A Concise History of American Literature
What is literature?
Literature is language artistically used to achieve identifiable literary qualities and to convey meaningful messages.
Chapter 1 Colonial Period
I. Background: Puritanism
1. features of Puritanism
(1) Predestination: God decided everything before things occurred.
(2) Original sin: Human beings were born to be evil, and this original sin can be passed down from generation to generation.
(3) Total depravity
(4) Limited atonement: Only the “elect” can be saved.
(1) A group of good qualities – hard work, thrift, piety, sobriety (serious and thoughtful) influenced American literature.
(2) It led to the everlasting myth. All literature is based on a myth – garden of Eden.
(3) Symbolism: the American puritan’s metaphorical mode of perception was chiefly instrumental in calling into being a literary symbolism which is distinctly American.
(4) With regard to their writing, the style is fresh, simple and direct; the rhetoric is plain and honest, not without a touch of nobility often traceable to the direct influence of the Bible.
II. Overview of the literature
1. types of writing
diaries, histories, journals, letters, travel books, autobiographies/biographies, sermons
2. writers of colonial period
(1) Anne Bradstreet
(2) Edward Taylor
(3) Roger Williams
(4) John Woolman
(5) Thomas Paine
(6) Philip Freneau
III. Jonathan Edwards
(1) The Freedom of the Will
(2) The Great Doctrine of Original Sin Defended
(3) The Nature of True Virtue
3. ideas – pioneer of transcendentalism
(1) The spirit of revivalism
(2) Regeneration of man
(3) God’s presence
(4) Puritan idealism
IV. Benjamin Franklin
(1) Poor Richard’s Almanac
(1) He helped found the Pennsylvania Hospital and the American Philosophical Society.
(2) He was called “the new Prometheus who had stolen fire (electricity in this case) from heaven”.
(3) Everything seems to meet in this one man – “Jack of all trades”. Herman Melville thus described him “master of each and mastered by none”.
Chapter 2 American Romanticism
Section 1 Early Romantic Period
What is Romanticism?
An approach from ancient Greek: Plato
A literary trend: 18c in Britain (1798~1832)
I. Preview: Characteristics of romanticism
(1) feeling and emotions, finding truth
(2) emphasis on imagination
(3) emphasis on individualism – personal freedom, no hero worship, natural goodness of human beings
2. back to medieval, esp medieval folk literature
(1) unrestrained by classical rules
(2) full of imagination
(3) colloquial language
(4) freedom of imagination
(5) genuine in feelings: answer their call for classics
3. back to nature
nature is “breathing living thing” (Rousseau)
II. American Romanticism
(1) Political background and economic development
(2) Romantic movement in European countries
Derivative – foreign influence
(1) American romanticism was in essence the expression of “a real new experience and contained “an alien quality” for the simple reason that “the spirit of the place” was radically new and alien.
(2) There is American Puritanism as a cultural heritage to consider. American romantic authors tended more to moralize. Many American romantic writings intended to edify more than they entertained.
(3) The “newness” of Americans as a nation is in connection with American Romanticism.
(4) As a logical result of the foreign and native factors at work, American romanticism was both imitative and independent.
III. Washington Irving
1. several names attached to Irving
(1) first American writer
(2) the messenger sent from the new world to the old world
(3) father of American literature
(1) A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty
(2) The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (He won a measure of international recognition with the publication of this.)
(3) The History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus
(4) A Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada
(5) The Alhambra
4. Literary career: two parts
a. Subjects are either English or European
b. Conservative love for the antique
(2) 1832~1859: back to US
5. style – beautiful
(1) gentility, urbanity, pleasantness
(2) avoiding moralizing – amusing and entertaining
(3) enveloping stories in an atmosphere
(4) vivid and true characters
(5) humour – smiling while reading
(6) musical language
IV. James Fenimore Cooper
(1) Precaution (1820, his first novel, imitating Austen’s Pride and Prejudice)
(2) The Spy (his second novel and great success)
(3) Leatherstocking Tales (his masterpiece, a series of five novels)
The Deerslayer, The Last of the Mohicans, The Pathfinder, The Pioneer, The Prairie
3. point of view
the theme of wilderness vs. civilization, freedom vs. law, order vs. change, aristocrat vs. democrat, natural rights vs. legal rights
(1) highly imaginative
(2) good at inventing tales
(3) good at landscape description
(5) characterization wooden and lacking in probability
(6) language and use of dialect not authentic
5. literary achievements
He created a myth about the formative period of the American nation. If the history of the United States is, in a sense, the process of the American settlers exploring and pushing the American frontier forever westward, then Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales effectively approximates the American national experience of adventure into the West. He turned the west and frontier as a useable past and he helped to introduce western tradition to American literature.
Section 2 Summit of Romanticism – American Transcendentalism
I. Background: four sources
(1) Fatherhood of God
(2) Brotherhood of men
(3) Leadership of Jesus
(4) Salvation by character (perfection of one’s character)
(5) Continued progress of mankind
(6) Divinity of mankind
(7) Depravity of mankind
2. Romantic Idealism
Center of the world is spirit, absolute spirit (Kant)
3. Oriental mysticism
Center of the world is “oversoul”
Eloquent expression in transcendentalism
1836, “Nature” by Emerson
2. importance of individualism
3. nature – symbol of spirit/God
garment of the oversoul
4. focus in intuition (irrationalism and subconsciousness)
1. It served as an ethical guide to life for a young nation and brought about the idea that human can be perfected by nature. It stressed religious tolerance, called to throw off shackles of customs and traditions and go forward to the development of a new and distinctly American culture.
