- Early American Literature
- The Dualistic Universe
- God as "First Cause"
- The "Great Chain of Being" Theory
- Insight and Inverse Logic
- Introduction to Argument
- Scholasticism, Rationalism, and Empiricism: Epistemology and
Three Western Reasoning Systems
- Archetypal Theory
- The Renaissance
- Divine Right
- The Protestant Reformation: Lutheranism
- Protestantism: Calvinism
- Separatism (The "Separatists")
- The Salem Witchcraft Trials (Witchcraft, Magic, and Spectral
- Classicism and Neo-Classicism
- Frederick Jackson Turner's "Significance of the Frontier"
- Metaphysical Poetry
- Mysticism, Neurosis, and Asceticism: The Complexities of Jonathan
- Two Processes of Abstraction: Burlesque and Idealization
- American Literary Romanticism
- The Romantic Conception of Nature and Spirit
- The Romantic Theory of the Intuition
- The American Abolitionist Movement
- The Flowering of Romanticism: Sentimentality and the "Ubi
- Primitivism and the Noble Savage
- The American Gothic Tradition
- Contrasting Neo-Classic and Romantic Motifs
- Adventurism: Fascination with the Far Away in Time, Place,
and Human Experience
- Regional Literature
- The Affinity and the Alter-Ego
- Romantic Individualism
- "Art for Art's Sake"
- Symbolism (Symbolist School)
- Globalization of Literature
- Literature as Social Criticism
- Literature of the "Beat Generation"
- Contemporary Indigenous Literature
- Harlem Renaissance
- Theater of the Absurd
- Stream of Consciousness
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
- the pedagogical function--myths teach the rules for right and wrong
- the sociological function--myths teach how to live appropriately in community
- the cosmological function--myths teach our place in the cosmos
- 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.
For a glossary of American Indian mythology, see the Probert Encyclopedia <http://www.probertencyclopaedia.com/DB.HTM>
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 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.
For a comprehensive library of electronic texts of early Indian literature,
see "Native American Texts." Scroll down to "Traditional American Indian Texts
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
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
To read Plato's text on the "dual universe," see his discussion in the "Timaeus"
in the "Dialogues of Plato."
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
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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,
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
That which is non-living, likewise, cannot create outside of its own category
We can perceive the "cause/effect" relationship between generations of being,
projecting future generations and accounting for generations in our relative
As we reflect backwards, we are lead, by necessity, to the concept of the "first
cause" and to question its nature.
- If all in the physical universe has been created, and
- If nothing in the physical universe has created itself, and
- If nothing in the physical universe can create new categories of being,
- 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." <http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/4causes.html>
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
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
God as Spirit
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
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." <http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/courses/re/chain.htm>
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:
- A is the opposite of B (hence, B is the opposite of A).
- If not A, then B.
- Not B.
- Then A.
- A is the opposite of B (hence, B is the opposite of A).
- If not A, then B.
- Not A.
- Then B.
For further discussion of insight and inverse logic, see Joe Fitzgerald's review
of Dr. Lonergan's concept of cognition <http://www.pmcguire.demon.co.uk/experientialconsciousness.html>.
For a discussion of "inverse logic" and illustrations, see Jim Loy's page, "Converse,
Inverse, and Contrapositive." <http://www.jimloy.com/logic/converse.htm>
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:
- Only Democrats support excessive government spending.
- John is a Democrat.
- 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.
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:
- What can I know?
- How do I know?
- 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.
A useful thumbnail outline of scholasticism with links to key representative
Western Philosophical Concepts
of God/The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Discussions of Platonism, Neo-platonism, and the "Chain of Being."
A comprehensive discusion of the principles of Descartes's "First Meditation"
and objections to its methodologies.
Class notes by Stephen Daniel, Texas A&M University.
on First Philosophy" (1631)
The Haldane English translation.
A concise definition of the term with links to essential philosophers of
Two Dogmas of Empiricism
A discussion of the failures of two principle doctrines of empiricism.
A webliography of links to primary sites of the major philosophers of rationalism
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.
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."
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.
For a webliography of literary-related sites, see the Rutgers University page,
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
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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.
A number of websites help illuminate the concept of "divine right rule." See
"The European Enlightenment
Glossary" and "Divine
Right of Kings."
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
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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
Luther's basic beliefs were these five:
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
See the Protestant
Reformation webliography for links to primary sources.
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
- Total Depravity--All people are condemned by the original sin of Adam in
the Garden of Eden.
- 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.
- 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,
- 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.
- Perseverance of the Saints--The "Elect" will naturally persevere in their
service to God, a belief that complements the "Protestant Work Ethic."
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.
Calvinism was most influential on theologians and magistrates including the
likes of William Bradford, John Winthrop, Increase and Cotton Mather, and Jonathan
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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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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
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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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.
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
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
- Reason--Reliance on reason (logic), rather than emotion, to support arguments
became one of the defining values.
- Nature(Naturalness)--Striving to follow what is "natural" in the physical
world suggested patterns for social order.
- Universality and the General--Neo-classical emphasis on "universality" and
"the general" reflects to criteria for defining "truth."
- 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."
- Form and Order--Neo-classical values emphasize the importance of fixed
form and order observable in a universe governed by immutable natural laws.
- Things Classical (Greek and Roman)--Neo-classical values had their foundation
on Greek and Roman models, collectively referred to as the "Ancients."
- 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
- Evil results from blindness to natural order and the laws of nature.
- Perfection is attainable.
- The arts should reflect Greek and Roman forms, patterns, and styles.
