American literature has grown and been influenced by many
events and people who witnessed or were directly involved
in those events that shaped America. American Literature is
comprised of the body of written works produced in the
English language. A body of works that were shaped by the
history of America (Blair, Dickstein, & Giles, 2013). These
events surround our Constitution, Industrialization, Woman’s
Suffrage, and others. And there are various writers that were
greatly influenced by these events.
The rationalists era was also known as “The Age of Enlightenment or Age of
Reason.” The is was an era in our country’s history in which the Revolutionary
War was coming to an end. The U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights were
being adopted into our country’s legal governing laws. And the majority of all
news and laws had influenced literature greatly. Authors like Thomas Paine
and Voltaire were very popular. Very popular throughout the 18th century
among the American colonies. The Age of Enlightenment was widely known for
its belief of “science and industrialism. This was an era that no longer looked at
being burned at the stake as a result of heresy. The Age of Reason was known as
the era in which mankind was becoming ‘an open society’ where individuals
were free to pursue individual happiness and liberties; new ideas in scientific
thought and exploration” (All About.com, 2014). It was an era in which people
began to see things differently and express their thoughts and ideas without
Romanticism - Industrialization
America was moving away from its dependency upon other
countries. The Romantic Age lasted from 1783 to 1830,
however had a great impact on literature that is still very
influential today. With religious freedom also brought
individual freedom. Many people believed that the great secret
of mortals is love (Smith, 2011). This was a time where
individual freedom sparked value in one’s own feelings and
reasoning. People began to have great faith in their inner
experience and the power of their imagination. Poetry was the
highest form of imagination and widely used to encourage
“valued feeling, intuition, idealism, and inductive reasoning”
(EOCT Study Guide, n.d.). The works of writers such as
Washington Irving, Emily Dickinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne,
and Walt Whitman were very popular during this time.
Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louisa May Alcott are two great writers from the
Transcendental age in American literature. Transcendental era in America focused in
individualism and simplistic creativity. This era later became known as the American
Renaissance. This was a period in the 19th century, during the years of 1840 to 1855 in
which the principles for the “American Dream” as we know it today, was established. It
is grounded in the “existence of pure forms of the sensibility and of the intellect that are
essential to reason” (RUS, 2013, p. 247). Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of the great
literary authors of this time. His work ‘Self Reliance” helped to explain this era of
reasoning and understanding. It was also during this transcendental age that America
was embarking on the abolitionists and women’s suffrage ideals. America was looking
to the abolishment of slavery and the rights of women. Louisa May Alcott’s novel,
“Little Women” became the first real account of life as a woman of four sister’s during
the American Revloution.
This time period in America took place in the 1890’s shortly before the height of World
War 1 in 1918. It wa in this time when people were looking for positive, more happy
times due to the Great Depression. This era was known for the experimentation in
literary form and expression. Modern experimentation brought on “the intense
interaction between literature and other art forms such as paintings, sculpting, and
music” (Matterson, 2003). American modernism came from the few expatriate
cosmopolitan writers that were trying to internationalize literature. Along with other
modernist writers who also developed a style that was embedded in American tradition.
Writers like Lorraine Hansberry used their writing to call attention to those interested in
American values and traditions; or in many cases, equality and fairness. This included
the opportunity to achieve the American Dream. Literature during this time helped to
connect the reader with reality.
The Harlem Renaissance was an era known as “The New
Negro Renaissance.” It lasted roughly from 1920 to the mid
1930’s, struggling through the Great Depression. In Harlem,
NY is where southern blacks or African-Americans migrated
from the south in order to find work and a new way of life
after slavery. The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural
movement amongst black in music, literature, and the arts.
Harlem was eventually known as the epicenter for artistic
explosion among African-American culture (Foner &
Garraty, 2009). This movement gave “African-Americans
the ability to express their freedom, racial pride, and want for
equality, and hope for a better future. These elements that
expressed the hardships of slavery and racism, and how
many African=Americans were searching for a new identity”
(Gamble, 2008). African-Americans had their own little
piece of America in the big city of Harlem. Here in Harlem,
literary authors such as Alain Locke, Langston Hughes, Zora
Neale Hurston, and others were able to flourish and flaunt
their talents in a manner that would make the whole world
stand-up and take notice.
photo courtesy of http://harlemrenaissancegamblec.blogspot.com/2008/05/harlem-
Literary Writers during the Harlem
Langston Hughes - Dreams, The Weary Blues, The Trumpet Player
Claude McKay - Harlem: A Negro Metropolis
Zora Neale Hurston - Their Eyes Were Watching God
W. E. B. Dubois - The Souls of Black Folks
The contemporary era was also knows as the Post-modern
era. It began around 1950 and governs our present state of
literature and the arts today. Contemporary or postmodern
literature focuses less on the self-conscious and more on
duplication. Our post-modern era today is “influenced by
studies of the media, language, trends, and modern
technology. It is a culture that copies and duplicates others,
incorporating and experimenting with the combination of
fiction and nonfiction, as well as the physical appearance of a
literary work (EOCT Study Guide, n.d.). Writer’s such as
James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Amy Tan, Sandra Cisneros
and many, many others made it possible for new authors
such as Eric Jerome Dickey, E. L. James, Stephanie Meyer,
and many others to be creative and go beyond traditional
writing. While contemporary writing once looked at
capturing the ideals of the world around them, this literary
world has grown. In both fiction and non-fiction
contemporary writing covers so many aspects of life.
