seen from the proper perspective, the landscape was breathtaking and inspirational. In short order, it became the seat of the spiritual and sublime, the nexus point for the soul and its creator. Literature followed the lead of the artists. Both poetry and prose examined the relationship between form, order, and meaning in human experience in the context of the pristine natural world.

The Romantic "Agenda"
Romantic American literature operates from a whole new agenda of themes and principles. The Romantics revisited conventional Christian spirituality, seeking new contexts in Eastern mysticism.

Socially and politically, Transcendentalism shifted authority from the domain of the state and social law to the faculty of the intuition and moral sense, proselytizing an ethic of individual responsibility and the celebration of the rarefied individual soul over impersonal and dehumanizing society.

Psychologically, poets and their philosophers slipped out of the manacles of rigid empiricism and embraced the free spirits of the imagination, creativity, and the emotional life, daring to explore not merely the probable in human experience but the possible and its Gothic implications.

Online Connections

See the Gainsville College site for American Literary Romanticism: Online Resources. See also Ann Woodlief's Introduction: The American Romanticism and Web Goodies On American Romanticism. For excellent, succinct discussions of authors and themes, see lectures on American Romanticism (University of Illinois at Urbana). See also this interesting PowerPoint program by Dave Medicus.

Textual Connections

Major Romantic writers include William Cullen Bryant, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Henry David Thoreau.

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27) The Romantic Conception of Nature and Spirit

If nature for the Neo-classicists was something more akin to a gaggle of natural laws, for the Romantics, Nature was closer to the "beatific vision," the seat of the sublime, the embodiment of the Holy Spirit, the "Power," according to William Cullen Bryant, that will "lead [our] steps aright" ("To a Waterfowl"). Nowhere is the concept of the spirituality of Nature more thoroughly explicated than in Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, "Nature" (1844).

For Emerson, "Nature" speaks in a hierarchy of voices, ranging from Nature-as-simple-commodity to Nature-as-the-Sublime. The idealization of Nature was, in part, a natural consequence of the idealization of the whole American experiment, founded upon a paragraph of "self-evident" truths in the "Declaration." But Nature embodied a whole text of spiritual truths open to anyone willing to observe and listen. Nature was teaming with life and consciousness, a partner in the spiritual quickening of the person sensitive to his or her own membership as an element of that same "Nature." Emerson echoed Coleridge's conception of "Nature's ministry to Man. William Cullen Bryant discovered in Nature symbols of humanity's condition, insight that would be celebrated in the moral/philosophical poetry of "correspondence." In the mystical voice of the universe-at-large, Whitman promised his future readers to "grow from the grass I love," from where he would "be good health to them . . . nevertheless, and filter and fiber [their] blood."

Online Connections

For an engaging introduction to Emerson's "enigmatic little book, Nature," see Dr. Ann M. Woodlief's "Emerson's Nature: A River Reading" and her interactive "Web Study Text" devoted to the essay.

Textual Connections

Read the "nature" selections in the poetry of Philip Freneau and William Cullen Bryant. Peruse Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, "Nature," and Henry David Thoreau's "Walden."

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28) The Romantic Theory of the Intuition

As with their European counterparts, Thomas Carlyle and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, for the American romantic philosophers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and his close friend and fellow Concordian, Henry David Thoreau, the place of the "intuition" was central to the interpretation of human nature.

Coleridge had distinguished between two faculties of reasoning: "The Understanding" and "Reason." The higher faculty, "Reason," features the "Intuition" through which the individual participates in the knowledge of "Ideal Forms," "Laws of Nature," and the abstract knowledge of God. For Emerson, the "intuition" was that divine faculty that he referred to as the "soul" in "Self Reliance." It is that natural faculty that unites the individual with the Godhead, the agency through which we perceive our own divinity. Thoreau references the "moral sense" in "Civil Disobedience" to chastise blind obedience to the "state" at the expense of conscience that is common to all reasoning people. William Cullen Bryant implies the faculty of the intuition in poems like "To a Waterfowl" in which the observer can interpret from patterns in nature certain lessons for moral living in human life.

Online Connections

To better understand the broad concept of "romanticism," see "The Romantic Era." For an informative interpretation of Emerson's concept of the "individual" and the role of the "intuition," see "Emerson and Romantic Individualism." Read "Words and Seeds: Henry David Thoreau and the Language of Investigation" for an introduction to the relationships between Thoreau and Emerson.

For a concise introduction to the primary writers of the American romantic movement, see "The Romantic Period: 1820-1860: Essayists and Poets."

Textual Connections

The "intuition" is key to much of the poetry and philosophical essays of writers like William Cullen Bryant, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman. (Also read notes on the "Transcendentalists.")

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29) Transcendentalism

"Transcendentalism" is a term associated with a group of primarily New England intellectuals, artists, naturalists, social and political activists, educators, and writers who broke with the Unitarians on key points of religious doctrine but who were drawn together by "kindred spirits" regarding the nature of the mind, reason, and the place of humanity in the natural world.

The term "transcendental" was applied to the group, many of whom lived in and around Concord, Massachusetts, in the 1830's. Using the name as a term of derision, Dr. Andrews Norton, a Unitarian advocate and theologian at Harvard Divinity School, found himself at odds with many of his young "transcendental" protégés who were exploring a new spirituality rooted in the mysticism and other elements of Hinduism. Members of the Concord group included such thinkers and writers as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Henry David Thoreau. Others included artists in the "Hudson River School" of painters and the journalist/poets, such as William Cullen Bryant and Walt Whitman.

The Basis of Transcendentalism
Orestes Bronson, a member of the Concord group, writes that the name, "transcendentalism," with its implication of commonality, was something of a misnomer, since, to a person, each member of the group was attracted to different issues and concerns. Nevertheless, certain positions or principles united them, at least loosely. All, claims Bronson, labored to discern a common ground for belief in anything and for determining right action. There were other points, as well:

On Religious Doctrine
In rejecting most religious doctrine, transcendentalists, on points of religion, placed more value on mystical communion with God, an experience of direct illumination and revelation open, they believed, to all people through a common faculty of "intuition." With the rationalists of the eighteenth century and earlier, they relied on a combination of observation, reason, and intuition to authenticate their interpretations of such experiences. Their observations of the natural world led them to recognize in "nature" various "correspondences" between the "God in man" and "God of the Universe." These correspondences functioned to "inform" the individual about his or her own spirituality and alignment with universal purpose. Because such communion was essentially personal, no "transcendental churches" emerged.

