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The History of American Literature
Literary Period
Historical
Influences
Native American
Period
Prior to 1492
1492 – Columbus
Settlement/Colonial
Period
1620-1750
Exploration and
Settlement of New
World
1st Slaves Arrived
in America (1619)
Massachusetts
Bay Colony
(1630) 1st Puritan
Settlement
Revolutionary
Period and
Nationalism
1750-1800
The Great
Awakening –
(1740s) a religious
revival that urged
a return to Puritan
values
Age of
Reason/Age of
Enlightenment a
philosophical
movement that
valued reason,
science, and logic
Characteristics of the
Period
 Celebrates the
natural and spiritual
world
 Was an oral
tradition
 Told in the form of
myths
 Settlement
narratives written
to establish an
historical record,
glorify one’s
accomplishments,
and impress one’s
benefactors.
 Slave narratives
written for purpose
of abolition
 Focuses on
historical events,
daily life, strict
moral and religious
attitudes
(Puritanism),


1776 –
Declaration of
Independence
Romanticism and
Transcendentalism
1800-1860
Establishment of a
national identity
for the new nation
A glorious time in
American history
where the nation
was relatively free
from conflict.
Writers finally had
the opportunity to
write about
emotions and
beauty

Major
Writers/Movement
Christopher Columbus
John Smith
William Bradford
Olaudah Equiano
Jonathan Edwards
Justifies the
American
Revolution
Celebrates
nationalism and
patriotism and
examines what it
means to be an
American


Celebrates
individualism,
nature,
imagination, and
emotions



Thomas Paine
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Franklin
Ralph Waldo
Emerson
Henry David
Thoreau
Wm Cullen Bryant

The Fireside Poets poets whose sentimental,
Romantic verse was
commercially poet and
read aloud at the fireside.
(Ex: Henry Wadsworth
Longfellow)
Literary Period
Realism
1860-1900
Historical
Influences
The Civil War
(1861-65)
Characteristics of the
Movement


Naturalism
1860-1900
The Civil War
(1861-86)

Industrialism
Modernism
1900-1950
World War I
(1914-18)

The Jazz Age
(1920s)

The Great
Depression
(1930s)
World War II
(1941-45)
McCarthyism
(1950s)

Examines realities
of life, human
frailty, and regional
culture (local color)
Portrays man
accurately
Like Realism in
that it realistically
portrays accurately.
However,
Naturalism shows
man at the mercy of
forces he cannot
control but endures
with dignity
Features themes of
alienation and
disillusionment
Experiments with
new writing
techniques (like
stream of
consciousness) to
emphasize the fact
that there is nothing
that is whole.
Everything is in
pieces.
Uses lots of irony
and understatement
Major Writers


Mark Twain
Harriet Beecher
Stowe
Regionalists/Local
Colorists:
Writers who portrayed
the characteristics and
culture of a particular
region.
 Examples
Bret Hart (Old West),
Twain (Mississippi
River), Jack London
(Yukon Territory)
 Stephen Crane
Muckrakers
Journalists who
focused on ills of
society (particularly
Industrialism) – The
Jungle/Upton Sinclair



Hemingway
Fitzgerald
TS Eliot
The Harlem Renaissance
– refers African
American writers who
celebrated their culture.
Examples include
Langston Hughes, Zora
Neale Hurston. This is
perhaps the only bright
spot in Modern Literature
The Lost Generation –
refers to both WWI
soldiers (literally a lost
generation) and a group
of American writers
living in France who
wrote about feelings of
hopelessness left in the
wake of a brutal war.
Literary Period
Postmodernism
1950-present
Historical
Influences
Civil Rights
(1960s)
9/11/2001
Characteristics of the
Movement




Represents
cultural diversity
of America
Features
nontraditional
topics and
structures
Embraces the
changing reality
Skepticism about
absolutes. No one
description can
characterize all
Americans.
Major Writers
Regional Regionalism –
features variety of narrative
techniques to tell the stories
of distinctive characters/
regions (Maya Angelou,
Eudora Welty, Garrison
Keiler, Alice Walker,
Flannery O’Connor)
Pulp Fiction – serial
(continuing) fiction told in
magazine form –
commercially popular
(Famous Characters:
Tarzan, Zorro, Flash
Gordon)
Southern Agrarians –
celebrated the beauty
working the land in the rural
south (Robert Penn Warren)
American Drama – quality
plays that refuted previous
idea that American drama
was mediocre. (Thornton
Wilder, Arthur Miller,
Tennessee Williams)
Beat Generation – antiestablishment writers
(“Howl” by Alan Ginsberg)
Metafiction – a combination
of fiction and non-fiction (In
Cold Blood by Truman
Capote, The Right Stuff by
Tom Wolfe)
Cyber Punk – describes life
in a technological world
(The Matrix Trilogy)
Confessional Poets – wrote
honest portrayals of their
own emotional turmoil
(Sylvia Plath, Robertt
Lowell)