American Literature Introduction Note to pre-interns. Included in this section on American literature is an overview of major issues and themes as well as brief discussions of the works of major American writers. We assume that you own a copy of a standard anthology of American literature, such as those published in two volumes by W.W Norton and Company, D.C. Heath and Company, or McGraw- Hill, Inc. And of course it is not enough merely to own an anthology, but we expect that you will read widely in it and that you will read additional works-- particularly novels-- that are too long to be included in an anthology. In many respects, American literature resembles the literature of Western Europe, particularly of Great Britain. It shares the same language, mush of its reflects similar traditions such as Christianity and the Greek and Roman classics, it reflects many of the same cultural values, and it uses the same major genres. Yet, because the American experience has necessarily differed from Europe's, its literature has also differed. One crucial difference is America's diversity. Since its inception, American society has been comprised of people from many different backgrounds, and consequently. American culture has been engaged with divisions and the challenges of reconciling those divisions. This diversity has significantly enriched American literature, as writers have infused elements of their native cultures into their works. At the same time, America's cultural diversity has contributed to a sense of uncertainty about what America is and about what it means to be an American. For example, Americans have traditionally had the image of themselves both as idealists pursuing the noble dream of establishing a just society and as a shrewd and practical people who know how to get ahead. Symbolizing those two images, we have the contrasting cultural icons of the Statue of Liberty and Uncle Sam. In their idealism, Americans have believed in the American Dream-- the establishment of a society in which individuals are equal, are free to pursue what they want, are economically self-sufficient, and are politically informed and fairly represented. At the same time, Americans have prided themselves on their material successes, such as their taming of the wilderness, their military victories, their creation of individual wealth, and their economic leadership of the world. It is not surprising, then, that American literature has been pre-occupied by questions of human identity, a focus that can be traced to several factors in the American experience. First, the newness of American culture and the lack of the usual social constraints led Americans to wonder what an American is, what a human being is, and what the relation is between a human being and everything else. Second, the geographical isolation of America, especially in the first two centuries or so of European settlements when the settled communities were surrounded by ocean and wilderness, placed added emphasis on individual identity. Third, the political philosophy of democracy places the highest significance on the individual (at least white, male, property-owning individuals). Another emphasis in American literature, affected by the emphasis on the individual and by the geography of American civilization, is the frontier. Central to the American Dream, the frontier embodies freedom of space, the faith that there is always a better chance somewhere else, that there is fertile land, or maybe a gold mine, just around the corner. It also embodies an optimistic sense of time, for the frontier implies an open future that is necessarily better than the present and the past. The frontier is also associated with the Western European myth of the Westward movement of culture from Greece to Rome to Western Europe to America. Yet another emphasis in American literature is a defiant attitude toward Europe-- the brash Yankee thumbing his nose at stodgy John Bull. Since the past was associated with decadent European customs, rigid social classes, slums, and worn-out literary forms, Americans preferred the future with the promise if its own bright civilization. Yet there is a bulit-in tension in this preference: American culture, while it wanted to look beyond European culture, was highly dependent on the culture for its very existence. For example, how could Americans use the languages of Europeans without at least partially retaining European influences? This tension is often manifested in a curious of self-confidence and doubt in American literature. This tension is also evident in American's frequent sense of discontinuity with the historical past which was something to escape, to forget, and to be replaced with new hopes and dreams for an always better future. Americans' defiance of the past of the past particularly of the European past that most Americans had left behind, has contributed to a certain eccentricity and experimentalism in American literature. In their need to dissociate themselves with Europe, American writers frequently reject traditional literary forms or expand the limits and conventions of those forms. Many famous American works do not conveniently fit into European-based niches. American novels such as The Scarlet Letter, Moby-Dick, and The adventures of Huckleberry Finn have often been called romances rather than novels because they seem to be of a different order of being than classic nineteenth century European novels. The novels have an eccentric dimension, often incorporating odd features of supernaturalism amidst their seemingly realistic mode. In the same vein, many major American protagonists are notably unconventional, free-spirited, and idiosyncratic: one has only to think of Hawthorne‟s Hester Prynne, Melville's Captain Ahab, Twain's Huckleberry Finn, Cooper's Natty Bumppo, Faulkner's Joe Christmas, or Ellison's invisible man. Similarily, each in its own way, the poetry of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson seems radically different from the poetry of Tennyson or Browning. It seems as if the American insistence on freedom and individuality carries over to its dominant literature.: just as the country is founded on those principles, so the authors' most memorable protagonists refuse to be bound by social restrictions. For convenience, literary historians divide American literature, as they do other literatures, into chronological periods. Thus, in the following pages you will find sections on Early American literature (from its beginnings to about 1820), Romanticism (1820 to 1865), Realism and Naturalism (1865-1914), Realism and Naturalism (1865-1914), Modernism (1914-1945), and Contemporary Literature (1945 to the present). These historical divisions and labels provide a framework for he broad sweep of American Literature, but we label the period from 1820 to 1865 the Romanic period because they seem particularly pervasive then. One must also remember that writers within a given writer‟s work is related to his or her literary period but also how each writer‟s version of Romanticism or Naturalism or Modernism is different from another‟s version. Early American Literature: Beginnings to 1820 Overview. Before the nineteenth century, literature in what is now the United States can best be characterized by its diversity. Native people in North America, more than 10 million of them speaking over 350 languages, had rich and varied oral traditions. In journals, diaries, travel accounts, and other forms, European explorers recorded what they saw and felt as they were exposed to the New World. Since many of the settlers came to America with strong religious convictions, there is wealth of religious writings, particularly by Puritan writers. Two forms of narrative emerged during the period, captivity narratives and slave narratives, which authors used to recount their traumatic experiences. As European Literature in the eighteenth century shifted to the Age of Reason, American literature followed suit, most notably in the increased importance of political writing. Literature of this period is significant primarily because it provides us with a many-layered sense of how American culture emerged. Its variety of forms and voices testifies to the multi-racial and multi-cultural dimensions of this emerging culture. In this process, one important theme is the exploration of the question of American identity, and another is the complex, often uneasy, interactions between cultures, as Europeans came to grips with their experiences in their new land. It is literature of witness and discovery—of the self, of the new country and its inhabitants, and of the new culture being created. Native American Oral Traditions. Native American peoples used a great variety of forms of oral expressions, which therefore is often referred to as “orature.” These forms are primarily stories, songs, and rituals, which were passed on from generation and were performed for a multitude of cultural purposes. Among the many specific forms are seasonal ceremonial rituals, jokes, naming chants, dream songs, condolence rituals, and curing chants. Among the many narrative forms are creation or origin stories, myths that explained how things came to be as they are. Another form was cultural hero stories, which showed how remarkable people— usually with superman powers—changed the natural world and helped create the existing Native culture. Trickster tales are a specialized form of narrative in which a trickster figure, often an animal with relatively weal physical characteristics (such as a coyote, raven, or rabbit), uses its cunning to outwit more powerful adversaries. Almost always successful, trickster figures are also complex because they typically violate cultural norms and thus provide a means for the questioning and reconsidering of established patterns of behavior. European Travel Accounts. As they explored, mapped, and settled in America, Europeans often recorded their experiences. These accounts tell the story of some of the early American explorers, such as The Journey of Coronado, 1540-1542 by Pedro de Castenada. Most also provide descriptions of the new land and its native peoples (as in John Smith’s The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles and Samuel de Champlain’s The Voyages of Samuel de Champlain, 1604-18). Christopher Columbus’ journals and related documents detail his unsuccessful attempts to find the fabled riches he sought in th New World. In The Relation of Alvar Nunez de Vaca, de Vaca not only describes events but also the transformations of his own identity during his years of life in a native tribe. As the Pilgrims established their first settlements in Massachusetts, William Bradford, their governor, expressed the religious and political principles upon which the new community was based in his treatise, Of Plymouth Plantation. Puritan Literature. Largely because of their strong religious convictions, the English settlers in New England had a profound effect on American culture. Their version of Protestantism, known as Puritanism, was based on several core principles. First, like most Protestants, they believed that no earthly religious authority—such as a pope, bishop, or a priest—could intervene between an individual and God. God alone decided who was saved and who was damned. Furthermore, since the original state of human beings was thought to be one of sin and depravity, each individual required God‟s redemption. This is often called the doctrine of election (that is, only those who are personally redeemed by God are part of the elect) or of grace (one is redeemed when one receives and accepts God‟s grace). A second principle was that every material thing in this life could be interpreted as a sign of spiritual life. Thus, natural events were thought to reveal the constant battle between good and evil, and an individual‟s material success in this world indicated his or her state of grace in the spiritual world. Notice that this doctrine of signs ties in conveniently with the principles of capitalism, which also validates personal material success. Through a third doctrine—the covenant—Puritans believed that they were a special group of people, much like the Israelites of the Old Testament, chosen by God to create a holy community in the New World. Without the overtly Christian overtones, this notion has permeated much of American culture, particularly in the idea of the American Dream. Puritan writing took many forms. One was the personal diary or journal (for example, those of Samuel Sewall), in which the individual typically recorded ongoing assessments of the state of his of her soul. Another was religious tracts and treatises, especially those written by Cotton Mather, who is usually regarded as the most important exponent of Puritanism. A third form, not surprisingly, was sermons. The most memorable Puritan sermon writer was Jonathan Edwards, who lived in the 18th century, well after the Puritan heyday during what was called the Great Awakening, a religious revival in the 1730s and 1740s. Probably every American student has heard of Edwards‟ most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” with its vivid descriptions of the consequences of not receiving God‟s grace. Yet another form of Puritan writing was religious poetry, most notably the metaphysical reflections by Edward Taylor and the more homespun poems by Anne Bradstreet demonstrating her domestic pieties. Taylor‟s highly wrought poems resemble those of such English poets as John Donne and George Herbert. Typically they begin with the speaker‟s religious despair and the introduction of one speaker‟s process of working through the despair to a sense of religious elation and finally a prayer for God‟s mercy. Personal Narrative. Two forms of personal narrative, captivity narratives and slave narratives, emerged during this period of early American literature. Captivity narratives were written by Europeans to document periods of time in which they lived in Native American communities. Their purposes were not just to present the factual events of the experience but, Puritan diaries and journals, to record the authors‟ spiritual crises during the ordeal. Although captivity narratives were written by many non-Puritan writers, the most famous one, and a very popular book from its publication in 1682 in the 19th century, was Mary Rowlandson’s A Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson. Captivity narratives, such as Rowlandson‟s, also served the political purpose of demonstrating the presumed savagery of Native Americans. Similarly, slave narratives, autobiographical and pseudo-autobiographical accounts by ex-slave of their lives in slavery and their escapes to freedom, also served a political purpose. They were usually promoted, edited, and published by Northern Abolitionists trying to strengthen their case against the institution of slavery. The best known slave narrative of the period was The Interesting Narratives of Olaudah Equiano. Equiano‟s narrative became the prototype for the 19th century slave narratives, such as those by Fredrick Douglass‟s and Harriet Jacobs (see the section on slave narratives in the Romantic period for a fuller discussion of this genre and of Douglas‟s and Jacob‟s narratives). Equiano‟s narrative not only served as Abolitionist propaganda but also exemplified the tradition of the spiritual autobiography, that is, a life-story that documents the author‟s spiritual growth as well as the outward events of his or her life. The prime example of this genre in American literature is The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. In this influential work, Franklin tells the classic rags-to-riches story of the determined young man who starts at the bottom and, through hard work and determination, rises to the top. Combining practical wisdom as well as moderate idealism, it is a case in point of the American dream, an example of the promise that America stood for. Franklin‟s Autobiography also exhibits many traits of eighteenth-century literature: its reliance on common sense and rationalism, its faith in science, its advocacy of Deism, and its humanitarian and philanthropic point of view. As many writers of the period advocated, its purposes were both to instruct and to entertain. Political Writing. With Franklin, we have moved into the 18th century and the predominance of political writing in America. Because America was heavily influenced by European culture, writing in this century also was dominated by an emphasis on reason rather than faith. In his Autobiography, Franklin comes across as the most reasonable of human beings, and in their political works, such writers as Thomas Paine, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson relied primarily on reason to persuade Americans to revolt against England and then to develop the basis for the new American democracy. Though not as overtly political, Letters of an American Farmer (published in 1782), by J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, is a significant volume. Crevecoeur, a native Frenchman and naturalized American, uses a fictional narrator—the farmer in the title—to delineate American life, including the advantages but also the social problems and divisions, such as slavery, that were already apparent. Perhaps more clearly than any other writer, Crevecoeur captures the essence of what it means to be an American, particularly the idea of America as a chance for renewal and regeneration and as a melting pot for all immigrants. Neoclassical Poetry. In English literature, the period from the late 17th century to the late 18th century is known as Neoclassicism, primarily because of the interest in the classic literature and art of ancient Greece and Rome (see our discussion of the period in the English literature section). The best known American poet in this tradition is Philip Freneau, who, like many Neoclassicists, often wrote poems celebrating contemporary people and events, often, in Freneau‟s case, those associated with the American Revolution. Perhaps the most remarkable American poet of the late 18th century was Phillis Wheatley. Wheatley arrived in Boston at the age of seven or eight as a slave shipped directly from Africa, knowing no English and nothing of American culture. Yet only six years later, she published her first poems, and in 1773 she published the first volume of poetry of an African American, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Wheatley‟s poems are squarely in Neoclassical tradition with strong similarities to the poetry of Alexander Pope. Using the elegant poetic diction of the period, most are written to or about a public figure or on the occasion of a public event. Most are written in Pope‟s typical form of the heroic couplet—iambic pentameter with pairs of rhyming lines (a rhyme scheme of AA, bb, cc, etc.) Some of the complexity of Wheatley‟s poetry is evident in an unusually personal poem: On Being Brought from Africa to America „Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land, Taught my benighted soul to understand That there‟s a God, that there‟s a Savior too: Once I redemption neither sought nor knew. Some view our sable race with scornful eye. “Their color is a diabolic dye.” Remember, Christmas, Negroes, black as Cain, May be refined, and join the angelic train. On the surface, this poem appears to agree with the dominant White viewpoint that Africans are better off in America and therefore that slavery is at worst a necessary evil and at best a moral good. The first four lines present this view in a hymn of gratitude for the divine and human mercy that brought the speaker from the spiritual darkness of her “benighted soul” to the knowledge and possibility of redemption. Yet, Wheatley‟s tone becomes increasingly critical, as she first proves “some” (obviously White) people for their racial prejudice and then as she didactically warns them in theological terms