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American Literary Periods

1. American Renaissance/Romanticism: 18001855


The Romantic Movement, which originated in Germany but quickly spread, reached America
around the year 1820. Romantic ideas centered on the spiritual and aesthetic dimension of nature,
and the importance of the individual mind and spirit. The Romantics underscored the importance
of self-expressive art for the individual and society.
The development of the self, became a major theme; self-awareness a primary method. If,
according to Romantic theory, self and nature were one, self-awareness was not a selfish deadend but a mode of knowledge opening up the universe. If ones self were one with all humanity,
then the individual had a moral duty to reform social inequalities and relieve human suffering.
The idea of self which suggested selfishness to earlier generations was redefined. New
compound words with positive meanings emerged: self-realization, self-expression, selfreliance.
As the unique, subjective self became important, so did the realm of psychology. Exceptional
artistic effects and techniques were developed to evoke heightened psychological states. The
sublimean effect of beauty in grandeur (for example, a view from a mountaintop)
produced feelings of awe, reverence, vastness, and a power beyond human comprehension.
Romanticism was affirmative and appropriate for most American poets and creative
essayists. Americas vast mountains, deserts, and tropics embodied the sublime. The Romantic
spirit seemed particularly suited to American democracy: It stressed individualism, affirmed the
value of the common person, and looked to the inspired imagination for its aesthetic and ethical
values.

Characteristics of the American Romantic Hero


Is young or possesses youthful qualities
Is innocent and pure of purpose
Has a sense of honor based not on societys rules but on some higher principle
Has knowledge of people and of life based on deep, intuitive understanding, not on
formal learning
Loves nature and avoids town life
Quests for some higher truth in the natural world

ROMANTICISM
Industrialization / War of
1812 / California Gold Rush
Content:
writing that can be interpreted
2 ways, on the surface for common
folk or in depth for
philosophical readers
sense of idealism
focus on the individual's inner
feelings
emphasis on the imagination
over reason and intuition over facts
urbanization versus nostalgia for
nature
burden of the Puritan past

Genre/Style:

literary

character
slave narratives,

political

transcendentalism

tale
sketch
novels
poetry

-Values feeling and intuition


over reason
-Places
faith
in
inner
experience and the power of
the imagination
-Shuns the artificiality of
civilizations
and
seeks
unspoiled nature
-Prefers youthful innocence
to educated sophistication
-Champions
individual
freedom and the worth of the
individual

Historical Context:
expansion of magazines,
newspapers, and book
publishing
slavery debates
-Industrial Revolution
-Abolitionist movement

Effect:
helps instill proper gender
behavior for men and women
fuels the abolitionist
movement
allow people to reimagine
the American past

Social background:
Industrial Revolution;
Western expansion;
Immigrants contribution;
Political ideal of equality and democracy; the influence of
European
Romanticists

-Contemplates
natures
beauty as a path to spiritual
and moral development
-Looks backward to the
wisdom of the past and
distrusts progress
-Finds beauty and truth in
exotic
locales,
the
supernatural realm, and the
inner
world
of
the
imagination
-Sees poetry as the highest
expression of the imagination
-Finds inspiration in myth,
legend, and folk culture
-Imagination over reason;
intuition over fact
-Focused on the fantastic of
human experience
-Writing
that
can
be
interpreted 2 ways: surface
and in depth
-Focus on inner feelings
-Gothic literature (sub-genre
of Romanticism)
-Use of the supernatural
-Characters with both evil and
good characteristics
-Dark landscapes; depressed
characters
The Transcendentalists
Part of
Romanticism but to a New
Level
(known as American
Renaissance)
Content:

Characteristics:

-a reaction against 18th century


Rationalism, and closely linked to
the Romantic movement.
-in general, was a liberal
philosophy favoring nature over
formal
religious
structure,
individual insight over dogma, and
humane instinct over social
convention.

-Also known as a reaction to a too rational Unitarian religious W


movement
E
-Nature is always going to be key
-Everything in the world, including human beings, is a
reflection of the Divine Soul
-The physical facts of the natural world are a doorway to the
spiritual or ideal world
-People can use their intuition to behold Gods spirit revealed in
Nature or in their own souls
-Self-reliance and individualism must outweigh external
authority and blind conformity to custom and tradition
-Spontaneous feelings and intuitions are superior to deliberate
intellectualism and rationality
-Emphasis on spirit, or the Over soul; a transparent eyeball;
the stress of the importance of the individual as the most
important element of society;
-A fresh perception of nature as symbolic of the spirit or God;
-Inspiration of a whole new generation of famous authors such
as Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman and
Dickinson.

NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE
(1804-1864)

1. wrote about sin and guilt; consequences of pride, selfishness, etc.


2. The Scarlet Letter
3. Short stories ("The Minister's Black Veil")
The dark Romantic
- Cornered the market on sin and guilt, including consequences of pride, selfishness, and
concealed culpability

Known for endings that are ambiguous


Almost all of his work, including The Scarlet Letter, deals with people who are torn
between tragic evil of human nature and a human sympathy for our natural passions
Showed keen psychological insights that paved the way for his friend Melville and the
20th century novelist William Faulkner

Hawthorne was imbued with an inquiring imagination, an intensely meditative mind, and an
unceasing interest in the ambiguity of man's being. He was an anatomist of "the interior of the
heart, "conscious of the loneliness of man in the universe, of the darkness that enshrouds all joy,
and of the need of man to look into his own soul. In both his novels and his short stories,
Hawthorne wrote essentially as a moralist.
He was interested in what happened in the minds and hearts of men and women when they
knew they had done wrong. He focused his examination on the moral and psychological
consequences that manifested themselves in human beings as a result of their vanity, their hatred,
their egotism, their ambition, and their pride.
He was intrigued by the way they felt and the way they acted when they knew they had done
wrong. In "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment, "Hawthorne illustrates several sides of his writing: his
disenchanted view of human nature, his use of symbolism, and his interest in the supernatural. In
addition, the story treats one of the new nineteenth century ideas that concerned Hawthorne:
scientific experiment. The story itself is a stimulating and rewarding study of right and wrong in
human conduct.
Many of Hawthornes stories are set in Puritan New England, and his greatest novel, The
Scarlet Letter (1850), has become the classic portrayal of Puritan America. It tells of the
passionate, forbidden love affair linking a sensitive, religious religious young man, the Reverend
Arthur Dimmesdale, and the sensuous, beautiful townsperson, Hester Prynne. Set in Boston
around 1650 during early Puritan colonization, the novel highlights the Calvinistic obsession
with morality, sexual repression, guilt and confession, and spiritual salvation.
For its time, The Scarlet Letter was a daring and even subversive book. Hawthornes gentle
style, remote historical setting, and ambiguity softened his grim themes and contented the
general public, but sophisticated writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Herman Melville
recognized the books hellish power. It treated issues that were usually suppressed in
19thcentury America, such as the impact of the new, liberating democratic experience on
individual behavior, especially on sexual and religious freedom.
The book is superbly organized and beautifully written. Appropriately, it uses allegory, a
technique the early Puritan colonists themselves practiced.

Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, Personal Issues

Hawthornes major themes and thematic patterns include self-trust versus accommodation to
authority; conventional versus unconventional gender roles; obsessiveness versus open-

mindedness; hypocrisy versus candor; presumed guilt or innocence; forms of nurturance and
destructiveness; the penalties of isolation; crimes against the human heart; patriarchal power;
belief in fate or free will; belief in progress (including scientific, technological, social, and
political progress) as opposed to nostalgia for the past; the truths available to the mind during
dream and reverie; and the impossibility of earthly perfection.
Historical issues include marketplace factsfor example, where Hawthornes short stories
first appeared (unsigned and low-paid) and which stories he chose to collect in Twice-Told Tales
and in later anthologies. Related issues include how each book was advertised, how well it sold,
how much money Hawthorne earned for it, and how it was reviewed. Students should also know
something about the whys and wherefores of Hawthornes career options during and after
college, of his undertaking literary hackwork and childrens books, of his interlude at Brook
Farm, of his appointments to the Boston Custom House, the Salem Custom House, and the
Liverpool consulate, and of his efforts to win reinstatement at the Salem Custom House.
Additional historical issues include Puritan versus Whig ideas about the self and the historical
past; the political practices and social climate of Jacksonian democracy; and genteel assumptions
about womens roles. Still other historical issues concern the particular place and period in which
Hawthorne set each story.
Personal issues include the various ways Hawthornes family history and specific events in
his life informed his writingsmost obviously the introduction to Rappaccinis Daughter and
his letters and journals. Students can easily recognize how Young Goodman Brown
incorporates facts about his Puritan ancestors, and they are interested in asking such questions as
whether the concern with female purity in Rappaccinis Daughter and The Birth-mark may
reflect Hawthornes anxieties in the aftermath of his marriage, and how Hawthornes anxieties
about his role as an artist are expressed in The Birth-mark and the Custom House introduction
to The Scarlet Letter.
Students might also speculate about how Hawthornes experiences of intimacy and
deprivation in the aftermath of his fathers death inform his fiction (e.g., Robins nostalgia for a
home that excludes him). Other personal issues that interest students include Hawthornes
relationship to
the Mannings mercantile values, his antipathy to Salem, his experiences at Bowdoin College
(including his nonconformity and his friendships with Bridge, Pierce, and Longfellow), his
lifelong strivings to develop his talents and support himself by his pen (during his self-defined
twelve lonely years, during his political appointments, and so forth), his secret engagement,
and his identity as doting but fallible husband and father.

Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions

1. Sketch versus tale and short story.


2. Romance versus novel.

3. Characters: recurrent types and interrelationships; authorial intrusion or objective display;


heroism, villainy, and what Hawthorne seems to condemn, admire, or sadly accept.
4. Image clusters and patterns (for example, dark versus light, natural versus unnatural, sunshine
and firelight versus moonlight and reflections, labyrinths).
5. Subjective vision (including fantasies, reveries, dreams, and narrators questions about
objective reality).
6. Narrative antecedents, including biblical parable, Spenserian romance, allegory (Dante,
Bunyan, and others), gothic horror tales, sentimental love stories, old wives tales, fairy tales, and
so on.
7. Reworking of notebook entries into fiction, and the relationship between earlier works and
later ones.
8. Hawthornes open-ended endings.
9. The relation of prefaces and expository introductions to Hawthornes plots.
10. Narrators options to the reader (e.g., saying, Be it so, if you will after asking if Goodman
Brown had only dreamed about a witch meeting).

Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections

Poe: Use of gothic settings, themes, and characters; interest in dreams and other threshold states,
and in sensitive individuals propensities to madness
Melville: Plumbing of the dark depths of the human mind, antipathy to authority, celebration of
individual striving and sympathetic nurturing
Emerson: Celebration of striving toward self-fulfillment, criticism of hereditary privilege,
egalitarian vision
Stowe and the damned mob of scribbling women: Celebration of womens capacities for
dignity and heroism, religious piety
James: Sensitive hero/narrator; psychological scrutiny; unresolved questions
Conrad: Journeys to the heart of darkness; parallel of outer and inner experience

HERMAN MELVILLE
(1819-1891)

1. ranked as one of America's top novelists, but recognized by few in his own time
2. Moby Dick
a. didn't sell: only his friend NH liked it; not reprinted for 60 yrs.
b. now considered America's greatest prose epic

Though recognized now as one of Americas top novelists, Melville was not recognized
by many of his peers for his genius
- Born into a distinguished family but due to his father going bankrupt when he was
young, finances went sour he ended up going out to sea when he was 20 as a cabin boy.
Later was out on whaling boats, spent time on islands inhabited by cannibals, roamed the
South seas, ended up in US Navy
- Moby Dick is considered Americas greatest prose epic a tale of mans pursuit of
revenge
HERMAN MELVILLE was a descendant of an old, wealthy family that fell abruptly into
poverty upon the death of the father. Despite his upbringing, family traditions, and hard work,
Melville found himself with no college education. At 19, he went to sea. His interest in sailors
lives grew naturally out of his own experiences, and most of his early novels grew out of his
voyages. His first book, Typee, was based on his time spent among the Taipis people in the
Marquesas Islands of the South Pacific.
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, Melvilles masterpiece, is the epic story of the whaling ship
Pequod and its captain, Ahab, whose obsessive quest for the white whale, Moby-Dick, leads the
ship and its men to destruction. This work, a seemingly realistic adventure novel, contains a
series of meditations on the human condition.
Whaling, throughout the book, is a grand metaphor for the pursuit of knowledge. Although
Ahabs quest is philosophical, it is also tragic. Despite his heroism, Ahab is doomed and perhaps
damned in the end. Nature, however beautiful, remains alien and potentially deadly. In MobyDick, Melville challenges Emersons optimistic idea that humans can understand nature. MobyDick, the great white whale, is an inscrutable, cosmic existence that dominates the novel, just as
he obsesses Ahab. Facts about the whale and whaling cannot explain Moby-Dick; on the
contrary, the facts themselves tend to dissolve into symbols. Behind Melvilles accumulation of
facts is a mystic visionbut whether this vision is evil or good, human or inhuman, is not
explained.
Ahab insists on imaging a heroic, timeless world of absolutes. Unwisely, he demands a
finished text, an answer. But the novel shows that just as there are no finished texts, there are
no final answers except, perhaps, death. Certain literary references resonate throughout the
novel. Ahab, named for an Old Testament king, desires a total, Faustian, god-like knowledge.
Like Oedipus in Sophocles play, who pays tragically for wrongful knowledge, Ahab is struck
blind before he is finally killed.
Ahabs ship Pequod is named for an extinct New England Indian tribe; thus the name
suggests that the boat is doomed to destruction. Whaling was in fact a major industry, especially
in New England: It supplied whale oil as an energy source, especially for lamps. Thus the whale
does literally shed light on the universe. The book has historical resonance. Whaling was
inherently expansionist and linked with the historical idea of a manifest destiny for Americans,
since it required Americans to sail round the world in search of whales (in fact, the present state
of Hawaii came under American domination because it was used as the major refueling base for

American whaling ships). The Pequods crew members represent all races and various religions,
suggesting the idea of America as a universal state of mind, as well as a melting pot. Finally,
Ahab embodies the tragic version of democratic American individualism. He asserts his dignity
as an individual and dares to oppose the inexorable external forces of the universe.
Melville (1819-1891) was born in New York City. Though both his parents came from wellto-do families, a family business failure and, soon after, the death of his father made it necessary
for him to leave school at the age of 15. He worked as clerk, a farmer and a teacher, before beComing a cabin boy on a ship. His shipboard experience served as the basis for a
semiautobiographical novel, Redburn, concerning the sufferings of agent eel youth among brutal
sailors.
This theme of a youth confronted by realities and evils for which he is unprepared is a
prominent one in Melville's works. Though based on Melville's experiences, the hero of the
novel was more callow and unhappy than Melville himself was, for the sailing experience also
gave him a love of the sea, and aroused his desire for adventure.
In 1841 Melville went to the South Season a whaling ship, where he gained the information
about whaling that he later used in Moby-Dick. After jumping ship in the Marquesas Islands, he
and a friend were captured by some of the islanders. They lived with these people for a month,
and then escaped on an Australian ship, deserting the latter in Tahiti, where they worked for a
time as field laborers. Melville finally returned to the United States as a seaman on an American
ship. These experiences provided material for his first and most popular books, which are
primarily adventure stories.
In 1850 Melville moved to a farm in Massachusetts where Nathaniel Hawthorne was his
neighbor. The latter soon became a confidant with whom Melville often discussed his work. As
he changed from writing adventure stories to philosophical and symbolic works, Melville's
popularity began to wane. From the writing of complex novels such as Moby-Dick, Pierre, and
The Confidence Man, Melville turned to writing poetry. But unable to support himself by his
writing, he secured political appointment as a customs inspector in New York. When he retired
from that job, after 20 years, he wrote the novelette, Billy Budd, completing it just before his
death. It was not until the 1920sthat his work again came to the attention of literary scholars and
the public.
His reputation now rests not only on his rich, poetic prose, but also on his philosophy and his
effective use of symbolism. Melville composed the first American prose epic, Moby-Dick. (An
epic is generally a long poem on an important theme.) Al-though Moby-Dick is presented in the
form of a novel, at times it seems like a prose poem. It is difficult to read for two reasons. Much
of the talk in the novelist sailor talk, and much of the language is purposely old-fashioned, for
effect.
This technique of Melville's style was inspired by the great authors of Elizabethan England.
The plot of Moby-Dick deals with the ceaseless conflicts between good and evil, of nature's
indifference to man "visibly personified and made practically assail-able." Melville makes this
conflict live for us not by putting it into simple statements but by using symbols that is, objects

or persons who represent something else. The white whale, Moby-Dick, symbolizes nature for
Melville, for it is complex, un-knowable and dangerous. For the character Ahab, however, the
whale represents only evil. The prime symbol of good is the first mate of the ship Pequod, a man
named Starbuck.
And the prime symbol of the good that is destroyed by evil and in this case is destroyed by a
consuming desire to root out evil is the captain of the Pequod, Ahab. A man with an
overwhelming obsession to kill the whale which had crippled him, he is Melville's greatest
creation. He burns with a baleful fire, becoming evil himself in his thirst to destroy evil.
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, Melvilles masterpiece, is the epic story of the whaling ship
Pequod and its ungodly, god-like man, Captain Ahab, whose obsessive quest for the white
whale Moby-Dick, leads the ship and its men to destruction. This work, a realistic adventure
novel, contains a series of meditations on the human condition. Whaling, throughout the book, is
a grand metaphor for the pursuit of knowledge. Realistic catalogues and descriptions of whales
and the whaling industry punctuate the book, but these carry symbolic connotations. In chapter
15, The Right Whales Head, the narrator says that the Right Whale is a Stoic and the Sperm
Whale is a Platonian, referring to two classical schools of philosophy.
Although Melvilles novel is philosophical, it is also tragic. Despite his heroism, Ahab is
doomed and perhaps damned in the end. Nature, however beautiful, remains alien and potentially
deadly. In Moby-Dick, Melville challenges Emersons optimistic idea that humans can
understand nature. Moby-Dick, the great white whale, is an inscrutable, cosmic existence that
dominates the novel, just as he obsesses Ahab.
Facts about the whale and whaling cannot explain Moby-Dick; on the contrary, the facts
themselves tend to become symbols, and every fact is obscurely related in a cosmic web to every
other fact. This idea of correspondence (as Melville calls it in the Sphinx chapter) does not,
however, mean that humans can read truth in nature, as it does in Emerson. Behind Melvilles
accumulation of facts is a mystic vision but whether this vision is evil or good, human or
inhuman, is never explained. The novel is modern in its tendency to be self-referential, or
reflexive.
In other words, the novel often is about itself. Melville frequently comments on mental
processes such as writing, reading, and understanding. One chapter, for instance, is an exhaustive
survey in which the narrator attempts a classification but finally gives up, saying that nothing
great can ever be finished (God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but
a draught nay, but the draught of a draught. O Time, Strength, Cash and Patience).
Melvilles notion of the literary text as an imperfect version or an abandoned draft is quite
contemporary.
Ahab insists on imaging a heroic, timeless world of absolutes in which he can stand above
his men.
Unwisely, he demands a finished text, an answer. But the novel shows that just as there are
no finished texts, there are no final answers except, perhaps, death.
Certain literary references resonate throughout the novel. Ahab, named for an Old Testament
king, desires a total, Faustian, god-like knowledge. Like Oedipus in Sophocles play, who pays

tragically for wrongful knowledge, Ahab is struck blind before he is wounded in the leg and
finally killed. Moby-Dick ends with the word orphan. Ishmael, the narrator, is an orphan like
wanderer. The name Ishmael emanates from the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament he was
the son of Abraham and Hagar (servant to Abrahams wife, Sarah). Ishmael and Hagar were cast
into the wilderness by Abraham.
Other examples exist. Rachel (one of the patriarch Jacobs wives) is the name of the boat that
rescues Ishmael at books end. Finally, the metaphysical whale reminds Jewish and
Christian readers of the Biblical story of Jonah, who was tossed overboard by fellow sailors who
considered him an object of ill fortune.
Swallowed by a big fish, according to the biblical text, he lived for a time in its belly
before being returned to dry land through Gods intervention.
Seeking to flee from punishment, he only brought more suffering upon himself.
Historical references also enrich the novel.
The ship Pequod is named for an extinct New England Indian tribe; thus the name
suggests that the boat is doomed to destruction. Whaling was in fact a major industry, especially
in New England: It supplied oil as an energy source, especially for lamps. Thus the whale does
literally shed light on the universe. Whaling was also inherently expansionist and linked with
the idea of manifest destiny, since it required Americans to sail round the world in search of
whales (in fact, the present state of Hawaii came under American domination because it was used
as the major refueling base for American whaling ships). The Pequods crew members represent
all races and various religions, suggesting the idea of America as a universal state of mind as
well as a melting pot. Finally, Ahab embodies the tragic version of democratic American
individualism.
He asserts his dignity as an individual and dares to oppose the inexorable external forces
of the universe.
The novels epilogue tempers the tragic destruction of the ship. Throughout, Melville
stresses the importance of friendship and the multicultural human community. After the ship
sinks, Ishmael is saved by the engraved coffin made by his close friend, the heroic tattooed
harpooner and Polynesian prince Queequeg. The coffins primitive, mythological designs
incorporate the history of the cosmos. Ishmael is rescued from death by an object of death. From
death life emerges, in the end.
Moby-Dick has been called a natural epic a magnificent dramatization of the human
spirit set in primitive nature because of its hunter myth, its initiation theme, its Edenic island
symbolism, its positive treatment of pre-technological peoples, and its quest for rebirth. In setting
humanity alone in nature, it is eminently American.

Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, Personal Issues

A major source of Melvilles continuing power is the prescient insight he displays into the central
problems of our culture: alienation; violence against women and the repression of the feminine

in man that usually accompanies it; the widening gap between a decadent ruling class and the
workers it immoderate; racism and an ever-more-brutal assault against the worlds peoples of
color; an unbridled militarism that threatens our very existence while demanding that we resign
our civil liberties and human rights in the name of national security. Thus the most effective way
of teaching Melville is to encourage students to draw contemporary lessons from the historical
predicaments he dramatizes so compellingly.
Each story, of course, centers on a different theme. In teaching Bartleby and The
Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids, I emphasize Melvilles critique of capitalism
and the alienation it produces.
The Communist Manifesto and Marxs essays Estranged Labor, The Meaning of
Human Requirements, and The Power of Money in Bourgeois Society from The Economic
and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 are extraordinarily relevant to these two stories and
illuminate them in startling ways. However, I find it preferable to let Marx indirectly inform the
approach one takes to the stories, rather than to get sidetracked into a discussion of Marx. A
secondary theme in Bartleby is the Christian ethic of Matthew 25, which Melville
counterpoises against the capitalist ethic of Wall Street (see Bibliography for useful articles on
this subject).
The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids naturally invites a feminist as well
as a Marxist approach. Margaret Fullers Woman in the Nineteenth Century, Sarah Grimks
Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, and the Condition of Woman, and Lydia Maria Childs
Letters from New York #34 (Womens Rights) provide a ready-made framework for a feminist
analysis of that story. Though Benito Cereno and Billy Budd do not focus on women, a
feminist approach can enrich the students understanding of key episodes and subthemes.
In Benito Cereno, for example, Delanos racist stereotypes not only prevent him from
recognizing that a slave revolt has occurred onboard the San Dominick, but also distort his
perception of the African womens role in that revolt. Just as Babo protects his fellow rebels
from discovery by catering to Delanos stereotypes about blacks as faithful slaves, so the African
woman Delano ogles does so by catering to his stereotypes about African women as sexual
objects and primitive children of nature. By reading between the lines of the Deposition from a
feminist perspective, we see that the African women have probably been sexually victimized by
both their master and Don Benito and that they have played an active role in the revolt.
Melvilles references to the inflaming songs and dances they sing while their men are fighting
indicate his possible familiarity with such sources as Equianos narrative, which speaks of
African womens participation in warfare.
Similarly, in Billy Budd, Melville connects his critique of militarism and the
dehumanization it generates with a critique of Western cultures polarization of masculine and
feminine. The feminine imagery Melville uses to describe Billy suggests that he represents what
Vere later calls the feminine in man, instructing his drumhead court that she must be ruled
out of their deliberations. It also suggests that one of the roots of Claggarts and Veres
homosexual attraction to Billy is his embodiment of the feminine in man that they have

repressed i n themselves and must continue to repress by killing Billy. Here again, Margaret
Fullers analysis of the ways in which patriarchy victimizes men as well as women is relevant.
Benito Cereno obviously needs above all to be set in the contexts of the antebellum
slavery controversy and of the prior historical events to which the story refers (summarized in
the footnotes): the Spanish Inquisition; the introduction of African slavery into the Americas
under
Charles V; the African slave trade and its relationship to the activities of sixteenth- and
seventeenth-century English buccaneers; the Santo Domingo slave uprising of 17971804; the
slave revolt on board the Spanish ship Tryal that the real Captain Delano had helped suppress;
and the uncannily similar slave revolt that occurred on board the Spanish slave-trading schooner
Amistad in 1839 (for useful articles on these aspects of the story, see the Bibliography below).
As mentioned under Classroom Issues and Strategies above, the easiest means of teaching
Benito Cereno in historical context is to assign it in conjunction with other texts on slavery.
Billy Budd reverberates with implications for the nuclear age and its strategy of Mutually
Assured Destruction (MAD).
Readers will also find Melvilles exploration of Veres and Claggarts repressed
homosexuality highly pertinent to debates over ending the ban against gays in the military.
Teachers should not be afraid to exploit the storys contemporary relevance, but they should also
set the story in its twin historical contexts1797, the date of the action, and 18861891, the
period of composition. See H. Bruce Franklins From Empire to Empire, cited below, for an
invaluable discussion of these historical contexts.
Teachers might point out that Bartleby draws on Melvilles experiences of working as a
clerk for a brief period and also reflects attitudes he must have associated with his brother Allan,
a lawyer; that Elizabeth Shaw Melvilles debilitating pregnancies, as well as an actual visit to a
paper mill, helped generate the feminist insights Melville displays in The Paradise of Bachelors
and the Tartarus of Maids; that Judge Lemuel Shaws conservative views on slavery and
controversial role as the first Northern judge to send a fugitive slave back to his master may
explain the circuitous form Melville adopts in Benito Cereno; and that the suicide of Melvilles
son Malcolm in 1867 may have some bearing on Billy Budd.
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
The traditional grouping of Melville with Hawthorne and Poe obscures not only the
social vision but also the concept of art differentiating Melville from such canonical figures.
Unlike them, Melville persistently rejects the symmetry of form attainable in pure fiction,
holding instead to the principle that Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged
edges. Teachers should point out the way in which Melville deliberately subverts formalist
conventions in Benito Cereno and Billy Budd by appending the Deposition and the three
chapters of sequel that force readers to determine the truth for themselves. It might also be useful
to point out that the concept of art Melville articulates at the end of Billy Budd directly opposes
Veres doctrine of measured forms (see Edgar A. Dryden, cited below).
In contextualizing Melville with writers like Olaudah Equiano, David Walker, Henry
Highland Garnet, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Frederick Douglass, Lydia Maria Child,

Margaret Fuller, Alice Cary, Fanny Fern, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, among others, teachers
might suggest comparisons between their aesthetic of Art for Truths Sake (as Elizabeth Stuart
Phelps called it) and Melvilles concept of literature as the great Art of Telling the Truth
(delineated in his review Hawthorne and His Mosses).
Although Melvilles short fiction is much less accessible and more oblique than the
protest writings of these other authors, it is important to remember that four out of his first five
books were autobiographical accounts of his life as a sailora genre not very different from the
White-Jackets powerful appeal for the abolition of flogging in the navy, another parallel with the
slave narrative.
Stylistically, I like to emphasize Melvilles use of irony and grim humor. If one adopts
Babos point of view in reading Benito Cereno, one is struck again and again by the humor of
the story. The shaving scene i s one of the best examples, and I like to go over it at length,
beginning with the way in which Babo responds to Don Benitos slip of the tongue about Cape
Horn by suggesting that Don Benito and Delano continue the conversation while he shaves his
master.
Bartleby, too, presents many examples of Melvilles incisive irony and grim humor. See, for
instance, the scene in which Bartleby announces that he will do no more writing and asks the
narrator, Do you not see the reason for yourself?to which the narrator, who does not see,
responds by postulating that Bartlebys vision has become temporarily impaired.

TRANSCENDENTALISM
The Transcendentalist movement was a reaction against 18th-century rationalism and a
manifestation of the general humanitarian trend of 19th-century thought. The movement was
based on a fundamental belief in the unity of the world and God. The soul of each individual was
thought to be identical with the world a microcosm of the world itself. The doctrine of selfreliance and individualism developed through thebelief in the identification of the individual soul
with God.

WALT WHITMAN
(1819-1892)

a. rejected conventional themes, forms, subjects


b. used long lines to capture the rhythm of natural speech, free verse, everyday vocabulary
c. "Song of Myself"
d. "I Hear America Singing"
e. "O Captain My Captain"
- Whitman created new poetic forms and subjects to fashion a distinctly American type of
poetic expression
- He rejected conventional themes, traditional literary references, allusions, and rhyme all
the accepted customs of the 19th century
- He used long lines to capture the rhythms of natural speech, free verse, and vocabulary
drawn from everyday speech.
- I Hear America Singing catalog poem
- Song of Myself empathized with all people (black, Indian, women).
- Didnt care about race or sexual orientation.
- O Captain, My Captain a tribute to the fallen Lincoln
Born on Long Island, New York, WALT WHITMAN (1819-1892) was a part-time carpenter
and man of the people, whose brilliant, innovative work expressed the countrys democratic
spirit. Whitman was largely self-taught; he left school at the age of 11 to go to work, missing the
sort of traditional education that made most American authors respectful imitators of the English.
His Leaves of Grass (1855), which he rewrote and revised throughout his life, contains Song of
Myself, the most stunningly original poem ever written by an American.
The poems innovative, unrhymed, free-verse form, open celebration of sexuality, vibrant
democratic sensibility, and extreme Romantic assertion that the poets self was one with the
universe and the reader, permanently altered the course of American poetry.
Whitman was one of the great innovators in American literature. In the cluster of poems he
called Leaves of Grass he gave America its first genuine epic poem.
The poetic style he devised is now called free verse that is, poetry without a fixed beat or
regular rhyme scheme. Whitman thought that the voice of democracy should not be haltered by
traditional forms of verse.
His influence on the poetic technique of other writers was small during the time he was
writing Leaves of Grass but today elements of his style are apparent in the work of many poets.
During the20th century, poets as different as Carl Sandburg and the "Beat" bard, Allen Ginsberg,
have owed something to him. Whitman grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and worked there as a
school-teacher, as an apprentice to a printer, and as the editor of various newspapers. He had very
little schooling but read a great deal on his own. He was especially intrigued by the works of
Shakespeare and Milton. Strangely enough, his only contact with the Eastern religions or with
German Transcendentalists, whose ideas he frequently used in his poetry, was what he had read
of them in the writings of Emerson.

In the 1840s Whitman supported Jackson's Democratic Party; he also favored the
exclusion of slavery from new states in his newspaper writing and be-cause of this, in 1848, he
was dismissed from his job. He then worked sporadically at carpentry and odd jobs, and had
some of his writing which was conventional and undistinguished printed in news-papers.
In 1848 he visited New Orleans, Chicago, and the Western frontier; the latter impressed
him greatly. There is speculation that some of his experiences on this trip marked a turning point
in his career, though it is more likely that he was gradually developing as an artist. At any rate,
soon after this period he began to write in a new style the "free verse" for which he became
famous. He published the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855, setting the type for the book
himself, and writing favorable reviews of it in the papers, anonymously. He continued to add
new poems to the collection, and to rearrange and revise them; until his death in 1892.His best
work is usually considered to have been done before 1871.
Most of the poems in Leaves of Grass are about man and nature. However, a small
number of very good poems deal with New York, the city that fascinated Whitman, and with the
Civil War, in which he served as a volunteer male nurse. In his poetry, Whitman combined the
ideal of the democratic common man and that of the rugged individual. He envisioned the poet
as a hero, a savior and a prophet, one who leads the community by his expressions of the truth.
With the publication of Leaves of Grass Whitman was praised by Ralph Waldo Emerson and a
few other literati but was attacked by the majority of critics because of his unconventional style.
He wanted his poetry to be for the common people but, ironically, it was ignored by the general
public.
His Leaves of Grass (1855), which he rewrote and revised throughout his life, contains
Song of Myself the most stunningly original poem ever written by an American. The
enthusiastic praise that Emerson and a few others heaped on this daring volume confirmed
Whitman in his poetic vocation, although the book was not a popular success.
A visionary book celebrating all creation, Leaves of Grass was inspired largely by
Emersons writings, especially his essay The Poet, which predicted a robust, open-hearted,
universal kind of poet uncannily like Whitman himself. The poems innovative, unrhymed, free
verse form, open celebration of sexuality, vibrant democratic sensibility, and extreme Romantic
assertion that the poets self was one with the poem, the universe, and the reader permanently
altered the course of American poetry.
Leaves of Grass is as vast, energetic, and natural as the American continent; it was the
epic generations of American critics had been calling for, although they did not recognize it.
Movement ripples through Song of Myself like restless music:
My ties and ballasts leave me...
I skirt sierras, my palms cover continents
I am afoot with my vision.
The poem bulges with myriad concrete sights and sounds. Whitmans birds are not the
conventional winged spirits of poetry. His yellowcrownd heron comes to the edge of the
marsh at night and feeds upon small crabs. Whitman seems to project himself into everything
that he sees or imagines. He is mass man, Voyaging toevery port to dicker and adventure, /

Hurrying with the modern crowd as eager and fickle as any. But he is equally the suffering
individual, The mother of old, condemnd for a witch, burnt with dry wood, her children gazing
on....I am the hounded slave, I wince at the bite of the dogs....I am the mashd fireman with
breast-bone broken....
More than any other writer, Whitman invented the myth of democratic America. The
Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth have probably the fullest poetical nature. The
United States is essentially the greatest poem. When Whitman wrote this, he daringly turned
upside down the general opinion that America was too brash and new to be poetic. He invented a
timeless America of the free imagination, peopled with pioneering spirits of all nations. D.H.
Lawrence, the British novelist and poet, accurately called him the poet of the open road.

