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American Romanticism. 1800-1860. Historical Context. American Romantic Movement. Reaction to Classicism—Age of Reason Age of Reason Rational thought Social concerns Reason & facts Romanticism Emotional thought Personal concerns/experiences Examination of inner feelings

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American Romanticism

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american romantic movement
American Romantic Movement
  • Reaction to Classicism—Age of Reason
    • Age of Reason
      • Rational thought
      • Social concerns
      • Reason & facts
    • Romanticism
      • Emotional thought
      • Personal concerns/experiences
      • Examination of inner feelings
      • Imagination & intuition

Vernal Falls, Albert Bierstadt

american romantic movement1
American Romantic Movement
  • Romantics held a keen awareness of the past
  • Major themes:
    • Natural man
    • Lost innocence
    • Nature vs. civilization

Street Scene in New York, Winter, 1855

H.V.V. Sebron

  • Folktales, Myths, Legends
    • Oral tradition
    • Exists in variation
    • Often anonymous
    • Told by the common people of a particular culture
    • Often teach a lesson or moral truth about life
      • “The Devil and Tom Walker” by Irving 1824
      • The Tragedy of Dr. Faustus by Marlowe 1564-93
      • Faust by Göethe 1749-1832

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane, Smithsonian American Art Museum, John Quidor

6 characteristics
6 Characteristics
  • Profound love of nature
  • Focus on the self and the individual
  • Fascination with the supernatural, the mysterious, and the gothic
    • Dark, irrational side of the imagination
  • Yearning for the picturesque and the exotic
  • A deep-rooted idealism
    • Idealism is the belief that true reality is spiritual rather than physical
  • Passionate love of country or nationalism
american romantic hero
American Romantic Hero
  • Is young, or possesses youthful qualities
  • Is innocent and pure of purpose
  • Has a sense of honor based not on society’s rules but on some higher principle
  • Has a knowledge of people and of life based on deep, intuitive understanding, not on formal learning
  • Loves nature and avoids town life
  • Quests for some higher truth in the natural world
american transcendentalism anti transcendentalism

American Transcendentalism & Anti-Transcendentalism

Ralph Waldo Emerson & Henry David Thoreau

  • Refers to the idea that matters of ultimate reality transcend human experience
    • Transcend: to go beyond
  • Comes from German Romantic philosopher:
    • Immanuel Kant:
      • All human knowledge comes from experience, but at the same time, it's possible to have knowledge of things prior to having experience of them.

Comes from Eastern thought:

    • Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.
      • Vedas, Dharmas, Sutras
        • Eternal quality of the soul
  • Comes from Idealism:
    • True reality is spiritual rather than physical
      • Plato:
        • Sought the permanent spiritual reality that lay behind physical appearances
  • Puritanism:
    • God is revealed through the Bible
    • God has DIRECT action in human world
  • Enlightenment: Deism
    • Nature viewed scientifically
    • Nature used for human benefit
  • Romanticism: Unitarian
    • Mystical view—proof of God’s existence
    • Nature is divine
  • Combination of Philosophy, Religion, & Literature
  • The natural world is the doorway to the spiritual world
  • GOD is Nature
  • Divinity of human nature
    • Evil non-existent
  • ALL share a universal soul
emerson thoreau
Emerson & Thoreau
  • Leading transcendentalists in American Lit
  • Put together ideas from Far East & Europe into an American stem of Transcendentalism
  • American Transcendentalism
    • Ideas about the relationship between humanity, God, and nature
    • ALL IMPORTANT: beauty, idealism, self-discipline, spirit, and
    • NATURE personified
anti transcendentalism

Nathaniel Hawthorne & Herman Melville

3 major principles
3 Major Principles
  • Nature is indifferent, unforgiving, & unexplainable.
  • People possess the potential for both good and evil.
  • The truths of existence are elusive.
  • Work of literature in which events, characters, and details of a setting have a symbolic meaning.
  • A character may represent a single human trait such as jealousy, greed, or compassion.
  • Used to teach or explain moral principles or universal truths.
anti transcendentalist writers
Anti-Transcendentalist Writers
  • Focus on the limitations and potential destructiveness of the human spirit rather than on its possibilities.
  • Person, place, action, or thing that is concrete and real but suggests an abstract meaning beyond itself
    • Flag = character, attitude, values of a country
    • Skull = death
    • Horde of coins = greed
  • Objects and actions have deeper meanings suggested by diction & dialogue, emphasis & repetition.
the harpoon has symbolic meaning on several levels
The “harpoon” has symbolic meaning on several levels:
  • Harpoon = tool for killing whales
  • Harpoon = vehicle of Ahab’s vengeance on the whale
  • Harpoon = Ahab’s attempt to conquer what he doesn’t understand in nature.
as does moby dick
As does Moby Dick:
  • White whale = large sea mammal
  • White whale = object of Ahab’s uncontrollable obsession that eventually destroys him
  • White whale = all that is paradoxical, unexplainable, and unpredictable in nature