On "Miracles"
Spurning most religions' proprietary claims of unique truths and superiority, such universal principles put the "transcendentalists" at odds with most religions. For example, they rejected what Emerson referred to as "petty and particular miracles" in deference to a sense of the one "universal miracle"--recognition of the existence and essentially spiritual character of the natural world and humanity's place within it. Discernible through intuitive reflection, such insight constituted sufficient revelation from God, a revelation, they believed, that was open in the most natural sense to everyone, independent of the administration of any religious system and the library of its doctrines.

On Virtuous Action
Other "transcendentalists" were deeply engaged in the social issues of the day. Several were "abolitionists" who sought to eliminate slavery. Others were pacifists who opposed American militarism and war. Still others were educators who placed spirituality and its implications for a universal brotherhood at the seat of the educational experience and social engagement of any kind. Protesting the United States military incursion into Mexico, for example, Henry David Thoreau, a Concord native, teacher, and close friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson, refused to pay his Massachusetts poll taxes, even at the expense of arrest and incarceration (at least for one night). In his essay, "Civil Disobedience," Thoreau called for people to follow their conscience (what he referred to as the "moral sense") rather than blindly to obey the "state" like "wooden men." For Thoreau, it is more important to stand up for the truth against popular opinion and practice than to be a party, through omission, to any injustice. A simple survey of one's own conscience was sufficient to reveal any appropriate response, even when that response ran counter to the law itself.

Moral law, felt Thoreau, takes precedence over any social law legislated by a consensus of the state, for "any man more right than his neighbors," argues Thoreau, "already constitutes a majority of one."

Thoreau never questioned the consequences of courageous acts of civil disobedience. He had complete confidence that even just "one honest man" in the state of Massachusetts, willing to act on conscience, had the power to bring the whole abhorrent system of slavery to its knees.

The European Connection
Expressed in their own American contexts, the concepts of the New England transcendentalists drew support from European transcendentalism as well. The writings of Thomas Carlyle, Victor Cousins, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in England and the German transcendentalists were most familiar to the Americans and a lively correspondence between them quickened and helped to refine their own insights.

Online Connections

For a valuable, wide-ranging online resource, see "American Transcendentalism Web."

Textual Connections

Ralph Waldo Emerson's 1840's essay, "Nature," is, arguably, the essential statement of the American transcendentalists on the principles of spirituality, reason, and humanity's condition in the universe. Certainly, Emerson's colleagues acknowledged its central place within their deliberations, and Margaret Fuller published it first in their small journal, "The Dial." Emerson continued to explore the same themes in such essays as "The Over-Soul," "The Poet," and his "Harvard Divinity School Address." Fully complementing Emerson's philosophical works are the more than 3 million-word volumes of Henry David Thoreau's journals and his essays on nature, particularly his world-acclaimed, "Walden," an essay derived from his two-years' experiences from his bean fields and little one-room cabin at Walden Pond just outside Concord. In "Song of Myself," Walt Whitman celebrates in ecstatic vistas of illumination his own sense of the spiritual union of all things, complementing Emerson's definition of the relations between the individual mind and the universal spirit in his essay, "Self Reliance."

The philosophy and spirituality of the transcendentalists represent the culmination of the American Romantic Movement.

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30) Unitarianism

In reaction, in part, to the dissolution of a strong, creedal-based Christian tradition, Unitarianism arose as an answer to the vagaries of deism. One of the most outspoken adherents to the faith and one of its strongest advocates, William Elery Channing helped define its precepts in an 1831 essay. While Unitarianism denied the concept of the "Trinity," it affirmed Christ and his ministry, revelation through the Holy Bible, and the concept of God as a benevolent "parent."

Unitarians attempted to reconcile reason with doctrines that affirmed the "positive side" New Testament theology and dismissed the harsher views of God suggested in the Old Testament. Many New England intellectuals found intellectual sanctuary in Unitarianism that came to dominate theological discourse in a number of Protestant divinity schools.

Unitarianism was challenged in the 1830's by the emergence of New England Transcendentalism with its devotees like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Orestes Bronson, and Henry David Thoreau. In their orientation to new translations of Eastern sacred texts, the Transcendentalists rejected Unitarian reaffirmation of Biblical miracles and the ancient creeds of faith.

Online Connections

For a useful history of Unitarianism, see "About Unitarianism." See also, "Unitarianism: General Information."

Textual Connections

Read the online resources to better understand the reaction of the Transcendentalists like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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31) The American Abolitionist Movement

The movement to abolish slavery in the United States began in the eighteenth century, but it gained momentum in the New England states in the early nineteenth century. In 1833, representatives from ten states met in Philadelphia to found the national American Anti-Slavery Society. William Lloyd Garrison, the organization's founder, drafted the Society's declaration and began his long career as one of the most vigorous activists in the country in the cause of the abolitionists. His fiery publication, the Liberator, became the most strident voice calling for the immediate abolition of slavery and the secession of the North from the Union if slavery were to continue in the South.

The attack on slavery was orchestrated on various fronts. Stories of slaves, called "slave narratives," published widely, contributed to the cause of abolition. The Sunday School Union distributed thousands of copies in the networks of congregations throughout the North. Sojourner Truth, a freed slave, carried the anti-slavery message in her religious crusades. Frederick Douglass, escaped from the South, became one of the most celebrated and eloquent authorities on the evils of the practice. And William Lloyd Garrison organized the "Underground Railroad" which escorted thousands of escaped slaves from the South to sanctuary sites in the northern states and Canada.

Online Connections

For examples of early seventeenth-century and nineteenth-century anti-slavery tracts and sermons, see the "African American Odyssey: Abolition, Anti-Slavery Movements, and the Rise of the Sectional Controversy." For an overview of the Abolitionist Movement, see "Influence of Prominent Abolitionists."

Textual Connections

Selections from the "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass" recount the horrors of slavery and Douglass's own struggle to exert his independence and basic humanity in the context of the most abusive oppression in the South.

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32) The Flowering of Romanticism: Sentimentality and the "Ubi Sunt" Theme

An early clue to growing disaffection in a culture is the popularization of sentimentality, an emotion that, in the early 19th century, was exhibited in the arts. The focus of that sentimentality is an idealized image of the past which conveniently overlooks or simply dismisses its darker or seamier elements. "Ubi sunt" is Latin that means, literally, "Where are they?" Idiomatically, however, it is more loosely interpreted to mean, "Where are they--the great ones of the past?" In an American rendition, it seems to suggest, "Where have the 'good old days' gone?" As a lament for the past, then, the theme evokes pity and sentimentality for the sense of something irretrievably lost.