to remember their Christian principles. Moreover, the phrase “sable race” suggests that Africans are not merely “pagans” associated with darkness or evil but have dignity and nobility. That they possess these traits heightens the speaker‟s satiric contrast between her view of Africans and the indirectly “benighted” view of “scornful” whites. If we read more deeply into the poem, Wheatley seems to be punning on “dye” and “Cain,” for the triangular trade that brought Africans to the Americans also included a lively commerce in indigo dye and sugar cane, the latter pun being continued with the word “refined.” Along with its didacticism, Wheatley‟s last two lines introduce an intriguing ambiguity: do they address Christians and convey the sense that Christians and Negroes are sinners (“black as Cain”) who have the chance to be redeemed? The most compelling response is that she means both. Complacent White, Christian readers may fall into the trap of self-congratulations, assuming that they are obviously candidates for redemption. More discerning readers should notice the second possibility, which deepens the satire by suggesting that Christians (Whites), like Africans and indeed like all human beings according to Christian doctrine, are in the same boat, that everyone, equally, “may be refined,” and in other words can hope for the chance of God‟s grace. Sentimental novels. In the last years of the 18the century, a form of fiction called the sentimental novel became quite popular in the United States. The best known author of these novels is Susanna Rowson, and her most popular novel was Charlotte Temple, a novel that was reprinted in over 200 editions. Purporting in its subtitle to be “a tale of truth,” the novel anticipates nineteenth-century Realism by depicting the lives of everyday people living in the present time. However, the sentimentalism comes to the fore in the plot, which is dominated by a seemingly endless series of hardships and crises for the young female characters, including troubles with friends, landlords, and, of course, lovers, as well as economic problems, unwanted pregnancies, and fatal childbirths. Romanticism: 1820-1865 Overview. American culture and the literature of this period were heavily influenced by European Romanticism. As reflected by the political revolutions in America and France in the late eighteenth century, Romanticism is characterized by the overthrown of old, traditional systems, institutions, and ways of thinking and the championing of new ones. Whatever the human imagination can conceive of is valued. Whatever is unusual, exotic, and far-off is preferred over the everyday and the here-and-now. Romantics want to explore and celebrate the diverse states of human spirituality, and they believe that the individual‟s immersion in nature is the best way to do so. Typical Romantic works place individuals alone in nature where they meditate on the natural surroundings and thereby reach greater understandings of themselves and their relationship to the cosmos. Often this meditation leads to a deep spiritual insight or even transformation, sometimes called an epiphany, in which the individual feels at one with nature and, through nature, with the divine. Not surprisingly, the central figure, or hero, in Romantic literature is often the artist, the observer, the “I,” and its ideal form of art is pure, unfiltered expression. It is not surprising that Romanticism blossomed in the United States, for the new country was itself a Romantic notion: it represented a radical break from the European past, it was a political and social experiment, it championed the individual, and it was heavily influenced by its natural environment. The American Dream is inherently Romantic. From around 1820 to the Civil War, America experienced a wave of optimism and self-confidence that also fit in with the Romantic temperament. Philosophically, the American version of Romanticism is called transcendentalism. This fancy word comes from the Romantic belief that the most important aspects of life, and even of reality, are transcendent, that is, not material but spiritual, not objects but ideas, feelings, sensations. Like European Romantics, American transcendentalists were influenced by non-Western religions and philosophies that emphasize mystical experience, the dominance of the spirit, and the unity of human beings, nature, and the divine. Romanticism was also influenced by the emphasis in Protestantism on the individual and his or her direct relationship of God. American Romanticism was also characterized by an idealistic mood in the young nation. Freed from political domination by Europe, becoming more independent economically, and enthused by their country‟s growing size and strength, Americans were on the whole upbeat about themselves and their new nation. Opportunities seemed to abound—in urban factories, in new lands opening up across the continent, in the Gold Rush of 1849, in the defeat of Mexico in the war of 1845, in the persistent pushing back of native Americans. America was seen as a second Eden, a new chance for former Europeans to start over and to avoid the mistakes that seemed to be plaguing Europe. A sign of this optimism was the wave of new ideas and new projects that sprouted up all over America during this period, such as utopian communities, charitable organizations, and get-rich-quick schemes. Despite this dominance sense of optimism, Americans also doubted themselves and their future. If they were blessed with a chance to make a new, better society, they also feared that they might fail and that their failure would be their own fault. They were typically ambivalent about Native Americans, both idealizing them as “noble” and stereotyping them as “savages.” They were increasingly divided and disturbed about African Americans and the “peculiar institution” of slavery, an issue that was largely ignored by the leading literary figures of the period and an issue would lead to the devastating end of the period in the Civil War. Pre-Romantic Writers. Three American writers, all born in the late 18th century, are usually considered pre-Romantics: Washington Irving (1783-1859), James Fenimore Cooper (1789- 1851), and William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878). This first generation of American Romantics was largely eclipsed by their contemporaries in England (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Byron, Sir Walter Scott, and Jane Austen), but they successfully used American experience to write works of literature not possible for a European to write, and they showed for the first time that a person could be an American and a successful writer. Irving is best known for his short stories, especially “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle.” Cooper, vowing to write better fiction than Scott, achieved his greatest success with a series of novels about frontier life—The Leatherstocking Tales—Which featured his idealized hero, Natty Bumppo. Bryant was primarily a poet, writing short lyric poems in the Romantic traditions (such as “Thanatopsis,” “To a Waterfowl,” and “To the Fringed Gentian”) in which the speaker, immersed in nature, reflects upon the natural landscape and, through that reflection, better understands himself and the ultimate forces of the universe. The Fireside Poets. The most popular poets during the Romantic period were the so-called fireside poets—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), John Greenleaf Whittier (1807- 1892), Oliver Wendel Holmes (1809-1894), and James Russell Lowell (1819-1891). Their poetry, suitable for reading aloud around a living room fireplace, was popular for its comforting readability and its expression of contemporary social values. Some poems recounted American legends (as in Longfellow‟s Evangeline and The Song of Hiawatha), others evoked nostalgic scenes of rural America (as in Whittier‟s “Snowbound”), and still others addressed contemporary issues (such as Holme‟s “Old Ironsides,” a plea not to scrap the ship Constitution). Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). A philosopher and occasionally a poet, Emerson was the major spokesperson for transcendentalism and, as such, he had a tremendous influence on this period of American literature. His works are collected in several volumes of essays, the most well-known of which are “Nature,” “The American Scholar,” “The divinity School Address,” “Self-Reliance,” and “The poet.” The heart of Emerson‟s thinking is that there is a non-material, transcendent level of reality and that this is by far the most important level. His concept of the Over soul, a concentration of this transcendent reality, is a metaphysical ideal of moral, aesthetic, and spiritual perfection. It‟s like God but without the imagery and narrative of the Bible. For Emerson, nature is extremely close to the Over soul, and he uses the term “correspondence” to articulate that connection. Furthermore, the human mind is also, at least potentially, very close to the Over soul, and Emerson asserts that human mind continually help create it. For Emerson, there is an underlying unity in all things, including the Over soul, the cosmos, and nature and by extension all matter, mind, and therefore all thought, language, and feeling. As you can see, Emerson‟s philosophy is similar to the Romantic viewpoint. Emerson‟s focus on the primacy of mind and its unity with nature and the Over soul leads to several other important concepts in his writing. One is that he is a philosophical idealist, that is, he believes that what the mind senses or feels is more “real” than any material object or event outside the mind. That belief pushed Emerson to privilege the act of interpretation over most other human activities, for when humans interpret an object or event they turn that thing into language and hence into the mind. Yet another concept is Emerson‟s emphasis on sublime experiences, when the individual mind fully senses its oneness with nature and the universe. Emerson is well-known for his call (especially in “The American Scholar”) for a new kind of literature unique to America. Emerson‟s worldview is on the whole very optimistic, for he believed that through the operations of the mind people can continually create a better world. Despite that optimism, however, there are interesting tensions and doubts in Emerson‟s work, for example his recurring condemnation of cities and of people in their social roles and his fears that language may be degenerating rather than improving. Here is a famous passage from Chapter I of “Nature”: In the woods, we return and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life—no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, -- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,--all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. This passage documents an epiphany, or a sublime moment, when Emerson directly experiences the oneness among himself, nature, and the transcendent forces of the cosmos (here referred to as “the Universal Being” and “God” rather than the Over soul). At such moments for Emerson, as for many Romantics, the sense of being a discrete individual disappears, as, in this case; the self becomes “transparent.” Moreover, Emerson‟s self is not merely merged with nature but it has become pure vision (an “eye-ball”), that is to say, an organ of pure interpretation, which is at least momentarily lifted into the ideal state of impeded contact with the material and spiritual realities outside the self. For Emerson, this ideal state comes about through his physical presence in nature—as for most Romantics the pathway to the spiritual runs directly through immersion in nature. But it also comes about through his reliance on his own mind—“reason and faith”—and notice that he requires both reason and faith for, since Emerson‟s unities extend to the mind itself, he needs to affirm the necessity of both capacities. The passage also conveys Emerson‟s inherent optimism: such moments are possible; they in fact are the essence of life; and in them, the self becomes “nothing” because it is aligned with everything and thus in a sense is everything. Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) Hawthorne supported himself and his family with modest earnings from his published fiction and from various government-appointed positions, such as surveyor of the Salem, Massachusetts, Custom House and as American consul at Liverpool. A member of the New England literary group, he was especially close friends with Herman Melville. He is best known for The Scarlet Letter and a handful of short stories (“My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” “Young Goodman Brown,” “The Minister‟s Black Veil,” “The Birthmark,” “Rappaccini‟s daughter,” and “Ethan Brand”), but he also wrote several other novels (including prefaces to each novel), and a biography of Franklin Pierce. More than the other writers of this period, Hawthorne focused on the past, particularly on the early Puritan past of New England. Based on that interest, one of his central themes is human beings‟ struggles with sin and evil. He is critical of the Puritans‟ focus on the dichotomy between good and evil, instead asserting through his fictions that all people have the capacity for both. For example, the title character in “Young Goodman Brown” idealize the influential characters in his life, and then, when he discovers—or imagines—that they may be evil, he loses his own faith and his capacity to live a healthy life. To explore that first theme, Hawthorne often focuses his fictions on a young protagonist (always males) who goes through a difficult initiation process. The initiate encounters a strange setting, such as Rappaccini‟s garden or the dreamlike chaos of Boston in “My kinsman, Major Molineux,” which alienates him and causes him to question his values as well as his senses. Another theme is the difficulty humans have of ascertaining just what they have seemingly seen or experienced. This theme of how we interpret objects and events outside ourselves runs throughout this period of literature. The endings of Hawthorne‟s fictions are usually ambiguous, for Hawthorne‟s narrators seldom provide a clear sense of closure; for example, the value of Reverend Hooper‟s wearing a black veil is never determined. When there is more clarity, as in Arthur Dimmesdale‟s apparent spiritual triumph at the end of The Scarlet Letter, any success is always balanced by the death and/or suffering of one or more characters. To achieve his victory, Dimmesdale must die and Hester Prynne must endure a life of penance and expiation. Another of Hawthorne‟s common themes is the human danger of over-emphasizing any single trait, particularly the intellect. Hawthorne‟s “Unpardonable Sin” is the mistaken belief that an individual can use his or her intellect, often symbolized by a character‟s obsession with science, to reach conclusive answers and particularly to understand fully another human being. Hawthorne‟s obsessed scientists include Roger Chillingworth in The Scarlet Letter, Ethan Brand, Dr. Rappaccini, and Dr. Aylmer in “The Birthmark.” By showing the fatal consequences of these characters‟ futile over-reliance on reason and the intellect, Hawthorne repeatedly demonstrates his belief in the necessary balance among human traits and his conviction that all human beings must respect the sanctity and the mysteries of the human soul. Compared to the other writers of this period, Hawthorne is more interested in social questions. His characters are seldom placed alone in nature to reflect on themselves and the universe, but instead they are placed in social situations which they endure initiations, learn or fail to learn how to become viable members of their society, and/or develop or fail to develop a healthy balance of human traits, a compassionate respect for others, a solid sense of their own identity. To achieve all of these goals, the individual needs to know the truth about his or her social position. In The Scarlet Letter, for example, Pearl cannot be part of society and cannot understand herself until the secrets of her birth and her families are revealed. The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne‟s masterpiece, is, with Melville‟s Moby-Dick, one of the two most significant novels of the period. In exploring the peculiar dynamics among Dimmsdale, Hester, Chillingworth, and Pearl, Hawthorne creates a beautifully structured novel, dominated by its three scaffold scenes, one at the beginning, one in the middle, and one at the end. The characters and the plot enable Hawthorne to investigate many enduring themes in American literature and for that matter all literature, such as who we are as human beings, how we deal with sin, what we make of the past, how we interpret ourselves and the world around us, and how we arrange our basic social institutions of the family and the community. Edgar Allan Poe (1819-1849) Poe‟s relatively brief was, to say at least, troubled. Orphaned at age two, he was raised by the Allan family in Richmond but never adopted by them. He continually quarreled with his stepfather John Allan, often incurred gambling debts, dropping out of several universities, and had an unfortunate liaison with women, including marriage to his fourteen-year-old cousin. He supported himself as an editor and hack writer until his early death. His lasting literary works include a volume of short poems, a volume of short stories, a novel (The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym), a few essays on literary criticism, and a philosophical treatise (Eureka). He is credited with the invention of the genre of detective fiction (for example, “The Purloined Letter” and “The murders in the Rue Morgue”). Except for the detective stories, the situations Poe depicts in his poems and stories are often quite similar. The main character—usually the poem‟s speaker or the story‟s narrator—is placed in a gloomy, isolated setting. In that setting, he (the character is either male or assumed male) longs desperately for a return to the past and, usually, for a lost, ideal lover. He has no interest in the material world, the present, or the future. His only desire, often not fully conscious, is to transport himself out of this world into a spiritual realm symbolized by the lost lover. For example, the speaker of “Annabel Lee” wishes to merge his body and soul with his lost lover. The speaker of “The raven” is not as enlightened, for he does not realize that the raven represents his lost Lenore. The narrator of “Ligeia” subconsciously uses his present bride to re-connect spiritually with his lost Ligeia. In a second mode, Poe creates an imaginary landscape in which material objects mysteriously fade into nothingness, as in “Dream-land,” “The Valley of Unrest,” and “The City in the Sea.” In both modes, since Poe‟s literary quest is to escape the material confines of this world, ordinary values are often reversed, so that death and destruction are positive rather than negative. “The Fall of the House of Usher,” often considered Poe‟s best story, illustrates both modes and Poe‟s underlying theme of the need for transcendence of this world. Here the unnamed narrator who visits Roderick Usher is not Poe‟s typical protagonist, for he has no inkling of Poe‟s perspective. But Roderick, mourning the recent death of his twin sister Madeline, is transported beyond the material world when he dies in a macabre embrace with his dead sister. Moments later, as the terrified narrator “escapes” back into the physical world, the Usher mansion sinks into the tarn over which it was built, thus completing the transcendent, “de-materializing” experience of the two Ushers. Poe‟s pre-occupation with a host ideal past has been attributed to his longing for his dead parents and/or for an ideal youth. It is akin to the yearning for an Edenic past in Christianity. In his interpretation of Poe, poet and critic Richard Wilbur connects Poe‟s poetic and fictional situations with Poe‟s speculations in Eureka. In that treatise, Poe asserts that the universe itself once existed in a spiritual unity (the ideal past) but has degenerated into a fragmented, materialistic multiplicity. In the distant future, Poe argues, the universe will return to that original unity, a theory surprisingly predictive of contemporary physicists‟ theories about the Big Bang and a possible Big Crunch. In any case, Poe is in some ways an extreme Romantic: he focuses on single characters needing or having sublime experiences in nature (or in Poe‟s Gothic settings) in which the power of the imagination is paramount. Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) Thoreau lived a varied life—he was a friend of Emerson‟s, he was a naturalist, for a while he ran his family‟s pencil factory, he protested against slavery. His journals and his accounts of naturalistic expeditions are intriguing, but his best known works are “Civil Disobedience” and Walden. The former is a carefully argued essay in which Thoreau details his, and everyone‟s, obligation to disobey any law, such as the Fugitive Slave Act, that he or she considers unjust. Such disobedience, Thoreau asserts, must be a pure act of conscience and must be non-violent, and as such the essay strongly influenced Mohatma Ghandi‟s philosophy of non-violence and the civil rights movement in America in the 1960s. Part nature guide, per travel account, part do-it-yourself guide to the art of life, part satire, part spiritual autobiography, Walden is a curious book. It has been called “a fable of the renewal of life” and “the artistic recreation of Thoreau‟s discovery of his means of salvation.” On one level, it is Thoreau‟s account of the two years (compressed into one) that he spent living alone in the woods next to Walden Pond which then was on the fringes of settled society. As such, he provides the details of how he built his cabin, how he grew his beans, how he passed the time, how he explored the pond and the surrounding area, who his visitors were, and so forth. On another level, Thoreau uses his experience to make fun of—and sometimes to criticize more seriously—people who do not, in his words, live life to the fullest. Behind such satire lie Thoreau‟s convictions that each person must live life deliberately, must simplify his or her material possessions so that the spiritual side of life is not ignored, and must stay refreshed in nature rather than become mired in the daily grind of society and money-making. Thus, the book is also about the pre-eminent importance of the spirit, of paying attention to one‟s inner being. His purpose in going to the woods was “to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life,” and urges everyone to “Explore thyself” and “to maintain himself in whatever attitude he finds himself through obedience to the laws of his being.” Throughout the volume, Thoreau‟s persona is hard to pin down. He is alternately cocky, melancholic, defensive, self-mocking, ironic, visionary, and satirical. More so than the other writers of this period, he is interested in material things, the here-and-now of natural phenomena. He takes pride, for example, in his exact measurements of the length, breadth, and depth of Walden Pond. Like Emerson, his prose is sprinkled with didactic aphorisms, such as “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” “Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion,” and “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.” Like all the Romantics, he is even more interested in the spiritual transcendence than can occur when one frees oneself from the usual pursuits of this world and rises to the sublime. He is adept at creating vivid images for such moments, for example through images of a transcendent sort of measurement (“The stars are but the apexes of what wonderful triangles”), of turning things inside out (“the swiftest traveler is he that goes afoot” and “We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us”), and of the beginning of a new day (“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn” and, in the closing words of Walden, “The sun is but a morning star”). Herman Melville (1819-1891) Melville began his literary career with several successful novels that depicted adventures in the South Seas loosely based on the author‟s own experiences: Typee, Omoo, redburn, and White- Jacket. Although these novels were commercially successful, Melville was unsatisfied, so much so that in the midst of writing his next novel, Moby-Dick, he transformed it from a traditional sea adventure into a mythic and symbolic epic. In this novel, Melville draws upon resources as varied as scientific treatises on whaling and the Bible, and the novel incorporates elements of many literary forms, such as the essay, drama, and myth, epic. In mixing such genres and influences in a radically innovative fashion, the novel achieves a grandeur of scope and depth as it explores the extremes of human potential in the face of overwhelming external conditions. The crew of the Pequod becomes symbolic of all people as well as of the young American republic. The white whale can be seen as representing many things, such as nature of evil, but the most compelling interpretation is that he suggests the ultimate mysteries of the cosmos. The men on board apply their various perspectives to such mysteries, thus constituting a kind of symposium on the subject. For example, Ahab hates the whale because he cannot tolerate the human position of ignorance of those mysteries. In contrast, Ishmael, faced with the ultimate mystery embodied in Queequeg and the sea, responds by accepting and even embracing the mystery. In typically Romantic fashion, the novel places humans, in this case not an individual but an ensemble, within nature and then uses their encounter with nature to speculate on such metaphysical issues as the existence of good and evil, the nature of the individual, the realm of the spiritual versus the realm of the material, and how we as humans comprehend and interpret all things. After Moby-Dick Melville continued to write fiction as well as poetry, three of Melville‟s fictional works have themes especially similar to those of Moby-Dick. In “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” the unnamed narrator is confronted with the inexplicable behavior of his employee, Bartleby. He moves through many reactions—including frustration, anger, empathy, and love— but, like Moby-Dick, Bartleby eludes any final or complete interpretation. Similarly, in “Benito Cereno,” the American Captain Delano is forced to try to decipher the contradictory and ambiguous situation aboard a stranded slave-carrying ship. In this case, the mystery is superficially clarified, but the closing court depositions leave the reader unclear about Melville‟s attitudes, especially about the vexing issues surrounding slavery in this country. Finally, in “Billy Budd” Melville depicts an archetypal struggle between good (Billy Bud) and evil (Claggart) and focuses on the nearly impossible ethnical and legal decision the Captain Vere must make regarding Billy‟s guilt in the death of Claggart. Walt Whitman (1819-1892) Most critics regard Whitman as the greatest American poet of the 19th century and as America‟s first great poet. Growing up on Long Island in a working-class family, he worked in a variety of occupations throughout his life, including as a printer and as a nurse during the Civil War. In 1855 he published on his own famous volume of poems, Leaves of Grass, a volume that he kept revising and enlarging all his life. Ralph Waldo Emerson praised the volume, seeing in the poems the kind of new poetry that he had been advocating for Americans. Besides revising and re-issuing Leaves of Grass, Whitman published several other volumes of poetry (such as a series of Civil War poems titled Drum Tops) as well as collections of essays, such as Democratic Vistas and Specimens Days. Whitman‟s poetry is marked by his underlying theme of unity. Pushing Romantic ideas to their extreme, he continually asserts the unity among all things: mind and body, humans and nature, the spiritual and the material, even life and death. In his pantheistic vision, ultimate good (akin to Emerson‟s concept of the Over soul) is uninterrupted, indivisible, and present in all things. His poetry depicts this optimistic and transcendent philosophy by its all-inclusiveness: he catalogues lengthy lists of places, objects, occupations, and activities; he declares that his own self is inseparable from all other selves and all other things in the universe. His breadth of vision means that he celebrates even death, disease, and seemingly ugly or insignificant things as part of the cosmic unity. He is therefore an eloquent advocate of democracy, for his unity extends to all people, whatever their individual circumstances or differences. The form of Whitman‟s poetry is particularly apt for his main theme. Based on Biblical verses, he wrote in long lines, without rhyme or set meter but musically rhythmical and often employing considerable alliteration, assonance, and consonance. The long lines and the typically long poems provide a formal counterpart to his themes of unity and inclusiveness, for they convey a sense of endlessness, as if the line and the poem could continue indefinitely. Whitman‟s most famous poem, the first one in Leaves of Grass, is “Song of Myself.” Echoing Classical epic poems in which the poet “sings” of historic and/or legendary heroes and events, Whitman begins with I celebrate myself And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. I loafe and invite my soul, I lean and loafe at my ease…observing a spear of summer grass. As this passage suggests, for Whitman the most significant subject is the self, for it is inseparable from all things, all other humans, everything in nature. Just as Emerson required “reason and faith,” Whitman characteristically unites body and soul in this first epiphany. By celebrating himself, by singing of himself, Whitman asserts that his very self represents and incorporates the underlying unity of the cosmos. In Romantic fashion, the poet places himself in nature from which he gains understanding about the meaning of life and achieves sublime transcendence. Two other often cited poems by Whitman are “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” and “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom‟d.” In the first, a young boy (clearly a representation of Whitman) recounts his discovery of his calling as a poet when he hears a thrush singing in a vain attempt to bring back its absent mate. The second poem, an elegy written just after the death the death Abraham Lincoln, expresses the speaker‟s deep grief and praise for the dead President and, in the elegiac tradition, depicts how he works through that grief. Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) Dickinson lived her whole life in her parents‟ home in Amherst, Massachusetts, essentially in seclusion. She wrote over 1500 short and, for the most part, remarkable poems. Many of hem use the simple form of religious hymns, with four-line stanzas whose lines alternate between eight and six syllables. Beneath that apparent formal simplicity, however, Dickinson‟s poems are usually difficult to interpret. Part of the difficulty is that she attempts to address extremely complex and unresolvable issues, such as the essence of the self, what death is and means, the nature of the supernatural, and how we describe our innermost feelings. Another part of the difficulty is Dickinson‟s quirky experiments with grammar, syntax, and punctuation. Her poetry abounds with manipulations of language that leave even the surface meaning difficult or ambivalent and that make completed interpretations of the meaning of her poems nearly impossible. Still, there are some recurring patterns of meaning. One is the typical Romantic setting: the lone speaker, in nature, reflecting on some natural phenomenon, and then moving toward some insight or epiphany. Typically, however, in Dickinson‟s poems this process is truncated or becomes ambiguous; for example, in many poems the speaker reaches no clear insight, and the poems often end with a sense of hesitation, confusion, or anxiety. Examples of this type of poem are numbers 280 (“I felt a Funeral, in my Brain”) and 465 (“I heard a Fly buzz—when I died”). Another pattern is the definition poem, in which the speaker tries to define a feeling or an abstraction. As in the first type or poems, the speaker is usually unable to complete the definition, instead often settling for a kind of negative definition in which she can only assert what the thing is not. Examples of this type of poem are numbers 258 (“There‟s a certain Slant of light”) and 510 (“It was not Death, for I stood up”). A third pattern creates a mastery/submission relationship between a vague male force and the presumably female speaker. In poem number 520 (“I started Early—Took my dog”), this force is represented as the sea; in number 315 (“He fumbles at you Soul”): it is reminiscent of the Christian God; and in number 754 (“My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun”), it is an unidentified male whom the speaker lives with and goes hunting with. Critics have suggested that this male force symbolizes not only God, but the dominating patriarchal power of Dickinson‟s world, including male authors and editors. One way of viewing Dickinson‟s complex strategies with her themes and knotty language is that she wants to insist on the ultimate open-endedness of important issues and even of life‟s deeper moments. By giving closure to her poems, even by limiting her syntax to a single meaning, she would presume too much authority and would be in danger of replicating the power-plays of the patriarchal society. Instead she prefers to call into question her own “author-ity” by circling around a subject, by forcing the reader to entertain multiple possibilities of interpreting a poem, a line, even a comma or a dash. Slave Narratives Curiously, in the writing of the major authors of this period, seldom is slavery mentioned, despite its centrality to the social and political climate of the country. It is the subject of some literature of the period, most notably Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, the bestseller that helped galvanize abolitionist sentiments in the North. And it is the focus of a genre that emerged in the 18th century and then reached its peak in the 20 years preceding the Civil War: the Slave Narrative. In these narratives—most written by ex-slaves, some dictated by ex-slaves to white editors, and many written by whites trying to capitalize on the genre‟s popularity—the ex-slaves recount the story of their lives in slavery through their escapes to the North or Canada. The narrative were published as political documents, designed to enhance the abolitionist cause by detailing the evils of slavery, by increasing whites‟ sympathies for slaves, and by demonstrating that African Americans were the equals of whites. To serve their political purposes, slave narratives tend to have similar characteristics. They often have a didactic tone, critical of slavery, white cruelty, and religious hypocrisy. Because of common doubts among Northern readers about their authenticity, most slave narratives include prefaces or other documentation designed to prove that the author really was a slave and really did experience the events described. To appeal to Northern whites‟ sensibilities, the narratives often cite Biblical references and parallels and often use conventions of popular forms of narrative, such as sentimental novels, autobiography, and spiritual conversion narratives. Typically, slave narratives start with the birth and childhood of the protagonist. The childhood period—prior to the initiation into slavery—is usually depicted as Edenic in order to heighten the contrast with the protagonist‟s ensuing awareness of slavery. The second stage is the loss of innocence, when the protagonist is confronted with the violent realities of slavery. This often entails abrupt separation from his or her parents. In the third and longest section, the narrative documents the details of life as a slave, including not only the protagonist‟s own experiences but also those of other slaves that the protagonist knew about. Besides the physical suffering, the narratives often emphasize the psychological hardships, such as the sense of isolation, fear, and dehumanization. Many narratives also make the point that slavery has deleterious effects on whites as well as blacks. Although this piling up of the evils of slavery is crucial for slave narratives‟ rhetorical purposes, the authors and editors also had to be careful not to overdo it, for Northern whites were skeptical of exaggeration and might easily dismiss a narrative if they felt that it overstated the cruelty of Southern whites. The fourth section, usually overlapping with the third, recounts the protagonist‟s determination to be free. This conviction is often depicted as a religious conversion, and often the protagonist‟s acquisition of literary is part of the desire. This period is typically very troubling for the protagonist, often involving him or her with other slaves also desiring their freedom. The actual escape—the fifth section—is almost always very brief and is sometimes omitted altogether, for providing too many details might endanger others who helped in the escape and/or might make it more difficult for others to escape. When the escape is described, it is sometimes compared to the flight of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land. The last stage of a slave narrative is the arrival and settling in to live in the North. This section celebrates the sublime moment of achieving freedom, but it too is typically brief, for not much is needed to indicate the contrast between North and South. Moreover, life in the North posed considerable problems for ex- slaves. But extended depiction of such problems did not serve the propagandistic purposes of white editors and publishers. The most famous slave narratives is Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, and American Slave, Written by Himself, written by Fredrick Douglass and published in 1845. Douglass is particularly skillful at showing how the physical atrocities of slavery affected him psychological, how slavery corrupts white slaveholders, how he gained confidence from fellowship with other slaves, how learning to read and write convinced him of the need to be free, and how he finally fought back against white violence. Particularly memorable are such lines as “You have seen a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man” and such episodes as Douglass‟ poignant address to the ships on Chesapeake Bay, which for him seemed like “freedom‟ swift-winged angels.” Whereas Douglass‟ Narrative follows the typical pattern of the genre, focusing on the individual‟s hardships and quest for freedom, Incidents in the Life of a Salve Girl by Harriet Jacobs, the best known slave narrative by a woman, is significantly different. Facing the additional problem of unwanted sexual advances by her owner, Dr. Flint, Jacobs‟ ultimate remedy was to take another white man as a lover and have two children by him. Part of the rhetoric of her narrative, then, is to convince Northern middle-class readers of the necessity of such action so that they would not dismiss her for being immoral. The emphasis of her narrative is not so much on her personal welfare but on her children‟s. Rather than escape to the North, she finds refuge in the attic of a shed, from which she can keep an eye out of her children‟s condition and then help them get to relative safety in the North. Hers is thus more of a domestic slave narrative compared to