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American Literature
What Does This Mean?
Traditional American
Literary Periods – Why?
• We have a need to define.
• We have a need to
• Because it is easy.
Traditional American
Literary Periods
• Because we typically align the
literature of a period with the
history – events taking place at
the time the works are
Traditional American
Literary Periods
• Significant events in the world tend
to shape our mindset at the time,
which is often reflected in the
writings of the times.
• Events such as: War; Economic
Depression; Slavery; Civil Rights.
Traditional American
Literary Periods
• 7 distinct time periods within
the “Traditional American
Literary Periods”
• Most occurring within the last
150 years.
Literature of Exploration
and Colonization
• 1492-1760
• Style
• Journals and diaries
• Personal Writing/Self Writing
• Searching for an Identity
Colonization – up to 1760
• Puritans - Religion and God very
• Life was a test.
• Failure led to eternal damnation
and hellfire. Success brought
heavenly bliss.
• The world = a constant battle
between the forces of God and the
forces of Satan.
Literature of Reason and
• 1760-1830
• Enlightenment.
• Emphasis on rational rather
than tradition.
• REASON & Scientific Inquiry.
• Dedicated to the ideals of
justice, liberty, and equality as
the natural rights of man.
American Romanticism
• 1830-1865
• The use of far away places or past
times for setting.
• Grotesque/Gothicism –
preoccupation with gloom, mystery,
mysticism, terror.
• Society is corrupt. Natural world is
American Romanticism
• Rejected the strict Puritan
attitudes (Transcendentalism).
• Reaction against the
Enlightenment’s Rationalism.
• Intuition rather than Reason.
American Realism
• 1865-1914
• Emphasis on ordinary, average
• Non-extreme in plot, setting, &
American Realism
• Rejects symbolic writing
• Rejects moral struggles
• What you see is what you get.
Exact truth of the daily picture.
American Realism
• Character is more important
than plot.
• Characters are neither all good
or all bad.
• Morality is the individual’s
• Multiple levels of truth.
American Naturalism
• 1890-1914
• Humans are animals in their
instinctual reaction to life
• Adoption of Darwinian theory
• Humans are controlled by
heredity and environment.
• 1914-1945
• The Lost Generation - Found no
value, no meaning in life.
• World War I and the Great
Depression had a profound impact
on their writing.
• Reaction against positivism. Life
isn’t that wonderful.
• All cultures are equal.
• Awareness of the irrational.
Workings of the unconscious mind.
• Make it new! Mantra.
• 1945 – present.
• Any thing after WWII. Not really
an organized movement.
• Black Humor (satire using taboo
subject matter such as murder,
suicide, disease, war, insanity).
• Want to Shock us.
• Irony (discrepancy between
what is expressed and what is