American literature


Download 465.5 Kb.
Size465.5 Kb.
  1   2   3   4   5
American literature

1. Major trends and groups in American literature: yea-sayer vs. nay-sayer, paleface vs. redskin, mainstream vs. Marginality, etc.
When the American continent was discovered, people actually had suspected that there must be another continent that is still unknown. There were different myths about the Lost Continent or the Unknown Continent. Much of these legends were fused when America was discovered. It was not like a virgin territory because in people’s minds there had already been some ideas about a lost land or a continent. When it was discovered, all these ideas were transferred to America itself.
Creating literature was a painful process, ethnicity and culture was not already founded. There was no real religious tolerance - Puritanism was only solution. Europe was the land of the past, while America is the land of future, plenty, prosperity, freedom, fresh start, young and energetic, everything that Europe wasn’t. It was difficult to search for cultural identity and to create sg in this new land. The people, who settled down, were not interested in art, so writers had a difficult position. It was nearly impossible to write in America, because there was no reading public. Puritanism was the consequence. Only a few people were interested in literature. Only 2books were present and acceptable: the Bible and Shakespeare’s works.

Early American literature was characterised by fiction. Most of the literary products were written by British people like Captain John Smith, John Winthrop. They were not Americans but immigrants from Europe.

Culture and history go together because many Scottish, English and Irish people came to Am.

Many people thought that was a providential blessing:

Many people thought that Am was a boundlessness

a new start for mankind

aborigines were unspoilt, noble savage living in harmony

new nation due to geographical environment was settled in quite a short time

White settlers experienced the rebirth into innocence, brotherhood and simplicity. These human ideals gained expression in the American continent, which were lost in Europe. This is illustrated by Hector St John de Crevecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer 1782.

The 18th century was characterised by the awareness of nationhood and exploration of remote past – are the people in American European or American? But: The most ancient roots are European, they said that the British forgot about the true spirit of Anglo-Saxon England; and there’s the Indian as a symbol of the new nation. But the Indian was the enemy and you cannot raise the enemy to be the nation symbol.

People started to think themselves as Americans and trying to forget about dependence from England but the negative and positive feelings about American culture and literature still go on.

European literature: traditional topics of love, war, chivalry. It’s an imaginative literature. People were the subjects of the queen, king and their condition were subjected to them.

American literature: They had to create sg to write about. They acted as free man and their conditions were free too. There was American setting but European story. National literature was needed to create national character and to prove that new nation was civilised.
Difficulties of writers:

  • dependence upon the old world;

  • There is a serious problem with copyright agreements. Belief: democracy, freedom → there should be a free trade in ideas, too. 1891: International copyright agreement.

  • easier to become popular in Europe than in Am.;

  • no publisher had nationwide market;

  • Didn’t earn enough so they couldn’t survive as writers.

There were 2 different directions: literature of America vs. literature IN America.

    • Literature of America: specifically American, theirs, national character, original → ‘nationalists’

    • Literature in America: lit should be measured in the world arena, it should not be sg special of America. As valuable as European but not sg special. → ‘universalists’

In the 19th century improvement started. There’s the emergence of native talent: “American Renaissance” developed with Emerson; Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman… Short stories became popular because a lot of institutions of literary magazines were settled.

Paleface vs. redskin writers: a division b/w writer in terms of originality and imitation.

Paleface: imitated European models, copied ideas, elegance, experience, sophistication - Longfellow

Redskin: roughness (↔ elegance), innocence (↔ experience), spontaneity - Walt Whitman

The Virginia dynasty of writers was influential: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe…

The South was an agricultural region. The government wanted to defend slavery so did the literature.

In 1830 there was a decline – no richness to reach cultural life, obsession by peculiar institutions… so there wasn’t enough time for literature.

Up to the 1860s, there was a Southern political influence of Washington.

Life was more harmonious in the South than in the North. People felt that they had to do sg against the push of North. The outcome was an atmosphere of loss, literature of daydream, nostalgia and grievance.

With the Civil War, a sentimental literature developed. A special kind of literature developed in the South: literature of grievance, daydream and nostalgia (for a perfect world).


It was the frontier land, an uncivilized, brutal “cattle-kingdom”.

Frederic Jackson Turner: The Significance of the Frontier in American History 1893 - It started with the announcement that there was no longer a West → the continuous unsettled territory was gone.

  • In late 18th c and early 19th c the pioneer Westerner was regarded as a person who was a brutal cruel misfit, uneducated, culturally deprived.
  • After the frontier ceased to exist and people forgot about what it was really like, the West became the symbol of openness and freedom, adventure → symbolic spectacle of US.

