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American Literary Movements. Puritanism to Postmodernism: American Authors get the job done!. Puritanism .

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american literary movements

American Literary Movements

Puritanism to Postmodernism: American Authors get the job done!


17th Century: Puritanism is a movement created by extreme Calvinist Protestants who sought to purify religion and society. They believed God would cleanse their feelings through “grace” eliminating envy, vanity, and lust. Puritans valued plainness in all things including their writing.

  • “Of Plymouth Plantation” – William Bradford
  • “Upon the Burning of Our House, July 10, 1666”
  • “To My Dear and Loving Husband” – Anne Bradstreet
  • “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” – Jonathan Edwards
classicism the age of reason
Classicism/ The Age of Reason

18th Century: The Age of Enlightenment, or Age of Reason, is an intellectual movement which began in Europe. Writers during this time believed the goals of rational individuals were knowledge, freedom, and happiness. The literary movement which coincided with the Age of Reason was Classicism, based on the study of and adherence to the ancient classic works of Greece and Rome. Classicists valued clarity, order, balance, and reason instead of imagination. They believed nature was like a machine with fixed, unchanging laws.

  • Poor Richard’s Almanack –Benjamin Franklin
  • “Speech in the Virginia Convention” – Patrick Henry
  • “The Crisis, Number 1” – Thomas Paine
  • “The Declaration of Independence” – Thomas Jefferson
  • “To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth” – PhillisWheatly
nationalism in literature
Nationalism in Literature
  • Late 18th Century to Early 19th Century: Nationalism developed from pride, patriotism, and the desire to be distinctly different from the Europeans. American writers tried to write stories and poems unlike European Romantic writers, but they largely failed in their efforts.
  • “Rip Van Winkle” – Washington Irving
  • The Deerslayer – James Fennimore Cooper
  • 19th Century: Romanticism is the movement that rebelled against Classicism in favor of the imagination and emotions. Romantic writers favored intuition over reason and were more concerned with the individual than the whole society. They saw art as an imaginative expression of an individual’s essence. Romantics viewed nature as a beautiful mystery, and source of moral and spiritual lessons, not a machine. Many American Romantic writers were also Nationalists who used American history and legends as their subject matter.
  • “Rip Van Winkle” – Washington Irving
  • The Deerslayer – James Fennimore Cooper
  • “Masque of the Red Death” and “The Raven” – Edgar Allan Poe
  • Walden – Henry David Thoreau
  • “Young Goodman Brown” – Nathaniel Hawthorne
american renaissance new england renaissance
American Renaissance/ New England Renaissance
  • Mid 19th Century: The American Renaissance is a flourishing of literature dominated by two groups: the Brahmins (based in Cambridge, Massachusetts) and the Transcendentalists (based primarily in Concord, Massachusetts). The Brahmins/Fireside Poets were Longfellow, Lowell, Whittier, and Holmes, Harvard professors who promoted a second attempt at creating a literature which, though based on European models, is distinctly American in character. The Transcendentalists, led by Emerson, were philosophers, social reformers, and writers. The Southerner Poe as well as the Anti-Transcendentalists, Hawthorne and Melville (more Massachusetts residents) are also frequently associated with this movement.
  • “Paul Revere’s Ride” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • “Old Ironsides” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • “Self-Reliance” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Walden or Life in the Woods – Henry David Thoreau
  • “Young Goodman Brown” – Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • 19th Century: American Transcendentalism was created by Emerson who borrowed his ideas from German Transcendentalism and Indian religion to develop a new philosophy. Transcendentalists believe that the basic truths of the universe transcend the physical world and lie beyond the knowledge that can be obtained from the senses. They feel that every individual has the ability to experience God firsthand in his/her intuition. They value nature and believe in the spiritual unity of all life, stating God, humanity, and nature share a universal soul. They feel that nothing in nature is trivial or insignificant; all is symbolic and important. They also promoted the belief that every human being is born inherently good.
  • “Self Reliance” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Walden– Henry David Thoreau
  • Woman in the Nineteenth Century – Margaret Fuller
anti transcendentalism
  • 19th Century: Anti-Transcendentalism (like Transcendentalism) is a subsection of Romanticism. Hawthorne and Melville were far less optimistic than Emerson and his fellow philosophers. The Anti-Transcendentalists believed good and evil coexist in the world and that intuition could lead a person to evil just as easily as it could lead to good.
  • The Scarlett Letter, “The Birthmark”, “The Minster’s Black Veil” – Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Moby Dick – Herman Melville
local color and regionalism
Local Color and Regionalism
  • Late 19th Century to Early 20th Century: Local color writers identify with a particular place or region of the country. They emphasized distinctive and “colorful” regional traits (speech patterns and dialects, local customs and folkways, character types, etc.). These writers promoted the objective observation of social facts as well as the sentimental treatment of human emotion and motivation.
