AmericanLiteraturePackets - 1 AmericanLiterature Introduction Inmanyrespects,,particularlyofGreat Britain., ,itreflectsmanyoft

AmericanLiteraturePackets - 1 AmericanLiterature...

This preview shows page 1 - 2 out of 44 pages.

1 American Literature Introduction 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 self­sufficient, 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 pre­occupied 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, property­owning 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

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture