2. • American Romanticism is a literary, artistic, and philosophical movement
from the 1830s to around 1865 in America. This was a time of rapid
expansion in the United States, a nation still new and finding its way.
American Romanticism celebrated individualism, the exploration of
emotions, and finding truth and nature as a spiritual connection. It also
placed an emphasis on imagination and creativity and consisted of
writers who yearned to define a uniquely American national identity
separate from Europe.
3. • American Romantic literature was adventuresome and had elements of
improbability. In 1830, the citizens of early America were anxious to find
a sense of self that expressed uniquely American ideals separate from
European values. The American Romantic movement challenged
rational thinking in favor of emotion, creativity, and imagination. The
many short stories, novels, and poems produced often featured in vivid
detail the undeveloped American landscape or the industrialized
4. Characteristics of American Romanticism
• While much of the American Romantic movement was influenced by the
slightly earlier European Romantic movement, the core traits of American
writing diverged from the European Romantics. The characteristics of
American Romanticism focus on the individual, a celebration of nature, and
5. Focus on the Individual
• American Romanticism believed in the importance of the individual over
society. As the American landscape expanded, people moved to the country
to forge a living for themselves. The American population also changed and
became more diverse with a rise in immigration. These two drastic changes
led early Americans to search for a deeper sense of self. With so many social
groups melding together to form a unified nation, the need to define a
national identity was at the forefront of much of the literature from the
American Romantic era.
6. • Much of American Romantic literature focused on the social outsider as a
protagonist who lived by their own rules on the outskirts of society. These
characters often go against the social norms and customs in favor of their
own feelings, intuition, and moral compass. Some typical examples include
Huck Finn from Mark Twain's (1835-1910) The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn (1884) and Natty Bumppo from James Fenimore Cooper's The
7. Celebration of Nature
• For many American Romantic writers, including the purported "father
of American Poetry" Walt Whitman, nature was a source of spirituality.
American Romantics focused on the unknown and beautiful American
landscape. The uncharted territory of the outdoors was an escape from the
societal constraints many rallied against. Living in nature away from the
industrialized and developed city offered the immense potential to live life
freely and on one's own terms. Henry David Thoreau documented his own
experience among nature in his famous work, Walden (1854).
8. • Many characters in American Romantic literature journey away from
the city, the industrialized landscape, and into the great outdoors.
Sometimes, as in the short story "Rip Van Winkle" (1819)
by Washington Irving (1783-1859), the place is unrealistic, with
fantastical events that take place.
9. Imagination and Creativity
• During the Industrial Revolution, a time of progress for American society
and of optimism, the ideology focused on the importance of ingenuity and
the ability of the average person to succeed with hard work and creativity.
The Romantic writers valued the power of imagination and wrote about it
to escape overpopulated, polluted cities.
• For example, this excerpt from William Wordsworth's (1770-1850)
autobiographical poem "The Prelude" (1850) emphasizes the importance of
imagination in life.
10. Elements of American Romanticism
• One of the primary differences between American Romanticism and European
Romanticism is the type of literature that was created. While many writers of the
Romantic Era in Europe produced poems, the American Romantics produced more
prose. Although writers like Walt Whitman (1819-1892) and Emily Dickinson
(1830-1886) were crucial to the movement and created influential pieces of verse,
many novels like Herman Melville's (1819-1891) Moby Dick (1851) and Uncle
Tom's Cabin (1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1888-1896), and short stories
like Edgar Allan Poe's (1809-1849) "The Tell-Tale Heart" (1843) and "Rip Van
Winkle" by Washington Irving dominated the American literary scene.
11. • Pieces produced during the Romantic period embody the essence of a nation
struggling with different ideologies and working toward a national identity.
While some works of literature were a reaction to the political and social
conditions of the times, others embodied some of the following elements
central to American Romanticism:
• the belief in the natural goodness of man
• a delight in self-reflection
• a yearning for solitude
• a return to nature for spirituality
• a focus on democracy and individual freedom
• an emphasis on physicality and the beautiful
• development of new forms
12. • The above list is not comprehensive. The Romantic era is an expansive time
period rife with social changes, economic development, political struggle,
and technological development. Although also considered part of American
Romanticism, these subgenres often exhibit other characteristics.
