a growing nation: literature of the american renaissance

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A GROWING NATION
LITERATURE OF THE AMERICAN
RENAISSANCE 1800-1870
A Snapshot of the Period
 French writer Alexis de
Tocqueville was so
enchanted by the spirit of the
young nation.
 By 1870 industrialism,
population growth,
economic changes, and the
Civil War had all aged the
nation’s spirit.
 Poe, Emerson, Thoreau,
Dickinson, and Whitman all
shone their distinctly
American light far beyond
“the forests of the New
World.”
Historical Background
 The European Renaissance- the rebirth of classical
art and learning- took place in the 14th, 15th , and
16th centuries.
 The American version, more like a flowering, took
place in the 19th. The nation came of age and
entered a literary and cultural maturity.
 The nation’s capitol was moved and America
founded the Library of Congress.
Historical Background:
Steam, Steal, and Spirit
 1803 Jefferson doubled the
population with the
Louisiana Purchase.
 Improved transportation
helped bind new and old
states together.
 The Gold Rush drew
hundreds out West.
 Major advances in
technology spurred social
and cultural change.
Factories were sprouting
everywhere.
Historical Background: The
Slow March of Democracy
 1828 Andrew Jackson “the
people’s president, ushered
in the era of common man.
 Only white males could vote.
 Little attention was paid to
women, and the African
Americans were still
enslaved.
 The Native Americans tribal
lands were confiscated and
the “Trail of Tears” began.
Historical Background: On
the World Stage
 The first decades of the 1800s
were hopeful.
 The War of 1812 showed the
Europeans that America was
here to stay.
 The Monroe Doctrine
warned Europe not to
interfere with Latin nations.
 When TX was admitted to
the Union, yet another
territory was added, ending
the war with Mexico.
Historical Background:
Winds of Change
 During the mid century the
US faced trouble as well as
promise.
 There was fierce competition
scarred by child labor and
unsafe working conditions.
 Women gained some rights,
but the deepest divide still
was slavery.
 In 1861, the gathering storm
surrounding slavery burst
into a Civil War.
Key Historical Theme:
Coming of Age
 Physical expansion and technological progress lay
the foundation for an American cultural flowering.
 Democracy advanced, although, women, Native
Americans, and African Americans did not fully
share in it!
 The conflict over slavery eventually led to a Civil
War.
Essential Questions Across
Time
What did Americans discover
as they explored the
continent?
 The US gradually extended
west.
 Americans were inspired by
the sheer size of the land.
 There were vast prairies in
the Midwest, demanding
deserts in the Southwest,
unbroken forests in the
North, grand mountains and
oceans in the West.
What attitudes developed
toward the American land?
•
The land demanded
optimism and practical
invention, calling
continuously for steps west.
•
Commercial possibilities
were as wide as the
landscape.
•
Many Americans developed
an attitude that went further
than practicality. The land
struck them in awe.
Essential Questions Across
Time
How Did These Attitudes
Show Up in Literature?
 Explorers recorded facts of
their expeditions in colorful
words.
 Irving and Cooper helped to
create a mythology by
setting tales in a forests and
outposts of American
landscape.
 Poe, Hawthorne, and
Melville, wrote of the dark
side of the wilderness.
 Emerson and Thoreau
emphasized its sublimity.
Dickinson explored the local
landscape. Whitman
merged himself with the
entire nation.
 The American place affected
a wide variety of cultural
figures.
 Many found a way to bring
nature into every facet of life,
including the city.
Essential Questions Across
Time
What Social Forces Shaped
America During This Period?
 TECHNOLOGY- bigger,
stronger, faster, America was
rolling on the fast track.
 DEMOCRACY- the white
male benefitted in the time.
Women, African Americans,
and Native Americans
suffered.
 SLAVERY- it was the most
profound controversy in
America.
Essential Questions Across
Time
What Did American
Writers Want to
Achieve?

SOCIAL VISION- Americans
presented how they felt about
life publically. Public writing
allowed them to defend
themselves.

ROMANTIC VISION- It made
clear that the private self was
just as important as the
exploration of land.

TRANSCENDENTAL VISIONReal truth lies outside the
sensory experience.
What Makes American
Literature American?
 American English – The American way of speaking and
writing took on many unique features. Many Americans
coined words to describe their land, weather, plants,
animals, and ways of daily life.
 Triumph of the Colloquial – American English became
more informal than British English. The British thought
the Americans were ruining the language, but really the
language was intensely alive.
 The Barbaric Yawp- Walt Whitman spread far and wide.
His style incorporated the plain and the elegant, the high
and the low, the foreign and the native. Whitman’s
sound was the American sound.
What Literary Character Types
Emerged During This Period?
 The Frontiersman- The men who faced the frontier head
on became part of the literary nation’s imagination. Davy
Crockett, Paul Bunyan, and Mike Fink helped define the
American identity as bold, self reliant, and uncorrupted.
 The Romantic Individualist – The American hero took on
many forms. Such as Hester Prynne’s decision to put
love and honor before the repressive rule of her town.
 The Transcendental Seeker – The person who seeks the
feeling of oneness with all that is beautiful and good.
Many writers believed it could be reached through
nature.
What Literary Themes
Emerged During This Era?
 Westering – The idea of Western expansion was a
fundamental part of our nation’s identity. Many viewed
it as a continental destiny. It became the American right
to explore, expand, and exploit.
 Bright and Dark Romanticism- Romanticism had two
faces one bright and optimistic, the other dark and
shadowed by evil. Many writers explored both sides of
the Romantic impulse.
 Self-Reliance – “Trust thyself.” Make your own choices
and don’t let others choose for you. These principles are
built into our democracy and they became fundamental
themes in literature.

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