Both sentimentality and the "ubi sunt" theme might be classified more precisely as pre-Romantic phenomena. They anticipate the Romantic revolution that will reject and overthrow the past in deference to new possibilities.

Online Connections

For a brief history of the concept, see the xrefer page, "Ubi Sunt." For an overview of the American Romantic Movement, its principle writers, and the dominant themes, see the United States Information Service page on "The Romantic Period: 1820-1860: Essayists and Poets."

Textual Connextions

Writers whose works exhibit the idealization of the past and the lament for its passing include Philip Freneau, William Cullen Bryant, James Fenimore Cooper, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

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33) Primitivism and the Noble Savage

"Primitivism" is a belief that arose during the European Romantic Movement that held that, because God is revealed in nature, people who live in the wilderness are closer to God; that they live purer lives.

The "Noble Savage" is an idealized stereotype of indigenous people as found throughout the world. Its features include the exaltation of the character in wilderness settings, an exaggeration of physical prowess, a simplistic interpretation of the indigenous world view, and an assignment of lofty virtues and innocence to the common man.

In America, the concept of the Noble Savage complements the early nineteenth-century fascination with the American frontier. The idealized aborigine personified the mystery, the primitive power, and the spirituality assigned to the pristine forests.

In his text, The Great Frontier, Walter Prescott Webb notes the four options European colonists faced in dealing with the "Indian problem": 1) inter-marriage, 2) social integration, 3) segregation, or 4) genocide. With few exceptions, United States government policy and practice adopted the latter two options. The Anglo population, however, registered a nervous ambivalence on the subject of the indigenous populations. In a disdain stemming from his early encounters in the American West, Mark Twain once noted, "Take the beggar instinct out of the Goshoot Indian, and he wouldn't 'go' anymore than a clock without a pendulum. The Goshoot Indian hoards dirt—for days, weeks, generations." While Mark Twain came to change his attitudes about indigenous people, in doing so, his vacillation reflects the same anxiety. Ironically, while some Anglo-Americans supported the removal of indigenous people for the American frontier, others, through the arts, came to idealize them in painting and literature. The fullest exploration of the Noble Savage appears in the Leatherstocking Tales of James Fenimore Cooper.

The celebration of the Noble Savage stopped short of cultism, but Cooper's five volumes came as close as any other artistic treatment to the canonization of the image. Cooper creates the frontiersman Natty Bumpo, pairs him with a faithful Indian companion, Chingachgook, and sets them together in the American forest where they champion natural goodness set apart from innate evil, more specifically registered in incessant conflict between the Deleware Indians (the good guys all but extinct) and the Hurons (a tribe of the detestable Iroquois).

The Leatherstocking Tales (The Deerslayer (1841), The Last of the Mohicans (1826), The Pathfinder (1840), The Pioneers (1823), The Prairies (1827)) chronicle the exploits of Cooper's hero, variously known as "Pathfinder," "Hawkeye," and "Natty Bumpo." In each work, Cooper paints with broad strokes the natural "propensities" of his two heroes, so broad, in fact, as to attract a maelstrom of protests, led most hilariously by Mark Twain's "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses." In his 1852 edition of the series, Cooper lashed out at his critics, defending his "poetical view" of his subjects.

Online Connections

For a discussion of romantic primitivism, see "Primitivism." To read an introduction to European Romantic influences on the literature of James Fenimore Cooper, see "Epiphany at Ischia: The Effect of Italy on James Fenimore Cooper's Literary Landscape Painting." For an extensive review of Cooper's literature, see "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Defenses: The Achievement." To read an introduction to the Leatherstocking Tales, see "The Leatherstocking Tales by James Fenimore Cooper." For an overview of the French philosopher who helped define the concept of the Noble Savage, see "Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Swiss/French Philosopher." For key concepts from Rousseau's "Social Contract" and its definition of the Noble Savage, see "Rousseau and the Noble Savage Myth."

Textual Connections

The "Preface to the Leatherstocking Tales" includes James Fenimore Cooper's lashing response to critics who questioned the authority of his images of American Indians.

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34) The American Gothic Tradition

The European fascination with death and its motifs dates in part to the Middle Ages' "Dance of the Macabre," to the celebration and veneration of the Christian martyrs, as well as the common beliefs regarding witchcraft and the horrific threats of the nether world. In the 18th century, however, a popular fascination emerged in England, giving rise to the "literature of lament" and the Gothic romance. The tomb and everything about it took on a popular enchantment, and writers were quick to pander to the enthusiasm with works like Edward Young's "Night Thoughts" and Robert Blair's "The Grave."

An American Gothic
The thrill for "things that go bump in the night" quickly spread to late eighteenth- century America. Novelists like William Hill Brown and Charles Brockden Brown churned out spooky tales laced with social criticism. In "Wieland," for example, Charles Brockden Brown features the spontaneous combustion of the old patriarch of the family who, too given to drink, literally ignites while sitting at the dinner table before his horrified children when the crash of a nearby lightening bolt sets off the besotted old man, a supersaturated object lesson on temperance for the captivated readers.

In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884/1885), Mark Twain satirized the whole Gothic flutter abounding in the "literature of lament." Emmeline Grangerford, the sickly teenage daughter, is absorbed in every death that befalls the town, often arriving at the scene of a reported demise even before the undertaker so that she might be the first to rip off a verse to properly memorialize the occasion. After she herself succumbs, the family keeps her unfinished portrait under a black drapery, opened only on the anniversary of her death.

The portrait reveals the image of a young girl standing at the railing of bridge contemplating suicide with "two arms folded across her breast, and two arms stretched out in front, and two more reaching up towards the moon -- and the idea was to see which pair would look best, and then scratch out all the other arms." Poor Emmeline passed on before deciding which pair of arms to keep, so the family kept the picture as she had left it, the suicide posture still unresolved. Her "Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec'd" is a parody of Presbyterian Observer's penchant for such insipid verse.

The purpose of most gothic works was to provide the reader, page after page, with one ghastly thrill after another. Selected works of Philip Freneau and William Cullen Bryant, however, point to something else going on, something more sophisticated--an inquiry about the nature of the mind. This inquiry would preoccupy the reflections of the leaders of the whole American Romantic Movement.

Online Connections

For a bibliography devoted to the American gothic tradition in literature, see the PAL (Perspectives in American Literature) website. See "The Gothic Literature Page" for a webliography of English literary sites. Still another fine literary history of the genre in British letters is to be found in "Gothic Fiction."

Textual Connections

  • Philip Freneau

A close friend of Washington's and writing in the Revolutionary War period, Freneau was a transitional author. His works cross the line from the Neo-classical Period to the Romantic. His poem, "On Mr. Paine's Rights of Man," is conventionally neo-classical behind all its thunder supporting the revolution. "The Indian Burying Ground," however, abandons the power of reason and declares the imagination, or "fancy," the seat of a reality far richer than the limitations of reason alone.

  • William Cullen Bryant

After a perfunctory catalog of the gothic conventions--the "stern agony, and shroud, and pall, and breathless darkness, and the narrow house"--William Cullen Bryant slips beyond the conventional Christian themes and apostrophes to nature in "Thanatopsis" (a study of death), claiming no hope beyond the grave and inviting his readers to accept the inevitability of death. If anything, nature is the "great tomb of man."

  • Edgar Allan Poe

For all the scurrilous criticism inflicted on the reputation of Poe immediately after his death, the literature of this interesting writer represents some of the most innovative creations to come from all of American letters. Creator of the "ideal" short story, Poe was also the inventor of the detective story. His poetry anticipates the international Symbolist Movement by three decades and surrealism by a half century.

In the popular view, Poe's works are always associated with death and horror, and at that superficial level, Poe finds a place among the gothic writers. In fact, Poe's use of death as a central motif finds service only in his pursuit of the "effect" which Poe suggests should be the motivation behind the creation and development of any short story. According to this "ideal," spelled out in his essay, "The Philosophy of Composition," Poe fashions every element of his stories to promote within the reader this predetermined, emotional effect, and for Poe, that effect was the experience of either melancholy or terror, what he suggests are the two most "novel" and "vivid" emotions. In the orchestration of either, Poe chose the unanticipated and undeserved death of young maidens—soul mates either as wives or sisters--as the subject most likely to inspire his effect. All other elements--setting, incident, characters, even the length of the work itself--should be fashioned in such a way as to achieve this effect as the proper climax and end to the story.

The same effect, in the service of beauty, is the point of his poetry, as well. Poe transports the metrical patterns and the refrains of musical composition into the craft of writing poetry. Read with these two elements in mind such works as "The Bells," "The Raven," and "Ulalume."

  • Nathaniel Hawthorne

Poe found in the short stories of Hawthorne's little volume of Twice Told Tales everything he expected in a well-crafted story and published his glowing accolades in "Twice-Told Tales: A Review" (1842). Hawthorne's short stories explore the dark side of the human soul in conflict with itself. The gothic machinery of witches and devilry are metaphors for the turmoil all people experience in the quest for sanctuary in the comfort of some absolute virtue or "Truth." Set frequently against the dour backdrop of New England Puritanism and religious piety, Hawthorne's characters reside in the cloudy communities of ambiguity and dualistic thinking. His stories expose the limitations of narrow mindedness, zealotry, and absolutism in human relations.

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35) Contrasting Neo-Classic and Romantic Motifs

Key values and principles distinguish the Neo-classical and Romantic world views. Some are in direct opposition and define the discrete differences between the two perspectives.

1) importance of form and order; individual responsibility to society1) importance of free expressions; integrity of the individual
2) rule-governed life2) freedom of judgment and will
3) supremacy of reason (reflection, logic)3) supremacy of intuition (imagination)
4) the reign of order and restraint4) the reign of chaos and passion
5) the immutability of natural law5) the constant flux in nature
6) freedom of the social man6) freedom of the individual
7) style set by decorum7) style set by flamboyance and abandon
8) evil the product of blindness on the part of people to natural law8) evil innate in some people; inherent in social institutions
9) regularity in natural order; logic in the laws of nature9) chance and random results as the product of the laws of nature
10) Language of literature should be dignified because it should reflect the highest ideals in human experience10) Language of literature should be that of natural speech of the common person about whose lives, affairs, and aspirations literature should reflect since they are the more representative of the life of the race.

Online Connections

For a similar list of conflicting motifs, see Dr. M. Hudelson's "Study Guide."

Textual Connections

American literature provides numerous authors of both the Romantic and the Neo-Classical disposition, although many of America's greatest writers blend elements of both traditions.

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36) Adventurism: Fascination with the Far Away in Time, Place, and Human Experience

One of the Romantic themes, "adventurism" in the nineteenth century was the diversion afforded from the angst associated with daily living that many people found in the imaginative excursion to the fringes of human experience. Writers fed what was to become a fascination for travel literature that took readers in imaginative flights beyond the boundaries of the landscape, time, and even conventional human experience.

Fascination with the Far Away in Time
In the late eighteenth century, European popular novelists and essayists began drawing on an idealized medieval tradition. The chivalric tradition with its heroic code and all the trappings of knight-errantry entranced European readers. However, without moldering castles and vine-covered ruins of libraries and monasteries, the American complement was divined in the wilderness. With more and more reports filtering back from explorers of the Western frontiers, ancient and rude abandoned indigenous sites conjured impressions of rustic, pastoral civilizations. While European travel literature continued to salve the yearning for ties to the "old countries," Americans were beginning to be satisfied by the growing number of artifacts in their own, expansive backyard.

Fascination with the Far Away in Place
The excursions of the explorers during the Renaissance and afterwards to the Far East, Africa, and both to North and South America instilled an eager interest in the world beyond the European horizons. The images of "untamed" populations and their exotic regalia and lifestyles, reports of new wildlife and plants, the chronicles of conflicts and skirmishes between colonists and indigenous populations, and the ceaseless flow of wealth from remote corners of the earth drove the profits from book sales to readers who had no other way of participating in the international frenzy for expropriating the new worlds.

Fascination with the Far Away in Human Experience
An image from the folklore of English Romanticism suggests William Wordsworth and his co-author of the Lyrical Ballads (1798) drawing straws to determine which of them would address the familiar and natural in human experience and which of them would explore the unfamiliar and the darker, exotic edges of human experience. Which one drew the "short straw" is a matter of perspective, but clearly, Wordsworth writes of the "cottage scene" while Coleridge slips into the night and all its attending terrors.

Gothic literature (the literature of the dead and dying) had already flooded the popular reading stalls by the onset of the Romantic Movement in Europe, and it complemented the Romantics' exploration of spirituality and mysticism. In America, Hawthorne defends his use of the supernatural in his "Preface" to "The House of the Seven Gables," distinguishing between the necessities of the writer of the "novel" to adhere strictly to the familiar and the expected in human affairs, and the writer of the "romance" who is free to assume a certain latitude in the use of the "marvelous." Whatever the justification, American readers, like their European counterparts, enjoyed the thrill of all "that goes bump in the night" and the attending melancholy that laced its corridors.