  • “The White Heron” – Sarah Orne Jewett
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
  • Late 19th Century to Early 20th Century: Realism, unlike Romanticism, places less emphasis on the imagination and more on observed fact. These writers viewed the world and human behavior scientifically, mirroring realities without softening or idealizing them. This movement is often considered a rebellion against Romanticism.
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
  • My Antonia – Willa Cather
  • Late 19th Century to Early 20th Century: Naturalism was a significant offshoot of Realism. Many American authors were influenced by this movement. Naturalism demands that writers penetrate the surface of life and human character. It focuses on inherited traits and environmental conditions (nature and nurture). Naturalism usually explores the negative aspects of society. These authors did not judge their characters’ morality, but rather viewed them through a social Darwinist lens. Naturalists believed that chance exists but free will is rarely possible.
  • The Red Badge of Courage – Stephen Crane
  • Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  • First half of the 20th Century: Modernism is a self-conscious break from traditional literary forms and subject matter and a search for a distinctly contemporary mode of expression. It was heavily influenced by the horrors and disillusionment of World War One. These writers are also referred to as “The Lost Generation”. Their writing reflects isolation, alienation, and fragmentation. It places emphasis on individual perception, sensibility, and human consciousness.
  • “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” – T. S. Eliot
  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” – Ernest Hemingway
  • The Crucible – Arthur Miller
  • Early 20th Century: Imagism is a subsection of Modernism that attempted to free poetry from stale conventions and florid language. It emphasized direct concentration on the precise image, the use of precise words and the language of common speech, new rhythms and the use of free verse, as well as complete freedom in the choice of subject.
  • “This is Just to Say” and “The Red Wheelbarrow” – William Carlos Williams
  • “The Garden” – Ezra Pound
  • “Heat” – H. D. (Hilda Doolittle)
harlem renaissance
Harlem Renaissance
  • Primarily the 1920’s: The Harlem Renaissance, also called the New Negro Movement, is a period of outstanding creativity among African American writers. Many of these works were sophisticated explorations of black life and culture that revealed and stimulated a new confidence and racial pride.
  • The Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
  • “Lift Every voice and Sing” – James Weldon Johnson
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Jurston
  • “Harlem: A Dream Deferred” – Langston Hughes
southern renaissance
Southern Renaissance
  • 1930’s and 40’s: The Southern Renaissance is heavily influenced by traditional Southern humor (stories, sketches, tall tales, and folklore) as well as by the Local Color movement. This time period marked a sudden explosion of excellent Southern writers who emphasized regional speech patterns and dialects, local customs and folkways, as well as character types.
  • “A Worn Path” – Eudora Welty
  • The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
  • All the King’s Men – Robert Penn Warren
beat movement
Beat Movement
  • The 1950’s: Centered in the bohemian or beatnik urban artists’ communities, the Beat movement defines itself in its alienation from the conventional and its adaptation of the seedy and “hip”, embracing jazz music, drugs, sex, and Buddhism.
  • Howl – Allen Ginsberg
  • On the Road – Jack Kerouac
  • 20th century: Pluralism is a movement defined by diversity. During the 20th century American literature was no longer predominantly male, white, and Christian. Men and women of many cultures, races, religions, and ethnic groups began to be published. Many of these authors chose to use the first person point of view rather than the, previously popular, their person. Various voices shared their stories while addressing universal themes.
  • The Bell Jar – Silvia Plath
  • The color Purple – Alice Walker
  • The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven – Sherman Alexie
magical realism
Magical Realism
  • The Second half of the 20th Century: Magical Realism was created in Latin America but it has influenced many writers of the United States as well. This movement juxtaposes the ordinary and the magical, incorporating fantastic elements into otherwise realistic fiction.
  • Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquival
  • Beloved and Song of Soloman – Toni Morrison
  • Going After Cacciato – Tim O’Brien
  • The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
post modernism
Post Modernism
  • The Second half of the 20th Century: Postmodernists believe that there is no single truth, but rather a variety of perspectives none of which is better or worse than another. This movement neither embraces nor resists the conventional. It accepts everything equally. Postmodern works are often eclectic, and anachronistic. Postmodernists make no distinction between “high art” and popular culture, can blur the boundary between fiction and nonfiction, and often sample other artists’ work freely…(very freely).
  • The Simpsons – Matt Groening
  • Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson
  • Snow Falling on Cedar – David Guterson
  • Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vounnegut
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf – Edward Albee
  • The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Munk Kidd