2. It advocated idealism that was great needed in a rapidly expanded economy where opportunity often became opportunism, and the desire to “get on” obscured the moral necessity for rising to spiritual height.
3. It helped to create the first American renaissance – one of the most prolific period in American literature.
V. Ralph Waldo Emerson
(2) Two essays: The American Scholar, The Poet
3. point of view
(1) One major element of his philosophy is his firm belief in the transcendence of the “oversoul”.
(2) He regards nature as the purest, and the most sanctifying moral influence on man, and advocated a direct intuition of a spiritual and immanent God in nature.
(3) If man depends upon himself, cultivates himself and brings out the divine in himself, he can hope to become better and even perfect. This is what Emerson means by “the infinitude of man”.
(4) Everyone should understand that he makes himself by making his world, and that he makes the world by making himself.
4. aesthetic ideas
(1) He is a complete man, an eternal man.
(2) True poetry and true art should ennoble.
(3) The poet should express his thought in symbols.
(4) As to theme, Emerson called upon American authors to celebrate America which was to him a lone poem in itself.
5. his influence
VI. Henry David Thoreau
(1) A Week on the Concord and Merrimack River
(3) A Plea for John Brown (an essay)
3. point of view
(1) He did not like the way a materialistic America was developing and was vehemently outspoken on the point.
(2) He hated the human injustice as represented by the slavery system.
(3) Like Emerson, but more than him, Thoreau saw nature as a genuine restorative, healthy influence on man’s spiritual well-being.
(4) He has faith in the inner virtue and inward, spiritual grace of man.
(5) He was very critical of modern civilization.
(7) He was sorely disgusted with “the inundations of the dirty institutions of men’s odd-fellow society”.
(8) He has calm trust in the future and his ardent belief in a new generation of men.
Section 3 Late Romanticism
I. Nathaniel Hawthorne
(1) Two collections of short stories: Twice-told Tales, Mosses from and Old Manse
(2) The Scarlet Letter
(3) The House of the Seven Gables
(4) The Marble Faun
3. point of view
(1) Evil is at the core of human life, “that blackness in Hawthorne”
(2) Whenever there is sin, there is punishment. Sin or evil can be passed from generation to generation (causality).
(3) He is of the opinion that evil educates.
(4) He has disgust in science.
4. aesthetic ideas
(1) He took a great interest in history and antiquity. To him these furnish the soil on which his mind grows to fruition.
(2) He was convinced that romance was the predestined form of American narrative. To tell the truth and satirize and yet not to offend: That was what Hawthorne had in mind to achieve.
5. style – typical romantic writer
(1) the use of symbols
(2) revelation of characters’ psychology
(3) the use of supernatural mixed with the actual
(4) his stories are parable (parable inform) – to teach a lesson
(5) use of ambiguity to keep the reader in the world of uncertainty – multiple point of view
II. Herman Melville
(5) White Jacket
(6) Moby Dick
(8) Billy Budd
3. point of view
(1) He never seems able to say an affirmative yes to life: His is the attitude of “Everlasting Nay” (negative attitude towards life).
(2) One of the major themes of his is alienation (far away from each other).
Other themes: loneliness, suicidal individualism (individualism causing disaster and death), rejection and quest, confrontation of innocence and evil, doubts over the comforting 19c idea of progress
(1) Like Hawthorne, Melville manages to achieve the effect of ambiguity through employing the technique of multiple view of his narratives.
(2) He tends to write periodic chapters.
(3) His rich rhythmical prose and his poetic power have been profusely commented upon and praised.
(4) His works are symbolic and metaphorical.
(5) He includes many non-narrative chapters of factual background or description of what goes on board the ship or on the route (Moby Dick)
I. Walt Whitman
2. work: Leaves of Grass (9 editions)
(1) Song of Myself
(2) There Was a Child Went Forth
(3) Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
(4) Democratic Vistas
(5) Passage to India
(6) Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking
3. themes – “Catalogue of American and European thought”
He had been influenced by many American and European thoughts: enlightenment, idealism, transcendentalism, science, evolution ideas, western frontier spirits, Jefferson’s individualism, Civil War Unionism, Orientalism.
Major themes in his poems (almost everything):
equality of things and beings
divinity of everything
immanence of God
evolution of cosmos
multiplicity of nature
death, beauty of death
expansion of America
brotherhood and social solidarity (unity of nations in the world)
pursuit of love and happiness
4. style: “free verse”
(1) no fixed rhyme or scheme
(2) parallelism, a rhythm of thought
(3) phonetic recurrence
(4) the habit of using snapshots
(5) the use of a certain pronoun “I”
(6) a looser and more open-ended syntactic structure
(7) use of conventional image
(8) strong tendency to use oral English
(9) vocabulary – powerful, colourful, rarely used words of foreign origins, some even wrong
(10) sentences – catalogue technique: long list of names, long poem lines
(1) His best work has become part of the common property of Western culture.
(2) He took over Whitman’s vision of the poet-prophet and poet-teacher and recast it in a more sophisticated and Europeanized mood.