- All human cultures are essentially the same.
- Rationalism and empiricism oust scholasticism as patterns for reasoning.
Some Neo-Classical Literary Conventions
- Imitate classical forms.
- Reflect principles defined in Aristotle's "Poetics."
- The subject of art should be universal, elevating, natural, and of general
- A work should aspire to epic stature and significance.
- Literary works should employ heroic forms, character, and themes.
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."
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
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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
- There is a god, creator of the universe.
- Humans have souls.
- The greatest service is doing good to one's fellow human.
- Good or ill will be rewarded in life after death.
- 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
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."
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
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.
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.
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
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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."
See the UVic Writer's
Guide for a short discussion of allegory. See "allegory"
for links to related figures of speech.
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."
Poetry" for observations, period quotations and reactions, and characterizations
of metaphysical poetry. For a brief definition of English metaphysical poetry,
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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A "scansion" is an identification and interpretation of 1) the rhythm and 2)
the ending rhyme scheme of a poem.
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
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
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:
- iambic - unstressed syllable followed by an accented syllable
Example: The word "arrive" is pronounced "ar-rive."
- anapest - the expansion of iambic, two unstressed syllables followed by
an accented syllable
Example: The word "interrupt" is pronounced "in-ter-rupt."
- trochaic - stressed syllable followed by an unaccented syllable
Example: The word "active" is pronounced "ac-tive."
- dactyl - the expansion of trochaic, one stressed syllable followed by two
Example: The name "Jennifer" is pronounced "Jen-ni-fer."
"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
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
- 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?
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."
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
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.
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 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."
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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
program by Dave Medicus.
Major Romantic writers include William Cullen Bryant, Nathaniel Hawthorne,
Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Henry
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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."
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.
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
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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.
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."
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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"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
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.
For a valuable, wide-ranging online resource, see "American
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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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
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.
For a useful history of Unitarianism, see "About
Unitarianism." See also, "Unitarianism:
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.
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."
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.
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."
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
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.
For a discussion of romantic primitivism, see "Primitivism." To read an introduction
to European Romantic influences on the literature of James Fenimore Cooper,
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."
The "Preface to the Leatherstocking Tales" includes James Fenimore Cooper's
lashing response to critics who questioned the authority of his images of American
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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.
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."
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
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."
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."
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 society||1) importance of free expressions; integrity of the individual|
|2) rule-governed life||2) freedom of judgment and will|
|3) supremacy of reason (reflection, logic)||3) supremacy of intuition (imagination)|
|4) the reign of order and restraint||4) the reign of chaos and passion|
|5) the immutability of natural law||5) the constant flux in nature|
|6) freedom of the social man||6) freedom of the individual|
|7) style set by decorum||7) style set by flamboyance and abandon|
|8) evil the product of blindness on the part of people to natural law||8) evil innate in some people; inherent in social institutions|
|9) regularity in natural order; logic in the laws of nature||9) 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 experience||10) 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.|
For a similar list of conflicting motifs, see Dr. M. Hudelson's "Study
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.
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
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
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
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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.
For a comprehensive listing of both contemporary and past American regional
writers, see ASLE
U. S. Regional Literature.
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
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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.
For a fine overview of "realism" and the literature it spawned, see
"Realism and the
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
Rise of Realism."
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
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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.
in American Literature"
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.
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."
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.
For a most helpful overview of "individualism" in the context of other romantic
motifs (themes) and key concepts, see "Romanticism."
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.
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."
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
Read "The Symbolist
Movement" for a useful overview of the aesthetic school. See also "The
Symbolist Movement--An Introduction" for additional commentary and references
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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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.
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."
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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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."
Expressionism has both artistic and literary representation. For an introduction
to important impressionist painters, see "Expressionism."
See also, the "WebMuseum/Paris--Expressionism."
"Bartleby.com" provides a review
of twentieth-century authors who wrote in the expressionist mode.
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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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
As an established movement, impressionism dominated French art between 1880
and 1890. Representative French impressionists include a most impressive lineup
Manet, Claude Monet,
Pierre Auguste Renoir,
Alfred Sisley, Berthe
Guillaumin, and Frédéric
Bazille, Edgar Degas
and Paul Cézanne.
European literary impressionists include England's Joseph Conrad and France's
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."
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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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
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.
For a fuller statement of the movement, see "Modernism
and the Modern Novel."
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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"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
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.
Annihilation of literature as we know it?"
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.
The Nobel Prize Internet
Archive: Isaac Bashivis Singer
100 Years: Vladimir
The Nobel Prize Internet
Archive: Ceslaw Milosz
The Nobel Prize Internet
Archive: Saul Bellow
Academy of American Poets: Denise Levertov
Joseph Brodsky: Academy
of American Poets
Perspectives in American Literature: Bharati Mukherjee
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."
Yellow Wall-Paper" Site
Gilded Age and the Politics of Corruption"
in American Literature/Harriet Beecher Stowe
Thomas Paine: "The
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Also see "The Internet
Public Library: A Bibliography of Native American Literature Resources."
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
At its best, the Harlem Renaissance represents the beginning of the struggle
for a sense of African-American cultural legitimacy and independence.
Perspectives in American Literature/Harlem Renaissance
Poetry and Prose of
the Harlem Renaissance
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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"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.
For a definition and a copy of the "Imagist Manifesto," see "Imagism"
See selections of Ezra Pound in our textbook.
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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.
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.
And Culture: Theater of the Absurd
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
For a thorough analysis of William James's text on "stream of consciousness,"
in the History of Psychology/Willam James."
See also, "Stream
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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