  • This idea of the West was encouraged by the Romantic literature e.g Cooper: Leather stocking Tales.

  • Vernacular humour, tall tale (túlzó történet). The vernacular humour developed in the East but it became associated with the West. Frontier humour.

[Yea-sayer: 1. One who is confidently affirmative in attitude. 2. One who uncritically agrees.

 Nay-sayer: someone with an aggressively negative attitude]

2. Early Americans: the beginnings of a new literature (Crevecoeur, Smith, Bradford, Winthrop)
American literature began:

  • when the idea of am began to engage the Eng lit imagination;

  • when the 1st explorers of Am wrote 1st-hand accounts of their visits;

  • When the residents of am began to reflect the cultural consequences of the new land in their writings.

The Puritans and Pilgrims came to am because of land, religious freedom and of the suppression of the mother country.

  • In 1583, 1st temporal settlement was established - Sir Walter Raleigh went to Virginia. He established a colony but the colonists couldn’t sustain themselves through winter, because of epidemics, wars with Indians… so all people died. The settlement disappeared.

  • In 1607: London Company established the 1st permanent English settlement: Jamestown in Virginia.
  • In 1620: Mayflower Pilgrims left England for religious freedom. They went to Holland, but they didn’t like the Calvinist pilgrims so they left. They went to America, landed in Massetchussets and founded Plymouth there. Real colonisation began. The puritan pilgrims started to colonise New England.


  • Puritans are non-conformists (dissented from the High Anglican Church, didn’t believe in the same ideas) and non-separating (didn’t want to separate from the Anglican Church, separation would be heretical).

  • They wanted to reform the Church within. They found a model of church and state to be followed.

  • They followed the words of God.

  • Fall of mankind is the primary fact of Puritan thinking.

  • They had been selected by God for salvation through grace.

  • They attached themselves to a mythical history of pure Christianity

  • Society was very important, better than solitariness – being alone was a sin.

  • They were afraid of nature because there they are alone and the thought that Satan live sin nature and he could corrupt them outdoors.

  • New rules, laws and government was established

  • Usefulness; hard work; practicality without idleness are the most important virtues

Literature in New England:

It was an unpoetic age. There were religious genres: sermons, polemics, and ecclesiastical, civil and political treaties. There wasn’t any novel until the creation of the Republic. Journals, diaries, letters, histories recorded the history of the period. Authors imitated English literature. 1st literary piece was a kind of propaganda to Church.

Early representatives of literature:
Captain John Smith
He was an Elizabethan adventurer and mercenary, wrote some travel books. He wrote a chronicle of his adventures in the colonies.

The general history of Virginia (1624); Description of New England (1616) were the best available accounts of history and topography of those regions he wrote many details about what happened when the settlement was founded in Jamestown. Vision: abundance, fulfilment through work, happiness. He concentrates on the geographical characters. There’s no reference to the mission in Am, to battle b/w good and bad. It is practical; about the myth of success.

There were continuous diseases and the number of the people became less and less, also lack of food, when they arrived it was too late for planting crops, they had to eat up all the food. It was Smith who planned how to survive. He was allowed to explore the region and negotiate with the natives for some food → captured by Indians and condemned to death, but saved.

In 1608, there was an epidemic of malaria, out of the remaining 95 people 45 died. It became clear that Smith was the person who understood best how to survive → elected him governor of the community. He bargained successfully with the Indians for food. Then injured in an explosion and had to go back to England for medical care, never returned to Jamestown. In England he tried to persuade people to go to the colonies.

Governor William Bradford
History of Plymouth Plantation (1620-47

Left England in 1620 on board of the Mayflower. Elected governor, chief judge and jury. Superintended agriculture and trade, made allotment of land to the people so he had extreme power. Life was seen as a model of Christian community. He believed that in the first landing of the Puritans in Am the divine providence was made visible. Plain style → understandable for people. Typical of Puritan works. The idea is not to narrate the social events but rather to examine the soul of man for signs of grace from God and to find the simple truth in all the objects that surrounded them. He believed that arriving in the new world meant a new point in the history of mankind. Biblical history of mankind: creation → last judgement, this was as important as the creation or the fall.

They had to realize that in a way the mission failed → people did not become saints, they stayed people in spite of their belief.

The 2nd generation of the Puritans became indifferent to the parents’ mission. People started to pile up stocks, animals, wealth. As soon as you have money, you have to take care of them → acquiring more and more → ties became looser because their interests separated them.

Governor John Winthrop
History of New England (1630-49)

He wanted to reform the church from within: especially the hierarchy of the clergy.