Online Connections

For a link to horror and the horrific in literature, check out "Fiona's Fear and Loathing," a website devoted to gothic literature. For a fuller excursion into the "dark side," see the webliography provided by the International Gothic Association.

Textual Connections

While William Hill Brown and Charles Brockton Brown followed the lead of the Gothic writers, Mary Shelley, Horace Walpole, Robert Blair, and Edward Young in England, Washington Irving, America's first professional writer, was among the earliest authors to tweak the American readers' interest in the "Remote and Far Away in Place." His collections of personal essays addressed European subjects and locations--Shakespeare's Stratford-on-Avon, the Boarshead Tavern, and Westminster Abbey—and between their pages, Irving inserted Gothic tales, folklore, and melancholy reminiscences of his travels. Later in his career he painted the American West in detailed, verbal landscapes in his "tour of the prairies" that took him from the lakes of Minnesota to the prairie dog colony that stretched almost 200 miles from western Kansas to high plains of the Texas "panhandle."

Philip Freneau and William Cullen Bryant write apostrophes to the indigenous past in such works as "The Indian Burying Ground" and "The Prairie."

James Fenimore Cooper's first novel, The Spy, rekindled interest in the Revolutionary War period, while his Leatherstocking Tales enthralled many readers with his frontiersman and quintessential Noble Savage, comrades in woodcraft, escorting his followers chapter-by-chapter, episode-by-episode, deeper and deeper into the primitive wilderness.

In the avant garde of America's expression of the "art-for-art's sake" movement, Edgar Allan Poe's horrifying Gothic tales exemplify his definition of the "ideal short-story" which attempts (and still succeeds) in triggering in his attentive readers his predetermined, overriding "effect," an emotional reaction that every other element of fiction employed in the work labors to support.

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37) Regional Literature

The expansion of settlements across the Ohio Valley and into the western and southwestern territories gave rise to an interest not only in the dramatic physical landscapes but also in the lifestyles and folk types that populated them. "Local colorists" like Brett Harte, Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Sarah Orne Jewett, Joel Chandler Harris, and George Washington Cable sought to capture the distinct nuances of language and speech, character, and folk motifs of specific cultures tied to regions of the United States.

Online Connections

For a comprehensive listing of both contemporary and past American regional writers, see ASLE U. S. Regional Literature.

Textual Connections

Three excellent examples of regionalism in the short story are to be found in Bret Harte's "The Outcast of Poker Flat," Mark Twain's "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," and Sarah Orne Jewett's "The White Heron."

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38) Realism

Realism is a literary movement that emerged in the nineteenth century in reaction to romantic idealism with its mysticism and embrace of intuitive speculation. William Dean Howells, a novelist and editor of the Atlantic Monthly, noted that the primary role of the writer is to "tell the truth." That truth, however, would be variously interpreted in the movement's several branches. "Naturalism" insisted that human nature has to be understood in its animalistic roots, while "local colorists" celebrated the nuances of distinct regions of the country distinguished by its speech and folk traditions. Bret Harte, Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Sarah Orne Jewett, Joel Chandler Harris, and George Washington Cable sought to capture the distinct nuances, character, and folk motifs of specific cultures tied to regions of the United States and its western territories. At the same time, Ambrose Bierce, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Henry James experimented with psychological realism, exploring the psychoses of minds in crisis.

Online Connections

For a fine overview of "realism" and the literature it spawned, see "Realism and the Realist Novel."

An excellent source for e-texts of major nineteenth-century American writers of the school of realism is "Realism."

For brief introductions to the authors of the realistic movement, see Kathryn VanSpanckeren's "The Rise of Realism."

Textual Connections

See Mark Twain's "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," Bret Harte's "The Outcasts of Poker Flat," Henry James' "Daisy Miller" and "The Art of Fiction." Also, consult William Dean Howells' "Editha."

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39) Naturalism

A movement often considered to be a harsh, narrow focus within the realistic period in American letters, "naturalism" refers to a set assumptions that tie human nature to primordial animal instincts. Driven by explosive passions and insatiable impulses that defy explication, people are also subject to influences of their physical environments. Naturalistic writers employed coolly objective tones and applied the critical analytical techniques of the physical and natural sciences as means for interpreting the human condition unfolding in their works.

Online Connections

"Naturalism in American Literature"

Textual Connections

Major works that explore naturalistic themes include Kate Chopin's "A Pair of Silk Stockings," Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," and Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat."

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40) The Affinity and the Alter-Ego

A popular concept in the 19th century was the idea of "affinity." It is a primary element in the theory of "the Natural System," a "notion of the order in living diversity." As a "core element" of the "Natural System," affinity refers to the attractions of similar elements.

The "alter ego" refers to the opposite personality that exists as a complement to each person.

In popular psychology of the early nineteenth century, "affinity" comes to refer to one's "soul mate." It was the belief that in every individual's period of life there exists that one person who has been "assigned" to him or her as an intended spouse and without whose companionship one's life is incomplete. It is one's destiny, therefore, to seek out that "affinity" to assure ultimate harmony and completeness in this life.

Online Resources

For an introduction to "affinity" in the context of the theory of the "Natural System," see Robert J. O'Hara's "Representation of the Natural System in the Nineteenth Century."

Textual Connections

The "affinity" concept is addressed in Poe's Gothic tales and poetry, particularly in those stories like "Fall of the House of Usher" and "Ligeia," in which the male character loses his sister or wife, or in "Ulalume" where the deceased wife returns as a vision to call her soul mate to reunion. Both the alter ego and affinity are burlesqued in the nineteenth-century literary humor of Artemus Ward (Charles Farrar Brown) and Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw).

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41) Romantic Individualism

The place of the individual in the Romantic world view is one of the chief elements that distinguishes romanticism from neo-classicism. For the neo-classicist, the value of the individual was secondary to that of society as a whole. The individual relinquishes a certain amount of independence and unbridled freedom in exchange for the security and support that life in "body politic," the interests of the majority, both the individual and the community may prosper. The case for the interests of the minority, however, is tenuous at best, and in its extreme, the community will sacrifice the individual when forced to choose between the public and the private good.

The Romantic position holds, however, just the opposite position: the individual represents the supreme value, and for cause. Because of the spirit of God resides in the soul of every human, the individual is an expression of God. Through the faculty of the intuition, each person can receive and interpret "inspiration." Because of this divine connection, every person exhibits infinite value that cannot be compromised away in exchange for some "general good." The state exists, moreover, only as a community of sacred individuals. Ultimately, for any society to sacrifice anything so precious as one of its members means the dehumanization of that society to at least that same degree.

