A Timeline of American Literary Movements Pre-1600s to the present
Native American Literature • Because the Native Americans were the first people to live in our country, they are responsible for the first known American literature. • Native peoples belonged to more than 200 distinct groups and spoke more than 500 different languages.
Native American Literature • They had complex religious beliefs, sophisticated political systems, and strong social values, all of which was captured in their literature. Nature was a great source of inspiration in their lives and in their stories. • Native American literature was primarily passed down orally through the generations.
Native American Literature • Many Native Americans told stories like creation myths, which explain how the world was created; tales of heroes and tricksters who made the world the way it is today; and the ritual songs and chants that were so much a part of the Natives’ ceremonies.
Native American Literature • When reading Native American literature, you have to realize you are reading their stories from a page instead of hearing them through a storyteller or performer as originally intended, and the stories have been translated into English, which takes away some of the natural nuances of the Natives’ languages.
Age of Faith • The Age of Faith began around 1607 and lasted until approximately 1750. • It began when the Pilgrims and Puritans arrived in North America from England. • While there were many reasons for coming to the Americas, Christianity was a driving force.
Age of Faith • Whether they sought religious freedom or wanted to convert the Natives, they all agreed that Christianity was the only true religion. • Thus, the literature from this time period reflects the importance of religion in peoples’ lives.
Age of Faith • The people of the Age of Faith believed in hard work and simple living. • Sermons, personal diaries, and narratives were all common styles of writing during this period. • Major writers included Anne Bradstreet and Jonathan Edwards.
Age of Reason • The Age of Reason began around 1750 and ended around 1800. • This was the time of the American Revolution when settlers were prepared to separate from England’s control. • Much of the writing reflects the patriotism felt during this time period.
Age of Reason • While our new country didn’t abandon its faith, there was more of a sense of reason in the nation. • People made reasonable, articulated arguments about the importance of independence, equality, and natural rights.
Age of Reason • The styles of writing during this period included political pamphlets, essays, speeches, and political documents. • Major writers included Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Phillis Wheatley, Benjamin Franklin, and Abigail Adams.
Romanticism • The word “romanticism” often conjures up images of hearts and flowers and all things romantic. However, this movement was not about romance. • It was all about imagination, intuition, one’s inner feelings, and the strength of an individual.
Romanticism • Romanticism began in 1800 and lasted until approximately 1855. • The goal of the romantic era was to navigate away from the strong ties to faith and reason that had dominated the arts for so long. • This was a time for writers to be creative and embrace all things fantastical.
Romanticism • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Washington Irving were the most popular writers of this time period. • Their works show a fondness of atmosphere, sentiment, and optimism. • A popular off-shoot of Romanticism was Gothic literature, a more evil style that combined with a degree of supernatural.
Romanticism • Gothic literature produced writers like Edgar Allan Poe, William Faulkner, and Flannery O’Connor. • The short story originated during the period of Romanticism, as did the novel. Poetry was also frequently used as a writing style.
Transcendentalism • Transcendentalism overlapped with Romanticism in both time and style. • Transcendentalism began in 1840 and ended around 1855; essentially, Romanticism took a natural turn into Transcendentalism.
Transcendentalism • The philosophy for this era was that transcendent forms of truth exist beyond reason and experience and that individuals can find this higher truth on his or her own through intuition. • Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson were major contributors to the writing of this literary period.
Transcendentalism • All of the transcendentalists stress the importance of individualism, intuition, relationship with nature, and self-reliance. • Their styles of writing included mostly poetry and essays.
Realsim • Realism is closely associated with the Civil War. This era began in 1865 and ended around 1915. • This was a tense time in our country’s history and that angst became evident in the writing of the era.
Realsim • This era produced the first popular African-American poet, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and Frederick Douglass became a spokesperson for the abolitionist cause and woman suffrage. • Other famous writers of this era included Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, Jack London, and Abraham Lincoln.
Modernism • Modernism began in about 1915 and ended around 1945. • This era included many technological advances, such as the automobile, and also included World War I, the first war of mass destruction. • There was great division between social classes, as well as an influx of immigrants.
Modernism • The big question was “Is the American Dream really possible for everyone?” • This era included the Roaring Twenties and the Harlem Renaissance. • Writers of the time exposed the alienated feeling many artists were experiencing in a time of assimilation.
Modernism • They also experimented with styles like stream-of-consciousness and fragmented stories with no real beginning or end. • Major writers of this era included John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, Richard Wright, Tennessee Williams, and Sylvia Plath.
Contemporary • The Contemporary period began about 1945 and is the literary period we are currently experiencing. • This period includes the Civil Rights Movement, the youth counter-culture that arose in the 1960s, the Vietnam War, and the explosion of mass media.
Contemporary • This period has brought an influx of ethnic and women writers. • There is a mix of fiction and non-fiction, reality and fantasy, and heroes and villains. • Major writers include Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King, Jr., Anne Tyler, Gary Soto, Amy Tan, and Sandra Cisneros.
“The decline of literature indicates the decline of a nation.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe