Twain deployed this combination of humor and realism throughout his writing. Some of his notable works include. Naturalism, like realism, was a literary movement that drew inspiration from French authors of the 19th century who sought to document, through fiction, the reality that they saw around them, particularly among the middle and working classes living in cities. Theodore Dreiser was foremost among American writers who embraced naturalism. His Sister Carrie is the most important American naturalist novel. Henry James shared the view of the realists and naturalists that literature ought to present reality, but his writing style and use of literary form sought to also create an aesthetic experience, not simply document truth.
He was preoccupied with the clash in values between the United States and Europe. His writing shows features of both 19th-century realism and naturalism and 20th-century modernism. Some of his notable novels are. Advances in science and technology in Western countries rapidly intensified at the start of the 20th century and brought about a sense of unprecedented progress.
These contradictory impulses can be found swirling within modernism , a movement in the arts defined first and foremost as a radical break from the past. But this break was often an act of destruction, and it caused a loss of faith in traditional structures and beliefs. Despite, or perhaps because of, these contradictory impulses, the modernist period proved to be one of the richest and most productive in American literature. A sense of disillusionment and loss pervades much American modernist fiction. That sense may be centered on specific individuals, or it may be directed toward American society or toward civilization generally.
It may generate a nihilistic, destructive impulse, or it may express hope at the prospect of change. Richard Wright exposed and attacked American racism in Native Son William Faulkner used stream-of-consciousness monologues and other formal techniques to break from past literary practice in The Sound and the Fury Eliot was an American by birth and, as of , a British subject by choice. His fragmentary, multivoiced The Waste Land is the quintessential modernist poem, but his was not the dominant voice among American modernist poets.
Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg evocatively described the regions—New England and the Midwest, respectively—in which they lived. Harriet Monroe founded Poetry magazine in Chicago in and made it the most important organ for poetry not just in the United States but for the English-speaking world. During the s Edna St. Vincent Millay , Marianne Moore , and E. Cummings expressed a spirit of revolution and experimentation in their poetry. Drama came to prominence for the first time in the United States in the early 20th century. Playwrights drew inspiration from European theater but created plays that were uniquely and enduringly American.
Thornton Wilder presented a realistic and enormously influential vision of small-town America in Our Town , first produced in This conflict with the Soviet Union shaped global politics for more than four decades, and the proxy wars and threat of nuclear annihilation that came to define it were just some of the influences shaping American literature during the second half of the 20th century.
Prior to the last decades of the 20th century, American literature was largely the story of dead white men who had created Art and of living white men doing the same. By the turn of the 21st century, American literature had become a much more complex and inclusive story grounded on a wide-ranging body of past writings produced in the United States by people of different backgrounds and open to more Americans in the present day. Literature written by African Americans during the contemporary period was shaped in many ways by Richard Wright, whose autobiography Black Boy was published in He left the United States for France after World War II, repulsed by the injustice and discrimination he faced as a black man in America; other black writers working from the s through the s also wrestled with the desires to escape an unjust society and to change it.
James Baldwin wrote essays, novels, and plays on race and sexuality throughout his life, but his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain , was his most accomplished and influential. The Black Arts movement was grounded in the tenets of black nationalism and sought to generate a uniquely black consciousness. She received a Nobel Prize in In the s Alice Walker began writing novels, poetry, and short stories that reflected her involvement in the civil rights movement.
Christian American/Canadian Literature
Realist, metafictional, postmodern, absurdist, autobiographical, short, long, fragmentary, feminist, stream of consciousness—these and dozens more labels can be applied to the vast output of American novelists. Little holds them together beyond their chronological proximity and engagement with contemporary American society. Among representative novels are. Vladimir Nabokov : Lolita Jack Kerouac : On the Road Thomas Pynchon : The Crying of Lot 49 Kurt Vonnegut : Slaughterhouse-Five Ursula K.
Toni Morrison : Song of Solomon , Beloved Alice Walker : The Color Purple Jamaica Kincaid : Annie John David Foster Wallace : Infinite Jest Don DeLillo : Underworld Jonathan Franzen : The Corrections These fictions were too lengthy to be printed as manuscript or public reading. Publishers took a chance on these works in hopes they would become steady sellers and need to be reprinted. This scheme was ultimately successful because male and female literacy rates were increasing at the time.
Brown's novel depicts a tragic love story between siblings who fell in love without knowing they were related. In the next decade important women writers also published novels. Charlotte Temple is a seduction tale, written in the third person, which warns against listening to the voice of love and counsels resistance. She also wrote nine novels, six theatrical works, two collections of poetry, six textbooks, and countless songs. Although Rowson was extremely popular in her time and is often acknowledged in accounts of the development of the early American novel, Charlotte Temple is often criticized as a sentimental novel of seduction.
Eliza is a "coquette" who is courted by two very different men: a clergyman who offers her a comfortable domestic life and a noted libertine. Unable to choose between them, she finds herself single when both men get married.
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She eventually yields to the artful libertine and gives birth to an illegitimate stillborn child at an inn. The Coquette is praised for its demonstration of the era's contradictory ideas of womanhood. Both The Coquette and Charlotte Temple are novels that treat the right of women to live as equals as the new democratic experiment. These novels are of the Sentimental genre, characterized by overindulgence in emotion, an invitation to listen to the voice of reason against misleading passions, as well as an optimistic overemphasis on the essential goodness of humanity.
Sentimentalism is often thought to be a reaction against the Calvinistic belief in the depravity of human nature. Charles Brockden Brown is the earliest American novelist whose works are still commonly read. These novels are of the Gothic genre. The first writer to be able to support himself through the income generated by his publications alone was Washington Irving. James Fenimore Cooper was also a notable author best known for his novel, The Last of the Mohicans written in After the War of , there was an increasing desire to produce a uniquely American literature and culture, and a number of literary figures emerged, among them Washington Irving , William Cullen Bryant , and James Fenimore Cooper.
Bryant wrote early romantic and nature-inspired poetry, which evolved away from their European origins. Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales about Natty Bumppo which includes The Last of the Mohicans were popular both in the new country and abroad. In , Edgar Allan Poe began writing short stories — including " The Masque of the Red Death ", " The Pit and the Pendulum ", " The Fall of the House of Usher ", and " The Murders in the Rue Morgue " — that explore previously hidden levels of human psychology and push the boundaries of fiction toward mystery and fantasy.
In , Ralph Waldo Emerson , a former minister, published his essay Nature , which argued that men should dispense with organized religion and reach a lofty spiritual state by studying and interacting with the natural world. Emerson's work influenced the writers who formed the movement now known as Transcendentalism , while Emerson also influenced the public through his lectures.
Among the leaders of the Transcendental movement was Henry David Thoreau , a nonconformist and a close friend of Emerson. After living mostly by himself for two years in a cabin by a wooded pond, Thoreau wrote Walden , a memoir that urges resistance to the dictates of society. Thoreau's writings demonstrate a strong American tendency toward individualism. As one of the great works of the Revolutionary period was written by a Frenchman, so too was a work about America from this generation.
Alexis de Tocqueville 's two-volume Democracy in America described his travels through the young nation, making observations about the relations between American politics, individualism, and community. These efforts were supported by the continuation of the slave narrative autobiography, of which the best known examples from this period include Frederick Douglass 's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave and Harriet Jacobs 's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. In , the young Nathaniel Hawthorne — collected some of his stories as Twice-Told Tales , a volume rich in symbolism and occult incidents.
Hawthorne went on to write full-length "romances", quasi-allegorical novels that explore the themes of guilt, pride, and emotional repression in New England. His masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter , is a drama about a woman cast out of her community for committing adultery. Hawthorne's fiction had a profound impact on his friend Herman Melville — , who first made a name for himself by turning material from his seafaring days into exotic sea narrative novels.
Inspired by Hawthorne's focus on allegories and psychology, Melville went on to write romances replete with philosophical speculation. In Moby-Dick , an adventurous whaling voyage becomes the vehicle for examining such themes as obsession, the nature of evil, and human struggle against the elements. In the short novel Billy Budd , Melville dramatizes the conflicting claims of duty and compassion on board a ship in time of war.
His more profound books sold poorly, and he had been long forgotten by the time of his death. He was rediscovered in the early 20th century. Anti-transcendental works from Melville, Hawthorne, and Poe all comprise the Dark Romanticism sub-genre of popular literature at this time. American dramatic literature, by contrast, remained dependent on European models, although many playwrights did attempt to apply these forms to American topics and themes, such as immigrants, westward expansion, temperance, etc.
At the same time, American playwrights created several long-lasting American character types, especially the "Yankee", the "Negro" and the "Indian", exemplified by the characters of Jonathan , Sambo and Metamora. In addition, new dramatic forms were created in the Tom Shows , the showboat theater and the minstrel show. The Fireside Poets also known as the Schoolroom or Household Poets were some of America's first major poets domestically and internationally.
They were known for their poems being easy to memorize due to their general adherence to poetic form standard forms , regular meter , and rhymed stanzas and were often recited in the home hence the name as well as in school such as " Paul Revere's Ride " , as well as working with distinctly American themes, including some political issues such as abolition. Longfellow achieved the highest level of acclaim and is often considered the first internationally acclaimed American poet, being the first American poet given a bust in Westminster Abbey's Poets' Corner. Walt Whitman — and Emily Dickinson — , two of America's greatest 19th-century poets could hardly have been more different in temperament and style.
Walt Whitman was a working man, a traveler, a self-appointed nurse during the American Civil War — , and a poetic innovator. His magnum opus was Leaves of Grass , in which he uses a free-flowing verse and lines of irregular length to depict the all-inclusiveness of American democracy. Taking that motif one step further, the poet equates the vast range of American experience with himself without being egotistical. For example, in Song of Myself , the long, central poem in Leaves of Grass , Whitman writes: "These are really the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands, they are not original with me In his words Whitman was a poet of "the body electric".
Lawrence wrote that Whitman "was the first to smash the old moral conception that the soul of man is something 'superior' and 'above' the flesh. By contrast, Emily Dickinson lived the sheltered life of a genteel unmarried woman in small-town Amherst, Massachusetts. Her poetry is ingenious, witty, and penetrating. Her work was unconventional for its day, and little of it was published during her lifetime. Many of her poems dwell on the topic of death, often with a mischievous twist. One, " Because I could not stop for Death ", begins, "He kindly stopped for me. Who are you?
American poetry arguably reached its peak in the early-to-midth century, with such noted writers as Wallace Stevens and his Harmonium and The Auroras of Autumn , T. Cummings , Edna St.
Vincent Millay and Langston Hughes , in addition to many others. Mark Twain the pen name used by Samuel Langhorne Clemens , — was the first major American writer to be born away from the East Coast — in the border state of Missouri. Twain's style — influenced by journalism, wedded to the vernacular, direct and unadorned but also highly evocative and irreverently humorous — changed the way Americans write their language. His characters speak like real people and sound distinctively American, using local dialects, newly invented words, and regional accents. Other writers interested in regional differences and dialect were George W.
A version of local color regionalism that focused on minority experiences can be seen in the works of Charles W. Many of his novels center on Americans who live in or travel to Europe. With its intricate, highly qualified sentences and dissection of emotional and psychological nuance, James's fiction can be daunting. Among his more accessible works are the novellas Daisy Miller , about an American girl in Europe, and The Turn of the Screw , a ghost story.
Realism began to influence American drama, partly through Howells, but also through Europeans such as Ibsen and Zola.
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Although realism was most influential in set design and staging—audiences loved the special effects offered up by the popular melodramas—and in the growth of local color plays, it also showed up in the more subdued, less romantic tone that reflected the effects of the Civil War and continued social turmoil on the American psyche. The most ambitious attempt at bringing modern realism into the drama was James Herne 's Margaret Fleming , which addressed issues of social determinism through realistic dialogue, psychological insight, and symbolism.