the more picaresque male narratives such as Douglass‟. Realism and Naturalism: 1865-1914 Overview For a number of reasons, the Romantic surge that dominated American literature from 1820 to 1860 ended rather abruptly. Partly, this was due to Romanticism‟s excesses and enthusiasms, which could not be sustained. Partly, it was due to a conservative reaction in Europe after the upheavals of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars and the re-establishment of moderate governments in France and the rest of the continent. In England, the Romantic period—dominated by such poets as Wadsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats—gave way in the 1830s and 1840s to the more realistic literature of the Victorian era. In America, the most dramatic factor that ended Romanticism was the Civil War. This war, which was far bloodier, devastating and longer than anyone had imagined and which pitted brother against brother and family against family, took much of the air out of America‟s sails, shaking American‟s confidence in themselves and the American dream and sobering mood of the country. Including the difficult years of reconstruction, the nation suffered a cataclysm that lasted from the late 1850s until the late 1870s. The new era, usually referred to as the age of Realism, was a reaction against the excesses of Romanticism. Realists distrusted the idealism, the emotionalism, the supernaturalism, and the exoticism of the previous era. Instead, they turned to the practical, the reasonable, the everyday, and the here-and-now. Rejecting idealism, they were pragmatists—what mattered was not what one could imagine but what one could literally sense and actually do. They were interested in the material, not the spiritual or the transcendent. Whereas the Romantics were primarily interested in the solitary individual‟s reflections, in nature, about the transcendent, the Realists focused on social issues and on the individual in his or her social roles. Nature was incidental, and the transcendent was largely ignored. Social issues also came to the forefront in the post-Civil War period because more and more Americans were interested in such questions as what America was becoming as a nation and a society, what the differences were among its social classes, what happened when an individual changed status, what roles and status of women were, and how life differed in the various regions of the still expanding nation. The period marked the emergence of the United States as an industrial, urbanized country: it was the era of the closing of the frontier, of mass immigration from Europe, of industrialization. It was dominated by Big Business and then by Big Labor and the ensuing labor strife between them. All these changes made people curious and anxious about the social fabric of the country and thus helped create a reading public desiring to read about people in their social roles. With urbanization came greater leisure time for reading, particularly of novels, which was dominate form of the period. Regional literature became popular, as readers were eager to read about life in different parts of the country. Because of the economic and demographic changes taking place, as well as the sobering effect of the Civil War, Americans as a whole were no longer as optimistic as they had been about the American dream, and at the same time they were increasingly nostalgic about it. This tension is illustrated by American‟s ambivalent attitudes about the West (the desire both to exploit and to preserve it), about American Indians (the tendency both to idealize to castigate them), and about African Americans (Whites gave them freedom but then ignored their poverty and confined them to a second-class citizenship). Realism is based on the concept of mimesis, the idea that the real things, people, and events can be accurately represented in a work of art. The artist can, in effect, hold a mirror up to reality and record what appears in the mirror. Given that orientation, you can see why Realists wanted to focus on the present and the local—it‟s pretty hard to hold up a mirror to something one is imagining or to something occurring in an exotic, far-off, or imaginary place. Moreover, Realists felt that they could be completely objective as they represented what they saw and heard, that their mirror was a clear one, and that their holding of the mirror was unbiased. And they believed that by so representing the world around them they would be improving it, that they would help society by showing it what it looked like. William Dean Howells, a novelist and influential editor, was the primary spokesperson and even arbiter for Realistic literature. He advocated specific criteria for good literature, that is, for Realistic literature: it should be truthful, it should depict ordinary people, it should maintain an objective point of view, its characters should be convincingly motivated, its characters should speak the actual language used by real people, it should include no contrived events, and it should only include events of a recent time and a specific place. Needless to say, the literature of the period didn‟t always conform to this list, and to modern reader‟s Howell‟s program sounds rather naïve, but his emphases did not characterize the period. Beginning in the 1890s and lasting only a decade or two, Naturalism emerged as an extension of Realism. A new generation of fiction writers—including Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Jack London, and Theodore Dreiser—felt that the previous generation of Realists (most notably, Howells, Henry James, and Mark Twain) were too soft—too optimistical and sentimental— about what they considered to be Real. The Naturalists were much more pessimistic, believing that the individual was inherently and constantly overwhelmed by the external forces of society and nature. For them, life is an endless fight in which each individual has little influence and minimal understanding of his or her plight. Nothing in the universe cares: big corporations, society itself, even one‟s family at times, as well as the forces of nature constantly victimize the individual, and there is no supernatural force or being to help. Whether the individual succeeds or fails, lives or dies, is merely a matter of chance. In the grand scheme of things, human beings are nothing special: just like other animals and objects, they are merely part of a natural cycle, subject to the uncontrollable forces around them. American Naturalists were heavily influenced by European Naturalists, such as Emile Zola, as well as the theories of Charles Darwin and Frederick Nietzsche. The effect of these influences was the belief that each human life is completely determined by heredity and the environment and that the writer must apply scientific methods to understand how these external forces shape individuals. Thus, like Realism, Naturalism advocated a strict objectivity by the writer, but unlike the Realists, the Naturalists found little hope for the individual. Their pessimism can also be attributed to a harsher social and political climate as the 19the century ended. Labor strife intensified, economic disparities were more obvious as the urban slums grew, there was an economic panic in 1893 that shook the nation, and a sense of impending gloom hung over Europe as well as America as the century drew to a close. Because Naturalists needed to portray individuals in extreme danger, their works sometimes seem rather Romantic. Four men adrift in an open boat, as in Crane‟s “The Open Boat,” is a dire predicament but also a rather romantic one, based on a real event and certainly quite plausible, yet not exactly an everyday occurrence for ordinary people. Besides such echoes of Romanticism, Naturalistic works also anticipate some of the emphasis of Modernism. For example, by focusing on individuals in crisis, Naturalists often become fascinated with the psychological effects of extremity, and, as we shall see, 20the century writers are especially concerned with psychological issues. In addition, by rendering isolated individuals battling the forces of society and/or nature, Naturalists anticipate 20the century existentialism, a philosophy that posits that human beings must accept the fact that they are alone and that they alone are responsible for their lives. A word of caution about literary labels. While it is useful to distinguish between movements such as Romanticism, Realism, and Naturalism, they are broad generalizations rather than strictly defined terms. Obviously, all authors are different, so even if one asserts that two authors are Realists there will be significant differences between them. And it‟s important to remember that most literary works do not fall completely within on category or another, but Naturalism is often blurred or debatable. There is no sharp difference between the two periods, as between Romanticism and Realism; rather, Naturalism is a more pessimistic version of Realism. Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) (1835-1910) Mark Twain, a pseudonym adopted by Samuel Clemens, was born in a small town in Missouri, and achieved considerable success with his early works, but in his later life he became increasingly depressed and even misanthropic. He made his early reputation with works based on his upbringing along the Mississippi River, such as Old Times on the Mississippi (which is better known by its later title, Life on the Mississippi), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and its much more significant successor, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. After turning fifty, Twain‟s next novels were not as successful and were not more pessimistic: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and The tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson. In his later years, after several deaths in his family as well as severe financial setbacks, Twain‟s works became bitter and cynical, the best known of which are “The man that corrupted Hadley burg” and The mysterious stranger. Twain‟s masterpiece, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is considered by many critics to be the most important American novel ever written. It tells the famous story of a raft trip down the Mississippi from Missouri to Arkansas by Jim, a runaway slave, and Huck, an exile from his father‟s cruelty. In picaresque fashion, it recounts a series of incidents that Huck and Jim have on shore as well as what happens when two con artists, the so-called King and Duke, share their raft. The story culminates in comic episodes at the Phelps farm, where Huck‟s and Jim‟s old friend Tom Sawyer leads them in an absurdly comic “rescue” of the recaptured Jim. There are a number of reasons for the book‟s significance. One is that Twain masterfully captures the dialect s of middle Americans (remember Howell‟s dictum about characters speaking the language of real people?), including not only the accents of rural Midwestern whites but mostly notably Jim‟s rural African-American speech. Second, Twain paints a clear, if satirical, picture of middle America, as his cast of characters ranges far and wide, from mean white trash like Jim‟s father, to scoundrels like the King and the Duke, to cynics like Colonel Sherburne, to the gullible but true-hearted Emmeline Granger ford. As Twain presents his large cast of characters, he manages to satirize many characteristics of middle-class American behavior, such as religious beliefs, sentimentality of all varieties, the weaknesses of people in crowds or mobs, gullibility, and greed. Third, the novel investigates a number of intriguing issues, such as slavery and its consequences for individuals and families, the relationship between one‟s identity and the need for a stable family, lying and truth-telling and the often fine line between them, and the related issues of storytelling and plot-making. Fourth, with Huckleberry Finn, Twain creates a kind of archetypal American. In some ways an all-American boy, Huck is adept at adapting to whatever circumstances he finds himself in, but he is also remarkably clever at manipulating situations and people to get what he needs or to scramble out of tight spots. One serious theme of the novel if Huck‟s moral development, as he grows from a superficial reliance on the hypocritical ethnical values of the adult who have raised him to a truly admirable morality. This is illustrated in several moments in which Huck considers what to do about Jim—turn him in since he is the legal property of his white owner or help escape since he is an honorable and compassionate fellow human being. Perhaps most significant is the symbolic force of the novel‟s basic story. Twain places a white boy and a black man drifting down the middle of America. Life on the river is often idyllic, and in Romantic fashion, the two individuals alone in nature seem to become larger than life. But contrasted with this almost dreamlike river life is the shore, with its con artists, its mobs, its feuds, its lying, and its greed. With the contrast, twain captures some of the tensions in the American imagination—we cherish the American dream and yet we know that reality is usually quite different. Huck remains enigmatic: after the Phelps Farm episode resolves the plot, he rejects a future in middle-class society, opting instead to “light out of the territory,” presumably Oklahoma. By so doing, he echoes Twain‟s own increasing rejection of American society, and symbolically he remains free, as the American myth would have all Americans be, free to move on, especially to move west. He is thus like a number of American protagonists—Hester Prynne, Ahab, Cooper‟s Natty Bumppo, Fitzgerald‟s Jay Gatsby, Morrison‟s Sula—who can only exist outside of society or on its fringes, and who somehow typify Americans‟ own ambivalence about the merits of civilization versus our Romantic yearning for individual freedom and open road. Henry James (1843-1916) Born into a wealthy family in New York City and brother of the philosopher William James, Henry James chose to live most of his life in England, where he wrote extensively and enjoyed the society of the well-to-do. He wrote many novels, novellas, and short stories, as well as a few travel pieces and unsuccessful plays. His best known works are two novellas—“Daisy Miller” and “The Turn of the Screw”—and four novels: The Portrait of a Lady, The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, and The Golden Bowl. He is firmly in the Realistic mode, as his novels depict the lives of American and European characters that closely resemble real people. His plots focus on the intricate details of the slight differences among various strata of the upper class people he usually writes about. In a sense, he is a regionalist, for his milieu is the independently wealthy class of Americans living or traveling in Europe and the set of wealthy, often titled, Europeans whom the Americans encounter. These encounters, in which the relatively naïve Americans typically are betrayed by the Europeans or more experienced Americans, is Jame‟s international theme; for example, Daisy—independent, flirtatious, exasperating, but charming—dies after being misunderstood by her American suitor and being rejected by the American circle in Rome; and Millie Theale, the “dove” in Wings of the Dove, gets her wings symbolically clipped by two conniving Europeanized Americans. James is considered by many to be the founder of the psychological novel. More so than other Realists, he concentrates on the subtle ways in which his characters react to each detail of the plot. The Portrait of a Lady chronicles the inner journey that Isabel Archer takes after finding herself in possession of a small fortune, intelligence, a pleasing personality, and good looks. She rejects two potential husbands and, against the advice of her friends, chooses badly and then pays the price. In this novel, as in most of Jame‟s fiction, the action, if one can call it that, is very tame, consisting mostly of people talking to each other. Bu the depth of Jame‟s work often comes in the internal monologues, in which character‟s innermost thoughts and feelings are conveyed in the minutest detail. For example, after Isabel sees her husband and his ex-lover in a disturbingly intimate scene, James painstakingly delineates her reactions in an uninterrupted interior monologue taking up about a dozen pages. Jame‟s narrative techniques are masterful. Nearly always using third-person narration, he carefully controls what his narrators know; in “Daisy Miller” the effect hinges on the narrator‟s complete lack of access to Daisy‟s mind, and in most of his other fictions Jame‟s greatest strength is the narrator‟s ability to know and convey the deepest feelings of the characters. At times, James also uses an observer character as a substitute for an omniscient narrator. In The Golden Bowl, large portions of the plot are told by such a reflector, a character who is not involved in the plot but whose active imagination allows him to re-create how, from his perspective, the principal characters must have felt. Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) Although her primary life‟s work was as an essayist and lecturer for women‟s rights, Gilman is important in American literature for one story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.” In part based on Gilman‟s own depression following the birth of her child, this powerful story details the psychological deterioration of its unnamed narrator. Following the prevailing treatment of the time for depression, she is confined to a bedroom by her husband, who is a doctor, and his sister, their housekeeper, under orders not to read, write, or otherwise tire herself. However, the treatment backfires as her active imagination creates fantasies about the patterns in the room‟s yellow wallpaper and the women she senses exist behind it, and the story ends with her apparent insanity. Part of the unsettling effect of the story is Gilman‟s decision to narrate the story from the woman‟s point of view, a choice that leaves the reader unsure of her reliability about her circumstance---for example, is she actually locked in the room, were the bars placed on the window to keep her from jumping out? This story is a good example of the overlap between Realism and Naturalism. It is set in the here-and-now, it deals with ordinary people, it is based on actual experience. At the same time, it is suggestive of Naturalism, for the women are at the mercy of the powerful social forces that prescribe her treatment and confinement. Like most Naturalists, Gilman then chronicles her protagonist‟s psychological reactions to her extreme situation. The story has been successfully interpreted from a number of critical approaches. From a feminist point of view, the story typifies the subordinate position that women have long been placed in by the dominating patriarchy, and the protagonist‟s plight resembles the struggles of other female characters (e.g., Gustave Flaubert‟s Madame Bovary, Leo Tolstoy‟s Anna Karenina, Thomas Hardy‟s Tess d‟Urberville, and in America, Hawthorne‟s Hester Prynne and most of his primary female characters, Jame‟s series of beleaguered women, Kate Chopin‟ Edna Pontellier, and Edith Wharton‟s Lily Bart). A psycho-biographical approach to the story focuses on parallels between Gilman and the women, including Gilman‟s abandonment by her father and her difficulties with marriage and motherhood. A Freudian perspective picks up on the family as the site of repression and brings out how the story evokes the uncanny and unaccountable, for example with its intriguing puns on the words “creep” and “smooch.” A postcolonial theorist notices that the house in the story is termed “a colonial mansion, a hereditary estate” and therefore that the gender inequalities and exploitation in the story have existed for centuries and are parallel to colonialism. Combined with a New Historicist approach, post colonialism also connects Gilman‟s pejorative use of the color yellow with late 19th century anxiety about so- called “yellow” people from Asia and Eastern Europe. A stylistics approach focuses on subtle shifts in linguistic patterns in the story: for example, early on, when the narrator is deferring her identity to the wishes o her husband, she typically minimizes the syntactical force of the first person pronoun by placing it in the unemphatic position of a prepositional phrase (“John laughs at me”) or eliminates it entirely (“What is on to do?); in contrast, by the end of the story, when in her madness the narrator rebels against her husband‟s regimen, she starts many sentences with “I” and syntactically reverses the roles in her earlier sentence (“I had to creep over [John]”). For a reader response theorist, the narrator‟s frequent attempts to decipher—“read”—the wallpaper parallel the reader‟s required attempts to understand, or “read” the story. Thus, the reader is entangled in a situation similar to the narrator‟s, as the yellow wallpaper and “The Yellow Wallpaper” become mixed up in a tangled and indecipherable mystery. Finally, a deconstructive critic would notice the numerous ambiguities and contradictions surrounding and within the text: Gilman‟s multiple names (Charlotte, Perkins, Stetson, Gilman), the variant spellings of the title word (wall=paper, wallpaper, wall paper), the blurred boundary between the protagonist as narrator and actor, and the vagueness of the intended audience of the narrator‟s text. All these gaps suggest that this text is a prime example of an open field, not fixed in any single interpretation but forever shifting and variable. (For a more detailed discussion of these and other critical approaches, see our introduction). Booker T. Washington (1856?