Online Connections

For a most helpful overview of "individualism" in the context of other romantic motifs (themes) and key concepts, see "Romanticism."

Textual Connection

In "To a Waterfowl," William Cullen Bryant acknowledges the "Power" within nature that not only provides divine "cues" for right living but the human faculty that can receive them. Emerson provides perhaps the most robust exploration of individualism. In "Self Reliance," Emerson argues that true greatness--the ability of every person to perceive truth and to define it--lies at the threshold of each person. Emerson decries self-deprecation and reluctance that places the laurels of greatness at the feet of others of popular reputation. No living person has any less potential for divinely inspiration than anyone who has lived in the past, and on the basis of that inspiration, that person may live creatively, responsibly, and courageously. Ever the activist and ethicist, Henry David Thoreau, in "Civil Disobedience," challenges each individual to act courageously upon that perception, even when to do so seems to go against the grain of popular sentiment or even legal statute.

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42) "Art for Art's Sake"

A social sentiment that grew out of the Romantic Movement, the "arts-for-arts-sake" concept recognizes the independence of the artist. Morris Peckham of the University of South Carolina has identified the "artist hero" as a role unique to Romanticism. For the first time, the artist chose to isolate his or her activity from the prescribed traditional contexts of art, and artists found themselves uniquely free for the first time to pursue creativity from new perspectives independent of patronage and its dictations.

Online Connections

The "Ars Gratia Artis" website offers a source for the term, "Art for Art's Sake," suggesting that perhaps American artist James McNeill Whistler may be the author. See Professor Chris Whitcombe's discussion of art in his fine site, "Art & Artists: Art for Art's Sake."

Textual Connections

No writer in early American literature better represents the latter-day's "art for art's sake" movement than the innovative work of Edgar Allen Poe, who created in both poetry and prose the precursor works to so many of the modern movements.

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43) Symbolism (Symbolist School)

The "Symbolist School" was one of the first "art-for-art's sake" movements to grow out of the Romantic Period and, in some sense, in reaction to it. The movement's principles focused on the representational power of the word and image to suggest complex meanings drawn from any culture. In literature, rather than in merely stating the meaning directly, symbolist writers (poets) preferred to let the meaning flow from the nuances of the imagination as the reader followed through a poem. The symbolists agreed that the imagination was by far superior to reason alone in enhancing meaning from verbal or visual cues.

The "Symbolist Movement" began in France, led by writer Charles Baudelaire who was almost single-handedly responsible for introducing the writings of Edgar Allen Poe to a Western reading audience. In America, Poe's sagging reputation (following the publication of the Griswold biography) was restored by Baudelaire's laudatory praise for the American writer whose works had so richly inspired his own.

Online Connections

Read "The Symbolist Movement" for a useful overview of the aesthetic school. See also "The Symbolist Movement--An Introduction" for additional commentary and references to Poe.

Textual Connection

Edgar Allen Poe and his innovative literary creations is the sole American writer who anticipates the works not only of the "Symbolists," but the "Expressionists," and "Surrealists" as well.

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44) Surrealism

Surrealism focuses the reader/viewer's reflection on the relationships of a physical universe whose laws maintain only a tenuous connection with the material world. In surrealist art and literature, the recognizable world is reshaped by playful imagination. The prefix "sur" means "beyond," so the meaning of "surrealism" would suggest "beyond realism." The French writer André Breton define the movement in "The Manifesto of Surrealism" in 1924. Dominated in the mid-twentieth century by the works of the long-lived Salvador Dali, surrealism typically depicts a scene or subject realistically in which selected images are distorted. In Dali's "Sunflowers," a vase sports towering stalks of wide-blossomed sunflowers--with the one exception: the front stalk, in place of a flower, extrudes a fried egg yolk. In other works, physical objects are warped and hang around like rags; distorted images drift against open skies.

Online Connections

For an overview of the movement, see "WebMuseum/Paris--Surrealism." Check out "Surrealism" for a magical, animated example. For samples of Salvador Dali's works, see "The Salvador Dali Print Gallery." For an introduction to both surrealist writers and artists, see "Surrealists."

Textual Connections

While the French artist, Isidore Ducasse, the "Comte de Lautréamont," is generally considered the source of the movement, just as he was the precursor of so many of the other "modern arts schools," Poe also anticipates the surrealist movement as well. In his short poem, "Dream-Land," Poe takes the reader "Out of Space, Out of Time," into a netherworld in which the laws of nature are suddenly thrown out of sync and the landscape literally folds in upon itself.

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45) Expressionism

Expressionism is a late-nineteenth century and early twentieth-century European and American aesthetic movement that emphasizes the primary importance of the emotions in determining the character and nuances of our experience of reality. Expressionism was an answer to the impersonality of the impressionists whose works sought to demonstrate the role of the senses in dictating our "reality."

Online Connections

Expressionism has both artistic and literary representation. For an introduction to important impressionist painters, see "Expressionism." See also, the "WebMuseum/Paris--Expressionism." "" provides a review of twentieth-century authors who wrote in the expressionist mode.

Textual Connections

Read Edgar Allen Poe's "Bells" and "Ulalume" as examples of poetry with expressionist style. His short stories, "Ligeia," "Fall of the House of Usher," and "Tell-Tale Heart" exhibit worlds and experiences characterized by rising emotional stress.

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46) Impressionism

Impressionism is an aesthetic movement that began in Europe, the influence of which would have world-wide significance. Impressionism demonstrates through both painting and literature the principle that human experience of the physical world is, at best, an interpretation and reconstruction of that world through the senses.

As an established movement, impressionism dominated French art between 1880 and 1890. Representative French impressionists include a most impressive lineup including Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Berthe Morisot, Armand Guillaumin, and Frédéric Bazille, Edgar Degas and Paul Cézanne. European literary impressionists include England's Joseph Conrad and France's Stéphane Mallarmé.

Online Connections

For a brief introduction to impressionism, see "WebMuseum/Paris--Impressionism." For a discussion of the influences of the impressionist movement, see "

Key Influences of the Impressionist Movement and A Brief Chronology of Impressionism." For a discussion of theory of impressionism and its influence on music, see "Impressionism."

Textual Connections

The poetry of both Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson is influenced by impressionism. Twentieth-century American authors whose works exhibit impressionist style include Stephen Crane, Ford Maddox Ford, Henry James, and William Faulkner.

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47) Modernism

A reaction on the part of a number of writers and artists to the horrors of World War I, "modernism" is the name given to a number of themes, attributes, and attitudes, each of which reflected a growing pessimism, a sense of disorientation, and a drift into a numbing meaninglessness. Dominant in the 1920's, Ernest Hemingway referred to the decade and its decadence as the "Lost Generation." The "Great Depression," the economic crisis that followed the collapse of the stock market in 1929 only fueled the despair of millions of Americans and their counterparts across Europe.

