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Sunday, February 13, 2011

American Literature: A Discussion

I. Introduction
American Literature has come a long way. It dates back as far as the pre-colonization-period America which is contrary to the current belief of almost everyone that English has always been the language in America. Although it was noted that "some fifty years after the political establishment of the United States, the concept of an American literature barely existed" (Delbanco), American literature did exist and is still existing.

Literature as a communication involving some degree of emotional or aesthetic response is both an independent discipline and one of the tools of anthropology. The latter is a description and explanation of social behavior in every possible environment-from the primitive to the sophisticated-in every part of the world.(Dennis and Aycock 41) In this regard, looking at how literature emerged and how it evolved, identifies the kind of society and the kind of people living in a certain era.

II. Evolution & Era
The discovery and/or development of a certain type of literature did not just happen in a flash. American Literature, the different types of it, sprouted in a seasoned manner. This means that there would not be political writings, or none of them would be popular, if there were no political issues looming around the corner.

It is quite amusing to know that American writing (in English) started not as a seriously intended literary piece but as a work “chiefly for the benefit of readers in the mother country." ("American Literature"). These were the English travelers and explorers who became Americans during those olden times, circa 1583 to 1763. Following is the timeline of the American Literature (Trent):

1. English Travelers and Explorers, 1583-1763 – retaining their own language as they travelled to America and became Americans while chiefly influencing the literature with this language: the heritage of the English race;
2. The Historians, 1607-1783 - this was the period of gentlemen adventurers writing about America’s colonies;
3. The Puritan Divines, 1620-1720 - again, Englishmen who gave their intellects to a strict scheme of doctrinaire theology, and gave up their freedom to the letter of the Hebraic Scriptures;
4. Edwards - was a special time when he, Edwards, inscribed a sequence of reflections, foundation to a great metaphysical discourse of his own;
5. Philosophers and Divines, 1720-1789 -a traditional categorization of the human ability giving reason for the American thought in the eighteenth century, which is believed to have led to the overthrow of high Calvinism: those who went after the intelligence were the rationalists, or deists; those who went after receptivity or sensibility were the "hot" men, or enthusiasts while those who went after the will were the moral or ethical reformers.
6. Colonial Newspapers and Magazines, 1704-1775 – the knowledge of and about Europe had erupted so commonly through colonial newspapers;
7. American Political Writing, 1760-1789 -- this was the period of “storm and stress”, of “revolution and evolution”, bringing forth a literature dominated by politically-themed content. Most of the topics involved “the nature of the British constitution, the formulation of colonial rights, and the elaboration of schemes of government and administration”;
8. The Beginnings of Verse, 1610-1808- the beginning covered early colonial verse starting in 1610 while in 1700 it began with transition in purpose, subject, and style and later on during, the beginnings of nationalism that is related to the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765 ending with the publication of Bryant's Embargo in 1808.
9. Travellers and Observers, 1763-1846- this was the literature of travels, brand new, wide-ranging, and sophisticated, taking its magic from the sense of wonder;
10. The Early Drama, 1756-1860 –The American native drama, even though it antedated the novel and the short story, has arrived only during the latter half of the eighteenth century having Androborus in 1714, which was noted to be a satirical embarrassment.
11. Early Essayists-during this period the first essays that were in print in colonial newspapers were written with a cognizant ethical purpose.
12. The time of Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859)-a well-known American author, essayist, biographer and historian of the early 19th century who authored "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle”;
13. The time of Bryant – an American who has the gift of poetic genius, and writing verses that last;
14. Fiction/Novels-the moment for literary lies;” that they served no virtuous purpose; that they melted rigorous minds; that they crowded out better books; that they painted adventure too romantic and love too vehement, and so unfitted…”

III. The Role of Printing Press
Taking into consideration the lack of other means of publication those days, early American literature succeeded with the big help of the printing press. Some Americans even had an undying zeal for literary outputs that they were “stimulated by a desire to render Washington City as well the seat of literature as of government, a number of gentlemen have formed themselves into a ' Printing and Bookselling Company" (McMurtrie 266). It may appear funny but it is true.

IV. Current Scenario & Conclusion
"Who in the four corners of the globe reads an American book?" (Edinburgh Review, cited Delbanco) Contrary to this insult, there are still the likes of Twain that many people all over the world know and many hunger for their literary pieces. Another noted American literary figure is Toni Morrison, a Nobel Prize awardee for literature. She is noted to be “a public intellectual, she's influenced how we think about race and storytelling ... how we use language, what we do with language, how we keep language alive and well."("Toni Morrison Society Honors" 15). Thus, American Literature, no matter how it is being viewed, is sure to be existent, alive and persisting.

Works Cited
"American Literature." The Columbia Encyclopedia. 6th ed. 2009. Questia. Web. 19 July 2010.
Delbanco, Andrew. "American Literature: A Vanishing Subject?." Daedalus 135.2 (2006): 22+. Questia. Web. 19 July 2010.

Dennis, Philip A., and Wendell Aycock, eds. Literature and Anthropology. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press, 1989. Questia. Web. 19 July 2010.

McMurtrie, Douglas C. A History of Printing in the United States: The Story of the Introduction of the Press and of Its History and Influence during the Pioneer Period in Each State of the Union. Vol. 2. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1936. Questia. Web. 19 July 2010.

"Toni Morrison Society Honors Nobel Laureate with 70th Birthday Tribute." Black Issues in Higher Education 29 Mar. 2001: 15. Questia. Web. 19 July 2010.

Trent, William Peterfield, John Erskine, Stuart P. Sherman, and Carl Van Doren, eds. The Cambridge History of American Literature. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1917. Questia. Web. 19 July 2010.

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