EMILY DICKINSON
(1830-1886)

a. her poetry broke with convention: didn't look right; didn't rhyme; too bold; too radical
b. concrete imagery, forceful language, unique style
d. wrote 1775 poems, published only 7 in her life
e. "Because I could not stop for Death--"
f. My life closed twice before its close
g. The Soul selects her own Society
Success is counted sweetest
By those who neer succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.
- An agoraphobic afraid of open spaces from age 23 until her death 33 years later
dressed only in white and never left her house (rarely her room).
- Wrote nearly 2,000 poems in her lifetime, but published only seven each anonymously
- Her poems were published posthumously, by her sister Lavinia
- Her Five Main Themes: LOVE , NATURE, FRIENDSHIP, DEATH, and
IMMORTALITY
- Considered one of the founders of Modern American Poetry
Her Poems Were Different
- They looked different where were the sentences, the commas, semi-colons, the periods?
Why all the dashes????
- Her poems didnt rhyme used slant rhyme
- Her figures of speech were too striking for the day
- Her ideas were too radical she didnt stick with warm and fuzzy topics. Favored
startling images and outlooks. Paved the way for the Imagists of the 20th century.

EMILY DICKINSON is, in a sense, a link between her era and the literary sensitivities of the
20th century. A radical individualist, she was born and spent her life in Amherst, Massachusetts,
a small village. She never married, and she led an unconventional life that was outwardly
uneventful but was full of inner intensity. She loved nature and found deep inspiration in the
birds, animals, plants, and changing seasons of the New England countryside. Dickinson spent
the latter part of her life as a recluse, due to an extremely sensitive psyche and possibly to make
time for writing.
Dickinsons terse, frequently imagistic style is even more modern and innovative than
Whitmans. She sometimes shows a terrifying existential awareness. Her clean, clear, chiseled
poems, rediscovered in the 1950s, are some of the most fascinating and challenging in American
literature.
Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinsonas well as their contemporaries,
Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allen Poerepresent the first great literary generation produced
in the United States. In the case of fiction writers, the Romantic vision tended to express itself in
the form Hawthorne called the Romance, a heightened, emotional, and symbolic form of the
novel. As defined by Hawthorne, Romances were not love stories, but serious novels that used
special techniques to communicate complex and subtle meanings.
Instead of carefully defining realistic characters through a wealth of detail, as most English
or continental novelists did, Hawthorne, Melville, and Poe shaped heroic figures larger than life,
burning with mythic significance. The typical protagonists of the American Romance are
haunted, alienated individuals. Hawthornes Arthur Dimmesdale or Hester Prynne in The Scarlet
Letter, Melvilles Ahab in Moby-Dick, and the many isolated and obsessed characters of Poes
ales are lonely protagonists pitted against unknowable, dark fates that, in some mysterious way,
grow out of their deepest unconscious selves. The symbolic plots reveal hidden actions of the
anguished spirit.
One reason for this fictional exploration into the hidden recesses of the soul was the absence
at the time of settled community. English novelistsJane Austen, Charles Dickens (the great
favorite), Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, William Thackeraylived in a complex, wellarticulated, traditional society and shared, with their readers, attitudes that informed their
realistic fiction.
American novelists were faced with a history of strife and revolution, a geography of vast
wilderness, and a fluid and relatively classless democratic society. Many English novels show a
poor main character rising on the economic and social ladder, perhaps because of a good
marriage or the discovery of a hidden aristocratic past. But this plot does not challenge the
aristocratic social structure of England. On the contrary, it confirms it. The rise of the main
character satisfies the wish fulfillment of the mainly middle-class readers of those days in
England.
In contrast, the American novelist had to depend on his or her own devices. America was, in
part, an undefined, constantly moving frontier populated by immigrants speaking various
languages and following strange and crude ways of life. Thus, the main character in an American
story might find himself alone among cannibal tribes, as in Melvilles Typee, or exploring a

wilderness like James Fenimore Coopers Leatherstocking, or witnessing lonely visions from the
grave, like Poes solitary individuals,or meeting the devil walking in the forest, like
Hawthornes Young Goodman Brown. Virtually all the great American protagonists have been
loners. The democratic American individual had, as it were, to invent himself. The serious
American novelist had to invent new forms as well: hence the sprawling, idiosyncratic shape of
Melvilles novel Moby-Dick and Poes dreamlike, wandering Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.
Emily Dickinson wrote her whimsical, darting verse with sublime in-difference to any notion
of being a democratic or popular poet. Her work, far different from that of either Whitman or
Long fellow, illustrated the fact that one could take a single household and an inactive life, and
make enchanting poetry out of it. Miss Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, where
her father was a prominent lawyer and politician and where her grandfather had established an
academy and college.
Emily's family was very closely knit and she and her sister remained at home and did not
marry. Emily seldom left Amherst; she attended college in a nearby town for one year, and later
made one trip as far as Washington and two or three trips to Boston.
After 1862she became a total recluse, not leaving her house nor seeing even close friends.
Her early letters and descriptions of herself in her youth reveal an attractive girl with a lively wit.
Her later retirement from the world, though perhaps affected by an un-happy love affair, seems
mainly to have resulted from her own personality, from a desire to separate her from the world.
The range of her poetry suggests other limited experiences but the power of her creativity and
imagination. When she began writing poetry Emily had relatively little formal education. She did
know Shakespeare and classical mythology and was especially interested in women authors such
as Elizabeth Browning and the Bronte sisters. She was also acquainted with the works of
Emerson, Thoreau and Hawthorne. Though she did not believe in the conventional religion of
her family, she had studied the Bible, and many of her poems resemble hymns inform. There
were several men who, at different times in her life, acted as teacher or master to Emily. The first
was Benjamin Newton, a young lawyer in her father's law office who improved her literary and
cultural tastes and influenced her ideas on religion. She refers to him as "a friend, who taught me
Immortality.
Emilys next teacher was Charles Wads-worth, a married, middle-aged minister who
provided her with intellectual challenge and contact with the outside world. It appears that she
felt affection for him that he could not return, and when he moved to San Francisco in 1862, she
re-moved herself from society even more than she had before. Wadsworth may have been the
model for the lover in her poems, though it is just as likely that the literary figure is purely
imaginary.
Miss Dickinson's greatest outpouring of poems occurred in the early 1860s, and because she
was so isolated, the Civil War affected her thinking very little. At this time she sent some of her
work to Thomas Higginson, a prominent critic and author. He was impressed by her poetry, but
suggested that she use a more conventional grammar. Emily, however, refused to revise her

poems to fit the standards of others and took no interest in having them published; in fact she had
only seven poems published during her lifetime.
In Higginson she did, nevertheless, gain an intelligent and sympathetic critic with whom to
discuss her work. In the last years of her life Emily seldom saw visitors, but kept in touch with
her friends through letters, short poems and small gifts. After her death in 1886, her sister found
nearly 1,800 poems that she had written. Many of the poems were finally published in the 1890s,
and Emily Dickinson, like Melville, was rediscovered by the literary world in the 1920s.Emily
Dickinson's poetry comes out in bursts.
The poems are short, many of them being based on a single image or symbol. But within her
little lyrics Miss Dickinson writes about some of the most important things in life. She writes
about love and a lover, whom she either never really found or else gave up. She writes about
nature. She writes about mortality and immortality. She writes about success, which she thought
she never achieved, and about failure, which she considered her constant companion.
She writes of these things so brilliantly that she is now ranked as one of America's great
poets. Her poetry is read today throughout much of the world and yet its exact wording has not
been completely determined, nor has its arrangement and punctuation. Since Emily never
prepared her poems for publication, one of the bitterest battles in American literary history has
been fought over who should publish and edit what she wrote. However, regardless of details or
conflicts, there is no doubt that the solitary Miss Dickinson of Amherst, Massachusetts, is a
writer of great power and beauty.
Dickinsons terse, frequently imagistic style is even more modern and innovative than
Whitmans. She never uses two words when one will do, and combines concrete things with
abstract ideas in an almost proverbial, compressed style. Her best poems have no fat; many mock
current sentimentality, and some are even heretical. She sometimes shows a terrifying existential
awareness.
Like Poe, she explores the dark and hidden part of the mind, dramatizing death and the grave.
Yet she also celebrated simple objects a flower, a bee. Her poetry exhibits great intelligence
and often evokes the agonizing paradox of the limits of the human consciousness trapped in time.
She had an excellent sense of humor, and her range of subjects and treatment is amazingly wide.
Her poems are generally known by the numbers assigned them in Thomas H. Johnsons
standard edition of 1955. They bristle with odd capitalizations and dashes.
A nonconformist, like Thoreau she often reversed meanings of words and phrases and used
paradox to great effect.
Dickinsons 1,775 poems continue to intrigue critics, who often disagree about them. Some
stress her mystical side, some her sensitivity to nature; many note her odd, exotic appeal. One
modern critic, R.P. Blackmur, comments that Dickinsons poetry sometimes feels as if a cat
came at us speaking English. Her clean, clear, chiseled poems are some of the most fascinating
and challenging in American literature.

Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, Personal Issues

Students need to know something about Dickinsons life, her schooling, religious upbringing
and subsequent rebellion, her family members, and the close friends who became the audience
for her poems. (Much of this i s outlined in the headnote.)
They will be helped by having some historical sense of women and men in nineteenthcentury New England. They need information on womens habits of reading and writing, on
friendships among women, religious revivalism, and life in a small college town like Amherst.
Awareness of class, class consciousness, and social customs for families like the Dickinsons and
their circle of friends will help prevent questions like the one cited above on why Dickinson
didnt just move and go for it in a city. Students should be discouraged from discussing the
poems as feminine or as demonstrating the womans point of view.
A discussion of homophobia is necessary. Here the headnote should be helpful. The love
poems are not exclusively heterosexual. Students should be encouraged to examine the erotics of
this poetry without being limited to conventional notions of gender. Dickinson uses a variety of
voices in these poems, writing as a child (often a boy), a wife-to-be, a woman rejected, and as a
voice of authority which we often associate with maleness.
These voices or roles or poses, as they are sometimes called, need to be identified and
examined. Here are the multiplicities of self. Do we need to reconcile these voices? What
happens when we dont? Students may reflect on or write about multiplicities of experience,
perspective, and voice in themselves.

Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions

Information should be provided about other American and British writers publishing at this
time, those whom Dickinson read, and those especially popular at the time but not as well
known, as well as those still recognized: Emerson, Longfellow, Stowe, Helen Hunt Jackson,
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, Dickens.
Dickinsons poetry is very dissimilar to poetry being published at the same time. Attention
needs to be drawn to this fact and to the originality, the intentional and consistent innovativeness,
of her style. Questions of style can also lead to observations concerning the thin l ine between
poetry and prose in Dickinsons letters, and about the complex and integral relationships between
the two genres throughout her writing.
There is also the question of the editing: What did a given poem look like when early
editors published it, and when Thomas Johnson published the same poem in the variorum
edition? Students should be made familiar with Thomas Johnsons variorum as well as R. W.
Franklins Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson. What did the variorum edition of the poems
bring to Dickinson scholarship? What was available before? What has R. W. Franklins
publication of the manuscript books meant? And what about Susan Howes argument that

Dickinsons original line breaks must be honored? Some students may wish to take up the
question of how to represent in type Dickinsons marks of punctuation.
For two poems in our selection we include in footnotes all the variants, or alternate
word choices Dickinson noted for each poem.
Using Franklins Manuscript Books, students can observe in detail the poets system for
marking possible changes and listing variants. Furthermore, study of the facsimiles in the
Franklin edition will give students an opportunity to observe the artistic conventions in
Dickinsons manuscriptslineation and punctuation as well as her handwriting, or calligraphy,
and her use of space between letters, words, and at the end of a line. Investigation of the
manuscripts will give students the opportunity to discuss what has been lost in her visual art in
the print transcriptions of the poems. In addition, reading the poems in the manuscript volumes
encourages students to test out the theories of some critics that these volumes are artistic units
with narrative and thematic cohesion.
It is important to point out that the number that appears at the head of each poem in our
selection is not a part of the space of the poem, and that these numbers were never used by the
poet. They were established by Thomas Johnson in his attempt to arrange the complete poems
chronologically. Since so few of Dickinsons manuscripts can be dated, the Johnson numbers are
most often speculative. Their standard use has been as a system of reference, and as convenient
as this system may be, a less artificial way of referring to a poem is to use the first line.

Realism: 1855-1900
THE RISE OF REALISM
Realism a reaction against Romanticism or a move away from the bias towards
Romance and self-creating fictions; a great interest in the realities of life, everyday existence,
what was brutal or sordid and class struggle;
The U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) between the industrial North and the agricultural, slaveowning South was a watershed in American history. Before the war, idealists championed human
rights, especially the abolition of slavery; after the war, Americans increasingly idealized
progress and the self-made man. This was the era of the millionaire manufacturer and the
speculator, when the Darwinian theory of biological evolution and the survival of the fittest
species was applied to society and seemed to sanction the sometimes unethical methods of the
successful business tycoon.
Business boomed after the war. The new intercontinental rail system, inaugurated in
1869, and the transcontinental telegraph, which began operating in 1861, gave industry access to
materials, markets, and communications. The constant influx of immigrants provided a
seemingly endless supply of inexpensive labor as well. Over 23 million foreignersGerman,
Scandinavian, and Irish in the early years, and increasingly Central and Southern Europeans

thereafterflowed into the United States between 1860 and 1910. In 1860, most Americans had
lived on farms or in small villages, but by 1919 half of the population was concentrated in about
12 cities.
Problems of urbanization and industrialization appeared: poor and overcrowded housing,
unsanitary conditions, low pay (called wage slavery), difficult working conditions, and
inadequate restraints on business. Labor unions grew, and strikes brought the plight of working
people to national awareness. Farmers, too, saw themselves struggling against the money
interests of the East. From 1860 to 1914, the United States was transformed from a small,
agricultural ex-colony to a huge, modern, industrial nation. A debtor nation in 1860, by 1914 it
had become the worlds wealthiest state. By World War I, the United States had become a major
world power.
As industrialization grew, so did alienation. The two greatest novelists of the period
Mark Twain and Henry Jamesresponded differently. Twain looked South and West into the
heart of rural and frontier America for his defining myth; James looked back at Europe in order
to assess the nature of newly cosmopolitan Americans.
*Mark Twain the true father of American literature by H. L. Mencken; pen name of Samuel
Langhorne Clemens; rough humor and social satire; magic power with language, the use of
vernacular and colloquial speech; representative works: Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, Life on
the Mississippi, The Adventure of Tom Sawyer

Realism
Civil War
Reconstruction
Content:
A. Civil War brings
demand for a "truer"
type of literature that
doesn't idealize people
or places
B. People in society
defined by "class";
materialism
C. Reflect ideas of
Darwin (survival of
the fittest) and Marx
(how money and class
structure control a
nation)

Genre/Style:
novel and short
stories are important
prefers objective
narrator
dialogue includes
many voices from
around the country
does not tell the
reader how to
interpret the story

Effect:
social realism: aims to
change a specific social
problem
aesthetic realism: art
that insists on detailing
the world as one sees it

1. Feelings of disillusionment
2. Common subjects; slums of rapidly growing
cities, factories replacing farmlands, poor
factory workers, corrupt politicians
1. a reaction against 3. Represented the manner and environment of
romanticism; told it like it everyday life and ordinary people as
was
realistically as possible (regionalism)

2. focus on lives of
common characters ordinary people; rejected
not
heroic and adventurous
idealized (immigrants, 3.
anti-materialism;
laborers)
rejected the new "class"
people in society system
defined by
4. view of nature as a
class
powerful and indifferent
society corrupted by force beyond man's control
materialism
emphasizes
moralism
through observation
MARK TWAIN
(Samuel L. Clemens)
(1835-1910)

4.
Sought
to
explain
(psychologically/socially).

behavior

Historical Context:
Civil War brings demand
for a "truer" type of
literature that does not
idealize people or places

B. The Frontier (1865-1915)


a. Samuel Langhorne Clemens is widely thought to be the greatest American humorist and one of
our greatest novelists
b. used vernacular, exaggeration, deadpan narrator to create humor
c. Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (tall tale)
d. Adventures of Tom Sawyer
e. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (one of America's most influential novels)
f. Life on the Mississippi (a memoir)
g. The Prince and the Pauper
h. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
SAMUEL CLEMENS, better known by his pen name of MARK TWAIN, grew up in the
Mississippi River frontier town of Hannibal, Missouri. Ernest Hemingway said that all of
American literature comes from one great book, Twains Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Early
19th-century American writers tended to be too flowery, sentimental, or ostentatiousin part
because they were still trying to prove that they could write as elegantly as the English.
Twains style, based on vigorous, realistic, colloquial American speech, gave. American
writers a new appreciation of their national voice. Twain was the first major author to come from
the interior of the country, and he captured its distinctive, humorous slang and iconoclasm.
For Twain and other American writers of the late 19th century, realism was not merely a
literary technique: It was a way of speaking truth and exploding worn-out conventions. Thus it
was profoundly liberating and potentially at odds with society. The most well-known example is
his story of Huck Finn, a poor boy who decides to follow the voice of his conscience and help a

Negro slave escape to freedom, even though Huck thinks this means that he will be damned to
hell for breaking the law.
Twains masterpiece, which appeared in 1884, is set in the Mississippi River village of St.
Petersburg. The son of an alcoholic bum, Huck has just been adopted by a respectable family
when his father, in a drunken stupor, threatens to kill him. Fearing for his life, Huck escapes,
feigning his own death. He is joined in his escape by another outcast, the slave Jim, whose
owner, Miss Watson, is thinking of selling him down the river to the harsher slavery of the deep
South. Huck and Jim float on a raft down the majestic Mississippi, but are sunk by a steamboat,
separated, and later reunited. They go through many comical and dangerous shore adventures
that show the variety, generosity, and sometimes cruel irrationality of society. In the end, it is
discovered that Miss Watson had already freed Jim, and a respectable family is taking care of the
wild boy Huck. But Huck grows impatient with civilized society and plans to escape to the
territoriesIndian lands.
The ending gives the reader another version of the classic American purity myth: the open road
leading to the pristine wilderness, away from the morally corrupting influences of civilization.
James Fenimore Coopers novels, Walt Whitmans hymns to the open road, William Faulkners
The Bear, and Jack Kerouacs On the Road are other literary examples.
Mark Twain (1835-1910) is the penname of Samuel L. Clemens, the writer H.L. Mencken
called "the true father of our national literature." This title may be justified, for Twain made a
more extensive combination of American folk humor and serious literature than previous writer
shad done. Clemens was born in the backwoods of Missouri, but while he was yet a small boy
the family moved to Hannibal on the Mississippi River. There Sam developed a passion for the
river and a desire to become the pilot on a riverboat. This was the dream of all the boys along the
river, and Twain was very proud of himself when, later on, he actually became a pilot. Clemens'
father had wanted to be a lawyer, and did actually serve as a justice of the peace and judge, but
had to make his living as a farmer and storekeeper. He was a popular man in Hannibal, but
remained poor, and when he died Sam was apprenticed to a printer. Thus at age 11 Sam's formal
schooling ended, though he continued to read extensively. As was the case with many 19thcentury writers, the print shop and journalism served as preparation for his literary career.
After working on his brother's news-paper for a while, in 1854 Sam set out on his own,
working as a printer in various Eastern and mid-western towns. In 1856 he fulfilled his boyhood
dream by becoming a river boat pilot. When the boats stopped operating during the Civil War,
Clemens served for a time as a volunteer soldier and then, in 1862, he went West .Clemens first
wrote for a newspaper in Nevada and then moved to San Francisco. During this period he wrote
mainly humorous sketches, the most famous being "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras
County." Between 1865 and1870, Clemens went on tours of Hawaii, Europe, and the Middle
East as a correspondent; later his adventures served as the subject of several books. His newspaper accounts of his travels spread his popularity, so that on his return he also became a
successful humorous lecturer.

In 1870, Clemens married a wealthy and rather aristocratic girl and settled in the East,
first in Buffalo and then permanently in Hartford, Connecticut. When he moved to Hartford,
Clemens gave up journalism to make fiction writing his career. His writing was popular and sold
well, although he sometimes found lecture tours necessary to supplement his income. In
Hartford, Clemens was surrounded by a wealthy, genteel society including several other popular
authors of the time, and it has been assumed that this influence modified the boisterous writer of
news-paper days, curbing his wit and social criticism.
This assumption is not entirely true, for the "Mark Twain" who appeared
autobiographically in the stories of the West, and the Samuel Clemens of Hartford society were
both, to some degree, social poses. Clemens' work does not suffer from being overly genteel, and
his satirical writing is a sharp attack on society. In his last years, Clemens became increasingly
bitter; some of his writing of this period is so pessimistic that he withheld it from publication.
The typical motif in Clemens' writing was the narration of a story by a young or naive person or
a story in which the main character was an Easterner unaccustomed to frontier life. In Clemens'
stories the over-refined Easterner was usually outwit-ted by Westerners. When he wrote from a
youth's perspective, the youth was usually wise beyond his years but retained an idealism which
Clemens contrasted with the hypocrisy and cruelty of the adult world.
Ernest Hemingways famous statement that all of American literature comes from one
great book, Twains Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, indicates this authors towering place in the
tradition. Early 19th-century American writers tended to be too flowery, sentimental, or
ostentatious partially because they were still trying to prove that they could write as elegantly
as the English. Twains style, based on vigorous, realistic, colloquial American speech, gave
American writers a new appreciation of their national voice. Twain was the first major author to
come from the interior of the country, and he captured its distinctive, humorous slang and
iconoclasm.
For Twain and other American writers of the late 19th century, realism was not merely a
literary technique: It was a way of speaking truth and exploding worn-out conventions.
Thus it was profoundly liberating and potentially at odds with society. The most well-known
example is Huck Finn, a poor boy who decides to follow the voice of his conscience and help a
Negro slave escape to freedom, even though Huck thinks this means that he will be damned to
hell for breaking the law.
Twains masterpiece, which appeared in 1884, is set in the Mississippi River village of St.
Petersburg.
The son of an alcoholic bum, Huck has just been adopted by a respectable family when
his father, in a drunken stupor, threatens to kill him. Fearing for his life, Huck escapes feigning
his own death. He is joined in his escape by another outcast, the slave Jim, whose owner, Miss
Watson, is thinking of selling him down the river to the harsher slavery of the Deep South.
Huck and Jim float on a raft down the majestic Mississippi, but are sunk by a steamboat,
separated, and later reunited. They go through many comical and dangerous shore adventures
that show the variety, generosity, and sometimes cruel irrationality of society. In the end, it is
discovered that Miss Watson had already freed Jim, and a respectable family is taking care of the