And the authors are:
Voltaire - Rationalism
Emily Dickinson - Romanticism
Walt Whitman - Romanticism
Nathaniel Hawthorne - Romanticism
Ralph Waldo Emerson - Transcendentalism
Lorraine Hansberry - Modernism
William Faulkner - Modernism
Zora Neale Hurston - Harlem Renaissance
Langston Hughes - Harlem Renaissance
Amy Tan - Contemporary (Post-modernism)
Sandra Cisneros - Contemporary (Post-modernism)
Emily Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830. She was one of
America’s most famous female writers during a time when women weren’t
allowed the freedom to be a writer. Dickinson like most women during
this time spent most of her days in isolation. This is where most of her
writing took place. It wasn’t until after her death however, that her poems
and manuscripts became public.
Voltaire was a French philosopher,
poet, dramatist, and historian who
was born in Paris, France. Voltaire’
s works were the examples of his
acceptance and fondness for
English thought; the relationship
between free government and
wealth. Because of his own
persecutions from his father and
society, Voltaire spent the majority
of his life securing justice for
victims of persecutions or intense
harassment. Voltaire’s most
famous work is “Candide.” This
story make fun or satirizes the
subtleties of noble birth as Voltaire
believed in free will.
Walt Whitman was born on May 31, 1819. Whitman is known for his
style of writing that is different from others and peculiar to only him. His
writings are full of meaning, beauty, and interest (Famous poets, 2010).
Leaves of Grass is one of Walt Whitman’s most famous collection of
poems. His work is very influential on American literature from the
romantic age. Like Emily Dickinson, his work focuses widely on the
ideas of individual freedom and the acknowledgement of feelings and
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born July 4. 1804 in
Salem, Massachusetts. Much of Hawthorne’s work
have a Puritan influence because of his upbringing.
Most is most famous for his novel, “The Scarlet
Letter.” This novel is said to be Hawthorne’s
Photos courtesy of
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson was famous for his thought-provoking American writing.
Although his ideas and actions were seen as unconventional, yet his work was
looked at as brilliant and positive. He became America’s leading
transcendentalist, as he “believed in a reality and a knowledge that rose above
the everyday reality that America was accustomed to” (Emerson, 2015). In his
work ‘Self-Reliance’ that we are reading in this assignment, Emerson attempts
to explain his beliefs in the inborn goodness of man, the joys of nature, and
their spiritual significance, and a universal God. These beliefs are very evident
in many of Emerson’s works. Because Emerson was America’s leading
essayist for almost half a century, he was mourned greatly by America and
most of the Western world. Emerson is often described as “one of the wisest,
most sincere, and a bearer of the possibility of the human spirit” (Emerson,
Lorraine Hansberry was born May 19, 1930 n Chicago, IL. She was the youngest
of four children. Lorraine Hansberry was a playwright whose novel “A Raisin in
the Sun” became the “first drama by an African-american woman to be produced
on Broadway” (BHS, 2011). It’s controversial subject of racism, survival, and
the need to want a better life came from what she called a “hellish hostile white
neighborhood” that she grew up in. “A Raisin in the Sun” is a novel that shows
the struggle to financial freedom and acceptance for blacks by white America.
The struggle comes from the main characters inability to move forward from his
current job, living situation, and life as a black man, until his pride kicks in and
he is left with no choice. This novel was one of Lorraine Hansberry’s most
famous works. Lorraine Hansberry was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in
1963. She continued to write and be active in civil rights and other political
causes. Right before her death, hansberry completed a work, “The Sign in Sidney
Brustein’s Window” that would go on to open at Broadway’s Longacre Theater
in 1964. It closed when she died in 1965. After her death, a collection of
unfinished pieces, letters, and diary entries were adapted into a play -- “To Be
Young, Gifted, and Black.” It became the longest running of Broadway plays
that season. It was later published into a book (BHS, 2011).
● The Trumpet Player
● The Weary Blues
● Negro Speaks of Rivers
More information can be found at :
Faulkner & Cisneros
Sandra Cisneros is a favorite author of the Hispanic-American
community. She has written several novels for young adults and
continues to be a writer and activist through her work for women’s
rights. More information can be found at http://www.
famousauthors.org/sandra-cisneros and http://www.
photo courtesy of http://www.famousauthors.
Amy Tan is a Chinese-American writer who has made
great contributions to American Literature through her
stories and accounts of life in China from her mother and
her families perspective. She has written several adult
books and many children’s novels as well. Amy Tan is still
alive and well and she is still writing. For more information
about her you can visit - http://www.amytanauthor.com/
(photo on this slide was borrowed from the latter web link)
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BHS. (2011). Lorraine Hansberry. Black History Now. Black History Biographies from the Black heritage Commemorative Society.
Retrieved from http://blackhistorynow.com/lorraine-hansberry.
Blair, W., Dickstein, M., & Giles, J. R. (2013). American Literature. Academic Room. Retrieved from http://www.academicroom.
Boyd, V. (2015). The Official website of Zora Neale Hurston. Sonnet Media -- The Estate of Zora Neale Hurston. Retrieved from
“Emerson.” (2015). Ralph Waldo Emerson Biography. Encyclopedia of World Biography online. Retrieved from http://www.
EOCT American Literature Study Guide. (n.d.). American Literature timeline. Retrieved from http://www.cobbk12.
Foner, E. & Garraty, J. A. Eds. (2009). Harlem Renaissance. History.com: A + E Networks. Retrieved from http://www.history.
Gamble, C. (2008). Harlem renaissance - background information. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http:
Matterson, S. (2003). American literature: 1890-1940s Modernism. Educational broadcasting corp: Thirteen/WNET New York.
Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americannovel/tmeline/modernism.html.
RUS, Dana. (2013). The role of transcendentalism in shaping American culture ideology. Studia Universitatis Petri Maior --
Philogia. Iss. 14. pp. 247-254. Retrieved via Ashford University library, Accession No. 90240450.
“Walt Whitman.” (2010). Walt Whitman biography. Famous poets and poems. Retrieved from http://www.famouspoetsandpoems.