American Literature

  • Created by: lwilson23
  • Created on: 06-03-19 11:49

Intro to American Lit

- American Literature is believed to have many influences from the work of English and European writers such as Wordsworth and Radcliffe. 

- an essay written in the mid 19th century by Emerson set criteria by which American Lit should be judged. 

- the 1861-65 civil war caused great upheaval - as the defeat of the Confederates of the South by the Unionists of the North upset many southerners - with the passing of the 13th amendment (abolition of slavery) by Lincoln in 1865 at the war's end creating greater disarray. 

- post-war - many moved west to the 'Great Plains' of America - settling it. Whites and natives could not get along. 

- issues still peristed with matters such as treatment of African/Native Americans and women even as our time period begins in 1880 as the Reconstuction Era (1863-77) drew to a close. 

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The Concept of 'Going West'

- the concept of 'going west' became a staple of American culture - one which sparked the Amercian Romanticism movement (key writers include Emily Dickinson and James Fenimore Cooper). 

- this Romanticist outlook was losing steam by 1880 however - as the opportunites for settlers in the west waned. Dead by 1893 - led to fictionalisation of the 'Wild West' and the emergence of American self-dependence.

- despite this, concepts such as the 'frontier' as an ill-defined paradise, the individual being tested by circumstance and the increased cultural differences between North and South peristed in American Literature even into our period studied. 

- the desire to go west was inspired by the concept of Manifest Destiny (1845), the belief of Americans that they were given the right by God to move west, expand their capitalist empire and bring their Christian views with it - no matter who they had to dispossess to do so. Expansion throughout whole North American continent. 

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The American Dream

- the concept of the American Dream is extremely difficult to define, as it differs from person to person. 

- it is unanimously accepted however that it seems to represent the notion that through hard work and risk-taking anyone, regardless of background, can achieve success and greatness (with the definition of 'success' varying between individuals). 

- it is a theme that is present to some extent in pretty much every novel that can be allocated to the category of 'American Literature' - TAOI and TGG included. 

- much of the plot of these novels often arises from the obstacles in the path of someone achieving the American Dream. 

- whilst this ideal claims to be applicable to all, this is not entirely true, as societally marginalised groups (basically anyone who wasn't a white male) would struggle to achieve their version of the American Dream. 

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The New Woman

- a term coined by the writer Charles Reade in his 1877 novel 'A Woman Hater'

- used to describe a woman who was less constrained by Victorian norms, instead choosing to pursue their own pleasures and flaunt their 'sex appeal'. Challenged conventional gender roles and was met with opposition from man and woman alike. 

- was more of a social change than an economic or political one as women's presence in the public sphere increased. 

- can be linked to the emergence of the flapper movement in the Roaring Twenties. 

- derived from the 1890s image of the 'Gibson Girl' - a new look for women. 

- celebrities such as the 'it' girl - Clara Bow - also inspired the movement. 

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White Supremacy

- the belief that the white race is superior and should therefore be dominant over all other races - caused conflict within the USA (the Civil War etc.) 

- these views are predominantly spread by WASPS (most prominent group being the KKK). 

- racial segregation was present in the form of the Jim Crow Laws throughout the entire period studied. Resurgence of KKK in the 1920s due to influx of immigrants. 

- this discrimination may exist in the narrative of certain pieces of American Literature themselves or certain black authors may be discriminated against/write about racial prejudices that they experienced throughout their upbringing in their works.

- the 1920s Harlem Renaissance which originated in Harlem in New York was the first display of African-American individuals becoming involved in the arts (jazz etc.) - something which white individuals enjoyed and appreciated despite holding racist views themselves. 

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- the passing of the Volstead Act in 1919 (the 18th amendment) by Woodrow Wilson ushered in the era of prohibition - consumption and sale of alcohol banned. 

- repealed by the 21st amendment in 1933 by FDR ('I think this is a good time for a beer'). 

- led to the installation of speakeasies in US cities, (32,000 existed in New York alone) illegal taphouses which people would secretly sell and consume alcohol in. 

- many rich people also managed to obtain alcohol despite the ban.  

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The Wall Street Crash/The Great Depression

- the 29th October, 1929 Wall Street Crash marked the beginning of a 10 year economic depression (The Great Depression) for the US. 

- occurred for many reasons, with the primary ones being lack of regulation in the stock market, people buying items 'on credit' and excessive bank loaning. 

- made 'The American Dream' an unachievable ideal for all, the depression hit everyone equally regardless of race or gender. 

- 10 million men were left unemployed, and suicide rates hit an all time high. 

- took years of federal intervention via FDR's 'New Deal' to rectify the issues it caused. 

- America was crippled, therefore literature from this period is likely to focus on the 'death' of the American Dream and the conspicious consumption of the Roaring Twenties which led the once great nation to this position.

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Literary Movements which inspired American Lit

Romanticism (1830-65) - focusses on individual liberties, the power of human imagination and nature in an idealised form. Essentially the American Dream represented through literature - an admiration of the stereotypical 'Amercian' way of life. Emotion over rationality. 

Realism (1865-1900) - focusses on exploration of the 'moral interiors' of characters, the 'faithful representation of reality' and extent the emotions of the novel can be applied to the reader (versimilitude)

Naturalism (1865-1900) - similar to realism but tends to focus more on the interactions between characters and their surroundings. View characters as being driven by their instincts and passions and yet governed by forces out of their control such as heredity and the environment which they inhabit. Very frequently focussed on the lower social classes. 

Regionalism (1865-1900) - focussed on smaller, local issues but still had a wider message. 

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