wild boy Huck. But Huck grows impatient with civilized society and plans to escape to the
territories Indian lands. The ending gives the reader the counter-version of the classic
American success myth: the open road leading to the pristine wilderness, away from the
morally corrupting influences of civilization. James Fenimore Coopers novels, Walt
Whitmans hymns to the open road, William Faulkners The Bear, and Jack Kerouacs On the
Road are other literary examples.
Huckleberry Finn has inspired countless literary interpretations. Clearly, the novel is a
story of death, rebirth, and initiation. The escaped slave, Jim, becomes a father figure for Huck;
in deciding to save Jim, Huck grows morally beyond the bounds of his slave-owning society. It is
Jims adventures that initiate Huck into the complexities of human nature and give him moral
courage.
The novel also dramatizes Twains ideal of the harmonious community: What you want, above
all things, on a raft is for everybody to be satisfied and feel right and kind toward the others.
Like Melvilles ship the Pequod, the raft sinks, and with it that special community. The
pure, simple world of the raft is ultimately overwhelmed by progress the steamboat but the
mythic image of the river remains, as vast and changing as life itself.
The unstable relationship between reality and illusion is Twains characteristic theme, the
basis of much of his humor. The magnificent yet deceptive, constantly changing river is also the
main feature of his imaginative landscape. In Life on the Mississippi, Twain recalls his training as
a young steamboat pilot when he writes: I went to work now to learn the shape of the river; and
of all the eluding and ungraspable objects that ever I tried to get mind or hands on, that was the
chief. Twains moral sense as a writer echoes his pilots responsibility to steer the ship to safety.
Samuel Clemenss pen name, Mark Twain, is the phrase Mississippi boatmen used to signify
two fathoms (3.6 meters) of water, the depth needed for a boats safe passage. Twains serious
purpose combined with a rare genius for humor and style keep Twains writing fresh and
appealing.

Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions

Like Walt Whitman, Twain works the poetic elements of the English language. Repetition,
both of phrases and of syntax, is one of his stylistic highlights. A useful close reading exercise
could be created from examining sections of the extract from the Autobiography or from A True
Story to see how Twain manipulates the language for poetic or emotional effect.
Dialect, including variants of standard middle-class white dialect, i s another area in which
Twain excels. Buck Fanshawes Funeral and A True Story both show how Twain delighted
in projecting particular points of view through regional dialect. Social class is an issue as wel l
here; students may enjoy trying to sort out ways that Americans classify each other in terms of
race, class, and region.
The framed story, in which a Standard-English-speaking narrator introduces characters and
then sits back while they take over the storys narration, was a standard convention in nineteenth-

century American storytelling, especially in the regionalist stories produced during the
antebellum period. Twain used this convention in stories such as Jumping Frog, Buck
Fanshawes Funeral, and A True Story.
A discussion of the relationship between the framing narrator and the audience, on the one
hand, and the framing narrator and the dialect characters, on the other, can help students
understand some of the literary politics of establishing the legitimacy of dialect voices for a
readership for whom Standard English was the only linguistic variant considered to carry
authority.

Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections

Mark Twain is always cited as one of the artists responsible for creating a uniquely American
form of the English language. Linguistically, he can be compared with writers such as Walt
Whitman, whose experiments with words, syntax, rhythms, and voice are similar.
His short stories are heavily dependent on forms created by earlier regionalist writers,
including the dialect stories in the African-American tradition, so it i s useful to examine his
stories along with those by Augustus Longstreet, George Washington Harris, and Charles
Chesnutt as well as African- American folktales.
Both for comparisons and contrasts, the spectrum of late-nineteenth-century depictions of
American characters can be seen by comparing and contrasting the regionalists who were being
published in the Atlantic Monthly in the late nineteenth century: Twain, Mary E. Wilkins
Freeman, Bret Harte, George Washington Cable, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, and others. And for
contrasts, its always interesting to contemplate the fact that William Dean Howells was close
friends with both Mark Twain and Henry James.
On a different note, in the early twentieth century Twain, Howells, and William James were
all members of the Anti-Imperialist League.
Teachers interested in working with world events might want to create a unit in which issues
of national concern (questions of the color line, for instance) are considered in tandem with
international issues (the Spanish-American War, the Boer War, the Boxer Rebellion). Twain
wrote occasional pieces on all these events, one sign that this writer, like several of his friends,
was ready to begin assessing Americas standing in a global context.

HENRY JAMES
(1843-1916)

Psychological approach to his subject matter;


Concerned more with the inner life of human beings than with overt human actions;

The forerunner of the 20th century stream of consciousness novels and the founder of
psychological realism;
International theme or American innocence in face of European sophistication;
Representative works: The Portrait of a Lady, The Ambassador, The Wings of the Dove,
The Golden Bowl; point of view

HENRY JAMES once wrote that art, especially literary art, makes life, makes interest, makes
importance. Jamess fiction is the most highly conscious, sophisticated, and difficult of its era.
James is noted for his international themethat is, the complex relationships between nave
Americans and cosmopolitan Europeans.
What his biographer Leon Edel calls Jamess first, or international, phase encompassed
such works as The American (1877), Daisy Miller (1879), and a masterpiece, The Portrait of a
Lady (1881). In The American, for example, Christopher Newman, a nave but intelligent and
idealistic self-made millionaire industrialist, goes to Europe seeking a bride. When her family
rejects him because he lacks an aristocratic background, he has a chance to revenge himself; in
deciding not to, he demonstrates his moral superiority.
Jamess second period was experimental. He exploited new subject mattersfeminism and
social reform in The Bostonians (1886) and political intrigue in The Princess Casamassima
(1885). In his third, or major, phase James returned to international subjects, but treated them
with increasing sophistication and psychological penetration.
The complex and almost mythical The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903)
(which James felt was his best novel), and The Golden Bowl (1904) date from this major period.
If the main theme of Twains work is the often humorous difference between pretense and reality,
Jamess constant concern is perception. In James, only self-awareness and clear perception of
others yields wisdom and self-sacrificing love.
Henry James helps in his subtle way to lead us from the 19th into the20th century, just as he
leads us from America to Europe. His principal interest, especially in his many fine novels, is the
confrontation of American and European culture. He is also concerned with the clash between
the old and the new, between the dying century and the one just beginning.
James was born in New York City, the second child of wealthy, somewhat aristocratic
parents. His father, Henry James, Sr., was a philosopher and a friend of Emerson's; his brother
William became a prominent philosopher and psychologist. Henry James, Sr. disapproved of
most schools and consequently, sent his sons to a variety of tutors and European schools in
search of the best education for them. The children received the major part of their education at
home, however, in lively conversations with their father and the other children.
The James family's travels in Europe were another source of education for Henry. When he
was growing up in New York, Henry was given a great deal of independence, so much in fact,
that he felt isolated from other people. A quiet child among exuberant brothers and cousins,
Henry was more often an observer than a participant in their activities.
When, as a young man, a back injury prevented his fighting in the Civil War, he felt even
more excluded from the events of his time. While the adult Henry James developed many close

friendships, he retained his attitude of observer, and devoted much of his life to solitary work on
his writing. Henry's family lived for a time in Boston, where he became acquainted with New
England authors and friends of his father, began his friendship with William Dean Howells, and
attended Harvard Law School.
After 1866, James lived in Europe much of the time and in 1875 decided to make it his
permanent home. He lived in Paris for a year, where he met Turgenev, Flaubert, and Zola. The
next year he settled in London and lived there and in the English countryside for the rest of his
life. In 1915, a year before his death, to show his support of England in World War I, James
became a British citizen.
Henry James first achieved recognition as a writer of the "international novel "a story which
brings together persons of various nationalities who represent certain characteristics of their
country. The Europeans in James' novels are more cultured, more concerned with art, and more
aware of the subtleties of social situations than are James' Americans.
The Americans, however, usually have a morality and innocence which the Europeans lack.
James seemed to value both the sophistication of Europe and the idealism of America. Of the
prominent New England writers who had dominated American literature, James preferred
Hawthorne, with his recognition of the evil present in the world, to the Transcendentalists, whose
optimism seemed unrealistic to him. James' later books put less emphasis on the international
theme and are more concerned with the psychology of his characters.
His most mature, and perhaps his best, novels are considered to be his last three: The Golden
Bowl, The Ambassadors, and The Wings of the Dove. James himself considered The
Ambassadors his best work.
Henry James once wrote that art, especially literary art, makes life, makes interest, and
makes importance. Jamess fiction and criticism is the most highly conscious, sophisticated, and
difficult of its era. With Twain, James is generally ranked as the greatest American novelist of the
second half of the 19th century.
James is noted for his international theme that is, the complex relationships between
nave Americans and cosmopolitan Europeans.

Modernism: 1900-1946
MODERNISM AND EXPERIMENTATION
Many historians have characterized the period between the two world wars as the United
States traumatic coming of age, despite the fact that U.S. direct involvement was relatively
brief (1917-1918) and its casualties many fewer than those of its European allies and foes.
Shocked and permanently changed, Americans soldiers returned to their homeland, but could
never regain their innocence. Nor could soldiers from rural America easily return to their roots.
After experiencing the world, many now yearned for a modern, urban life.
In the postwar big boom, business flourished, and the successful prospered beyond
their wildest dreams. For the first time, many Americans enrolled in higher educationin the
1920s college enrollment doubled. The middle class prospered; Americans began to enjoy the
worlds highest national average income in this era.
Americans of the Roaring Twenties fell in love with modern entertainments. Most
people went to the movies once a week. Although Prohibitiona nationwide ban on the sale of
alcohol instituted through the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitutionbegan in 1919, illegal
speakeasies (bars) and nightclubs proliferated, featuring jazz music, cocktails, and daring
modes of dress and dance. Dancing, movie going, automobile touring, and radio were national
crazes. American women, in particular, felt liberated. They cut their hair short (bobbed), wore
short flapper dresses, and gloried in the right to vote assured by the 19th Amendment to the
Constitution, passed in 1920. They boldly spoke their mind and took public roles in society.
In spite of this prosperity, Western youths on the cultural edge were a state of intellectual
rebellion, angry and disillusioned with the savage war, as well as the older generation they held
responsible. Ironically, difficult postwar economic conditions in Europe allowed Americans with
dollarslike writers F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Poundto
live abroad handsomely on very little money, and to soak up the postwar disillusionment, as well
as other European intellectual currents, particularly Freudian psychology and to a lesser extent
Marxism.
Numerous novels, notably Hemingways The Sun Also Rises (1926) and Fitzgeralds
This Side of Paradise (1920), evoke the extravagance and disillusionment of what American
expatriate writer Gertrude Stein dubbed the lost generation. In T.S. Eliots influential long

poem The Waste Land (1922), Western civilization is symbolized by a bleak desert in
desperate need of rain (spiritual renewal).
The large cultural wave of Modernism, which emerged in Europe, and then spread to the
United States in the early years of the 20th century, expressed a sense of modern life through art
as a sharp break from the past. As modern machinery had changed the pace, atmosphere, and
appearance of daily life in the early 20th century, so many artists and writers, with varying
degrees of success, reinvented traditional artistic forms and tried to find radically new onesan
aesthetic echo of what people had come to call the machine age.
Modernism
World War I
The Great Depression
World War II
Content:
dominant
mood:
alienation and
disconnection
people
unable
to
communicate
effectively
fear of eroding traditions
and grief
over loss of the past

Effect:

Characteristics:

common readers are alienated


by this literature.
-booming industry and material
prosperity in contrast with a
sense of unease and restlessness
underneath;
-a decline in moral standard
described as a spiritual poverty;
-the impact of war feelings of
fear, loss, disorientation and
disillusionment

1. Sense of disillusionment and


loss of faith in the American
Dream: the independence, selfreliant, individual will triumph.
2.
Emphasis
on
bold
experimentation in style and form
over the traditional reflecting the
fragmentation of society.
3. Interest in the inner workings of
the human mind (ex. Stream of
consciousness).
-Rejection of traditional themes

Historical Context:
overwhelming
technological
changes of the 20th Century
World War I was the first
war of
mass destruction due to
technological advances
rise of the youth culture
Modern
life
seemed
radically different from
traditional life more
scientific,
faster,
more
technological, and more
mechanized.