-1915) and W.E.B Du Bois (1868-1963) At the turn of the century, the key issue for African Americans was whether to adopt a conciliatory, assimilations posture toward the dominant white society or to insist on absolute equality. The issue was conveniently framed by the two leading African-American authors of the time: Booker T. Washington and W.E.B Du Bois. Washington founded and ran Tuskegee Institute explicitly to train African Americans for the mechanical and agricultural jobs that were available to them. In his essays, speeches, and autobiography Up from Slavery, he consistently advocates his position that African Americans must make the best of their situation. His message is practical and realistic: learn what we can from the experience of slavery, conciliate reactionary whites, give up the dream of social equality, and achieve economic progress through training and industriousness. His message is epitomized by his slogan, “cast down your bucket where you are.” If Washington was the moderate, Du Bois was the radical. As the title of his most significant work (The Souls of Black Folk) suggests, Du Bois is concerned with the spiritual and psychological dimensions of the African Americans rather than with the economic one. He reminds his black and white audiences how psychologically destructive slavery was and how damaging racial discrimination continued to be. He is a “race man,” not content to accept second-class citizenship. In the following famous passage from The Souls of Black Folks, Du Bois articulates a crucial effect of being Black in America: After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,--a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelations of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one‟s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one‟s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,--an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. In this passage, Du Bois articulates the deep psychological effects of discrimination, effects that may apply to any individual or any group that is discriminated against or that is not part of the dominant power structure in a society or community. Those effects for Du Bois can be so extreme as to tear the individual apart—“two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals.” Yet double-consciousness is “a peculiar sensation,” and Du Bois‟s formulation implies some of that peculiarity. It is suggested by Du Bois‟s metaphor of the “veil,” which refers physically to the caul that some babies are born with, but which also suggests the socially constructed obscuring of African Americans, and which further represents the indirect ways by which African Americans are typically forced to view the world and to act in it. But in many folk traditions, to be born with a caul is a fortuitous omen, which implies that double-consciousness is not entirely a bad thing. Moreover, in West African culture, a seventh son (and especially the seventh son of a seventh son) is destined for good fortune. More explicitly, Du Bois asserts that African Americans are “gifted with second sight.” Their forced separation from the dominant White culture, in addition to causing material and psychological hardship, has the indirect benefit of giving African Americans insight into themselves, American culture, and human life in general. And one result of the historical struggle to survive in America is a “dogged strength” that DU Bois finds in African Americans. Stephen Crane (1873-1900) Crane‟s short life was marked by his refusal to adopt any set career or routine. He wrote voluminously—as a journalist, an essayist, a poet, and a fictional writer. The subjects of his best known fictions illustrate the variety he craved: Maggie, A Girl of the Streets documents the slide into poverty and prostitution of a neglected urban girl; The Red Badge of Courage narrates the Civil War experiences of a common soldier (all the more remarkable since Crane was never in a war); “The Open Boat” is the story, loosely based on Crane‟s own experience, of four shipwreck survivors; and “The Blue Hotel” recounts the tragic consequences of a traveler‟s misconceptions of life in the American West. Crane‟s fiction provides clear examples of Naturalism, for it shows how the shaping force of the environment determines the fates of the overwhelmed individuals. Maggie has no chance to succeed or survive against crushing poverty and social condemnation, including ostracism from her own family. War not surprisingly overwhelms Henry Fleming, and he runs from the first assault by the enemy, wanders alone behind the lines, and then is drawn into heroic action, more by the force of the events than by his own volition. In “The Blue Hotel,” first nature overwhelms the characters when a blizzard strikes the Nebraska town they are in, and then social forces lead to the death of the uncomprehending Swede. “The Open Boat” perhaps most clearly exemplifies Naturalism, in this case the power of nature relative to the helplessness of individual human beings. After their ship sinks, the Captain, the oilier, the cook, and a journalist are afloat for two days off the coast of Florida before they risk the perilous passage through the surf to the shore. The Naturalistic tenor of the story is suggested by the variety of hazards the men are exposed to: the sun, the wind, the waves, the sharks, even a diving bird, as well as the surf. In their tiny boat with the water just below the gunwales and only a half-inch of wood between them and death, their predicament is an emblem for the human condition in Naturalistic terms. They can row and steer, but they are essentially subject to the overwhelming forces of nature. Crane constructs his plot to maximize the time while the men are on the edge of existence, so that he can fully explore their psychological reactions. Among the men there is unusual harmony, as they politely relieve each other of rowing and as they try their best to assure that they will survive. But collectively, they go through numerous gyrations of hope, frustration, and despair about the possibility of surviving. The men, not embracing the tenets of Naturalism, expect some higher power—in their case, Fate—to care about their plight. Their refrain is: “If I am going to be drowned—if I am going to be drowned—if I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees? Was I brought her merely to have my nose dragged away as I was about to nibble the sacred cheese of life? It is preposterous. If this old ninny-woman, Fate, can not do better than this, she should be deprived of the management of men‟s fortunes.” They desperately want to believe in some sort of meaning in the cosmos, some agency that does manage things, so they personify that meaning. In contrast, Crane‟s narrator, who does embrace the Naturalistic view, has no such illusions. To convey this disparity, Crane consistently removes his narrator from the men: for example, the story starts with “None of them knew the color of the sky,” which implies that the men‟s perspective, unlike the narrator‟s, is inherently limited. That distance extends to the implied differences between the men‟s wishes for meaningful agency and the narrator‟s, and by extension Crane‟s, Naturalistic perspective that there is neither any meaning nor any supernatural agency in the cosmos. Jack London (1876-1916) London was born into a lower-middle class family and liked to exaggerate his poverty out of an ideological, Marxist loyalty to the working class. Throughout his life, he refused to settle down, preferring instead to experience a wide variety of jobs and locations. He is best known for his novels (The Call of the Wild, The Sea Wolf, and White Fang) that work out the Naturalistic struggle to survive in extremely hash conditions. Fascinated with the Arctic region, London developed what has been called his code of the North. To survive, one must be as tough as external conditions, and one achieves such toughness by imposing an austere discipline on oneself. Deeds are far more significant than words. One must avoid pride and arrogance and must be unselfish and tolerant. When the individual reaches this level of personal advancement, he or she can be elevated into a mythical space beyond civilization and the material world. For example, Buck, the canine hero of The Call of the Wild, after surviving human brutality, numerous fights with other animals, and the harsh exigencies of nature, heads off into this primordial paradise at the end of the novel, a prime example of how Naturalism sometimes resembles Romanticism. One of London‟s short stories, “The Law of Life,” nicely illustrates his version of Naturalism. An aging former chief, Koskoosh, who is unable to travel on with his migrating tribe, is left by himself to die, according to tribal custom. London follows Koskoosh‟s thoughts and feelings as he reflects on his life and contemplates his imminent death—again, the Naturalists‟ predilection to explore the psychological effects of being placed in extremity. Koskoosh knows that the tribal action is necessary, and he knows that the law of life requires that he, like all things in nature, must die and that nature is indifferent to his process, yet he cannot avoid wishing that he could live longer, that his son would return to him, or even that his granddaughter had left him a few more sticks to keep his fire burning a little longer. But his wishes mean nothing against the strict enforcement of the law of life, and the fire dies down as the wolves close in. Other Realists and Naturalists Other writers primarily in the Realistic mode include William Dean Howells (1837-1920), who wrote many novels (the best known is The Rise of Silas Lapham), mostly about middle-class life in America, and was a very influential editor and literary critic. Henry Adams (1838-1918), grandson of John Quincy Adams and great-grandson of John Adams, is primarily important for his autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams, a volume that encapsulates many of the changes taking place in America during this period. A close friend of Henry James, Edith Wharton (1962-1937) wrote several important novels (The House of Mirth, Ethan Frame, and The Age of innocence) that resemble James in their psychological depth and, in The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence, in their focus on the upper class. Wharton‟s deep=seated pessimism about achieving success of happiness and the consequently unhappy lives of all protagonists push her fiction closer to Naturalism. Kate Chopin (1850-1904) is remembered primarily for one novel, The Awakening, which chronicles the escape of Edna Pontellier from an unbearable marriage, her passionate love affair, and her eventual suicide, and which is another example of a novel that combines Realism and Naturalism in its depiction of a social that overwhelms the individual. Two writers who are more clearly Naturalistic are Frank Norris (1870-1902) and Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945). Norris, part of the late 19th century impulse toward progressive reform of big business, is known for his novels, such as McTeague, The Octopus, and The Pit, that expose how large industrial companies victimized individual workers. Dreiser develops a similar theme in such novels such as The Financier and The Titan, but his best known novel in his first, Sister Carrie, which recounts the material and spiritual ups and downs of several middle-class characters. Modernism: 1914-1945 Overview The second decade of the 20th century marked a radical shift in European and American culture even more fundamental in America than the shift associated with the Civil War. At the heart of this shift is a revolt against the core beliefs, conventions, and assumptions—the whole cultural system—of the 19the century and a sense of disillusionment about the validity of any such beliefs or system. As the name usually given to this period indicates. Modernism has no single defining characteristic like the periods preceding it. Its dominant modes are skepticism and experimentation. Among the many causes of this shift, World War I is the most dramatic. Similar to the effects of the Civil War on Americans‟ optimism about their country, the Great War shattered Western civilization. The new generation who fought in the war and whose outlook was shaped by its unprecedented scale of destruction no longer had faith in the ideals that had dominated the 19th century, ideals such as a belief in God, a conviction that progress was inevitable, and the American dream. The older generation and the old system had failed, and the result among the new generation was a sense of alienation and doubt. In addition to the war, many other factors contributed to the emergence of Modernism. Between 1890 and 1920, America shifted unequivocally from an agrarian-based to an industrial-based society. Urbanization, immigration, industrialization, and new technologies combined to create for the first time a mass society, dependent on mass communications and a large-scale national government. Revolutionary changes in thinking about society, psychology, and physics also helped to create the new atmosphere. Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism and his theories about the inevitably of world-wide socialism, combined with the Russian revolution of 1917, called into question Americans‟ belief in capitalism. Sigmund Freud’s startling ideas about the human psyche, particularly the unconscious, overthrew previous convictions about how the mind works and therefore about the very essence of human identity. The discoveries and theories of Albert Einstein and other physicists‟ similarity rendered obsolete the Newtonian conception of physics that had previously dominated Western thinking. The new physics, moreover, concluded not only that Newtonian laws did not adequately explain things like matter and energy, but also that, instead of being explained by fixed relationships or laws, the universe can only be accurately discussed in terms of relatively, probability, and uncertainty. Suddenly Americans and Europeans could no longer comfortably believe in many of the principles that had seemed sacrosanct: the existence of God, the superiority of capitalism, the pre-eminence of human consciousness, and the previously accepted laws of physics. To symbolize and cap off all this crumbling of their cultural system, they witnessed in World War I the literal destruction of their towns and villages and the horrific casualties inflicted on their young men on a previously unimaginable scale. Modernism‟s primary characteristics follow from such social and philosophical changes. Existentialism emerged as a new philosophy that helped define the new era. French writers such as Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus questioned the traditional assumption that individuals acquire their identities and find meaning in their lives because of their relationships to larger social institutions, such as family, career, nation, and religion. Instead, they and other existentialists argued that true identity and meaning depend fundamentally on the individual‟s own self. Using other people and institutions for such purposes is a dangerous illusion that prevents individuals from leading authentic lives. Individuals must realize that there is no larger meaning to life that will make their lives meaningful, that life is fundamentally absurd, and that each of us is inevitably isolated. Until they realize such realities, people will be alienated and dominated by ennui, or profound boredom with life. They must make the existential leap into rejection of their reliance on society and its institutions and into acceptance of their complete responsibility for their own being. Once they make that leap, they have the freedom, although it is a demanding freedom, to develop an authentic self. In the social science, the skepticism about the validity of Western values and principles led to the notion of cultural relativism. Instead of the tenet that Western ideas and values are right and those of other cultures are wrong, cultural relativism places questions of right and wrong in perspective; that is, the worth of any given action or belief must be considered within the parameters of a given culture or society. Good and bad became conditional instead of absolute. In the arts, Modernism meant breaking with tradition, testing old conventions about what art should do, and therefore experimenting. Ezra Pound‟s credo works for the entire period: “make it new.” Changes in the plastic arts were particularly dramatic. From a mid-nineteenth century belief in mimesis, that is, that the purpose of art was to re=present real things, painting had already undergone the Impressionists‟ revolution in the late 19th century, a style of painting that attempted to convey an “impression” or an emotion rather than a physically accurate re- presentation. With thee upheavals of the early 20the century, painting moved rapidly much further from mimesis, such as movements as cubism, expressionism, op art, and pop art indicate. Music also shifted drastically in the Modernist period, as classical music evolved from its traditional harmonic origins to experiments in different scales and structures, and as new forms emerged such as the blues and jazz. Because of the emphasis on experimentation, the literature of the Modernist period is characterized by its variety. It is so varied that any additional generalizations must be qualified, and one must realize that even though Modernism differs sharply from the earlier periods, there is still plenty of evidence of the features of Romanticism, Realism, and Naturalism. On the less experimental side, many writers continued in the Realistic and Naturalistic modes. Sometimes called the “plain” style, this more conventional mode can be found in the works of such writers as Robert Frost, Katherine Anne Porter, Willa Cather, and Langston Hughes. A more Naturalistic sense comes across in some of Frost‟s poems, in William