In 1620 England was in a severe economic depression, which necessitated immigration to the colonies + another influential reason: the succession of Charles I. to the throne → intolerant ruler.

Winthrop said that sg terrible would happen to England as a consequence of Charles I. As a result of this in 1629 a group of enterprising merchants (Puritans) got a charter for landing in N, they called themselves the Company of Massachusetts Bay in NE → founded Massachusetts

Winthrop was the governor of this new colony, for 20 years. On the ship he preached a sermon: A Model for Christian Charity. In this he set out the ideals of a harmonious Christian community + Am will be an example to the whole world. Important to cooperate → important to agree. Sacrifices will be inevitable but God will amply reward all the people. The only was of succeeding: cohesion among the members.

In Old Testament terminology, biblical terminology → Puritans as God’s chosen people, going to New Canaan.

Hector St. John de Crevecoeur
Letters from an American Farmer

It was an instant success when it was 1st published in 1782. It is told in the form of an epistolary fiction with an imaginary author and addressee, but actual places and populations.

Cultural context: political rhetoric of revolution.

It describes how social principles laid out by the new Am society operating in the life of an individual American.


- Nature of Am character;

- Anti-intellectualism;

- The farmer as prototype of the am character;

- Treatment of the slaves; view of new immigrants;

- Literary resonances.

It was one of the 1st works describing the character of an average American.

What is an Am?” asks James. He pictures the am as one who undergoes a total transformation. In Europe “men were so many useless plants”; in Am: “Men are become men”.

James thinks of himself as a British subject rather tan an American citizen. When the revolution breaks out he is equally concerned by British severity as by the violence of Whig revolutionaries. His decision is to head west and take up a residence among the Indians, this decision makes thematic sense.

The early chapters paint an idyllic picture of agrarian life in the colonies. James becomes aware of the potential for evil.

Letter IX: James journeys to Charleston, South Carolina. He witnessed the brutalities of slavery. Charleston is depicted as an over civilized culture, a centre of urban decadence, and symbolic of how European values pres westward. This is why James heads for the frontier. He hopes to recuperate the idyll of simplicity and closeness of nature, from which freedom and goodness springs.

3. Early poetry: Taylor, Bradstreet
Edward Taylor (c. 1644-1729)
He was a Puritan poet, influenced by poetry. He was a minister and a churchman. He was born in England but he left it for religious exile. He studied at Harvard College as a teacher. He was educated, grave and severe. He organised missions to settlers.

His poetry was discovered in the 1930s. His poetry is as aids to meditation & as preparation for giving communion to his congregation. He used metaphysical language. His best work was “Preparatory meditations”. Literary influences: Metaphysicals : Donne, Herbert and Milton. He wrote a variety of verse: funeral elegies, lyrics, a medieval debate and a history of martyrs: ‘Metrical History of Christianity’.

Major themes:

the concept of poetry as an act/offering of ritual praise;

distinctions between the godly & the ungodly;

God’s power as Creator & Lawgiver;

The righteous man as God’s servant;

Christ as a Rock & Redeemer;

God’s voice which speaks truly & which man’s voice only echoes;

Spiritual union with Christ as the eternal Bridegroom.

Types of imagery in his work:

writing, music/musical instruments;


metallurgy – purification;

gardens & vegetation;

feasting & communion

Common tropes used by Taylor:

  • Synechdoche;

  • Metonymy;

  • Amplification, diminishing;

  • Paradox;

  • Metaphysical conceit.

Ann Bradstreet (c. 1612-1672)
She was the 1st American writer to be published and the 1st American woman to publish poems. She was born in England. She emigrated at the age of 18. The members of her family were important people. Her husband and father were governors at the community. She was a well-educated feminist poet. She had 8 children. Her identity was linked to the identity of her husband and her father. She was insignificant because she was a woman. Women had to be domestic, nothing about politics and religion. So she can’t be independent. Her friend, Anne Hutchinson was banished from the community as a result of setting up prayer meetings for women. She committed a sin: the Holy Spirit is inside everybody and don’t need to follow the dogmas of the church. So she was said to be heretical. Anne Bradstreet was afraid of the same because of her poetry, so she wrote poems primarily for herself, her family, and her friends. She describes women’s situation in an ironic way.

  • Puritanism: the „plain style (didactic intent, artful simplicity, accessibility, absence of rhetorical ornamentation);

  • Classicism: poetry as imitation, tragedy & epic, unity of action, place & time.