(3) He has been compared to a mountain in American literary history.
(4) Contemporary American poetry, whatever school or form, bears witness to his great influence.
II. Emily Dickenson
(1) My Life Closed Twice before Its Close
(2) Because I Can’t Stop for Death
(3) I Heard a Fly Buzz – When I died
(4) Mine – by the Right of the White Election
(5) Wild Nights – Wild Nights
3. themes: based on her own experiences/joys/sorrows
(1) religion – doubt and belief about religious subjects
(2) death and immortality
(3) love – suffering and frustration caused by love
(4) physical aspect of desire
(5) nature – kind and cruel
(6) free will and human responsibility
(1) poems without titles
(2) severe economy of expression
(3) directness, brevity
(4) musical device to create cadence (rhythm)
(5) capital letters – emphasis
(6) short poems, mainly two stanzas
(7) rhetoric techniques: personification – make some of abstract ideas vivid
III. Comparison: Whitman vs. Dickinson
(1) Thematically, they both extolled, in their different ways, an emergent America, its expansion, its individualism and its Americanness, their poetry being part of “American Renaissance”.
(2) Technically, they both added to the literary independence of the new nation by breaking free of the convention of the iambic pentameter and exhibiting a freedom in form unknown before: they were pioneers in American poetry.
(1) Whitman seems to keep his eye on society at large; Dickinson explores the inner life of the individual.
(2) Whereas Whitman is “national” in his outlook, Dickinson is “regional”.
(3) Dickinson has the “catalogue technique” (direct, simple style) which Whitman doesn’t have.
Edgar Allen Poe
1. short stories
(1) ratiocinative stories
a. Ms Found in a Bottle
b. The Murders in the Rue Morgue
c. The Purloined Letter
(2) Revenge, death and rebirth
a. The Fall of the House of Usher
c. The Masque of the Red Death
(3) Literary theory
a. The Philosophy of Composition
b. The Poetic Principle
c. Review of Hawthorne’s Twice-told Tales
1. death – predominant theme in Poe’s writing
“Poe is not interested in anything alive. Everything in Poe’s writings is dead.”
2. disintegration (separation) of life
4. negative thoughts of science
IV. Aesthetic ideas
1. The short stories should be of brevity, totality, single effect, compression and finality.
2. The poems should be short, and the aim should be beauty, the tone melancholy. Poems should not be of moralizing. He calls for pure poetry and stresses rhythm.
V. Style – traditional, but not easy to read
VI. Reputation: “the jingle man” (Emerson)
VII. His influences
Chapter 3 The Age of Realism
I. Background: From Romanticism to Realism
1. the three conflicts that reached breaking point in this period
(1) industrialism vs. agrarian
(2) culturely-measured east vs. newly-developed west
(3) plantation gentility vs. commercial gentility
2. 1880’s urbanization: from free competition to monopoly capitalism
3. the closing of American frontier
1. truthful description of life
2. typical character under typical circumstance
3. objective rather than idealized, close observation and investigation of life
“Realistic writers are like scientists.”
Life is complex and cannot be fully understood. It leaves much room for readers to think by themselves.
5. concerned with social and psychological problems, revealing the frustrations of characters in an environment of sordidness and depravity
III. Three Giants in Realistic Period
1. William Dean Howells – “Dean of American Realism”
(1) Realistic principles
a. Realism is “fidelity to experience and probability of motive”.
b. The aim is “talk of some ordinary traits of American life”.
c. Man in his natural and unaffected dullness was the object of Howells’s fictional representation.
d. Realism is by no means mere photographic pictures of externals but includes a central concern with “motives” and psychological conflicts.
e. He condemns novels of sentimentality and morbid self-sacrifice, and avoids such themes as illicit love.
f. Authors should minimize plot and the artificial ordering of the sense of something “desultory, unfinished, imperfect”.
g. Characters should have solidity of specification and be real.
h. Interpreting sympathetically the “common feelings of commonplace people” was best suited as a technique to express the spirit of America.
i. He urged writers to winnow tradition and write in keeping with current humanitarian ideals.
j. Truth is the highest beauty, but it includes the view that morality penetrates all things.
k. With regard to literary criticism, Howells felt that the literary critic should not try to impose arbitrary or subjective evaluations on books but should follow the detached scientist in accurate description, interpretation, and classification.
a. The Rise of Silas Lapham
b. A Chance Acquaintance
c. A Modern Instance
(3) Features of His Works
a. Optimistic tone
b. Moral development/ethics
c. Lacking of psychological depth
2. Henry James
(2) Literary career: three stages
a. 1865~1882: international theme
The Portrait of a Lady
b. 1882~1895: inter-personal relationships and some plays
Daisy Miller (play)
c. 1895~1900: novellas and tales dealing with childhood and adolescence, then back to international theme
The Turn of the Screw
When Maisie Knew
The Wings of the Dove
The Golden Bowl
(3) Aesthetic ideas
a. The aim of novel: represent life
b. Common, even ugly side of life
c. Social function of art
d. Avoiding omniscient point of view
(4) Point of view
a. Psychological analysis, forefather of stream of consciousness
b. Psychological realism
c. Highly-refined language
(5) Style – “stylist”
a. Language: highly-refined, polished, insightful, accurate
b. Vocabulary: large
c. Construction: complicated, intricate
3. Mark Twain (see next section)
1. uneven development in economy in America
2. culture: flourishing of frontier literature, humourists
3. magazines appeared to let writer publish their works
II. What is “Local Colour”?
Tasks of local colourists: to write or present local characters of their regions in truthful depiction distinguished from others, usually a very small part of the world.