13. • Transcendentalism: Transcendentalism is a subgenre of American
Romanticism that embraces idealism, focuses on nature, and opposes
• Dark Romanticism: This subgenre focused on human fallibility, self-
destruction, judgment, and punishment.
• Gothic: Gothic Romanticism focused on the darker side of human nature,
such as revenge and insanity, and often included a supernatural element.
• Slave Narratives: The American Slave Narrative is a first-hand account of the
life of a former slave. Either written by them or told orally and recorded by
another party, the narrative has vivid character description, expresses
dramatic incidents, and shows the individual's self- and ethical-awareness.
14. • Abolitionism: This is anti-slavery literature written in prose, poetry, and
• Civil War Literature: Literature written during the Civil War consisted
largely of letters, diaries, and memoirs. It marks a move away from
American Romanticism and toward a more realistic depiction of American
15. Authors of American Romanticism
• Writers of American Romanticism took a subjective and individualized
approach to examining life and their surroundings. They sought to break
from the traditional rules of writing, which they felt were constrictive, in
favor of more relaxed and conversational texts that mirrored the changing
American society. With a passionate belief in individuality, the American
Romantics celebrated rebellion and broke conventions.
16. Ralph Waldo Emerson
• Ralph Waldo Emerson was central to American Romanticism and the
• Emerson believed each human had an intrinsic connection to the universe and
that self-reflection was a vehicle to reach internal harmony. With everything
connected, the actions of one impact others. One of Emerson's more famous
and widely anthologized pieces, "Self-Reliance," is an 1841 essay expressing the
idea that an individual should rely on their own judgment, choices, and internal
moral compass rather than succumb to societal or religious pressures to
17. Henry David Thoreau
• Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was an essayist, poet, philosopher,
and close friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson was largely
influential in Thoreau's life and career. Emerson provided Henry David
Thoreau with housing, money, and land for him to build a cabin on
the banks of Walden Pond in Massachusetts. It was here that Thoreau
would live for two years while writing his book Walden, an account of
his experience living in solitude and nature. His account of
reconnecting with nature and finding truth in this experience is a
perfect example of the American Romantics' emphasis on humankind
learning from nature.
18. • Thoreau is also recognized for detailing the moral obligation to
prioritize the individual conscience over social laws and government
in "Civil Disobedience" (1849). The essay challenged American social
institutions such as slavery.
19. Walt Whitman
• Walt Whitman (1819-1892) was an influential poet during the American
Romantic era. Breaking away from traditional poetry, he favored free
verse. He focused on the individual and believed the self should be
celebrated above all. His most famous piece, "Song of Myself", is a
lengthy poem of over 1300 lines first published in 1855. In it, Whitman
emphasized the importance of self-knowledge, liberty, and acceptance.
His other piece, Leaves of Grass (1855), in which "Song of Myself" was
first released untitled, is a collection of poems that changed the
American literary scene, incorporating themes of democracy and
exploring humankind's relationship to nature in a uniquely American
20. • Other writers of the American Romantic era include, but are not
• Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
• Herman Melville (1819-1891)
• Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)
• James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)
• Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849)
• Washington Irving (1783-1859)
• Thomas Cole (1801-1848)
21. • American Romanticism - Key takeaways
• American Romanticism is a literary, artistic, and philosophical
movement from the 1830s to around 1865 in America that celebrated
individualism, the exploration of emotions to find the truth, nature as
a spiritual connection, and yearned to define a uniquely American
22. • Writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau,
and Walt Whitman were fundamental to American Romanticism.
• Themes of American Romanticism focus on democracy, an
exploration of the internal self, isolation or escapism, and nature as a
source of spirituality.
23. • The Romantic writers used nature and wrote about it to escape to a
more beautiful and serene area.
• They sought to break from the traditional rules of writing, which they
felt were constrictive, in favor of more relaxed and conversational
texts that mirrored the changing American society.