  • long, didactic poems;

  • long, religious poems on conventional subjects (e.g. seasons);

  • subjects from daily life;
  • loving poems to her husband & children;

  • metre: iambic pentameter; sustained parallels; metaphysical conceits;

  • attachment to nature & the body: bodily reflections;

  • language & imagery often direct, relatively simple

  • she was interested in nature: metaphors

  • humour and irony in terms of women’s situation

  • proud of experiencing life

Her later poetry is much more personal. They are not published in her lifetime.

The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America’ (1650) – published volume of poetry: it shows the influence of Edmund Spenser, Philip Sidney and other English poets as well.

→ ‘To My Dear And Loving Husband’: uses the original imagery, love theme, the idea of comparison popular in Europe at the time, but gives these pious meaning at the poem’s conclusion.

→ ‘A Letter to Her Husband, Absent upon Public Employment’

4. Awakening and hell-fire: Jonathan Edwards
What historians call "the first Great Awakening" can best be described as a revitalization of religious piety that swept through the American colonies between the 1730s and the 1770s. In the Protestant cultures during the middle decades of the eighteenth century, a new Age of Faith rose to counter the currents of the Age of Enlightenment, to reaffirm the view that being truly religious meant trusting the heart rather than the head, prizing feeling more than thinking, and relying on biblical revelation rather than human reason.

This period was the continuation of the Puritan period and thinking. In New England it was started (1734) by the rousing preaching of Jonathan Edwards.

Jonathan Edwards

He was one of the poet thinkers of the Puritan literature. In 1734, a new period of awakening began in New England. He was highly educated. He was devoted to he law and authority. He is best known for his frightening, powerful sermon: ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’. In this sermon he used the image of a spider dangling by a web over a hot fire to describe the human predicament.

He placed the relationship b/w God and man on an emotional basis. Your belief was materialized in your emotions towards God. Feelings, religious affection alone can be a reliable guide to the state of the soul. The awakening of one of the chief defenders of Calvinism.
People realized that they had departed from the right way. There is 2 spiritual of your state of mind: the physical feeling of sin and the need for God’s mercy were the only ways towards salvation. Nothing else can save you but the awakening of your soul to sin and God’s mercy. This is put down in Personal Narrative.
Hellfire sermons’:
A sermon is an oration by a prophet or member of the clergy. Sermons address a biblical, theological, or religious topic, usually expounding on a type of belief or law (preaching).
He discussed many sufferings of mankind. Man is sinful and has to go through tests. People were so much afraid of Hell. There’s the act of good providence to have another chance. This period was a very hysterical one. The church was absolutely feared. Language was very sensational. Edwards stared naving (?) people who didn’t follow the right way. That’s why he was assigned by the council. But he continued his activities in the wilderness. The only way to god was to be religious. The feelings are the only way to your soul. The feelings have to be awakened. We need God’s mercy, because it’s the only way to salvation. Man is basically motivated by self-love: own-depravity. Edwards wrote sermons, religious books, psychological treaties to preach.

Treatise Concerning Religious Affection 1746

Divine and Supernatural Light 1734

Freedom of Will 1754

Nature of True Virtue 1765

5. The Enlightenment: Benjamin Franklin
The period of enlightenment:

There was an emphasis on rationalism. Scientific examination was typical instead of religious dogmas. Everything has a reason. Political life was characterised by a representative government instead of absolute monarchy.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

He embodied the Enlightenment ideal of humane rationality. He was called America’s 1st great man of letters. The most important things for an American are justice-liberty-equality. He was the son of a candle-maker. He worked in his brother’s printing shop. At the age of 15 he printed newspapers. At the age of 17, he ran away from Boston to Philadelphia. He became a publisher at a printer. Wealthy, public man, politician, writer, businessman. He was a scientist as well. He sat up a hospital, a library and a university. 1st true representative of American thinking. He sat on the continental congress. He believed that man has to improve himself; has to work hard to be useful, has to know his own soul and the society is important. His literary activity is not really literal. All his writings were led by practicality and moral aims were important.

He was the 1st great self-made man in America. In many ways his life illustrates the impact of the Enlightenment on a gifted individual. He tried to help ordinary people become successful by sharing his insights and initiating a characteristically American genre, the self-help book.

Poor Richards almanac’ is a calendar for simple people. It was to preach and teach. It contains the philosophy of capitalism, lots of sayings and proverbs. Basic ideas are pretty much the same as the puritan ideas. It’s a post-puritan code. Sins are virtues.

In this almanac there is ‘The way to Wealth’ with Father Abraham’s speech.

Autobiography’ is a self-help book. It was written to advise his son. The most famous section describes his scientific scheme of self-improvement. Franklin lists 13 virtues: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquillity, chastity and humility. He elaborates on each with a maxim.

