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American Literature and Arts


Today, Moby-Dick is considered one of the greatest American novels. Nathaniel Hawthorne often used historical themes to explore the dark side of the mind. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: American Literature and Arts

  • Identify the common themes in American literature
    and art in the mid-1800s.
  • Describe the flowering of American literature in
    the mid-1800s.
  • Discuss the development of unique American styles
    in art and music.

Terms and People
  • transcendentalism a movement that sought to
    explore the relationship between humans and
    nature through emotions rather than through
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson the leading
    transcendentalist who wrote popular speeches and
  • individualism the unique importance of each

Terms and People (continued)
  • Henry David Thoreau a transcendentalist who
    wrote Walden
  • civil disobedience the idea that people should
    peacefully disobey unjust laws if their
    conscience demands it
  • Herman Melville author of Moby-Dick
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne author of The Scarlet
  • Louisa May Alcott author of Little Women

  • Warm Up Questions
  • What was the goal of the transcendentalism
    movement? 432
  • Give me one example showing how writers focused
    on American history. 434
  • What was a major topic of American paintings
    during this time period? 435
  • Before this time period, artists and authors were
    influenced by where, rather then American history
    and nature?

How did American literature and art have an
impact on American life?
Americans were divided by sectionalism and
slavery, but they were united by nationalism and
an optimistic belief in the possibility of
improving themselves and society.
These ideas were expressed in and reinforced by
American art and literature.
(No Transcript)
Washington Irving Washington Irving
Stories The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Rip Van Winkle
Famous character Rip Van Winkle was a lazy farmer who slept through the American Revolution.
Inspiration Dutch history of New York
James Fenimore Cooper James Fenimore Cooper
Novels The Deerslayer The Last of the Mohicans
Famous character Natty Bumppo was a frontiersman who kept moving westward and criticized the destruction of nature.
Impact Coopers novels helped American literature gain popularity in Europe.
By the early 1800s, a new artistic movement
called Romanticism took shape in Europe.
Romantics emphasized the importance of nature,
emotions, and imagination.
A small but influential group of writers and
thinkers in New England developed an American
form of Romanticism.
This movement was called transcendentalism, and
its goal was to transcend human reason.
Transcendentalists argued that humans should
pursue a close link with nature and live simply.
Humans seeking beauty, goodness, and truth within
their own souls.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the leading
transcendentalist, wrote speeches and essays in
which he urged Americans to
  • question the value of material wealth, and pursue
    higher values instead.
  • rely on principles of individualism to guide
    their lives and improve society.

The transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau
  • spent two years living in the woods at Walden
    Pond, meditating on nature.
  • published Walden, a book in which he urged
    Americans to live simply.

Like Emerson, Thoreau believed people must judge
right and wrong for themselves.
He encouraged civil disobedience and once spent a
night in jail for refusing to pay taxes that he
felt supported slavery.
Thoreaus ideas about civil disobedience and
nonviolent protest influenced later leaders like
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Two later novelists, who were both fascinated by
psychology and extreme emotions, began to change
the tone of American literature.
Herman Melvilles 1851 novel, Moby-Dick, told the
story of a sea captain who destroys himself
during an obsessive search for a white whale.
Today, Moby-Dick is considered one of the
greatest American novels.
(No Transcript)
Nathaniel Hawthorne often used historical themes
to explore the dark side of the mind.
  • In his 1850 novel, The Scarlet Letter, a young
    Puritan minister is destroyed by secret guilt.
  • Hawthornewho was descended from the
    Massachusetts Puritanspaints a grim picture of
    Puritan life.

(No Transcript)
Louisa May Alcott presented a gentler view of New
England life in her 1868 novel Little Women, a
story about four sisters growing up together.
  • The novels main character, Jo March, was one of
    the first young American heroines portrayed as a
    real person rather than as a shining ideal.

Poets of Democracy Poets of Democracy
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Longfellow based poems, such as Paul Reveres Ride, on American history. The Song of Hiawatha was one of the first works to honor Native Americans.
Walt Whitman In books of poetry such as his 1855 Leaves of Grass, Whitman is seen as the poet who best expresses the democratic American spirit.
Frances Watkins Harper and John Greenleaf Whittier Harper and Whittier wrote poems that described and condemned the evils of slavery.
After 1820, American artists turned away from
European themes and focused on American
The Hudson River School was a group of artists
who painted scenes of the Hudson River valley.
Thomas Cole and other painters of this school
sought to stir emotions with the beauty of nature.
Other American painters were inspired by the
daily lives of common Americans.
  • George Caleb Bingham painted scenes of life on
    the great rivers.
  • George Catlin captured the ways and dignity of
    Native Americans.

Just as art and literature shifted away from
European themes, American songs also drifted away
from English, Irish, or Scottish tunes.
Over time, there emerged a wide variety of new
American songs such as work songs and spirituals.
The most popular American songwriter of the 1800s
was Stephen Foster, composer of Camptown Races.
  • Close Questions
  • What is Civil Disobedience?
  • How did the idea of Civil Disobedience influence
    Martin Luther King Jr.?

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