As a movement, "modernism" fomented a range of expression: almost vitriolic satire, the "Theater of the Absurd," the "Dada" school of art, and the "surrealists." T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, and Franz Kafka populate their works with common people caught up in a world irrational forces and futile labor. In the arts, the movement prompted a focus on form and experimentation, such as Joyce's use of "stream of consciousness," and the popularity of "Art Deco." Only the Allied victory against Germany and the Axis powers in World War II relieved the nihilism. The atmosphere of the movement survived, however, in the "Beat Generation" of the 1950's and with the "Yippee" protests against "the Establishment" and the Viet Nam War in the 1960's and ‘70's.

In form, modernist literature blurs the lines between genres and tends to an inward narrative source, incorporating literary techniques like "stream of consciousness" that reflect the derivative nature of the new literary contexts. Literary theory of the period rewards spontaneity, creativity and experimentation tending toward the avant garde.

Online Connections

For a fuller statement of the movement, see "Modernism and the Modern Novel."

Textual Connections

Ezra Pound's "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley" ushered in the twentieth century with its satiric attacks "against the crass tendencies of the American fin de siècle and English Victorianism" (Perkins), patterns he would carry into his Cantos. With Pound's critical assistance, T. S. Eliot published The Wasteland (1928) and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," only one of several prominent "anti-heroes" to traipse through the literature of the period.

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48) Post-Modernism

"Post-modernism" is a set of ideas that call into question the assumptions of modernism, a perspective rooted in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and the emergence of science, rationalism, and empiricism. While the latter sought to produce a "grand narrative" (Lyotard's term) of truth and to publish it as an answer to problems inherent in scholasticism and issues of "faith," post-modernism recognizes that the alleged orderliness of a universe controlled by discernible and definable "natural laws" masks a great "disorderliness." Within the chaos are "chunks" of "lesser truths," discrete elements that, in the terms of computer sciences, may be captured and digitized. Knowledge must be understood, suggests Klages, as discrete facts that may or may not have significant relationship to anything other than the relationships that may be subjectively imposed upon them.

Additionally, notes Klages, post-modernism values more the utility of knowledge rather than its essence as "truth." Utilitarianism carries with it predictable social and political implications that emphasize responses to local needs and issues that may or may not be rooted in broader or even universal concerns.

Literature of the "postmodernist" period, dating from around the 1980's, tends to be discrete in its subject matter and often highly localized. Some observers claim that its themes are not large and its characters commonplace as opposed to heroic in purpose or stature. This characterization recognizes the homogenous settling of world views that reflect a separation, if not a widening gulf, between the individual and the globalization of systems of control from which the character has no real recourse.

Online Connections


"The Annihilation of literature as we know it?"

Textual Connections

The highly personal or "confessional poems" of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton anticipate the highly personal and topical works often considered "post-modernist" in the last two decades of the twentieth century.

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49) Globalization of Literature

The variety of American letters was enriched in the twentieth century by the immigration and settlement in the United States of major literary voices from Europe, the Far East, the Indian sub-continent, and both Central and South America. Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Jew from the old Warsaw, Poland, brought his Yiddish tradition and culture to New York where he carefully provided scrupulous oversight of works into English. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978. Like Singer, Vladimir Nabokov brought his experiences from Czarist Russia to his new American home in 1940. Czeslaw Milosz, the 1980 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, has his roots in pre-war Lithuania. He was naturalized as an American citizen in 1970 and served as a poet/lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley. The 1976 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Saul Bellow, the son of Russian Jews who immigrated to Quebec, Canada in 1913, made his home in Chicago where he taught for years on the faculty of the University of Chicago. Denise Levertov hails from Wales, England. Joseph Brodsky, the 1987 Nobel Prize laureate, was born in St Petersburg. Bharati Mukherjee is from Calcutta, India, and her counterpart in our text, Isabel Allende, was born in Lima, Peru.

Online Connections

The Nobel Prize Internet Archive: Isaac Bashivis Singer

100 Years: Vladimir Nabokov

The Nobel Prize Internet Archive: Ceslaw Milosz

The Nobel Prize Internet Archive: Saul Bellow

The Academy of American Poets: Denise Levertov

Joseph Brodsky: Academy of American Poets

PAL: Perspectives in American Literature: Bharati Mukherjee

Isabel Allende

Our Course Connections

See works by each of these authors in The American Tradition in Literature, Volume II and in The Shorter Edition.

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50) Literature as Social Criticism

A number of writers have addressed a range of social issues through imaginative literature. Dating at least to the political essays of writers like Thomas Paine ("Common Sense" and "The American Crisis,") of the American Revolution, American authors have often wielded surgically acute pens in support of causes or attacks against various social ills. James Russell Lowell employed the voice of his persona, Hosea Biglow, as a vehicle to protest the United States incursion into Mexico in 1848 and again in 1861 to champion the Northern cause during the American Civil War. Ohio newspaper editor, David Ross Locke unleashed perhaps the most vitriolic character ever conceived in American letters, "Petroleum Vesuvius Nasby," a Northern democrat, sympathetic to all things "Southern" and Confederate, to castigate the South and its institution of slavery. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, Mark Twain's The Gilded Age, and Upton Sinclair's The Jungle are only three of many novels of social criticism of the nineteenth and early twentieth century that addressed social ills. At the White House, Abraham Lincoln greeted addressed Stowe, author of the popular abolitionist novel, as "the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war." Mark Twain attacked political graft and corruption in national politics, while Upton Sinclair used the genre of the novel to expose abuses in the meat packing industry.

Slave narratives also contribute to the abolitionist library, the most noted of which is Frederick Douglass's "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass."

Online Connections

"The Yellow Wall-Paper" Site

"The Gilded Age and the Politics of Corruption"

PAL: Perspectives in American Literature/Harriet Beecher Stowe

Thomas Paine: "The American Crisis"

Textual Connections

See Thomas Paine's "The American Crisis" and "Common Sense" and selections from James Russell Lowell's "Biglow Papers." "Olaudah Equiano's "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano" complements Frederick Douglass's autobiographical "Narrative."

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51) Literature of the "Beat Generation"

Growing out of the frustrations attending the end of World War II and the flourishing materialism of the 1950's, the "Beatniks" were a number of people who rejected many of the social mores of urban America, and, with their European counterparts, drifted in and out of American society, occasionally taking up conversations among themselves in "coffee shops" and other social "outposts."

Literature of the "Beat Generation" includes occasionally patronizing social commentary and criticism of the American status quo. They often shouted their protests in novels and poetry. Their most prominent voices included novelist Jack Kerouac, and poets Allen Ginsberg and Willam Burroughs.

Online Connections

Beat Generation Resources Page contains a chronology of the Beat movement.

The Beat Page provides an overview of the 1950's American anti-social movement, its writers, and important literature.

Textual Connections

The representative work of the "Beat Generation" in our text is Allen Ginsberg's critical but lyrical "Howl."

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52) Contemporary Indigenous Literature

Few texts come to us from the nineteenth century and earlier from indigenous populations. However, Louise Erdrich, Leslie Marmon Silko, James Welch, and N. Scott Momoday are only a few of many outstanding twentieth-century indigenous North American writers whose works explore a rapidly fading past and its complex non-literate cultures.

Novels, short stories, poetry, and activist literature complement outstanding traditional crafts and art in jewelry, pottery, music, and sculpture familiar to anyone visiting the American northwestern and southwestern communities. Much of the literature encompasses the rich mysticism, oral history, and folkways of the many different tribes and cultural-linguistic groups. In other words, however, the Indian motifs are almost mute. Other works address social and political issues confronting contemporary indigenous populations.

Online Connections

Also see "The Internet Public Library: A Bibliography of Native American Literature Resources."

Textual Connections

See Louise Erdrich's short story, "The Red Convertible."

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53) Harlem Renaissance

The "Harlem Renaissance" is a term that refers to the flowering of African-American literature following World War I and extending into the mid-twentieth century. Jean Toomer's Cane (1923) is often cited as the first work in the movement, quickly followed by those of several other writers in the community of Harlem in New York City, an economically deprived and predominantly African-American enclave. As a movement embracing Negro consciousness and self-assertion, the origins can be traced to 1919 and the founding of the Race Relations Commission and Marcus Garvey's aborted movement to return African-Americans to Africa.

Writers, including Gwendolyn Bennett, Arna Bontemps, Countee Cullen, W. E. B. Du Bois, Langstson Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and James Weldon Johnson—among dozens of other writers, actors, and artists—contributed a plethora of novels, poetry, drama, and essays addressing such themes as Negro alienation, isolation, racism, folklore, and spirituality.

Dependent on the Anglo establishment in the publishing world, the writers of the Harlem Renaissance suffered its patronage and leant themselves to its expectations and assumptions, factors not lost on its critics who ridiculed the imitative lifestyle—the acquired fashions, housing, and linguistic patterns of their white counterparts.

At its best, the Harlem Renaissance represents the beginning of the struggle for a sense of African-American cultural legitimacy and independence.

Online Connections

PAL: Perspectives in American Literature/Harlem Renaissance

Poetry and Prose of the Harlem Renaissance

Textual Connections

Readings from the writers of the Harlem Renaissance anthologized in The American Tradition in Literature: Shorter Edition in One Volume include those of Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and Richard Wright.

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54) Imagism

"Imagism" is a critical theory of poetics devised by Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, and a group of British writers after the turn of the nineteenth century around 1913 to characterize both their purpose poets and the poetry, itself. Accordingly, in the composition, each word—selected from the common speech—must contribute directly to the communication of the specific subject or object of the work. Free verse, rather than the conventional patterns of nineteenth-century poets, best lends itself to the explication of new ideas. All subjects are acceptable, but each must be treated specifically and precisely, rather than generally or abstractly.

Online Connections

For a definition and a copy of the "Imagist Manifesto," see "Imagism" and "Imagism"

Textual Connections

See selections of Ezra Pound in our textbook.

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55) Existentialism

An intellectual movement often attributed to the nineteenth-century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, "existentialism" is more a twentieth-century atheism that denies the existence of any values and meanings inherent in the universe and human life. Furthermore, it denies the probability of divine mechanics operating in the origin and facilitation of natural law. The only value or meaning to be found in nature or human experience is that assigned to it by the observer; therefore, one's existence "precedes essence." Such nihilism complements the tone of the "Lost Generation" and the modernist movement in art and literature. More positively, however, existentialism insists that, rather than succumbing to nihilism, each individual must strive to apply personal meanings and values to experience in response to an otherwise amoral context.

Major voices among the "existentialists" include the German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche and French authors Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre.

Online Connections


Textual Connections

Mark Twain's attacks on the assumptions of conventional Christian piety, its mythology, and doctrines best reflect the tone and substance of the nihilism that existentialism would check. See Mark Twain's What is Man? his unfinished manuscript, "The Mysterious Stranger," and the 1973 compilation of posthumous writings, Fables of Man. Henry Adam's "The Virgin and the Dynamo" accounts for the transformation of Western cultural icons and the dominance of materialism and technology at the end of the nineteenth century.

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56) Theater of the Absurd

Closely aligned to the themes of existentialism, the "Theater of the Absurd" rejects traditional values and fractures common sense interpretations of natural law. In so doing, it parallels surrealism in art and the nihilism of the earlier "dada" movement.

Perhaps the closest demonstration of the "Theater of the Absurd's" ties to surrealism is its staging. Fantastic, distorted, angular platforms and flats, or empty stages with diminutive lighting—both reject the regularity of social manners and decorum inherent in realism and the conventional use of props and sets of the "well-made" dramas of the nineteenth century. The movement owes much to the originality and innovations of the United States' only Nobel Prize-winning playwright, Eugene O'Neil.

Online Connections

Edward Albee's Plays

Art And Culture: Theater of the Absurd

Textual Connections

Works like "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," "The Sandbox," and "The Zoo Story" by American playwright Edward Albee represent well America's contribution to the "Theater of the Absurd." Other American writers in the genre include Israel Horovitz and Sam Shepard.

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57) Stream of Consciousness

"Stream of consciousness" is a term introduced by American psychologist, William James, in 1892. For James, the activity of the mind is fluid, an interplay of thoughts and perceptions, often disorganized, spontaneous, and continuous. Any attempt to capture a segment of the "stream of consciousness" in words results in a seemingly incoherent synthesis of unanalyzed and fragmented mental activity.

Online Connections

For a thorough analysis of William James's text on "stream of consciousness," see "Classics in the History of Psychology/Willam James."

See also, "Stream of Consciousness."

Textual Connections

James Joyce's Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake are two seminal works written largely in "stream of consciousness." Other writers, like William Faulkner, used the technique richly in the revelations of the inner workings of the minds of characters. Read the opening and closing passages of his short story, "Barn Burning," for examples of "stream of consciousness."

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