His autobiography is free from religious argumentations, it’s not puritan.

To establish the good habits, Franklin invented a calendrical record book. His theory prefigures psychological behaviourism. The project of self-improvement blends the Enlightenment belief in perfectibility with the Puritan habit of moral self-scrutiny.

He said: ‘Write with the learned. Pronounce with the vulgar.’

He was an important figure in the 1787 convention at which the US Constitution was drafted. Later, he was president of the antislavery association.

6. “The land was ours before we were the land's”: Irving and Cooper

Period: America itself was not established. Main question is still: who reads an Am book? Answer: at the beginning of the period nobody does. There’s a change by the time of Cooper’s death → his books were available in different languages. This was an important period in the formation of American literature and in the formation of the typically American genres: short story (emerged from the tale), novel. Most literature was published in journals. The short story was the suitable form of literary output. Novel was published in a serialized form.

The period of the Romantic prose was influenced by Washington Irving and James Fennimore Cooper.

Washington Irving (1783-1859)
He was born in New Amsterdam (New York) in the old Dutch days.

He was a transitional figure, a connecting link between 18th and 19th century, Europe and America. He is the 1st writer of independent America after the war. He managed to win an international fame. He is important in political life: he was the cultural and political ambassador of America in Europe. He worked in law and business.

He imitated English literature, he applied European legends. He is a romantic dreamer, sentimentalist, he wanted to find a poetic, dreamy past. He was much more influenced by Sir Walter Scott. His labels were the “American Goldsmith”, “a latter-day Addison or Steele”.

  • A Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

  • History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus

  • Tour on the Prairie

  • Life of George Washington

These were not genuine American myths, they were borrowed from German and Spanish.

His attempt was to build a new nation. His subjects were the most dramatic aspects of American history (discovery of the New World, the first president, westward expansion).

He used humour and irony.

Rip Van Winkle

It is one of the best known short stories in American literature. It was 1st published in 1819 in a collection called ‘The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent’. It is based on German folk tales. It was accepted as a genius American legend but it was rather European. In a humorous context, it deals with issues of politics; shows how the revolution changed one small village, and gender issues. He shows the comical relationship b/w a lazy husband and a bad-tempered wife. The story is full of irony. The validity of work is questioned. In the story we notice numerous changes in setting throughout. Changes include everything from nature, to the town, and to the people. These changes force Rip Van Winkle to realize he was asleep for much longer than he originally thought when he 1st woke up. Irving used excellent description techniques and made sure that the reader was aware of the setting both before and after Rip had slept. This made for a quite entertaining plot and a well-developed story.

The marriage of Rip and Dame is the union b/w American colonies and Great Britain. The characters possess certain attributes which symbolize the perceived characteristics of the 2 entities.

There’s a contrast b/w 2 different ways of life: Dutch and American life.


  • 1st American dream: it runs through American literature. It’s a confused state of mind, the mirror confusion in American mind.

  • Identity: deep confusion over: ‘what is an American?’ and ‘Who am I?’

  • Uncertainty: new America’s sense of identity weakens; new America gains confidence; Rip gains self-confidence and authority, he becomes a true storyteller.

About the story

The story starts out by painting a picture of nature and the surroundings of the village. We get a picture of beauty and grace with explanations such as of the one used to describe the Kaatskill Mountains. the story progresses, we are allowed glimpses into the sight of the village.  We are shown that the village is somewhat worn down and old looking. Most of the houses built were built from the original settlers. They were constructed from ìyellow bricks from Holland having latticed windows and gable fronts, surmounted with weathercocks. we learn of the surroundings of Rip, which give us an understanding of how it all changes after he wakes up. Throughout the story, we know that Rip knows most of the people in the village. We know this because when he comes back after sleeping for the twenty years, he immediately notices all of the different people in the town and can quickly identify that the people that are in his village are not the ones he knew before he left. He goes back to the village meeting many people but none of whom he knew.

After he awoke, he walks into town and starts questioning anyone he comes into contact with about where a certain person was, or what happened to someone else he had known. This shows that he had some personal relationship with most of the other people in the town, for if he hadnít, how then could he have known that they were gone in the first place. As Rip Van Winkle awoke, he began noticing many changes just in the surroundings of where he fell asleep. 

Irving used excellent description techniques and made sure the reader was aware of the setting both before and after Rip Van Winkle had slept. This made for a quite entertaining plot and a well-developed story.
Symbolism and characters

In the interpretation of the symbolism in "Rip Van Winkle", the marriage between Rip Van Winkle and Dame Van Winkle represents the union between the American colonies and Great Britain.  The characters themselves possess certain attributes which symbolize the perceived characteristics of the two entities.  Dame Van Winkle is usually unhappy with Rip. She becomes frustrated, and at times unbearably irate, when Rip fails to meet up to her expectations.  Her verbal lashings are of such an intolerable nature as to drive Rip out of the house, wanting only to escape.  Dame Van Winkle can be compared to Great Britain in that Great Britain also had certain expectations of the colonies during this time.  For the colonists

to deny their obligations to the Crown was not only highly frustrating but also insulting.  The anger of Great Britain, however, eventually manifested itself in something more than just a verbal lashing.

Rip is lazy and undisciplined, constantly avoiding his duties to his wife and family. Rip's part in the story as a symbol of the colonies' role in the British-American relationship definitely fits the English perception. The central part of the story, Rip's famous sleep, can serve to represent the colonists' actual degree of involvement in the American Revolution.  Rip Van Winkle is very much affected by the changes that take place during his twenty-year slumber, though he has played no part in the orchestration of these changes.  He must accept both the advantages and the disadvantages resulting from the actions of others. Old Rip is quite out of place in his new surroundings, and at once experiences an identity crisis.  He is in an unrecognizable world, and it takes some time for Rip to understand how he will fit in.  The conclusion of Rip's story parallels the American story, and it also gives some interesting insight into the changes that take place after the revolution.  Rip's need for an identity points to the American need to establish itself as a nation.  After gaining its independence, America had to find an identity apart from Great Britain, and work to gain respect from other nations.

The legend of a sleepy hollow:
It takes place in Sleepy Hollow, NY, a snug rural valley near Tarry town, in the Catskill mountains. It is constructed from German tales but it is set in America. There’s the myth of the Hessian Headless Horseman in the background. It is a classic tale of the conflict b/w city and country, and b/w brains and brawn.

This is the story of a schoolmaster, Ichabod Crane, is a teacher, useless, has no practical value. He courts Katrina van Tassel, but he is frightened away by his rival, Brom Bones. Bones mistrusts the intellect and he is practical and useful. He is masquerading as a headless horseman. The story demonstrates the 2 qualities for which Irving is best known: his humour and his ability to create vivid descriptive imagery.

James Fennimore Cooper (1789-1881)

He was son of a landowner, a judge. His father wanted him to become a judge so he was sent to Yale but he was expelled because he set one of his fellow students’ room on fire. Then he became a seaman., served in US Navy, he was an officer. He got married and settled down in his own land. Then he lived the life of the Am gentry. He became a writer relatively late. He read out stories every evening with his wife and once he said he could write a better one. But he never became a professional writer. He wrote early romantic literature. He helped to shape American literature and the nation’s sense of itself. He wrote about American myths of the wild west. He was influenced by Shakespeare; Byron; Austen; Edgeworth; Fielding…

He is said to be the ‘American Scott’. His works are the reactions to what Scott wrote.

There’s a liberal and a republican mentality in his works. He could see the negative aspects of American life, he didn’t like the democracy taken to the extreme and the business life of Yankees. He created a legend of the nation. Ha managed to shape the American identity.


  • Precaution

  • Leatherstocking Tales: The deerslayer; The last of the Mohicans; The pathfinder; The pioneers; The prairie

  • political novels: The Bravo, The heidemanner; The headsman; The monikins

  • sea-novels: The red raver; The pirate

  • Historical novels

  • Indian novels: The Leatherstocking Tales : are high spirited, often sentimental adventure stories, frontier romances. The woodsman, Natty Bumppo = Hawkaye, is the protagonist of these stories. He is an American pioneer, a young white hunter, an idealized individualist. He is not a typical white and not an Indian, a cultural hybrid: he links the two cultures. He is said to be a magnificent hermaphrodite. Savage and civilisation is linked. Nature and soc are together. Cooper presented both good and bad Indians

The last of the Mohicans (1826)
The story takes place in 1757, during the French and Indian War, when France and England battled for control of the American and Canadian colonies. It is a novel about race and difficulty of overcoming racial divides Cooper’s work remains important for its portrait of frontier life and its exploration of the traumatic encounters b/w races and cultures poised on opposite sides of a shrinking frontier. It’s about a period of confusion. Much emphasis was given to the relationship b/w whites and Indians. A cyclical sense of history is presented here.

The reader gets a close look at the life of Indians: religion, system of life, hospitality, social relations, laws, treatment of the enemy.