The play was not successful, and both critics and audiences thought it dwelt too much on unseemly topics and included improper scenes, such as the main character nursing her husband's illegitimate child onstage. At the beginning of the 20th century, American novelists were expanding fiction to encompass both high and low life and sometimes connected to the naturalist school of realism. In her stories and novels, Edith Wharton — scrutinized the upper-class, Eastern-seaboard society in which she had grown up. One of her finest books, The Age of Innocence , centers on a man who chooses to marry a conventional, socially acceptable woman rather than a fascinating outsider.
And in Sister Carrie , Theodore Dreiser — portrayed a country girl who moves to Chicago and becomes a kept woman. Hamlin Garland and Frank Norris wrote about the problems of American farmers and other social issues from a naturalist perspective. Political writings discussed social issues and the power of corporations. Edward Bellamy 's Looking Backward outlined other possible political and social orders, and Upton Sinclair , most famous for his muck-raking novel The Jungle , advocated socialism.
Journalistic critics, including Ida M.
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Tarbell and Lincoln Steffens , were labeled "The Muckrakers". Henry Brooks Adams 's literate autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams also depicted a stinging description of the education system and modern life. Race was a common issue as well, as seen in the work of Pauline Hopkins , who published five influential works from to The s brought sharp changes to American literature. Many writers had direct experience of the First World War, and they used it to frame their writings.
Experimentation in style and form soon joined the new freedom in subject matter. In , Gertrude Stein — , by then an expatriate in Paris, published Three Lives , an innovative work of fiction influenced by her familiarity with cubism, jazz, and other movements in contemporary art and music. Stein labeled a group of American literary notables who lived in Paris in the s and s the " Lost Generation ". The poet Ezra Pound — was born in Idaho but spent much of his adult life in Europe.
His work is complex, sometimes obscure, with multiple references to other art forms and to a vast range of literature, both Western and Eastern. Eliot — , another expatriate. Eliot wrote spare, cerebral poetry, carried by a dense structure of symbols. Like Pound's, Eliot's poetry could be highly allusive, and some editions of The Waste Land come with footnotes supplied by the poet.
In , Eliot won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Henry James, Stein, Pound, and Eliot demonstrate the growth of an international perspective in American literature. American writers had long looked to European models for inspiration, but whereas the literary breakthroughs of the midth century came from finding distinctly American styles and themes, writers from this period were finding ways of contributing to a flourishing international literary scene, not as imitators but as equals. Something similar was happening back in the States, as Jewish writers such as Abraham Cahan used the English language to reach an international Jewish audience.
American writers also expressed the disillusionment following upon the war. The stories and novels of F.
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Scott Fitzgerald — capture the restless, pleasure-hungry, defiant mood of the s. Fitzgerald's characteristic theme, expressed poignantly in The Great Gatsby , is the tendency of youth's golden dreams to dissolve in failure and disappointment. Fitzgerald also elucidates the collapse of some key American Ideals, such as liberty, social unity, good governance and peace, features which were severely threatened by the pressures of modern early 20th century society.
John Dos Passos wrote a famous anti-war novel, Three Soldiers , describing scenes of blind hatred, stupidity, and criminality; and the suffocating regimentation of army life. Ernest Hemingway — saw violence and death first-hand as an ambulance driver in World War I, and the carnage persuaded him that abstract language was mostly empty and misleading.
He cut out unnecessary words from his writing, simplified the sentence structure, and concentrated on concrete objects and actions. He adhered to a moral code that emphasized grace under pressure, and his protagonists were strong, silent men who often dealt awkwardly with women. William Faulkner — won the Nobel Prize in , after Hitler was defeated in World War II: Faulkner encompassed an enormous range of humanity in Yoknapatawpha County , a Mississippian region of his own invention.