Regional literature (similar, but larger in world)
Garland, Harte – the west
Eggleston – Indiana
Jewett – Maine
Chopin – Louisiana
III. Mark Twain – Mississippi
(1) The Gilded Age
(2) “the two advantages”
(3) Life on the Mississippi
(4) A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
(5) The Man That Corrupted Hardleybug
(1) colloquial language, vernacular language, dialects
(2) local colour
(3) syntactic feature: sentences are simple, brief, sometimes ungrammatical
(5) tall tales (highly exaggerated)
(6) social criticism (satire on the different ugly things in society)
IV. Comparison of the three “giants” of American Realism
Howells – middle class
James – upper class
Twain – lower class
Howells – smiling/genteel realism
James – psychological realism
Twain – local colourism and colloquialism
Chapter 4 American Naturalism
1. Darwin’s theory: “natural selection”
2. Spenser’s idea: “social Darwinism”
3. French Naturalism: Zora
1. environment and heredity
2. scientific accuracy and a lot of details
3. general tone: hopelessness, despair, gloom, ugly side of the society
It prepares the way for the writing of 1920s’ “lost generation” and T. S. Eliot.
IV. Theodore Dreiser
(1) Sister Carrie
(2) The trilogy: Financier, The Titan, The Stoic
(3) Jennie Gerhardt
(4) American Tragedy
(5) The Genius
3. point of view
(1) He embraced social Darwinism – survival of the fittest. He learned to regard man as merely an animal driven by greed and lust in a struggle for existence in which only the “fittest”, the most ruthless, survive.
(2) Life is predatory, a “game” of the lecherous and heartless, a jungle struggle in which man, being “a waif and an interloper in Nature”, a “wisp in the wind of social forces”, is a mere pawn in the general scheme of things, with no power whatever to assert his will.
(3) No one is ethically free; everything is determined by a complex of internal chemisms and by the forces of social pressure.
4. Sister Carrie
(1) Without good structure
(2) Deficient characterization
(3) Lack in imagination
(4) Journalistic method
(5) Techniques in painting
Chapter 5 The Modern Period
Section 1 The 1920s
The 1920s is a flowering period of American literature. It is considered “the second renaissance” of American literature.
The nicknames for this period:
(1) Roaring 20s – comfort
(2) Dollar Decade – rich
(3) Jazz Age – Jazz music
1. First World War – “a war to end all wars”
(1) Economically: became rich from WWI. Economic boom: new inventions. Highly-consuming society.
(2) Spiritually: dislocation, fragmentation.
2. wide-spread contempt for law (looking down upon law)
3. Freud’s theory
III. Features of the literature
Writers: three groups
(3) Bohemian (unconventional way of life) – on-lookers
(1) Failure of communication of Americans
(2) Failure of the American society
Imagism was influenced by French symbolism, ancient Chinese poetry and Japanese literature “haiku”
II. Development: three stages
1. 1908~1909: London, Hulme
2. 1912~1914: England -> America, Pound
3. 1914~1917: Amy Lowell
III. What is an “image”?
An image is defined by Pound as that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time, “a vortex or cluster of fused ideas” “endowed with energy”. The exact word must bring the effect of the object before the reader as it had presented itself to the poet’s mind at the time of writing.
1. Direct treatment of the “thing”, whether subjective or objective;
2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation;
3. As regarding rhythm, to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in the sequence of a metronome.
1. It was a rebellion against the traditional poetics which failed to reflect the new life of the new century.
2. It offered a new way of writing which was valid not only for the Imagist poets but for modern poetry as a whole.
3. The movement was a training school in which many great poets learned their first lessons in the poetic art.
4. It is this movement that helped to open the first pages of modern English and American poetry.
VI. Ezra Pound
2. literary career
(3) Hugh Selwyn Mauberley
4. point of view
(1) Confident in Pound’s belief that the artist was morally and culturally the arbiter and the “saviour” of the race, he took it upon himself to purify the arts and became the prime mover of a few experimental movements, the aim of which was to dump the old into the dustbin and bring forth something new.
(2) To him life was sordid personal crushing oppression, and culture produced nothing but “intangible bondage”.
(3) Pound sees in Chinese history and the doctrine of Confucius a source of strength and wisdom with which to counterpoint Western gloom and confusion.
(4) He saw a chaotic world that wanted setting to rights, and a humanity, suffering from spiritual death and cosmic injustice, that needed saving. He was for the most part of his life trying to offer Confucian philosophy as the one faith which could help to save the West.
5. style: very difficult to read
Pound’s early poems are fresh and lyrical. The Cantos can be notoriously difficult in some sections, but delightfully beautiful in others. Few have made serious study of the long poem; fewer, if anyone at all, have had the courage to declare that they have conquered Pound; and many seem to agree that the Cantos is a monumental failure.
He has helped, through theory and practice, to chart out the course of modern poetry.
7. The Cantos – “the intellectual diary since 1915”
(1) Language: intricate and obscure
(2) Theme: complex subject matters
(3) Form: no fixed framework, no central theme, no attention to poetic rules
VII. T. S. Eliot
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
The Waste Land (epic)
Murder in the Cathedral
The Cocktail Party
The Confidential Clerk
(3) Critical essays
The Sacred Wood
Essays on Style and Order
The Use of Poetry and The Use of Criticisms
After Strange Gods
3. point of view
(1) The modern society is futile and chaotic.
(2) Only poets can create some order out of chaos.
(3) The method to use is to compare the past and the present.
(1) Fresh visual imagery, flexible tone and highly expressive rhythm
(2) Difficult and disconnected images and symbols, quotations and allusions
(3) Elliptical structures, strange juxtapositions, an absence of bridges
5. The Waste Land: five parts
(1) The Burial of the Dead
(2) A Game of Chess
(3) The Fire Sermon
(4) Death by Water
(5) What the Thunder Said
VIII. Robert Frost
2. point of view
(1) All his life, Frost was concerned with constructions through poetry. “a momentary stay against confusion”.
(2) He understands the terror and tragedy in nature, but also its beauty.
(3) Unlike the English romantic poets of 19th century, he didn’t believe that man could find harmony with nature. He believed that serenity came from working, usually amid natural forces, which couldn’t be understood. He regarded work as “significant toil”.
3. works – poems
the first: A Boy’s Will
collections: North of Boston, Mountain Interval (mature), New Hampshire
4. style/features of his poems
(1) Most of his poems took New England as setting, and the subjects were chosen from daily life of ordinary people, such as “mending wall”, “picking apples”.
(2) He writes most often about landscape and people – the loneliness and poverty of isolated farmers, beauty, terror and tragedy in nature. He also describes some abnormal people, e.g. “deceptively simple”, “philosophical poet”.
(3) Although he was popular during 1920s, he didn’t experiment like other modern poets. He used conventional forms, plain language, traditional metre, and wrote in a pastured tradition.
IX. e. e. cummings
“a juggler with syntax, grammar and diction” – individualism, “painter poet”
Novels in the 1920s
I. F. Scott Fitzgerald
1. life – participant in 1920s
(1) This Side of Paradise
(2) Flappers and Philosophers
(3) The Beautiful and the Damned
(4) The Great Gatsby
(5) Tender is the Night
(6) All the Sad Young Man
(7) The Last Tycoon
3. point of view
(1) He expressed what the young people believed in the 1920s, the so-called “American Dream” is false in nature.
(2) He had always been critical of the rich and tried to show the integrating effects of money on the emotional make-up of his character. He found that wealth altered people’s characters, making them mean and distrusted. He thinks money brought only tragedy and remorse.
(3) His novels follow a pattern: dream – lack of attraction – failure and despair.
4. His ideas of “American Dream”
It is false to most young people. Only those who were dishonest could become rich.
Fitzgerald was one of the great stylists in American literature. His prose is smooth, sensitive, and completely original in its diction and metaphors. Its simplicity and gracefulness, its skill in manipulating the relation between the general and the specific reveal his consummate artistry.
6. The Great Gatsby
Narrative point of view – Nick
He is related to everyone in the novel and is calm and detected observer who is never quick to make judgements.
Selected omniscient point of view
II. Ernest Hemingway
2. point of view (influenced by experience in war)
(1) He felt that WWI had broken America’s culture and traditions, and separated from its roots. He wrote about men and women who were isolated from tradition, frightened, sometimes ridiculous, trying to find their own way.
(2) He condemned war as purposeless slaughter, but the attitude changed when he took part in Spanish Civil War when he found that fascism was a cause worth fighting for.
(3) He wrote about courage and cowardice in battlefield. He defined courage as “an instinctive movement towards or away from the centre of violence with self-preservation and self-respect, the mixed motive”. He also talked about the courage with which to face tragedies of life that can never be remedied.
(4) Hemingway is essentially a negative writer. It is very difficult for him to say “yes”. He holds a black, naturalistic view of the world and sees it as “all a nothing” and “all nada”.
(1) In Our Time
(2) Men Without Women
(3) Winner Take Nothing
(4) The Torrents of Spring
(5) The Sun Also Rises
(6) A Farewell to Arms
(7) Death in the Afternoon
(8) To Have and Have Not
(9) Green Hills of Africa
(10) The Fifth Column
(11) For Whom the Bell Tolls
(12) Across the River and into the Trees
(13) The Old Man and the Sea
4. themes – “grace under pressure”
(1) war and influence of war on people, with scenes connected with hunting, bull fighting which demand stamina and courage, and with the question “how to live with pain”, “how human being live gracefully under pressure”.
(2) “code hero”
The Hemingway hero is an average man of decidedly masculine tastes, sensitive and intelligent, a man of action, and one of few words. That is an individualist keeping emotions under control, stoic and self-disciplined in a dreadful place. These people are usually spiritual strong, people of certain skills, and most of them encounter death many times.
(1) simple and natural
(2) direct, clear and fresh
(3) lean and economical
(4) simple, conversational, common found, fundamental words
(5) simple sentences
(6) Iceberg principle: understatement, implied things
III. Sinclair Lewis – “the worst important writer in American literature”
(1) Main Street
(5) Elmer Gantry
3. point of view – satirical critic of American middle class
(1) Lewis showed the villagers to be narrow-minded, greedy, pretentious and corrupt.