  • Hawkeye: The novel’s frontier hero, he is a woodsman, hunter, and scout. Hawkeye is the hero’s adopted name; his real name is Natty Bumppo. His frontier nickname is La Longue Carabine, or The Long Rifle. His closest bonds are with Indians, particularly Chingachgook and Uncas, but he frequently asserts that he has no Indian blood. As a cultural hybrid—a character who mixes elements of different cultures—Hawkeye provides a link between Indians and whites.

  • Magua : the novel’s villain, he is a cunning Huron nicknamed Le Renard Subtil, or the Subtle Fox.

  • Major Duncan Heyward: A young American colonist from the South who has risen to the rank of major in the English army.

  • Uncas: Chingachgook’s son, he is the youngest and last member of the Indian tribe known as the Mohicans. A noble, proud, self-possessed young man, Uncas falls in love with Cora Munro and suffers tragic consequences for desiring a forbidden interracial coupling.

  • Chingachgook: Le Gros Serpent—The Great Snake. Uncas’s father, he is one of the two surviving members of the Mohican tribe.

  • David Gamut: A young Calvinist attempting to carry Christianity to the frontier through the power of his song.

  • Cora Munroe: Colonel Munro’s eldest daughter, a solemn girl with a noble bearing.

  • Alice Munro: Colonel Munro’s younger daughter by his Scottish second wife, and Cora’s half-sister.

  • Colonel Munro: The commander of the British forces at Fort William Henry and father of Cora and Alice.

  • General Malcolm: Marquis Louis Joseph de Saint-Veran, known as Montcalm, is the commander of the French forces fighting against England during the French and Indian War. He enlists the aid and knowledge of Indian tribes to help his French forces navigate the unfamiliar forest combat setting.

  • Tamenund: An ancient, wise, and revered Delaware Indian sage who has outlived three generations of warriors.

  • General Webb: The commander of the British forces at Fort Edward.

  • Literal and Metaphorical Nature : Nature functions both literally and metaphorically in The Last of the Mohicans. In its literal form, nature is the physical frontier that surrounds the characters and complicates their battles and their chances for survival. Metaphorically, the land serves as a blank canvas on which the characters paint themselves. Cooper defines characters by their relationships to nature.

  • The Role of Religion in the Wilderness : The character David Gamut allows Cooper to explore the relevance of religion in the wilderness. In theory at least, the American frontier is untouched by human culture. It is a fresh start, a piece of land not ruled by the conventions of European high culture, a place without a firm government or social code. Gamut’s aggressive Calvinism symbolizes the entrance of religion, a European model that enters the blank slate of the New World. Gamut’s fatalism contrasts with Hawkeye’s pragmatism. Cooper believes humans do have the ability to determine their own fates. By the end of the novel the Calvinist Gamut learns to move beyond the rigidity of his religion and become a helpful and committed ally. He succeeds when he finds the ability to leave behind his fatalistic passivity and adapt to the demands of the forest.

  • The Changing Idea of Family : Cooper uses the frontier setting to explore the changing status of the family unit. Cooper posits that the wilderness demands new definitions of family. Uncas and Hawkeye, for example, form a makeshift family structure. When Uncas’s real father, Chingachgook, disappears without explanation in the middle portion of the novel, Hawkeye becomes a symbolic father for Uncas.


  • Hybridity: The concept of hybridity is central to the novel’s thematic explorations of race and family. Hybridity is the mixing of separate elements into one whole, and in the novel it usually occurs when nature and culture intersect, or when two races intersect. Cora is a hybrid because her mother was black and her father white. Hawkeye is a hybrid because he is white by blood and Indian by habit.
  • Disguise: Cooper uses the motif of disguise to resolve plot difficulties and to provide comic relief. The fantastical nature of the disguises also detracts from the believability of Cooper’s story. The Last of the Mohicans wants to be simultaneously a historically specific narrative, an adventure novel, and a romance. Cooper plays with the comic possibilities of romance, especially by exaggerating human appearances. Disguise therefore proves not only a practical solution to plot dilemmas but an indication that Cooper intends to make his novel partly an amusing romance.

  • Inheritance :Inheritance informs the novel’s thematic portrayals of family redefinition. The idea of inheritance frequently recurs in the father-son relationship of Hawkeye and Uncas.


  • Hawkeye: Hawkeye is both a character and a symbol. Cooper uses Hawkeye to symbolize colonial hybridity, the mixing of European and Indian cultures. Hawkeye also symbolizes the myth of the hero woodsman. He demonstrates perfect marksmanship in the shooting contest held by the Delawares.