Genre/Style:
A.
Dominant
mood:
alienation/disconnection
B. Writing highly experimental:
use of fragments, stream of
consciousness, interior dialogue
C. Writers seek to create a unique
style

and subjects
-Sense of disillusionment and loss
of faith in the American Dream
-Rejection of the ideal hero as
infallible in favor of a hero who is
flawed and disillusioned but shows
grace under pressure

F. SCOTT FITZGERALD
(1896-1940)

1. The Great Gatsby (ironic and tragic treatment of the American success myth)
2. his work and life illustrate American culture of the 1920's
FRANCIS SCOTT KEY FITZGERALDS (1896-1940) life resembles a fairy tale. During
World War I, Fitzgerald enlisted in the U.S. Army and fell in love with a rich and beautiful girl,
Zelda Sayre, who lived near Montgomery, Alabama, where he was stationed. After he was
discharged at wars end, he went to seek his literary fortune in New York City in order to marry
her.
His first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), became a best-seller, and at 24 they married.
Neither of them was able to withstand the stresses of success and fame, and they squandered
their money. They moved to France to economize in 1924, and returned seven years later. Zelda
became mentally unstable and had to be institutionalized; Fitzgerald himself became an alcoholic
and died young as a movie screenwriter.
Fitzgeralds secure place in American literature rests primarily on his novel The Great
Gatsby (1925), a brilliantly written, economically structured story about the American dream of
the self-made man. The protagonist, the mysterious Jay Gatsby, discovers the devastating cost of
success in terms of personal fulfillment and love. More than any other writer, Fitzgerald captured
the glittering, desperate life of the 1920s.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, but the Middle West was not the
setting for any of his major works. After he entered New Jersey's socially prestigious Princeton
University he tried to eradicate his origins, though he was unhappy at college in many ways and
felt keenly his inferiority to such classmates as the brilliant literary critic, Edmund Wilson, and to
all those others who were born rich and born Easterners.
When the United States entered World War I, he enlisted in the Army, and in a training
camp in Alabama met Zelda, the Southern belle who became his wife and who was the model for
most of the beautiful, gay heroines of his fiction. He became a writer in order to earn enough
money to marry her, and his life with her furnished his greatest happiness as well as his greatest
misery and pain.
His first novel, This Side of Paradise, was published in 1920, the same year as Sinclair
Lewis's Main Street, but the two novels reflect two completely different worlds. Fitzgerald's
concerns the world of youth, excited though somewhat cynical, and the parties and love affairs of
the rich and the would-be rich; Lewis' deals with solid middle-class citizens of Minnesota, where
both writers were born not too many miles apart. Fitzgerald was the spokesman for youth; he
sensed the romantic yearnings of the time, and the yearnings of the Jazz Age, and he put them
into his fiction. By comparison, Lewis' young heroine seem sold-fashioned, stodgy and idealistic,
not a tall the "new" woman.
Fitzgerald's best novel, The Great Gats-by, was published in 1925. By then Fitzgerald was
himself rich, though his earnings could never keep pace with his and Zelda's extravagance. He
had attained undeniable success as a writer, a serious novelist, and prolific producer of potboilers short stories for slick magazines.
He also knew that between the peaks of joy were periods of sorrow; and as the decade
went on, the high points became fewer, the sorrow truly terrible.
The Great Gatsby reflects Fitzgerald's deeper knowledge, his recognition that wanting to
be happy does not insure one's being so and that pursuit of entertainment may only cover a lot of
pain. The parts of Chapter 3 reprinted below describe one of Gatsby's fabulous parties this
expensive, rented estate outside of New York. The person telling the story, Nick Carraway, is
Fitzgerald's spokesman for decent, rational men. Gatsby, with his vast new wealth acquired by
breaking the Prohibition laws, represents extravagance and optimism and the desperate need of
the outsider to "belong." The chapter begins with Carraways description of the elaborate
preparations for Gatsby's parties, which he could watch because he lived inthe house next door to
Gatsby. The book then tells what happened at the first of the parties he attended. What
distinguishes these pages is their remarkable evocation of an atmosphere of conflict and paradox.
The party is crowded and yet empty. The night is beautiful but garish, the scene made of tin-sel.
Fitzgerald's skill lies in his making a reader experience both emotions at once, and keenly. The
scene epitomizes the Jazz Age, its superficiality and tawdriness and its equally powerful
sweetness and charm.
Fitzgeralds secure place in American literature rests primarily on his novel The Great
Gatsby (1925), a brilliantly written, economically structured story about the American dream of

the self-made man. The protagonist, the mysterious Jay Gatsby, discovers the devastating cost of
success in terms of personal fulfillment and love. Other fine works include Tender Is the Night
(1934), about a young psychiatrist whose life is doomed by his marriage to an unstable woman,
and some stories in the collections Flappers and Philosophers (1920), Tales of the Jazz Age
(1922), and All the Sad Young Men (1926). More than any other writer, Fitzgerald captured the
glittering, desperate life of the 1920s; This Side of Paradise was heralded as the voice of modern
American youth. His second novel, The Beautiful and the Damned (1922), continued his
exploration of the self-destructive extravagance of his times.
Fitzgeralds special qualities include a dazzling style perfectly suited to his theme of
seductive glamour.
A famous section from The Great Gatsby masterfully summarizes a long passage of time:
There was music from my neighbors house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens
men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the
stars.

Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, Personal Issues

In May Day, note how the story contrasts the smug complacency of Philip Dean with the
disintegrating circumstances of his classmate, Gordon Sterret. Look for similar contrasts in the
story, such as the juxtapositions of celebration and suicide, frivolity and despair, hope and
bitterness. How do these conflicting attitudes darken the sense of postwar jubilation the narrator
ironically refers to at the beginning of the story?

Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions

In May Day, how does the episodic structure of the story reinforce feelings of alienation
and impending disaster both among the characters and in the readers? How does the ironic,
almost sarcastic tone of the narrator color our view of events in the story in particular and i n
postWorld War I America in general?

Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections

The following stories in The Heath Anthology might provide a useful frame of reference:
Hemingways Hills Like White Elephants; Porters Flowering Judas; Toomers BloodBurning Moon, Seventh Street, and Box Seat. All involve landscape, social milieu,
memory, and transitional moments of experience.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY
(1898-1961)

1. Writing style: concise, direct, spare, objective, precise, rhythmic


2. Major works include The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The
Old Man and the Sea
3. a larger than life hero; big game hunter; sport fisherman; headliner; won Pulitzer Prize and
Nobel Prize for Literature
- Extremely influenced by newspaper background; his style is characterized by
- Short sentences
- Brief paragraphs
- Active verbs
- Authenticity
- Compression
- Clarity
- Immediacy
- Wanted his readers to look beyond the surface to the reality underneath the words

Hemingways Code

Accept there are no guidelines, no rules for life


Face reality: see things as they are, no matter how difficult, rather than as you might
wish them to be
Contain your despair and self-pity by sheer will power. Give into despair only in private
or in the company of another member of the breed, someone who thinks the way you do
Dont make trouble for others
Impose some meaning on a meaningless universe by achieving form through ritual
Dont judge others; instead, view the unenlightened with irony and pity
THIS VERY MACHO CODE could first be seen in The Sun Also Rises

The Key Hemingway Facts

In his day, Hemingway was a larger than life hero, a big game hunter, sport fisherman,
and headline the world over (he was in more magazine covers than Cindy Crawford).
The Hemingway Code advocated grace under pressure. In the face of a meaningless
world, a hero must establish his own values by facing life courageously and by acting
honestly in terms of the reality.
Hemingways simple, spare, and concise style has influenced generations of writers.

Hemingways major works: The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell
Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea.

Few writers have lived as colorfully as ERNEST HEMINGWAY (1899-1961), whose career
could have come out of one his adventurous novels. Like Fitzgerald, Dreiser, and many other
fine novelists of the 20th century, Hemingway came from the U.S. Midwest. He volunteered for
an ambulance unit in France during World War I, but was wounded and hospitalized for six
months. After the war, as a war correspondent based in Paris, he met expatriate American writers
Sherwood Anderson, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. Stein, in particular,
influenced his spare style.
After his novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926), brought him fame, he continued to work as a
journalist, covering the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and the fighting in China in the 1940s.
On a safari in Africa, he was injured when his small plane crashed; still, he continued to enjoy
hunting and sport fishing, activities that inspired some of his best work. The Old Man and the
Sea (1952), a short, poetic novel about a poor, old fisherman whose huge fish, caught in the open
ocean, is devoured by sharks, won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1953; the next year he received the
Nobel Prize. Discouraged by a troubled family background, illness, and the belief that he was
losing his gift for writing, Hemingway shot himself to death in 1961. Hemingway is arguably the
most popular American novelist. His sympathies are basically apolitical and humanistic, and in
this sense he is universal.
Like Fitzgerald, Hemingway became a spokesman for his generation. But instead of painting
its fatal glamour as did Fitzgerald, who never fought in World War I, Hemingway wrote of war,
death, and the lost generation of cynical survivors. His characters are not dreamers, but tough
bullfighters, soldiers, and athletes. If intellectual, they are deeply scarred and disillusioned. His
hallmark is a clean style devoid of unnecessary words. Often he uses understatement: In A
Farewell to Arms (1929) the heroine dies in childbirth saying Im not a bit afraid. Its just a
dirty trick. He once compared his writing to icebergs: There is seven-eighths of it under water
for every part that shows.
Hemingway was born in Illinois. His family took him, as a boy, on frequent hunting and
fishing trips and so acquainted him early with the kinds of virtues, such as courage and
endurance, which were later reflected in his fiction. After high school, he worked as a newspaper reporter and then went overseas to take part in World War 1.
After the war he lived for several years in Paris, where he became part of a group of
Americans who felt alienated from their country. They considered themselves a lost generation.
It was not long before he began publishing remarkable and completely individual short stories.
The year he left Paris he published the powerful novel, The Sun Also Rises.
His subjects were often war and its effects on people, or contests, such as hunting or
bullfighting, which demand stamina and courage. Hemingway's style of writing is striking. His
sentences are short, his words simple, yet they are often filled with emotion. A careful reading
can show us; furthermore, that he is a master of the pause.

