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A Timeline of American Literature


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Title: A Timeline of American Literature

A Timeline of American Literature
  • Changing Times Changing Voices

Let America be America again. Langston Hughes
Native American Culture (from 40,000 BC) Tribal,
agricultural societies
  • Oral literature
  • Epic narratives
  • Creation myths
  • Used stories to teach moral lessons and convey
    practical information
  • Deep respect for nature and animals
  • Cyclical world view
  • Figurative language parallelism

Examples of Native American
  • The Earth on Turtles Back - Onondaga
  • When Grizzlies Walked Upright - Modoc
  • The Navajo Origin Legend - Navajo
  • The Iroquois Constitution - Iroquois

Before there were people on earth, the Chief of
the Sky Spirits grew tired of his home in the
Above World. When Grizzlies Walked Upright
Puritanism (1600-1800) Great Awakening Salem
Witch Trials
  • Sought to purify the Church of England by
    simplifying forms of worship and church
  • Believed in original sin and that only the
    elect would be saved
  • Wrote mostly diaries and histories that expressed
    the connection between God and everyday life
  • Used the plain style of writing

Examples of Puritan Writings
  • To My Dear and Loving Husband Anne Bradstreet
  • Huswifery Edward Taylor
  • Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God Jonathan

The wrath of God is like great waters that are
dammed for the present they increase more and
more and rise higher and higher. Jonathan
Edwards - Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
Rationalism / The Age of Reason (1750
1800) Revolutionary War U.S. Constitution
Founding Fathers
  • Philosophers scientists politicians
  • Believed that humans can arrive at the truth by
    deductive reasoning rather than relying on past
  • Wrote speeches, pamphlets, editorials, documents

Examples of Rationalism
  • Poor Richards Almanac Benjamin Franklin
  • The Declaration of Independence Thomas
  • Common Sense Thomas Paine
  • Speech in the Virginia Convention Patrick Henry

I know not what course others may take but as
for me, give me liberty or give me death. Patrick
Henry - Speech in the Virginia Convention
Explorers/Farmers/Slaves (1500-1800)
  • Recorded experiences in journals, diaries,
    autobiographies and memoirs
  • First-hand accounts of history
  • Authors Olaudah Equiano (slave), William
    Bradford (settler and farmer), Alvar Nunez Cabeza
    de Vaca (explorer)

Romanticism (1800-1860) Industrialization War of
1812 California Gold Rush
  • Valued intuition
  • Placed faith in inner experience
  • Shunned civilization and sought out nature as the
    path to spirituality
  • Championed individual freedoms
  • Saw poetry as the highest expression of
  • Dark (gothic) romances contained supernatural

Examples of Romanticism
  • The Devil and Tom Walker Washington Irving
  • Leaves of Grass Walt Whitman
  • The Raven Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Moby-Dick Herman Melville

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a
flirt and flutter, in there stepped a stately
Raven of the saintly days of yore. The Raven
Edgar Allan Poe
Transcendentalism (1840-1860) The American
Renaissance Abolitionist Womens Rights
  • Utopian outlook
  • Everything in the world, including humans, is a
    reflection of the Divine Soul
  • People can use intuition to behold Gods spirit
    as revealed in nature and their own souls
  • Emphasized self-reliance and individualism
  • Shunned external authority and traditional

Examples of Transcendentalism
  • Self-Reliance Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Walden Henry David Thoreau
  • Little Women Louisa May Alcott
  • Song of Myself Walt Whitman

I celebrate myself, and sing myself, and what I
assume you shall assume, for every atom
belonging to me as good belongs to you. Song of
Myself Walt Whitman
Realism (1850-1900) The Civil War
Reconstruction the Gold Rush
  • Feelings of disillusionment following war
  • Sought to explain behavior (psychological /
  • Common subjects city slums factories replacing
    farmland poor factory workers corrupt
  • Regionalism Local Color

Examples of Realism
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
  • To Build a Fire Jack London
  • The Red Badge of Courage Stephen Crane
  • House of Mirth Edith Wharton

Well, thish-yer Smiley had a yaller one-eyed cow
that didnt have no tail, only just a short stump
like a bannanner. Mark Twain The Notorious
Jumping Frog of Calaveras County
Modernism (1900-1950) World War I the Roaring
20s Prohibition the Great Depression World
War II
  • Sense of disillusionment and loss of faith in the
    American Dream
  • Emphasis on experimenting with writing style
  • Interest in the inner workings of the mind
    (stream of consciousness)

Examples of Modernism
  • The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck
  • A Rose for Emily William Faulkner
  • The poetry of Robert Frost and T. S. Eliot
  • Death of a Salesman The Crucible Arthur Miller

Ive been everywhere and seen everything and
done everythingSophisticated God, Im
sophisticated!" F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great
Harlem Renaissance (1920-1940) Black cultural
movement in Harlem, New York
  • Birthplace of African American black heritage and
  • Street-talk diction
  • Poetry rhymes based on cadence of jazz, blues,
    and spirituals
  • Extended metaphors used to express feeling of
    black Americans

Examples of Harlem Renaissance
  • Dust Tracks in the Road Zora Neale Hurston
  • The Weary Blues Langston Hughes
  • The Tropics in New York Claude McKay
  • A Black Man Talks of Reaping Arna Bontemps
  • Native Son James Baldwin

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose The
steel of freedom does not stain. Langston Hughes
Let America be America Again
Contemporary Postmodernism (1950-present) Korean
War Cold War Vietnam War Civil Rights
Movement Womens Movement
  • Writing influenced by advances in electronic
    media radio, tv, film, internet
  • Sense that little is unique questioning meaning
    of life
  • Experimentation with written form
  • Exploration of personal, ethnic, and racial

Examples of Postmodernism
  • In Cold Blood Truman Capote
  • The Joy Luck Club Amy Tan
  • The Things They Carried Tim OBrien
  • The Color Purple Alice Walker

The grenade made a popping noise not soft but
not loud either . . . The young man seemed to
jerk upward as if pulled by invisible wires. Tim
OBrien The Things They Carried
21st Century - What Next? 9/11/2001 E-Commerce
War on Terrorism
  • Relevance to global events
  • Regional literature (remember local color?)
  • Graphic novels
  • Self publishing
  • Confessional memoirs
  • Experimental drama

What is Your Story?
  • Who are you?
  • What do you see?
  • Where do you come from?
  • What obstacles have you overcome in life?
  • What do you feel strongly about?
  • What will your voice say about your American
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