In The 11th Grade I was given an assaignment to write about Romanticism in American Literature.
Romanticism In American Literature
Between the 14th and 17th century, Europe experienced a renaissance, and in the 19th century America followed suit when they embraced romanticism. Showcasing romanticism in America were authors such as Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, exemplifying this artistic movement in its literary form. Romantic novels in America were typically characterized by loner protagonists, individualism, and the sublime. It should be noted that by the 19th century romanticism was not a new concept to Europeans, but it was fresh in America and it was here where the movement resonated the most.
The sublime is an artistic effect used to generate overwhelming emotions from powerful scenery. In 1803, America made the Louisiana Purchase and owned all the land from the Atlantic coast to the Rocky Mountains, and from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada. By 1848, Americas mainland was the same as it is today, and contained the large variety of climates we know today including two mountain ranges, great plains, swamps, deserts, beaches, and lakes. It seems all to natural to expect sublime works as Americans pioneered into new and amazing parts of the country, and they delivered.
However, sublime writings were not the only effect of America’s expansion. Individualism places an emphasis on the importance of the individual. With a rise in national expansion, Americans found that they couldn’t rely on others, and this changed their ideas on the “self”. From simple concepts such as self-reliance, to deeper ideas such as self-realization and self-expression, individualism built further on the, relatively new, independent minds of the freshly democratic Americans, but it was only inevitable that it would occasionally go further than that.
The last staple of romantic literature in America was the loner character. These characters took the ideas of individualism in a different direction. These characters were not embracing the opportunity to take matters into their own hands, but, rather, they were alienated and lonely with dark stories surrounding them. Often the characters represent something larger than themselves, and were pitted against dark aspects of their own unconscious mind. The story plots are usually symbolic, and in the end the protagonist tend to die. The idea of loner characters was appealing to Americans who were often immigrants from one country surrounded by immigrants from other countries, and the differences of culture and language did leave them feeling similarly lonely.
Coined by Nathaniel Hawthorne, romantic novels became known as romances. American romances often contained new techniques created by new-age authors encouraged by the movement that so well embodied their society. Above all though, romanticism in American literature was characterized by the sublime, due in no small part to the national expansion that exposed them to a large multitude of climates, individualism, which can be attributed to the fact that they often found they could not rely on others to take care of them, and loners because it was not uncommon to find yourself feeling alienated and lonely in a country of foreigners and religious runaways.
VanSpanckeren, Kathryn. “An Outline of American Literature.” From Revolution to Reconstruction. University of Groningen, 1994. Web. <http://www.let.rug.nl/~usa/LIT/chap3.htm>.
VanSpanckeren, Kathryn. “An Outline of American Literature.” From Revolution to Reconstruction. University of Groningen, 1994. Web. <http://www.let.rug.nl/~usa/LIT/chap4.htm>.