(2) He attacked middle class for its indifference to art and culture, and its assumption that economic success made it superior.
(1) photographic, verisimilitude
(3) characterization: he often created a type of character rather than an individual
(4) old fashioned in theme
(5) lack in psychological exploration
IV. Willa Cather
(1) Alexander’s Bridge
(2) O Pioneers
(3) The Song of the Lark
(4) My Antonia
3. features of her works
(1) She was one of the few “uneasy survivors of the nineteenth century”. Hanging onto the traditional values, she was never able to come to terms with modernity.
(2) Old west becomes in most of her novels the centre of moral reference against which modern existence is measured.
(3) She withdraws in her later fiction into the historical past.
(4) She often uses women protagonists in her novels.
American southern literature can date back to Edgar Allen Poe, and reach its summit with the appearance of the two “giants” – Faulkner and Wolfe. There are southern women writers – Katherine Anne Porter, Eudora Welty, and Flannery O’Connor.
II. Southern Myths – guilt, failure, poverty
1. Chevalier heritage
2. Agrarian virtue
3. Plantation aristocracy
4. Lost cause
5. White supremacy
6. Purity of womanhood
Southern literature: twisted, pessimistic, violent, distorted
Gothic novel: Poe
III. William Faulkner
2. literary career: three stages
(1) 1924~1929: training as a writer
The Marble Faun
(2) 1929~1936: most productive and prolific period
The Sound and the Fury
As I Lay Dying
Light in August
(3) 1940~end: won recognition in America
Go Down, Moses
3. point of view
He generally shows a grim picture of human society where violence and cruelty are frequently included, but his later works showed more optimism. His intention was to show the evil, harsh events in contrast to such eternal virtues as love, honour, pity, compassion, self-sacrifice, and thereby expose the faults of society. He felt that it was a writer’s duty to remind his readers constantly of true values and virtues.
(1) history and race
He explains the present by examining the past, by telling the stories of several generations of family to show how history changes life. He was interested in the relationship between blacks and whites, especially concerned about the problems of the people who were of the mixed race of black and white, unacceptable to both races.
(3) Conflicts between generations, classes, races, man and environment
(4) Horror, violence and the abnormal
5. style/features of his works
(1) complex plot
(2) stream of consciousness
(3) multiple point of view, circular form
(4) violation of chronology
(5) courtroom rhetoric: formal language
(6) characterization: he was able to probe into the psychology of characters
(7) “anti-hero”: weak, fable, vulnerable (true people in modern society)
He has a group of women writers following him, including O’Connor and Eudora Welty
Section 2 The 1930s
Great Depression (1929 “Black Thursday”)
1. Writers of the 1920s were still writing, but they didn’t produce good works.
2. The main stream is left-oriented.
III. Writers of 1930s
1. social concern and social involvement
2. revival of naturalistic tradition of Dreiser and Norris
IV. John Steinbeck
(1) Cup of Gold
(2) Tortilla Flat
(3) In Dubious Battle
(4) Of Mice and Men
(5) The Grapes of Wrath
(6) Travels with Charley
(7) Short stories: The Red Pony, The Pearl
3. point of view
(1) His best writing was produced out of outrage at the injustices of the societies, and by the admirations for the strong spirit of the poor.
(2) His theme was usually simple human virtues, such as kindness and fair treatment, which were far superior to the dehumanizing cruelty of exploiters.
(1) poetic prose
(2) regional dialect
(3) characterization: many types of characters rather than individuals
(4) dramatic factors
(5) social protect: spokesman for the poverty-stricken people
5. The Grapes of Wrath
Chapter 6 The Post-War Period: 50s & 60s
I. Historical Background – multi-faceted
1. Cold War
2. McCarthyism (persecution of communists)
3. Korean War
4. Civil Rights Movement
5. Counter-culture Movement – political, economical and military achievement
II. Literature in the 1950s
1. Regional literature emerged from the south, etc. Many women writers appeared.
2. Dramatists wrote about everyday people, e.g. Arthur Miller.
3. Minority literature developed quickly.
III. Literature in the 1960s
This period is the rising period of post-modern literature. Many forms of post-modern fiction appeared, such as metafiction, surfiction, parafiction, self-reflexive fiction, self-begetting fiction, anti-novel, etc. The literature in this period is considered as “multi-cultural” literature. The same mood in this period is despair, but continuing to search absurdity of modern life; lonely, but searching for the meaning of existence; identity.
Section 1 Poetry
1. Some poets found inspiration in the past.
2. Poetry became more attuned to political and social issues of the period.
3. Poets became more visible in American public life.
4. There was no prescribed form for poetry.
5. Poets became more political. Themes such as homosexuality, racism, etc. are included in the poems. In 1960s, poetry became more and more political.
II. Schools of Poetry (time, representatives, major features)
1. Confessional Poets: Robert Lowell
The greatness of Lowell lies in the fact that, in talking candidly about himself, he is examining the culture of his nation. The identification of personal experience with that of an age has always ensured greatness and even immortality as it did.
2. Black Mountain Poets: Charles Olson
There is an emphasis on the importance of the moments of awareness. It portrays a world of “awakened, contemplative awareness”, one in which civilization appears alien, cold, and almost unreal.
3. Beat Generation: Alien Ginsberg
In the fifties, there was a widespread discontentment among the post-war generation, whose voice was one of protest against all the mainstream culture America had come to represent.
Section 2 Fiction
I. General Features
1. matter of fact
2. frank, amazingly detailed about war experiences
3. lacking social consciousness
1. Post-war Realism: Cheever, Oates
2. Black Novel: Richard Wlight, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Malcolm, Leroi Jones
3. Jewish Novel: Saul Bellow
III. Post-War Realism
(1) Naturalistic depiction has become explicit: old-fashioned realism is combined with modernism.
(2) While following the realistic and naturalistic tradition, these writers borrowed various experimental forms and techniques in probing the inner world in detail.
(3) It has been a search for a way to connect an oppressed response to society and history and an awareness of individual loneliness.
2. J. D. Salinger
(2) Point of view
One of his frequent themes is young people longing for simplicity and truth instead of complexity and hypocrisy of the life they observed around them. In his novels, he questions the moral foundations of society and often places innocent idealist characters in setting where a vicious, corrupt society could destroy them. Although his stories are often pessimistic, the characters represent hope rather than despair. They want to affirm truth. They deplore the lies with which the society conceals its own corruption. They withdraw the society, become drop-outs rather than participants in the society.
(3) Catcher in the Rye
IV. Black Humour
1. definition: to deal with tragic things in comic ways to make it more powerful and more tragic.
It refers to the use of morbid and absurd for darkly comic purpose. It carries the tone of anger, bitterness in the grotesque situation of suffering, anxiety, and death. It makes the reader laugh at the blackness of modern life. The writers usually do not laugh at the characters.
(1) Comic way to express tragic situations
(2) Creation of anti-hero
(3) Illogical narrative structure
3. Joseph Heller
It is not only a war novel, but also a novel about people’s life in peaceful time. This novel attacked the dehumanization of all contemporary institutions and corruptions of individuals who gain power in institutions. Armed-forces are the most outrageous example of the two evils.
Language: circular conversation, wrenched cliché
Jewish literature refers to published creative writings by American Jews about their American experiences. This kind of writings is shown in Jewish perspective.
II. Historical Background
III. Emergence: after WWII
IV. Jewish Point of View
1. Jews believe that God has sent perpetual sufferings to his chosen people to strengthen and purify them, and they are the “chosen people”.
2. Humour is a prominent aspect of Jewish point of view. It is often a twisted kind of comedy to keep them from despair. Jews are able to laugh at themselves, so some of their best humour is self-mocking.
3. Jews lay emphasis upon the power of intellects. The power to understand their own experience to judge their own life rationally to think well is considered a high virtue.
4. Self-teaching is at the heart of almost all Jewish novels. The Jewish heroes often try to seek a rational interpretation of the world through their own experience in it.
V. Saul Bellow
(1) Dangling Man
(2) The Adventures of Augie March
(3) Henderson the Rain King
(5) Mr. Sammler’s Planet
(6) Humboldt’s Gift
(7) The Dean’s December
3. point of view
(1) Saul Bellow’s strength lies in his faith in man and man’s ability to offer a “spirited resistance to the forces of our time”. As he sees it, modern man has lived through frustration and defeat, managed to grapple with destructive historical pressures, and striven for “certain durable human goods” – truth, freedom, and wisdom.
(2) He is highly critical of modern life in which the old value system is no longer functioning. His major characters are all concerned to find a way that would keep American civilization from going under. They body forth Bellow’s credo that art has “something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos”, and that “a novelist begins with disorder and disharmony and goes toward order by an unknown process of the imagination”.
4. characteristics of his heroes
Most of Saul Bellow’s heroes are marginal men, alienated or absurd characters caught between their own inadequacies and those imposed upon them by their friends and society. Most of them are Jewish intellectuals or writers who try to discover the queerness of existence and overcome it. Struggling with the impersonality of the physical world, agonized by their own awareness of morality, his protagonists laugh at their own deficiency with irony because it relieves despair. The hunger for community, yet they hold back because that world have to betray the sanctity of their private self in order to achieve it.
5. style: realism + modernism
Chapter 7 American Drama
I. Brief Introduction
1. 17th century
Ye Bare and Ye Cubb (1665) by William Darby
2. 18th century
American subjects began to be treated seriously. The first tragedy is The Contrast (1787) by Royal Tyler. It is considered “typical American play” about American soldiers.
3. 19th century
poetical plays, esp in the first half of a group of playwrights
after civil war: realism, melodrama, emotional incidents (domestic melodrama), with simple plots
4. 20th century
separation from the old tradition
1920s: “Little Theatre Movement” began after 1912, Washington Square Players, Provincetown Players (New York City, Greenage Village). They are freed from the conventional theatre and can be as experimental as they like.
1930s: Eugene O’Neil, Clifford Odets
Post-war: second climax of American drama, Arthur Miller: Death of a Salesman
60s: Theatre of the Absurd, Edward Albee
II. Eugene O’Neil
(1) Bound East for Cardiff
(2) Beyond the Horizon
(3) The Emperor Jones
(4) The Hairy Ape
(5) Desire under the Elms
(6) The Iceman Cometh
(7) Long Day’s Journey into Night
3. point of view
His purpose is to get the root of human desires and frustrations. He showed most characters in his plays as seeking meaning and purpose in their lives, some through love, some through religion, some through revenge, all met disappointment. The characters seem to share O’Neil’s perplexities of human nature. As a result of his tragic and nihilistic view of life, his works, in general, indicated chaos and hopelessness.
4. The Hairy Ape
(1) O’Neil was a tireless experimentalist in dramatic art. He paid little attention to the division of scenes. He introduced the realistic or even the naturalistic into the American theatre.
(2) He borrowed freely from the best traditions of European drama, especially the stream of consciousness.
(3) He made use of setting and stage property to help in his dramatic representation.
(4) He wrote long introduction and directions for all the scenes, explaining the mood and atmosphere.
(5) He sometimes wrote the actors’ lines in dialect.
6. His position
He was the first playwright to explore serious themes in theatre. With him, American drama developed into a form of literature. And in him, American drama came of age (mature). He came only after Shakespeare and Bernard Shaw in the world of drama.
III. Tennessee Williams
2. point of view and themes
He writes about violence, sex, homosexuality (taboos in drama). Some of his plays rooted in southern social scene. The characters are often unhappy wanderers; lonely, vulnerable women indulged in memory of the past or illusion of the future. He was attracted to bizarre characters and their predicament. He looked deeply into the psychology of the outcasts of society. He saw life a game which cannot be won. Almost all his characters are defeated.
3. his plays
(1) The Glass Menagerie
(2) A Streetcar Named Desire
(3) Summer and Smoke
(4) Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
(1) combination of coarseness and poetry
(2) vivid southern speech
(3) He helped to break taboos, long imposed on the American literature.
IV. Arthur Miller
2. theme: dilemma of modern man in relation to family and work
3. his plays
(1) The Man Who Had All the Luck
(2) All My Sons
(3) Death of a Salesman
(4) The Crucible
(5) A View for the Bridge
V. Theatre of the Absurd
1. introduction: existentialist philosophy, mainly in Europe
2. four founders: Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet, Arthur Adamov
3. What is “absurd”?
Humorous and meaningless
(1) The basic assumption: human life lacks coherence and is chaotic. Life operates without any rules.
(2) The world is meaningless, so the play appears meaningless.
(3) It examines the problems of life and death, of isolation and communication.
(4) It satirizes people who are unaware of the ultimate reality (death).
(5) In absurd drama, situation is more important than characters and events. The dramatist wants to show people what their situation in their life is. Therefore, he constructs a play which presents a picture of the universal situation. One result of these is that the characters are often comic and humorous.
5. Edward Albee
a. Zoo Story
b. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Chapter 8 Black American Literature
Negro – coloured (legally free) – black (after civil rights movement)
1. oral tradition
(1) songs and ballads
(2) spirituals: sorrow of the singers’ earlier condition and longing for freedom
(3) blues: after civil war, derived from work songs – loneliness, separation, losses, wonderings, love, desperation, sense of doom
(4) jazz: after WWI, developed from blues, died out in the Great Depression
2. written literature (from 1760s)
(1) poetry: religious, enduring, patient to the white
(2) slave narrative: autobiographical experience of the person
(3) 1920s: Harlem Renaissance – New York, black – black dialect and black folklore – “the new negro” – representatives: Langston Hughes (“black poet laureate”), Huston, Claude McKay
(4) 1940s: Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison
(5) 50s~60s: a lot of black writers emerged in the civil rights movement: James Baldwin, Brooks, Jones
(6) 70s~80s: publishing of “Root” (Alex Haley), Walker – “The Colour Purple”, Morrison (the second woman writer and the only black who won Nobel Prize)
II. Richard Wright
(1) Uncle Tom’s Children: Four Novellas
(2) Native Son
(3) Black Boy
(4) The Outsider (the first novel of existentialism in America, published in France)
3. themes and subjects
His common theme is to condemn racism, urge reform, criticize evils of society. His books focus on racial conflict and physical violence. They review the devastating effect of institutionalized hatred (hatred brought by social system) and humiliation on black males’ psyche. They affirmed dignity and humility of society’s outcasts.
4. writing techniques – realism, naturalism
He tries to show that people cannot escape from society. Therefore, society must be changed. He is a father figure, especially to the writers of violence.
III. Ralph Ellison
2. works: Invisible Man
significance: It has a universality of theme (problems of all modern people), not only regional dilemma of existence.
3. attitude: complexity of art – the best art makes good politics, not vice versa.
IV. James Baldwin
(1) Go Tell It on the Mountain
(2) Notes of a Native Son
(3) Nobody Knows My Name
(4) The Fire Next Time
3. point of view
Baldwin calls for the blacks to resort to means including force so as to bring about the nation’s self-realization. He saw love and understanding as difficult but necessary way to overcome racial conflict.
4. themes: race, homosexuality
V. Alice Walker
(1) Once (a collection of poems)
(2) In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens (“womanism” instead of feminism)
(3) The Colour Purple (epistolary)
VI. Toni Morrison
(1) The Bluest Eye
(3) Song of Solomon (the best black novel after Native Son and Invisible Man)
(4) Tar Baby
(7) Love (trilogy)
3. themes: love, guilt, history, individual, gender, race, religion
4. purpose: to empower the black people to act for themselves, to recognize for their own world, own history, own reality
5. style – many kinds of factors: naturalism, realism, fantasy, reality, magical realism