He recorded his characters' seemingly unedited ramblings in order to represent their inner states, a technique called " stream of consciousness ". In fact, these passages are carefully crafted, and their seemingly chaotic structure conceals multiple layers of meaning. He also jumbled time sequences to show how the past — especially the slave-holding era of the Deep South — endures in the present. Among his great works are Absalom, Absalom! Although the American theatrical tradition can be traced back to the arrival of Lewis Hallam 's troupe in the midth century and was very active in the 19th century, as seen by the popularity of minstrel shows and of adaptations of Uncle Tom's Cabin , American drama attained international status only in the s and s, with the works of Eugene O'Neill , who won four Pulitzer Prizes and the Nobel Prize.
In the middle of the 20th century, American drama was dominated by the work of playwrights Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller , as well as by the maturation of the American musical , which had found a way to integrate script, music and dance in such works as Oklahoma! Depression era literature was blunt and direct in its social criticism. John Steinbeck — was born in Salinas, California , where he set many of his stories. His style was simple and evocative, winning him the favor of the readers but not of the critics.
Steinbeck often wrote about poor, working-class people and their struggle to lead a decent and honest life. The Grapes of Wrath , considered his masterpiece, is a strong, socially-oriented novel that tells the story of the Joads, a poor family from Oklahoma and their journey to California in search of a better life. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in Steinbeck's contemporary, Nathanael West 's two most famous short novels, Miss Lonelyhearts , which plumbs the life of its eponymous antihero , a reluctant and, to comic effect, male advice columnist , and the effects the tragic letters exert on it, and The Day of the Locust , which introduces a cast of Hollywood stereotypes and explores the ironies of the movies, have come to be avowed classics of American literature.
Combining factual reporting with poetic beauty, Agee presented an accurate and detailed report of what he had seen coupled with insight into his feelings about the experience and the difficulties of capturing it for a broad audience. In doing so, he created an enduring portrait of a nearly invisible segment of the American population. Henry Miller assumed a unique place in American Literature in the s when his semi-autobiographical novels, written and published in Paris, were banned from the US. Although his major works, including Tropic of Cancer and Black Spring , would not be free of the label of obscenity until , their themes and stylistic innovations had already exerted a major influence on succeeding generations of American writers, and paved the way for sexually frank s novels by John Updike , Philip Roth , Gore Vidal , John Rechy and William Styron.
The period in time from the end of World War II up until, roughly, the late s and early s saw the publication of some of the most popular works in American history such as To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The last few of the more realistic modernists along with the wildly Romantic beatniks largely dominated the period, while the direct respondents to America's involvement in World War II contributed in their notable influence.
In works like The Adventures of Augie March and Herzog , Bellow painted vivid portraits of the American city and the distinctive characters that peopled it. Bellow went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in From J. Salinger 's Nine Stories and The Catcher in the Rye to Sylvia Plath 's The Bell Jar , the perceived madness of the state of affairs in America was brought to the forefront of the nation's literary expression. Immigrant authors such as Vladimir Nabokov , with Lolita , forged on with the theme, and, at almost the same time, the beatniks took a concerted step away from their Lost Generation predecessors, developing a style and tone of their own by drawing on Eastern theology and experimenting with recreational drugs.
The poetry and fiction of the " Beat Generation ", largely born of a circle of intellects formed in New York City around Columbia University and established more officially some time later in San Francisco, came of age. The term Beat referred, all at the same time, to the countercultural rhythm of the Jazz scene, to a sense of rebellion regarding the conservative stress of post-war society, and to an interest in new forms of spiritual experience through drugs, alcohol, philosophy, and religion, and specifically through Zen Buddhism.
Allen Ginsberg set the tone of the movement in his poem Howl , a Whitmanesque work that began: "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness Burroughs 's Naked Lunch , a more experimental work structured as a series of vignettes relating, among other things, the narrator's travels and experiments with hard drugs.
Regarding the war novel specifically, there was a literary explosion in America during the post—World War II era. The Moviegoer , by Southern author Walker Percy , winner of the National Book Award, was his attempt at exploring "the dislocation of man in the modern age. In contrast, John Updike approached American life from a more reflective but no less subversive perspective. His novel Rabbit, Run , the first of four chronicling the rising and falling fortunes of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom over the course of four decades against the backdrop of the major events of the second half of the 20th century, broke new ground on its release in its characterization and detail of the American middle class and frank discussion of taboo topics such as adultery.
