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1American LiteratureIntroductionIn many respects, American literature resembles the literature of Western Europe, particularly of GreatBritain. It shares the same language, mush of its reflects similar traditions such as Christianity and theGreek 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 alsodiffered.One crucial difference is America'sdiversity. Since its inception, American society has been comprisedof people from many different backgrounds, and consequently. American culture has been engaged withdivisions and the challenges of reconciling those divisions. This diversity has significantly enrichedAmerican literature, as writers have infused elements of their native cultures into their works. At the sametime, America's cultural diversity has contributed to a sense of uncertainty about what America is andabout what it means to be an American. For example, Americans have traditionally had the image ofthemselves both as idealists pursuing the noble dream of establishing a just society and as a shrewd andpractical people who know how to get ahead. Symbolizing those two images, we have the contrastingcultural icons of the Statue of Liberty and Uncle Sam. In their idealism, Americans have believed in theAmerican Dream the establishment of a society in which individuals are equal, are free to pursue whatthey want, are economically selfsufficient, and are politically informed and fairly represented. At thesame time, Americans have prided themselves on their material successes, such as their taming of thewilderness, their military victories, their creation of individual wealth, and their economic leadership ofthe world.It is not surprising, then, that American literature has been preoccupied by questions of humanidentity, afocus that can be traced to several factors in the American experience. First, the newness of Americanculture and the lack of the usual social constraints led Americans to wonder what an American is, what ahuman being is, and what the relation is between a human being and everything else. Second, thegeographical isolation of America, especially in the first two centuries or so of European settlementswhen the settled communities were surrounded by ocean and wilderness, placed added emphasis onindividual identity. Third, the political philosophy of democracy places the highest significance on theindividual (at least white, male, propertyowning individuals).Another emphasis in American literature, affected by the emphasis on the individual and by thegeography of American civilization, isthe frontier. Central to the American Dream, the frontierembodies freedom of space, the faith that there is always a better chance somewhere else, that there isfertile land, or maybe a gold mine, just around the corner. It also embodies an optimistic sense of time, forthe frontier implies an open future that is necessarily better than the present and the past. The frontier is