Literature Study GuidesSpoon River Anthology

Spoon River Anthology | Study Guide

Edgar Lee Masters

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Edgar Lee Masters

Year Published





Drama, Tragedy

At a Glance

Controversial in its own time, the Spoon River Anthology is now viewed as a classic of modern American poetry. Its 245 free-verse poems (those with irregular meter or nonmetrical rhythm) describe the hardships and dark secrets of life in a small Midwestern town, challenging the stereotype of rural living as uncomplicated and wholesome. When it was first published, the Anthology was sometimes dismissed as being too morbid; Masters was charged with overemphasizing the troubles and vices of small-town America. That critique notwithstanding, the book soon became one of the most widely read volumes of poetry by an American author, a distinction it continued to enjoy for decades. Masters himself, though he went on to write several more collections of poetry, remains best known as the Anthology's author. He is today recognized as one of the founding figures of the Chicago Renaissance (1912–25)—a literary movement based in Chicago that included writers such as Theodore Dreiser (1871–1945), Sherwood Anderson (1876–1941), and Carl Sandburg (1878–1967). Their works mourned the loss of rural values in the face of American industrialization and materialism.

About the Title

Ordinarily, a poetry anthology includes works by several different authors, with each author contributing one or a few poems. Masters's Spoon River Anthology is an anthology in a metaphorical sense, containing poems spoken by the 200-plus fictional, mythical, and real-life residents of the Spoon River graveyard.


This study guide for Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology offers summary and analysis on themes, symbols, and other literary devices found in the text. Explore Course Hero's library of literature materials, including documents and Q&A pairs.

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