Faulkner‟s fiction, and more strongly in the fiction of Richard Wright. More experimentally, there are at least two extremes. One is called minimalism, since such works tend to minimize the text in some way, for example in the lack of an apparent theme, in the length of the work, or in the work‟s diction and style. Examples of this tendency can be found in the poetry of William Carlos Williams and the fiction of Ernest Hemingway. The other extreme is a highly symbolic and often highly allusive literature that requires close attention and hard work of its readers. Examples include much of the poetry of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Wallace Stevens, and the fiction of Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald. One way of understanding the variety of Modernism is to see that the literature of this period is a mixture of Romanticism, Realism, Naturalism, and an additional effusion of symbolism. To the extent that it is akin to Realism, Modernist literature usually has a pronounced psychological focus. Partly because of the spread of Freud‟s theories, writers tended to explore in great depth their characters‟ complete selves, even the subconscious urges that the characters themselves may not be aware of. The realism of the 20the century is thus a more radical realism, a realism freed from reporting merely what a camera and a microphone could record. Because much of it is experimental, much Modern literature seems strange or weird. Writers often defy readers‟ expectations by violating or playing with the conventions of their genre. A prime case of this is the expansion from the convention of a single narrative perspective to the use of many points of view in a single work, for example Faulkner‟s As I lay Dying with its fifteen first-person narrators and his The Sound and the Fury with its four narrators. For Modernists, any convention was fair game: a poem could consist of a mere two line (Pound‟s “In Station of the Metro”), a poem need not have a theme (Williams‟ “This is Just to Say”), or a poem could consist of apparently unrelated fragments (Eliot‟s “The Waste-Land”). Short stories and novels tended to have a less linear plot with a less discernible beginning, middle, and end. Traditional narratives were usually based on such linear plots and on structures designed to answer some question about the characters, for example whether or not Arthur Dimmesdale‟s secret will be revealed or whether or not Ahab will gain his revenge on the white whale. Instead, the Modernist “plot” tends to be less directional, to be the revelation of a state of affairs or a state of being, sometimes referred to as a slice of life (as in Porter‟s story “Flowering Judas” or Hemingway‟s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”). New fictional techniques, such as stream of consciousness (which creates the effect of recording the unplanned and unedited flow of words through a character‟s mind), allowed fiction writers to probe more deeply into their characters‟ psyches and tended to replace more traditional plots. Another common feature of Modernist literature is its reliance on images. “Imagism” was a term used in the first two decades of the century to refer to the poetry of Amy Lowell, Ezra Pound, and other poets. This new poetry tended to reduce the poem to its images, eliminating abstractions, overt references to a speaker, and commentary of any kind. Pound wanted to present the image in its purest form in order to elicit as strongly as possible as emotional reaction in the reader. That emotion and whatever meaning the poem has is to the reader. With the typical reliance on the image itself, much Modernist literature is more overtly symbolic than much 19the century literature, and, in the relative absence of controlling ideologies such as Christianity, Modernist symbolism often challenges readers because it is more particular to the given writer than it is general or archetypal. The Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, for example developed his private system of symbols that he then used in many of his poems. Eliot does use Christian symbolism but by no means exclusively, and Stevens, Faulkner, and Hemingway provide other examples of private and, therefore, more obscure symbolism,. Because of its experimentation and its subverting of our expectations, Modernist literature can often seem difficult and intimidation: for the same reasons it can also be liberating and, yes, fun. If one frees oneself from a sense that literature must do the kinds of things that it‟s always has and must stay within the traditional limits of form and content, then Modernist literature is intriguing if for no other reason than to find out what weird variation will happen next. Poetry Robert Frost (1874-1963) Frost‟s family moved to New England when he was eleven years old, and its places and people became the subjects of his poetry. His is a conservative poetry by Modernist standards, more often using traditional techniques such as rhyme and meter instead of the free verse more typical of the period. His poetry has affinities with Romanticism, for most Frost poems are lyrics in which the isolated speaker contemplates a natural scene that leads him to express his feelings and/or an insight. Frost‟s Modernism, however, is evident in the prevalence of uncertainty and the rarity of any sense of sublimity or epiphany in his poems. His speakers are typically on the verge of something, of learning something important about themselves or the cosmos, of capturing an elusive emotion or idea. Nature for Frost seems to be the place where such answers might be found, but it is always in flux, providing only tantalizing hints but no true knowledge. His speakers are isolated, reflective, willfully trying their hardest to discover meaning, and usually resigned to their failure. Sensing that there is some kind of supernatural meaning behind the visible universe the existence and essence of which remains unknown to human beings, they want to know if there is order and meaning in the universe, but such knowledge remains elusive. In “After Apple-Picking,” the speaker‟s meditation takes him to the imagined boundaries between the material and the immaterial, the human and the animal, this life and whatever lies beyond it, and ends with his uncertainties about his experience and human life in general. In “Design,” the speaker wonders if there is any design in the universe that would explain death and survival, but the sonnet ends with a sestet comprised entirely of questions. In “Once by the Pacific,” the speaker senses a coming cataclysm but cannot be sure. “Directive” is more optimistic, as the speaker takes the reader on a journey back in time and space to the purer past of childhood and offers the reader a drink of mystical waters that will allow him or her to “be whole again beyond confusion.” Frost also wrote poems with New England characters in them, such as “The Death of the Hired Man,” “Out, Out—,” and “Two Tramps in Mud Time.” Usually longer than his lyric poems, these poems present a very pessimistic, Naturalistic, picture of the harshness of rural life. Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) As he spent his career as an insurance executive in Hartford, Connecticut, Stevens published numerous volumes of highly wrought, metaphysical poetry. Whereas few Realists and Naturalists were interested in the abstractions of metaphysics, Stevens broke with that tradition by thoughtfully pursuing such ultimate questions as, is there a God? How do we live without knowing if there is? even if there is no God, is there any order in the universe? What is the beauty and what difference does it make? And, most centrally in his poetry, how is the perceiving mind related to what is perceives. This last question is the fundamental question of a branch of philosophy called epistemology, which can be paraphrased as, how do we know what we know? Another way of approaching this issue is to ask whether the reality of something ultimately resides in the thing itself or is determined by how it is perceived. Once stance is to say that it takes something of both; e.g., there really is a boulder on the highway in front of me, but its meaning depends on my perception of it and on my situation; that is, it means something very different if I am bearing down on it at 70 miles per hour than if I am walking up to it. A more extreme perspective is taken by pragmatists or materials (such as William James) who answer that meaning of a thing is in the thing itself, that the human perceiver is irrelevant to its meaning. At the other extreme are philosophical idealists (not to be confused with ethical idealists), who place all or most of the meaning of a thing in the mind of the perceiver. The Romantics, as you might have guessed, tend toward this position, since for them the spiritual world and the imaginings of the mind are far more real than the material world, whereas the Realists tended toward philosophical pragmatism. Stevens is a philosophical idealist, and many of his poems probe what for him is the complex relationship between the object or scene and the perceiving and imagining mind. In “Anecdote of the Jar,” the speaker places the jar on a hillside in the woods of Tennessee and by doing so he feels that he changes the woods and perhaps the jar. In “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” he makes explicit his multi-perspectival view of the material world as he lists thirteen meanings for the blackbird. For Stevens, there is no permanent balance between the mind and reality, so he tries to reflect upon all the permutations and combinations, all the ways in which reality can be viewed by the imagination. In his view, “it is never the thing but the version of the thing.” Thus, Stevens is unusual among Modernists because of the dense philosophical bent of his poetry, but he is like them in his distrust of culturally imposed systems and values and his consequent reliance on his own imagination and his emphasis on imagery. The image comes first, the image as the mind‟s re-creation of the material thing, a re-creation that occurs first in the mind itself and then again in the verbal re-presentation of the thing in the words of the poem. For him “the final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there is nothing else.” Other key Stevens poems include “The Idea of Order at Key West,” in which the speaker‟s imagination of the sea and a woman‟s song, the complex interactions between things and words, produces a sense of order in the speaker‟s mind. “Sunday Morning” illustrates Steven‟s musings on the relationships between the mind, nature, and the possibility of something supernatural. Set as the funeral of a poor woman, “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” expresses Stevens‟ contempt for dressing up reality, even death , and his insistence that we celebrate all aspects of life to their fullest. William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) Williams was a pediatrician and obstetrician who spent his adult life in Rutherford, New Jersey, near New York City. Except for a lengthy poem, Paterson, which reflects on the history of life in Paterson, New Jersey, Williams wrote short lyrical poems mostly in the minimalist fashion. His poems are deceptively simple, usually presenting one of more images, or a scene with no commentary, no explicit reflections by the speaker, and no apparent theme. His credo was “no ideas but in things”; that is to say, he strove for complete objectivity, presenting in words as exactly as possible the sensation the speaker has in encountering the object or scene. For Williams, each object, each sensation, and each word has equal validity and equal reality, and each contains a storehouse of energy. By combining object, sensation, and other words into his poems, Williams repeatedly enacts the unity he senses in them. For him, the particular is the universal. Each poem is needed to release the beauty and meaning of the image it describes, to differentiate it from the otherwise formless ground of objects and events, and to allow the image it describes, to differentiate it from the otherwise formless ground of objects and events, and to allow the poet and the reader to experience the image in a fresh way. He particularly likes images of flowering, for in a sense each poem allows for the flowering of the images, sensations, and words it celebrates. Thus, “The Red Wheelbarrow” focuses readers‟ attention on the sheer beauty and energy of the wet wheelbarrow and the chickens beside it. Or “Classic Scene” details a scene including a power plant, its smoke, and the impoverished neighborhood around it. “The Dance” provides a verbal representation—in its images and its form—of Peter Breughel‟s picture, The Kerness. Because he celebrates the sensing of objects as well as the objects and the words, Williams‟ poems often convey strong sensuous images. In “This is Just to Say,” the reader can almost touch and taste the plums, for “they were delicious/so sweet/and so cold”; and in “Queen-Anne‟s- Lace,” the exquisite descriptions of the plant‟s flower enable the reader to share what the speaker sees. Noticeably missing from Williams‟ poems are references to culture or literary tradition. There is no inflated or so-called poetic language, no allusions to other works or events, as well as no abstractions or overt symbols (remember—“no ideas but in things”). Similarly, he uses no conventional poetic forms, instead allowing the subject to dictate the form, as he continually experimented with free verse. Williams‟ aesthetics are revealed indirectly in “A Sort of a Song”: Let the snake wait under Hi weed And the writing Be of words, slow and quick, sharp To strike, quiet to wait, Sleepless. --through metaphor to reconcile The people and the stones Compose. (No ideas But in things) Invent! Saxifrage is my flower that splits The rocks. In the first section, poem and animal are equated, both alive, both equally comfortable in repose and energetic actions. The oxymoron in “slow and quick” captures the full gamut that both snake and poem achieve. And both are ever-present, “sleepless,” always present, and capable of flashing out in beauty, energy, and meaningfulness. The second section is unusually abstract for Williams, for here he overtly declares that the purpose of poetry (“metaphor”) is to bring together human and non-human, that is, to verify and celebrate the inherent but often forgotten unity between them. “Compose” is a lovely pun: he urges us to compose in the sense of create a work of art, but also the word echoes the “quiet to wait” of the first section, suggesting further that one must be composed, patient, and internally together to appreciate the objects, sensations, and words of life. He urges the reader not only to compose but more emphatically to “invent!” for in doing so each of us participates in the poetic enterprise that is equivalent to life. Finally, “saxifrage” in his flower because its name translates into rock-breaker; so he singles out that flower because his poems, like it, contain untapped energy which, when released in their flowering, is unstoppable. Ezra Pound (1885-1972) Pound‟s life started quite conventionally in a middle-class family as he prepared for a career as a college professor. But he immigrated to Europe, became very critical of America and England after World War I, and embraced Fascists ideals, especially those of Benito Mussolini. Captured by Allied forces in Italy during World War II, he was tried for treason and placed in a hospital for the criminally insane from 1946-1958. His poetic career begun with his invention of “Imagism,” the view that poetry should avoid fancy language, abstractions, and instead should present images as objectively as possible to provide the strongest vehicle for readers to react emotionally. His experimental two-line poem, “In a Station of the Metro,” exemplifies the theory: The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough. Distilled from a 30-line earlier version, the poem even lacks the conventional linkage between the two images, something like “resembles” or “looks like.” There is apparently no speaker, no human consciousness filtering the images—just the two images suddenly juxtaposed without explanation. What does such a poem mean? It has no theme in the ordinary sense; instead the meaning inheres in the ways in which readers react. Pound read widely, and some of his best poems are translations, for example of early Chinese poems (such as “The River-Merchant‟s Life: A Letter”). Much of Pound‟s poetry is very difficult to read and interpret, in part because it includes allusions to such a wide range to other works. His longest work, the Cantos, is an unfinished, and not clearly unified, series of 116 poems written over the last half of his life. The series vaguely resembles an epic, a kind of explanation of the modern world and how it got to its present state. It is also pseudo-autobiographical, chronicling events and episodes in Pound‟s life. Borrowing and imitating many other literary forms, such as drama, satire, sermons, diaries, and essays, it is encyclopedic, polyphonic, and open-ended, more fugal or spiral than linear. T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) (Because Eliot immigrated to England, he is often treated as an English writer, and he is discussed in our section on English Literature and Language). The Harlem Renaissance In the 1920s and to a lesser extent into the early 1930s, an explosion of African American art, including music, painting, and literature, occurred among artists who gravitated to the Harlem section of New York City. The two best known writers of this flowering of African-American literature are Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) and Langston Hughes (1902-1967). Hurston who grew up in rural Florida before migrating to New York City, wrote several novels, an autobiography (Dust Tracks on the Road), an anthropological compilation of folk tales (Mules and Men), and numerous stories and essays. She is best known for her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, which chronicles the life of Janie Starks. Raised by her grandmother in rural Florida, Janie is first married to Logan Killicks, but he turns out to be a rather brutish, insensitive man. Then she lives with Joe Starks, who at first appears to be more congenial, but, as he rises in social status, it becomes clear that he wants Janie to stay in her second-class position. Janie therefore runs off with Tea Cake, the kind of caring man she had been searching for. They migrate to the muck-land of Southern Florida where they work together as agricultural laborers. During a flood, however, Tea Cake is bitten by a rapid dog and Janie is forced to shoot him. Besides its value as an account of the racial, gender, and economic hardships that Janie faces, the novel is renowned for its combination of realistic Southern, African American dialect and its lyrical, descriptive passages. Perhaps more than any other writer, Hughes seems to embody the period. From 1921 on, he lived and wrote in New York, he was active in the musical and theatrical worlds and he wrote many poems, stories, and essays. Taken collectively, his poems present a composite portrait of urban African-American life, with social emphasis on three themes: isolation and despair; an aggressive, protesting, sometimes socialist response; and affirmations of the integrity and dignity of African Americans. In addition to Hughes, another leading poet of the period was Claude McKay (1889-1949), who articulated some of the complexities of African-American culture including resentment against White power, faith in the African and folk pasts of African-American and acceptance of the strengths of the Western tradition. These first four lines of his poem “America” suggest these complexities. Although