  • The Last of the Mohicans” :The recurring description of Uncas as “the last of the Mohicans” symbolizes the death of Indian culture at the hands of the encroaching European civilization. The title anticipates the ultimate tragedy of the novel’s plot.


It is the late 1750s:French and Indian War. The French army is attacking Fort William Henry, a British outpost commanded by Colonel Munro. Munro’s daughters Alice and Cora set out from Fort Edward to visit their father, escorted through the dangerous forest by Major Duncan Heyward and guided by an Indian named Magua. Soon they are joined by David Gamut, a singing master and religious follower of Calvinism. Travelling cautiously, the group encounters the white scout Natty Bumppo, who goes by the name Hawkeye, and his two Indian companions, Chingachgook and Uncas, Chingachgook’s son, the only surviving members of the once great Mohican tribe. Hawkeye says that Magua, a Huron, has betrayed the group by leading them in the wrong direction. The Mohicans attempt to capture the traitorous Huron, but he escapes.

Hawkeye and the Mohicans lead the group to safety in a cave near a waterfall, but Huron allies of Magua attack early the next morning. Hawkeye and the Mohicans escape down the river, but Hurons capture Alice, Cora, Heyward, and Gamut. When Heyward tries to convert Magua to the English side, the Huron reveals that he seeks revenge on Munro for past humiliation and proposes to free Alice if Cora will marry him. Cora has romantic feelings for Uncas, however, and angrily refuses Magua. Suddenly Hawkeye and the Mohicans burst onto the scene, rescuing the captives and killing every Huron but Magua, who escapes. After a harrowing journey impeded by Indian attacks, the group reaches Fort William Henry, the English stronghold. They sneak through the French army besieging the fort, and, once inside, Cora and Alice reunite with their father.

A few days later, the English forces call for a truce. Munro learns that he will receive no reinforcements for the fort and will have to surrender. He reveals to Heyward that Cora’s mother was part “Negro,” which explains her dark complexion and raven hair. Munro accuses Heyward of racism because he prefers to marry blonde Alice over dark Cora, but Heyward denies the charge. During the withdrawal of the English troops from Fort William Henry, the Indian allies of the French indulge their bloodlust and prey upon the vulnerable retreating soldiers. In the chaos of slaughter, Magua manages to recapture Cora, Alice, and Gamut and to escape with them into the forest.

Three days later, Heyward, Hawkeye, Munro, and the Mohicans discover Magua’s trail and begin to pursue the villain. Gamut reappears and explains that Magua has separated his captives, confining Alice to a Huron camp and sending Cora to a Delaware camp. Using deception and a variety of disguises, the group manages to rescue Alice from the Hurons, at which point Heyward confesses his romantic interest in her. At the Delaware village, Magua convinces the tribe that Hawkeye and his companions are their racist enemies. Uncas reveals his exalted heritage to the Delaware sage Tamenund and then demands the release of all his friends but Cora, who he admits belongs to Magua. Magua departs with Cora. A chase and a battle ensue. Magua and his Hurons suffer painful defeat, but a rogue Huron kills Cora. Uncas begins to attack the Huron who killed Cora, but Magua stabs Uncas in the back. Magua tries to leap across a great divide, but he falls short and must cling to a shrub to avoid tumbling off and dying. Hawkeye shoots him, and Magua at last plummets to his death.

Cora and Uncas receive proper burials the next morning amid ritual chants performed by the Delawares. Chingachgook mourns the loss of his son, while Tamenund sorrowfully declares that he has lived to see the last warrior of the noble race of the Mohicans.

7. Early African-American literature: Wheatley, slave narratives
Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753-1784)

She was born in Africa, then brought to Boston as a slave at the age of 7. She was treated as a member of his masters family. They started to teach her – she learned theology, English, Latin, Greek, ancient history and mythology. She was the 1st Afro-American poet, the 1st black woman to publish a volume of poems: ‘Poems on Various Subjects(1767). There’s an introduction to this volume: an attestation of 17 men of Boston.

She had a wide variety of topics: poems on morality & piety, patriotic American pieces, Christian elegies, poems about nature, imagination & memory. Her style is neoclassical. She usually described the theme of freedom.
She wrote letters and poems to politicians to abolish slavery. She was the first to confront white racism, and to assert spiritual equality. She wrote the poem, On Being Brought from Africa to America’.
To S.M., a young African Painter, on Seeing His Works’ is a poem of praise and encouragement for another talented black. It also shows Wheatley’s strong religious sensitivity filtered through her experience of Christian conversation.

Share with your friends:
  1   2   3   4   5

The database is protected by copyright © 2019
send message

    Main page