Notable among Updike's characteristic innovations was his use of present-tense narration, his rich, stylized language, and his attention to sensual detail. His work is also deeply imbued with Christian themes. Other notable works include the Henry Bech novels —98 , The Witches of Eastwick , Roger's Version and In the Beauty of the Lilies , which literary critic Michiko Kakutani called "arguably his finest. Frequently linked with Updike is the novelist Philip Roth. Roth vigorously explores Jewish identity in American society, especially in the postwar era and the early 21st century.
Frequently set in Newark, New Jersey , Roth's work is known to be highly autobiographical, and many of Roth's main characters, most famously the Jewish novelist Nathan Zuckerman , are thought to be alter egos of Roth. With these techniques, and armed with his articulate and fast-paced style, Roth explores the distinction between reality and fiction in literature while provocatively examining American culture. His most famous work includes the Zuckerman novels, the controversial Portnoy's Complaint , and Goodbye, Columbus Among the most decorated American writers of his generation, he has won every major American literary award, including the Pulitzer Prize for his major novel American Pastoral In the realm of African-American literature, Ralph Ellison 's novel Invisible Man was instantly recognized as among the most powerful and important works of the immediate post-war years.
The story of a black Underground Man in the urban north, the novel laid bare the often repressed racial tension that still prevailed while also succeeding as an existential character study. Richard Wright was catapulted to fame by the publication in subsequent years of his now widely studied short story, " The Man Who Was Almost a Man " , and his controversial second novel, Native Son , and his legacy was cemented by the publication of Black Boy , a work in which Wright drew on his childhood and mostly autodidactic education in the segregated South, fictionalizing and exaggerating some elements as he saw fit.
Because of its polemical themes and Wright's involvement with the Communist Party , the novel's final part, "American Hunger", was not published until Perhaps the most ambitious and challenging post-war American novelist was William Gaddis , whose uncompromising, satiric, and large novels, such as The Recognitions and J R are presented largely in terms of unattributed dialog that requires almost unexampled reader participation.
Gaddis's primary themes include forgery, capitalism, religious zealotry, and the legal system, constituting a sustained polyphonic critique of modern American life. Gaddis's work, though largely ignored for years, anticipated and influenced the development of such ambitious "postmodern" fiction writers as Thomas Pynchon , David Foster Wallace , Joseph McElroy , William H.
Gass , and Don DeLillo. Another neglected and challenging postwar American novelist, albeit one who wrote much shorter works, was John Hawkes , whose surreal visionary fiction addresses themes of violence and eroticism and experiments audaciously with narrative voice and style.
Among his most important works is the short nightmarish novel The Lime Twig In the postwar period, the art of the short story again flourished. Among its most respected practitioners was Flannery O'Connor , who developed a distinctive Southern gothic esthetic in which characters acted at one level as people and at another as symbols.
A devout Catholic, O'Connor often imbued her stories, among them the widely studied " A Good Man is Hard to Find " and " Everything That Rises Must Converge ", and two novels, Wise Blood ; The Violent Bear It Away , with deeply religious themes, focusing particularly on the search for truth and religious skepticism against the backdrop of the nuclear age.
In addition, in this same period the confessional , whose origin is often traced to the publication in of Robert Lowell 's Life Studies ,  and beat schools of poetry enjoyed popular and academic success, producing such widely anthologized voices as Allen Ginsberg , Charles Bukowski , Gary Snyder , Anne Sexton , and Sylvia Plath , among many others. Though its exact parameters remain disputable, from the early s to the present day the most salient literary movement has been postmodernism. Thomas Pynchon , a seminal practitioner of the form, drew in his work on modernist fixtures such as temporal distortion, unreliable narrators, and internal monologue and coupled them with distinctly postmodern techniques such as metafiction , ideogrammatic characterization, unrealistic names Oedipa Maas, Benny Profane, etc.
In , he published Gravity's Rainbow , a leading work in this genre, which won the National Book Award and was unanimously nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction that year.