she feeds me bread of bitterness, And sinks into my throat her tiger‟s tooth, Stealing my breath of life, I will confess I love this cultured hell that tests my youth! White America is imaged as a destructive beast, poisoning the speaker, causing the speaker to harbor a destructive bitterness and driving him into hell on earth. Yet, that White power is inseparable from a culture that the speaker, despite himself, is attracted to: “I love this cultured hell.” These conflicting tones and the paradox they describe is an elegant expression of Du Bois‟s concept of double consciousness. Other important writers of the Harlem Renaissance include Jessie Redmon Fauset (1884-1961) and Nella Larsen (1893-1964) with their novels (Plum Bun: A Novel without a Moral by the former and Quicksand and Passing by the latter) about African-American woman‟s role in the urban North, especially as related to the issue of passing for White. Jean Toomer (1894-1967) wrote one memorable book-Cane—a curious, fragmented mixture of sketches, stories, and poems marked by a haunting poetic style that mourns gradual decline of rural, Southern, African- American culture. FICTION Willa Cather (1873-1947) Although she was born in Virginia and lived most of her life in the East, Cather‟s best fiction is set in rural Nebraska, where she spent her childhood. In novels such as O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark, and My Antonia and stories such as “Neighbor Rossicky” she depicts life on the prairie for the first generations of settlers. She is particularly concerned with women‟s roles, especially in the contrast between the necessity for women to work alongside men in the first years of settlement and the lack of such need as life became more comfortable. She is best known for her remarkable character development, for example in the female protagonists of the three novels listed above: Alexandra Bergson, Thea Krongberg, and Antonia Shimerda. Like most of Cather‟s central characters, these three women have many talents, but in Cather‟s world, lasting relationships are always elusive and none of them achieve enduring happiness. F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) Brought up in a middle-class family in the Midwest, Fitzgerald was fascinated with the very rich. His several novels and numerous short stories typically recount the stories of characters who have trouble with their wealth or their wealthy lifestyle, or who try to rise from the middle-class to the upper-class and similarly fail to achieve happiness. He is primarily known for his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, a novel about a corrupt rich man. Jay Gatsby, the rootless rich people around him, and the narrator Nick Carroway, like Fitzgerald a middle-class man from the Midwest. More than any other American novel of the 20th century, this one has captured Americans‟ imagination, as it reflects what seems to have gone wrong with the American dream. Just as Gatsby gazes longingly at the green light at the end of Daisy Buchanan‟s pier, Americans are often nostalgic for their “greener,” agrarian past. Gatsby is an American hero—having changed his name and invented an identity replete with a false Oxford degree and having made incredible amounts of money—but he is very much a fallen hero, linked to gamblers, his life mired in lies, and his soul unfulfilled. Nick is also an archetypal American figure, the young initiate, reminiscent of Jame‟s naïve Americans, who encounters the more sophisticated world of the Eastern upper classes. To Nick‟s credit, he retains his integrity, but Gatsby‟s death leaves him confused and disillusioned. William Faulkner (1897-1962) Faulkner is widely recognized as the greatest American novelist of the 20th century, and by some as the greatest American writer, period. He was born near Oxford, Mississippi, and spent nearly all his life there, with the exceptions of a year during which he studied at Yale University and trained for World War I and of several stints in Hollywood as a screenwriter. His large output of novels and stories include many set in his fictional Southern county, which he called Yoknapatawpha. Within that defined region, he masterfully probes all facets of the lives of his wonderfully rich cast of characters. Often using innovative narrative strategies, such as the multiple narrators of As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury and Addie Bundren‟s stream of consciousness section of A I Lay Dying, Faulkner was adept at probing the inner recesses of his characters‟ minds and souls. At the same time, his fiction admirably portrays the social issues confronting all classes of society, Whites and Blacks, and men and women. His fiction is dominated by his theme of the contrast between what is called “the eternal verities”—enduring virtues like honesty, integrity, compassion, and truth—and the extent to which American culture, specifically in the South, had fallen away from those virtues, a falling away that he often attributed to the curse of slavery and racial inequality. Faulkner‟s best known novels were written between 1929 and 1936: The Sound of Fury, As I Lay Dying, Light in August, and Absalom, Absalom!. The first is the story of the Compson family, fallen away from its previous integrity and now in the hands of three brothers—Jason, a bitter man who is falling in business; Quentin, a psychotic who kills himself; and Benjy, an idiot— each of whom longs in his way for their absent sister, Caddie. As I Lay Dying examines the effects on the Bundren family of the loss of their center—Addies, the wife and mother. The rather bizarre and sometimes gruesome plot follows the family as it travels for ten days to bury Addie‟s body next to her dead father in Jefferson, a journey that requires them to overcome fire and flood as well as their own psychological disjunctions. Told in a more conventional fashion, Light in August is the story of a group of characters in a small Southern town whose destinies intersect. The most memorable is Joe Christmas, presumably half black and half white, as he tries unsuccessfully to find a viable identity and a place in society. Absalom, Absalom!, narrated primarily through the convoluted memories of various characters, recounts the downfall of Thomas Sutpen‟s rural empire—he had bought and tried to farm a square of land ten miles on a side. He and all who come into intimate contact with him come to tragic or unhappy fates because of the greed, arrogance, and avarice that he radiates, as well as another case of racial miscegenation. Faulkner‟s fiction gains power not only for its detailed analyses of American life and its penetrating psychological studies, but also for its tendency to go beyond the everyday to the mythic and archetypal. Burdens‟ journey, in one sense cosmic and in another sense grotesque, also resonates with symbolic patterns in Western civilization, for example the Biblical-like threats of fire and water. When a log in the flooded river knocks over their wagon, Faulkner writes, “It surged up out of the water and stood for an instant upright upon that surging and heaving desolation like Christ.” Similarly, by naming his character in Light in August Joe Christmas and then detailing his murder at the hands of vulgar vigilantes, Faulkner alludes to Jesus Christ and his death. And in his novella, “The Bear,” Faulkner deepens an initiation story into a complex myth about the relationships between humans and nature and between the present and the past. Faulkner is also known for his distinctive prose style, which features long, meandering sentences, long paragraphs, wide-ranging diction, and an elegance reflecting the author‟s mind far more than his characters‟ minds. Here for example is a sentence narrated through the perspective of Sartoris Snopes, the young protagonist of “Barn Burning”: But there was no glare behind him now and he sat now, his back toward what he had called home for our days anyhow, his face toward the dark woods which he would enter when breath was up again, small, shaking steadily in the chill darkness, hugging himself into the remainder of his thin, rotten shirt, the grief and despair now no longer terror and fear but just grief and despair. Sarty has just made the nearly impossible decision to turn against his barn-burning father and stand up for what he knows is right. This plunges him into the existential plight of alienation and isolation, but in this case, Faulkner points out to a successful future for his character, who as the story ends “did not look back,” because Sarty has aligned himself with those eternal verities that Faulkner cherishes. Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) Born and raised in a suburb of Chicago, Hemingway joined the large group of American expatriates who centered their activities in Paris. He served as an ambulance driver in World War I and throughout his adult life engaged in a variety of sports and active pursuits, including hunting big game in Africa, fishing, and skiing. He wrote voluminously, including a number of novels (the best known are A farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea), tightly constructed short stories (such as the Nick Adams stories collected in In Our Time and tow hunting stories—“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber”), several memoirs and numerous journalistic pieces. His novels tend to feature characters who are psychologically wounded in one way or another, trying to face up to the difficult challenges of their lives. He is also renowned for his terse style—pretty much the opposite of Faulkner‟s—which is characterized by its short, simple sentences and its lack of adornment, including its sparse use of adjectives and adverbs. He handles dialogue particularly well, his characters speaking a kind of Hemingway-ese that manages to sound authentic. Hemingway‟s philosophy is built around the idea of an unwritten code of behavior based on sports. The sportsman‟s code is that there are rules—official or unofficial—in any sport. In hunting, for example, the hunter must make the hunt a reasonably fair contest, so he or she does not use a machine gun, or less obviously, does not shoot from a moving vehicle. Bullfighting had its elaborate code of how bulls must be killed. Such rules not only make the game more interesting, but they also provide a way in which the individual can be evaluated, because it puts pressure on the individual to show his or her skill, endurance, courage, honor, and grace. In life as in sports, Hemingway assumes that there is a code by which we should play the game. We know we will eventually lost the game (ie., die), but we can achieve personal rewards by playing the game well, by exhibiting “grace under pressure.” For Hemingway we are all in the existential impasse in which nothing and no one can help us, so he requires that we make the best of that seemingly impossible decision by, for one thing, not asking for unnecessary help, and for another, by playing the game as well as we can, and in doing so by demonstrating our spiritual strength as well as our courage and skill. Richard Wright (1908-1960) Along with millions of other African Americans who emigrated from the rural South to Northern cities, Wright left Mississippi for Chicago as a young man. He lived mostly in Chicago, New York, and Paris as a political organizer, writer, and literary agent. He is best known for his autobiography (Black Boy), several novels (the best of which is Native Son), and a volume of short stories called Eight Men. Wright‟s fiction is dominated by his central theme of protest against the discriminatory treatment of African Americans. He repeatedly depicts the overwhelming obstacles confronting young African-American men as they try to develop their identities and find a place in American society. His fictions may be characterized as failed initiations, since the barriers raised by White society always prevent his young men from achieving such goals. Instead, they become isolated and alienated, and any are murdered, lynched, or executed. Wright‟s orientation was influenced not only by his racial background but also by his affinity with Marxist theory, which deepened his conviction that capitalism led to the exploitation of the lower classes. Wright‟s themes and subject matter place his fiction in the Naturalistic mode because his protagonists are always victimized by overpowering social forces. Most of Wright‟s fictions are gripping, intense tales. Native Son begins with the protagonist, Bigger Thomas, killing a rat in his parents‟ squalid apartment. Later, he is befriended by two liberal Whites, and, in a moment of temporary insanity, he murders one of them. He is then even more alienated and is eventually hunted down by a huge posse of law enforcement officers before being executed for the murder. In “The Man Who Lived Underground,” one of the stories published in Eight Men, Fred Daniels flees two policemen by descending into the sewer system and then opts to live an underground life. In doing so, he subverts the values and meaning of ordinary life, creating a kind of identity outside normal identities and of course outside society. More Modernist Writers Fiction. America‟s first winner of the Nobel Prize for literature was Sinclair Lewis (1885- 1951), who wrote primarily realistic novels, such as Babbit and Main Street about middle-class Americans. Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941) is also best known for his stories of middle class characters in Midwestern small towns, most notably in a volume called Winesburg, Ohio. Anderson‟s stories usually focus on one or more unusual characters whom he called grotesques. A leading figure of the early twentieth century was Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), who experimented with literary language, sometimes radically, in a wide range of genres and for many years formed the nucleus of the American expatriate group of writers and artists in Paris. Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980) wrote several volumes of short stories, several novellas, and one less successful novel, Ship of Fools. The stories, often about life in the rural Texas where Porter was raised, are written in a crystalline prose that captures the seemingly small yet deeply significant epiphanies in her characters‟ lives and/or develops with precision a slice of life that perfectly expresses a character‟s state of being. The best known work by John Steinback (1902-1968) is Grapes of Wrath, a sweeping, almost epic novel that recounts the tragedy of poor Oklahoma farmers forced off their land in the 1930s and lured by the promise of the agricultural work in California. Poetry. Marianne Moore (1887-1972) was an influential Modernist poet who developed a poetic form based on the number of syllables per line and whose short, lyric poems tend to focus on the need for human dignity at the individual and social levels. In her poetry and prose she elegantly expresses the significance of poetry, asserting in famous expression that poems are “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.” In his poetry, E.E. Cummings (1894-1962) deliberately uses the diction and speech patterns of ordinary spoken English and often experiments with the punctuation, capitalization, and the use of white space. His often humorous poems convey the sense that life—as a process rather than an endpoint—should be celebrated. Drama. America‟s first important playwright, Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953) wrote many successful plays from 1913 until his death. Most focus on family conflicts and the inner workings of them mind, his best known being the loosely autobiographical Long Day’s Journey’s into Night, which probes the haunting memories, fears, and interacting among two sons, their mother, and their father. The Contemporary Period: 1945-Present Overview Compared to earlier periods, it becomes even more difficult to generalize about very recent literature. We lack the hindsight needed to describe confidently the characteristics of the period or even to predict which writers and works will endure as classics. There is no major shift from the Modernist period to literature after World War II. Even though that war was more devastating than World War I, it did not have as great a cultural impact. In many ways, contemporary literature continues to be marked by variety and experimentation, even more so than during Modernism. It is also characterized by an opening up the literary canon to include far more works by women and diverse ethnic groups, as well as further blurring of boundaries between literary genres. Because of increased skepticism about the efficacy of literature is less likely to try to deal with broad cultural questions. It reflects increased doubt about the ability of any form of art to represent external reality in a meaningful way. Instead, contemporary literature tends to focus on the personal and psychological and to concern itself with aesthetic issues that is to focus on its own art. Thus, postmodern literature often is marked by extravagant effects of language, unusual stylistic devices, heavy doses of self-referential language, and unsettling mixtures of what seems mimetic but in which clearly supernatural events occasionally occur and are usually accepted just as steadily as the apparently representational ones. Much of this literature becomes rather playful, not attempting to develop serious themes but simply existing for its own sake and for the pleasures of the genre. Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) Born in Mississippi as Thomas Lanier Williams, Williams enjoyed considerable success as the author of numerous plays although his personal life was always a struggle. His best known plays are The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. One recurring theme is nostalgia for a romanticized past, as in Amanda Wingfield‟s and Blanche Dubois‟ fantasized recollections of their earlier days in the Southern towns where they grew up. Compared to their idyllic visions of the past, the present world in Williams‟ plays is always harsh and unyielding, symbolized by the allusions to war in Menagerie and by the violence of the New Orleans neighborhood in which Streetcar is set. Another theme is need for sensitive human beings (such as Laura Wingfield in Menagerie, Blanche in Streetcar, and Brick in Car), characters whom Williams called fugitives, to create psychological refuges to which to flee from the harsh material world. For Williams, the central issues are played out in dysfunctional families, for the unresolved tensions of life exist there. Outsiders such as Jim O‟Conner and Maggie can try to ameliorate the psychoses that have been brought on by the family situation, but their efforts remain ineffective or marginal. With these outsiders or with other family members, Williams‟ protagonists often attempt to establish and maintain intimacy, but for Williams this is usually impossible. Thus, Williams‟ work is yet another illustration of existentialism, for his central characters remain in the existentialist stage of isolation and alienation. Williams‟ work often has overtones of Naturalism and Marxism, for the characters also seem to be overwhelmed by external social forces. Ralph Ellison (1914-1994) Ellison‟s literary output is relatively small, consisting of about thirty short stories (the best of which are collected in Flying Home and Other Stories), two volumes of essays (Shadow and Act and Going to the Territory), and two novels (Invisible Man and Juneteenth, which was unfinished at his death but recently published with the help of an editor). Nevertheless, his reputation is well established, partly by his incisive analyses of American culture in his essays, but primarily by the power of Invisible Man, regarded by many as the best African-American novel ever written and by many as one of the best, if not the best, American novel. It is a Bildungsroman, that is, a novel about the development (the education, in the fullest sense) of a young man. The unnamed narrator, the invisible man, undergoes a series of initiations or rites of passage as he grows from teenager to adult. Each time, he has high expectations for the newest stage of his life, but then the realities of each stage are disillusioning and deflating. Part of the effect is to chronicle the nightmarish life of a 20th century African Americans. It recounts the archetypal African-American quest for freedom, literary, and identity. In critic Robert Stepto‟s terms, it is a novel of ascent as the protagonist rises from his rural roots to a position of leadership (albeit temporary) in the urban North, and it is a novel of immersion, as this quest requires him to experience and understand everything about African-American and American cultures. But Ellison‟s masterpiece is more than a protest novel, for his language, his symbolism, and his mythic structure universalize the novel‟s subject and themes. He integrates allusions to European literature, American frontier legends, antive American folklore,a nd African culture, so that the novel is about the broader issues of how all civilizations function, such as the individual versus society as a whole, the extent of human freedom, the quest for individuality, and the role of violence in society. Arthur Miller (1915-) Along with Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller is the other great American playwright of the period. He is best known for Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, and he has written a handful of less successful plays. More than any other American play, Salesman captures the essence of middle-class life and the tragedies it can lead to. Willie Loman, the salesman, believes in the American dream to the extent that he is deluded by the fantasy of making it big, but in the process he doesn‟t give himself credit for his own modest accomplishments. As with Williams, the crucial setting for these psychological problems is the family, as Willie tries unsuccessfully to instill his dreams into his sons. Just as Americans as a whole are often characterized as searching for lasting values and identity, this play is about the search for values: Willie seeks them in the American dream of the successful and powerful individual (symbolized by his idol Dave Singleman); his brother Ben finds them in the law of the jungle, essentially the myth of the robber barons; his son Biff finds them in nature, in a 20th century version of the cowboy myth; his neighbor Charlie and Charlie‟s son Bernard find them in hard work and study. The play also focuses on another quintessential American theme—tension between family values and business values. Willie retains the illusion that business and the social world beyond the family operate on the same principles and values as the family. Since they don‟t, especially in the increasingly impersonal post-World War II world, Willie‟s illusions lead him to failure in both family and work. The Crucible, written in 1953, is set in Puritan Massachusetts and unfolds the tragic effects of the Salem witch trials on the community and in particular on the protagonist, John Proctor. Indirectly, the play is also a bitter response to the anti-communist investigations, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, that were conducted with often devastating effects during the early 1950s. Toni Morrison (1931-) Born Chloe Anthony Morrison in a middle-class African American family in Loraine, Ohio, Morrison started her career as an editor for a major book publisher. Starting with The Bluest Eye in 1969, she has published seven novels, nearly all of them widely acclaimed as well as bestsellers, and in 1993 she won the Nobel Prize for literature. Set in different eras of American history from the 1850s through the 1970s, her novels collectively present the inner history of African Americans. As she said of Beloved, that novel is about what the authors of slave narratives were not allowed to tell. Her characters typically struggle with archetypal American issues: how to achieve viable identities; how to blend their individuality with the restrictions that society—Black as well as White-places on them; how to come to grips with their often traumatic pasts; and how to survive, and even to succeed, materially but at the same time to retain psychological and spiritual vitality. As she deals with such realistic issues, Morrison is also adept at deepening her fiction with haunting touches of magic realism, for example with Pilate Dead‟s lack of a navel, with the presence of ghosts in Beloved, or with Milkman‟s leap at the end of Song of Soloman. In her first three novels—The Bluest Eyes, Sula, and Song of Solomon—Morrison depicts fragmentation at many levels: individuals (such as Pecola Breedlove and Macon Dead) are unable to achieve viable identities; families (the Breedloves, the Greenes, and the Deads) are torn apart by irreconcilable differences and/or suffer interminable divisions, and Black communities (Lorain, the Bottom, the Southside) are whacked by internal tensions and are subject to the destructive effects of White domination. Countering these centrifugal forces, Morrison also explores factors that tend to center individuals, to unify couples and families, and to bring cohesion to communities. For example, in the second half of Song of Solomon, Milkman‟s Dead “put‟s it all together,” as he discovers the mysteries of his family, finds his ancestors‟ roots, gains acceptance into a community, and in the process finds himself. Morrison‟s three most recent novels are Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise. Though apparently quite different, Morrison asserts that they form a trilogy focusing on love. Beloved is the haunting tale of an ex-slave woman, Sethe, who kills her baby rather than allow it to be returned to slavery. Jazz tells the story of a couple, Joe and Violet Trace, who, like millions of real African Americans, migrates to New York City in the 1920s, and who struggle through the psychological pitfalls of adjusting to live in the urban North. Paradise’s complex plot revolves around the tragic interactions between residents of an all-Black town in Oklahoma and a small group of young women living nearby who are refugees from their families and society. Despite their dissimilar subjects, the three novels address issues of love and the dangers of excessive love. In Beloved, is Sethe‟s murder an example of love or its excess? Is infanticide ever justifiable? What are the acceptable limits of love? In Jazz, how does Violet reconcile her love for her dead mother with her mother‟s suicide? Does her decision not to have children of her own result in her lack of love for Joe? Is Joe‟s affair with Docas justified in the light of Violet‟s inability to love him? How does one explain his murder of Docas? And in Paradise, can one justify the town men‟s killing of the young women? Does their strict faith constitute excessive love of God? Does their belief in their town legendary past constitute a dangerous obsession? In what sense do characters like Consolata, Richard Misner, and Lone DuPres provide alternatives of a more compassionate love? More Contemporary Writers Fiction. Contemporary American fiction can be characterized by its many strands and variety of voices. In the realistic tradition, several writers have consistently produced high-quality fiction about American life: Saul Bellow (1915-Present) is best known for his Bildungsroman, The Adventures of Augie March; Norman Mailer (1923-Present) writes a bolder fiction usually critical of American society, as in his Vietnam War novel, The Armies of the Night; JohnUpdike (1932-Present) is best known for his series of novels about Rabbit Angstrom, a contemporary anti-hero; and Phil Roth (1933-Present) achieved early fame with Goodbye, Columbus, a volume of short stories about Jewish middle-class life and then shifted gradually toward fantasy and metafiction. One of the most influential writers of the immediate post-World War II years was J.D. Sallinger (1919-Present), whose novel, Catcher in the Rye, seemed to capture the uncertainties and rebelliousness of the generation who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s. Several other writers have pushed the limits of fiction more vigorously than that first group. Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), a Russian émigré to the United States, wrote very strange, often parabolic fiction that often mocks itself as well as its characters. He is best known for Lolita, his risqué story of a doomed and duped lover, Humbert. John Barth (1930-Present) has numerous novels and stories that experiment with what fiction is and what it can do. Most of his fiction is extremely self-reflexive; that is, it is more about itself and fiction than about representing anything in the real world. An extreme example is his short story, “Life-Story,” which has virtually no plot but instead details the narrator‟s inability to write a story. This trend to severely limit the, mimetic dimension of fiction, referred to as the literature of exhaustion, fortunately has not dominated the period. Thomas Pynchon (1931-Present) writes long, sprawling novels (Gravity’s Rainbow, Mason and Dixon) that have been called the literature of replenishment as well as the zone of the bizarre, for they incorporate materials from a seemingly endless array of sources and they move with ease in and out of fantasy and history, the exotic and the real. Donald Barthelme (1934-1989) wrote fascinating and difficult fiction that is best described as surreal, in that its relationship to anything in the external world is always tenuous. In Southern literature, a tradition called Southern Gothic combines elements of the grotesque and the bizarre with mimesis. Examples of writers that contributed to this tradition are Edgar Allan Poe and William Faulkner. In the contemporary period, Southern Gothic has been further enriched by Eudora Welty (1909-), Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) and Carson McCullers (1917-1967). Welty has written several novels (the best known is The Optimist’s Daughter), but her short stories (such as “Why I Live at the P.O.” and “Petrified Man”) are usually considered her best work. Her fiction is characterized by her gentle humor and her collections of unsettled families and misfit individuals. Like Welty, O‟Connor is also best known for her short fiction (most notably “Good Country People,” “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” and “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”). Her fiction is also populated with odd characters who become involved in strange plots that are simultaneously comic and tragic and that often lead to unusual religious epiphanies. McCullers is best known for several short novels (e.g., The Ballad Of the Sad Café) that likewise chronicle the peculiar lives of characters who don‟t seem to have a place in the community. Contemporary fiction has been enriched by the growing recognition of a wider diversity of writers than in previous periods. For the first time in American literary history, a group of African-American women writers has been widely read. Besides Toni Morrison, this group includes Alice Walker (1944-), Toni Cade Bambara (1939-1995). Paule Marshall (1929-), and Gloria Naylor (1950-). Walker is best known for her politically oriented novels such as The Color Purple and Possessing the Secret of Joy, and for her essays (many collected in In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens) that examine the particular issues of confronting black women in this country. Bambara, a political activist herself, wrote two volumes of short stories mostly about poor urban children in two novels, The Salt-Eaters and Those Bones Are Not My Child. Marshall has written realistic novels (such as Brown Girl, Brownstones and Praisesong for the Widow) primarily about the interactions between life in the Caribbean and in the United States. Naylor has written five novels, the best two of which are Mama Day and Bailey’s Café. Both are superb examples of magic realism, the former in its depiction of the conflict between the realistic orientation of some characters and the magical powers that dominate life on an island off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina, the latter a fantasy about a mystical neighborhood tat has the potential of healing all refugees from the bruising outside world. Since World War II, American Indian fiction has emerged as a sub-genre, usually combining forms such as chants and songs from the Indian tradtion with elements of the novel. N. Scott Momaday (1934-) is regarder as the originator of this movement, particularly with his ground- breaking novel, House Made of Dawn, and in his autobiographical work, The Way to Rainy Mountain. Following Momaday, Leslie Marmon Silko (1948-) has written several successful novels, most notably Ceremony. Both House and Ceremony recount how spiritually wounded Indian characters return to their tribal roots to purge themselves to their psychic illnesses. Other contemporary Indian writers of note are Louise Erdrich (1954-) and Sherman Alexie (1966-). Chicano/a literature, literature written by Mexican-Americans, is another relatively new kind that has emerged in this period. Rudolfo Anaya (1937-) is the best known Chicano writer, and his novel Bless Me, Ultima is the most widely read Chicano novel. It plot chronicles the coming of age of a sensitive boy and competing influences on him, including his mother‟s family, the Catholic church, and the folk traditions of his community. In The Last of the Menu Girls, a volume of interrelated stories, Denise Chavez (1948-) examines the tensions facing a teenage girl growing up in a Hispanic neighborhood but also having to deal with the surrounding Anglo culture. And in The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (1954-) presents a series of vignettes that similarity depict the coming of age of a young Latina. The diversity of contemporary American fiction includes a number of significant works by writers of Asian descent. Two women—Maxine Hong Kingston (1940-);The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts and Tripmaster Monkey) and Amy Tan (1952-); The Joy Luck Club and The Hundred Secret Senses)—have forcefully portrayed the challenges of growing up in America in an Asian-American family and community. Another woman—Bharati Mukherjee (1940-); (The Tiger’s Daughter and Jasmine) has similarly depicted the uneasiness of life in America from the perspectives of Indian-Americans. Poetry. Some contemporary American poets have used their poetry to express their strong social concerns and beliefs. The Beat poets, primarily in the 1950s and 1960s, wrote poetry highly critical of traditional middle-class values and lifestyles and poetry that celebrated their hip counterculture. The most well-known Beat poet is Allen Ginsburg (1926-1997), whose rambling, intense, image-filled poem, “Howl,” shocked conventional sensibilities when it appeared in 1956. Another group of poets with a social agenda, such as Robert Bly (1926-) wrote poems sharply critical of the Vietnam War. Yet another group are African-American poets—such as Imamu Baraka (1934-) and Nikki Giovanni (1943-)—who wrote and are still writing poems about racialization in America. One significant strand of the poetry of this period is expressed in short lyrics in which the speaker reflects rather quietly on a deeply personal event or moment. The speaker is usually indistinguishable from the author, thus giving rise to the term “confessional” for this kind of poetry. Such contemporary poets seldom strive for broad generalizations or commentaries; instead, they are content to show their private working through of an experience and its related emotions. Consequently, the preferred form is free verse, so that the form can reflect the poet‟s representation of the twists and spontaneous turns of his or her meditation. Typically, poets try to convey life‟s provisionally, fluidity, and intensity through the open-ended forms of their poems and through the rich and mysterious interactions between the language of their minds presented directly in their poems and the external world with its immense variety of events and objects. Three such contemporary poets are Theodore Roethke (1908-1963), Robert Lowell (1917- 1977), and Adrienne Rich ( 1929-). Roethke‟s lyrical poems frequently examine the tension between the material and the spiritual, body and mind, and desire and the absence of desire. By describing the beauty and the ugliness of the world, he often reaches a kind of personal mysticism yet usually remains filled with unanswerable questions about himself and life. For example, in these lines from “In a Dark Time,” he records a plunge into personal darkness that takes him very close to madness and a loss of identity: Dark, Dark my light, and darker my desire. My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly. Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I? Robert Lowell also struggles with potential loss of identity and consequent insanity, for example in these lines from “Skunk Hour”: One dark night, My tudor Ford climbed the hill‟s skull; I watched for love-cars. Lights turned down, They lay together, hull to hull, Where the graveyard shelves on the town… My mind‟s not right. From the imagery of death (“skull” and “graveyard”) and emptiness (“hull” and “hull”), lovers‟ lane becomes an ironic scene of social hollowness and personal alienation, as the speaker, not right with himself or society, becomes a haunted and haunting voyeur. Perhaps because of his familial connections with early Bostonians, Lowell‟s themes are more overtly social than most contemporary poets. For example, his most famous poem, “For the union Dead,” fuses the personal and the political by contrasting the heroism of the Civil War and the sterility of the modern age. Adrienne Rich is an astounding poet because of her sustained output of volume of high-quality poems and because her life‟s work provides a kind of documentation of the spiritual life of a thinking and reflecting woman in this period. After studying the classic male poets of Europe, she began her career sounding rather like them, moved through a period of chafing under the thumb of patriarchal power, embraced the feminist movement, and has continued charting her unabated mental growth. “Transcendental Etude” starts with the speaker‟s encounter with deer hunting, moves through her deep questioning of her life, and ends with a provocative and elegant section asserting her newly understood sense of herself and her personal power, a section that includes the lines: Pulling the tenets of a life together With no mere will to mastery, Only care for the many-lived, unending Forms in which she finds herself Other important contemporary poets include Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-), Richard Wilbur (1921-), Denise Levertov (1923-), W.S. Merwin (1927-), and Sylvia Plath (1932-1963). Drama After Williams and Miller, two contemporary American dramatists stand out: San Shepard (1943-) and August Wilson (1945-). In plays such as True West and Buried Child, Shepard takes long, hard look at contemporary American culture. Like so many dramatists, he finds the crucial issues in families, particularly in the secrets harbored there that result in severe psychological disruptions. Wilson‟s plays dramatize African-American life, decade by decade in 20th century. Perhaps his best known play is Fences, in which a strong but destructively willful man, Troy Maxson, struggles against the demons of his own past, the White power structure, and his difficulty in expressing his love for those around him.
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