That is, if we look closely, we see how the action of his stories continues during the silences,
during the times his characters say nothing. This action is often full of meaning. There are times
when the most powerful effect comes from restraint. Such times occur often in Hemingway's
fiction. He perfected the art of conveying emotion with few words. In contrast to the Romantic
writer, who often emphasizes abundance and even excess, Hemingway is a Classicist in his
restraint and understatement. He believes, with many other Classicists that the strongest effect
comes with an economy of means.
This is not to say that his work is either emotionless or dull. "In Another Country," the short
story reprinted in the next pages, is filled with emotional overtones. Its dominant feeling is one
of pity for misfortunes that can never be remedied. A hand crippled is, and will always be, a hand
crippled. A beloved wife lost through death is lost indeed. Perhaps we should be resigned to such
misfortunes, but the Italian major in this story laments that he cannot be resigned. The tragedies
of life cannot really be remedied.
Hemingway is arguably the most popular American novelist of this century.
His sympathies are basically apolitical and humanistic, and in this sense he is universal. His
simple style makes his novels easy to comprehend, and they are often set in exotic surroundings.
A believer in the cult of experience, Hemingway often involved his characters in dangerous
situations in order to reveal their inner natures; in his later works, the danger sometimes becomes
an occasion for masculine assertion.
Like Fitzgerald, Hemingway became a spokesperson for his generation. But instead of
painting its fatal glamour as did Fitzgerald, who never fought in World War I,
Hemingway wrote of war, death, and the lost generation of cynical survivors.
His characters are not dreamers but tough bullfighters, soldiers, and athletes. If
intellectual, they are deeply scarred and disillusioned.
His hallmark is a clean style devoid of unnecessary words. Often he uses understatement:
In A Farewell to Arms (1929) the heroine dies in childbirth saying Im not a bit afraid. Its just a
dirty trick. He once compared his writing to icebergs:
There is seven-eighths of it under water for every part that shows.
Hemingways fine ear for dialogue and exact description shows in his excellent short
stories, such as The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.
Critical opinion, in fact, generally holds his short stories equal or superior to his novels. His best
novels include The Sun Also Rises, about the demoralized life of expatriates after World War I; A
Farewell to Arms, about the tragic love affair of an American soldier and an English nurse during
the war; For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), set during the Spanish Civil War; and The Old Man
and the Sea.

Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, Personal Issues

Hills is a good story to shatter the false impression that Hemingway was insensitive to
women. This carefully constructed vignette has a nameless man and woman discussing their
relationship against the backdrop of the mountain landscape. As in the very best of Hemingways
novels and stories, the authorial stance is ambiguous; readers must pay close attention to small
details to understand the progress of the narrative. Students should be encouraged to focus on the
dialogue between the man and girl in order to discern their relationship. The issue of abortion
and how each speaker feels about it is central to the story. Yet abortion itself is not the main
issue; it is the not-too-subtle pressure the man is placing on the girl to have the abortion that
is the key issue.

Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions

Hemingways minimalist style deserves consideration. If Faulkner confuses readers because


he offers so many details for readers to sift through in order to understand whats going on,
Hemingway confuses by offering so few.

Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections

Of many possible works of comparison, one of the most fruitful would be T. S. Eliots The
Waste Land. Compare this rootless couple escaping the commitment of parenthood with Eliots
set of lovers in Book II of his poem. The song of the nightingale so rudely forced is Jug, Jug,
which is echoed in the mans choice of a nickname for the girl.

WILLIAM FAULKNER
(1897-1962)

Born to an old southern family, WILLIAM HARRISON FAULKNER (1897-1962) was


raised in Oxford, Mississippi, where he lived most of his life. Faulkner re-creates the history of
the land and the various races who have lived on it. An innovative writer, Faulkner experimented
brilliantly with narrative chronology, different points of view and voices (including those of
outcasts, children, and illiterates), and a rich and demanding baroque style, built of extremely
long sentences.
The best of Faulkners novels include The Sound and the Fury (1929) and As I Lay
Dying (1930), two modernist works experimenting with viewpoint and voice to probe southern
families under the stress of losing a family member; Light in August (1932), about complex and
violent relations between a white woman and a black man; and Absalom, Absalom! (1936),
perhaps his finest, about the rise of a self-made plantation owner and his tragic fall.

19 of Faulkners novels centered around the fictional Yoknapatawpha County which


was a fictional rendering of his birthplace
- He focused on Southern memory, Southern reality, and Southern myth
Nearly all of Faulkners characters carry the guilt of slavery. In his novels, this guilt
takes one step further: any white person who admits that blacks and whites are equal is
defying the codes and concepts of the Old South and alienates himself from his family,
his society, and his heritage.
- His novels are pessimistic, though he wasnt

Faulkners Style

Included many experimental techniques


Stream of consciousness
Interior monologues
Discontinuous time, fragmenting chronological order
Multiple narrators
Allusions, often to mythology and the Bible
Southern dialects
Complex sentence structures
Elements of the Gothic romance (necrophilia, macabre events, ghosts, and so on)
Allegory (characters represent allegorical figures such as Death)

His Biggies
Sartoris the novel concerns itself with the relationship between the present and the past
As I Lay Dying his 5th and shortest novel.
Sanctuary an intentionally shocking novel concerns a man, a corncob, and a girl. Yuk.
Light in August deals with the loneliness brought on by hatred, alienation, and society.
Absalom, Absalom incest and race relations
The Unvanquished
The Wild Palms
The Hamlet
Go Down, Moses
Intruder in the Dust another race story
The Sound and the Fury probably his greatest masterpiece

Though Faulkner never became an expatriate as Hemingway did, he nevertheless returned


home as an out-sider. He tells his own story most directly in Sartoris. When young Bayard
Sartoris comes back to the Mississippi town he had left when he went to war, he is desperate to
know what to do. He knows that some-thing inside him is wrong, but he is not really sure either

of the disease or its cure. He wanders around the town and the surrounding countryside, talking
with people, sometimes quarreling with them.
He drinks liquor the more eagerly because the nation has passed the Prohibition law and
alcohol is now illegal. The liquor, however, gives him only temporary forget fullness. The
desperation is still there. In a key section of this novel by Faulkner we follow Bayard Sartoris
through a reckless, futile day. He gets drunk in the backroom of the local store. Then he goes
with a friend to look at some horses and sees a very spirited stallion.
He jumps on it; the horse runs off wildly and Bayard is knocked unconscious by a tree limb.
A sour first excerpt opens, it is nighttime and, head bandaged, Bayard must while away the night.
With him is a salesman named Hub, a freight agent named Mitch, and three Negroes. The
Negroes are a musical trio, brought along to, serenade with their instruments. They all ride in
Bayard's automobile.
They are a varied group. Hub and Mitchare both white but much lower on the social scale
than Bayard, and they know it. The Negroes are at the bottom of the scale. As Faulkner treats
them, they are anonymous but are sympathetically described. In later works Faulkner put into his
novels some of the most memorable Negroes to appear in American literature. Although they are
usually shown from a Southern point of view, Faulkner is perfectly aware that Negroes are
human beings like himself, but ones who have suffered much because of the color of their skin.
He treats them more sympathetically in his hooks than he treats the poor whites, whom he
sometimes shows in a very unfavorable light. The worst whites in his work, created as the
members of a family named Snopes, are almost inhuman in their evil energy. He had not yet
created them when he wrote Sartoris. They appear in some of his later novels, where they crowd
out people like the Sartorises, the futile aristocrats. Hub and Mitch in Sartoris, however, are
decent men; nothing like the clan of Snopes.
Faulkner re-creates the history of the land and the various races Indian, African-American,
Euro-American, and various mixtures who have lived on it. An innovative writer, Faulkner
experimented brilliantly with narrative chronology, different points of view and voices (including
those of outcasts, children, and illiterates), and a rich and demanding baroque style built of
extremely long sentences full of complicated subordinate parts.
The best of Faulkners novels include The Sound and the Fury (1929) and As I Lay Dying
(1930), two modernist works experimenting with viewpoint and voice to probe southern families
under the stress of losing a family member; Light in August (1932), about complex and violent
relations between a white woman and a black man; and Absalom, Absalom! (1936), perhaps his
finest, about the rise of a self-made plantation owner and his tragic fall through racial prejudice
and a failure to love.
Most of these novels use different characters to tell parts of the story and demonstrate how
meaning resides in the manner of telling, as much as in the subject at hand.
The use of various viewpoints makes Faulkner more self-referential, or reflexive, than
Hemingway or Fitzgerald; each novel reflects upon itself, while it simultaneously unfolds a story

of universal interest. Faulkners themes are southern tradition, family, community, the land,
history and the past, race, and the passions of ambition and love.
He also created three novels focusing on the rise of a degenerate family, the Snopes clan: The
Hamlet (1940), The Town (1957), and The Mansion (1959).

Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, Personal Issues

Highlight Faulkners tremendous importance as an interpreter of historyand not just


Southern or American historyat a critical moment when modernism emerged as a questioning,
probing tool used to redefine human nature and our relationship to nature. Issues of sex, class,
and, above all, race should be explored using a battery of interdisciplinary techniques, including
historical, social, anthropological, economic, political, and feminist perspectives. Barn
Burning, for example, has been profitably analyzed by Marxist critics as a class struggle.
Gender formation operates centrally in Faulkners stories. Interestingly, each of these
processes intersects with issues of class and community. These conjunctions could and should be
profitably explored and linked to the way Faulkner struggled with them in his own life. Al l three
stories employ mythic/ biblical structures in the service of these various thematic; students
should be asked to identify them and demonstrate why they are effective.

Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions

Faulkner needs to be understood in both the context of Southern literary traditions and
modernism. Barn Burning, for example, in its employment of Jamesian point of view as
confined to Sartys consciousness, requires detailed analysis of its narrative structure, its
language, and the consequent effects on the reader. Both stories attempt to present complicated
psychological conditions and situations while adhering to the firm realities of dramatic plotting.

Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections

Faulkner needs to be related to the other great modernists who so influenced him, especially
Joyce and Eliot, and his work should and could be profitably compared and contrasted with the
similar but sometimes very different literary experiments of Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald,
Wright, and so on. Barn Burning can easily be contrasted with Huckleberry Finn, where a
young boy must abandon his fathers standards in favor of more humane, just ones, or with a
female bildungsroman such as Whartons Summer.
The injustices of sharecropping discussed by Faulkner could be examined alongside other
treatments of rural life such as Hamlin Garlands Under the Lions Paw or Richard Wrights
Long Black Song and The Man Who Was Almost a Man; the latter similarly focuses on a

young boys coming of age against a rural backdrop. Twain, Morrison, and Oates could be
helpful in explaining the interconnections between the bildungsroman and psychological fiction.

Eugene ONeill
(18881953)

Eugene ONeill is the great figure of American theater. His numerous plays combine
enormous technical originality with freshness of vision and emotional depth. ONeills earliest
dramas concern the working class and poor; later works explore subjective realms, such as
obsessions and sex, and underscore his reading in Freud and his anguished attempt to come to
terms with his dead mother, father, and brother.
His play Desire Under the Elms (1924) recreates the passions hidden within one family;
The Great God Brown (1926) uncovers the unconsciousness of a wealthy businessman; and
Strange Interlude (1928), a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, traces the tangled loves of one woman.
These powerful plays reveal different personalities reverting to primitive emotions or confusion
under intense stress.
ONeill continued to explore the Freudian pressures of love and dominance within
families in a trilogy of plays collectively entitled Mourning Becomes Electra (1931), based on
the classical Oedipus trilogy by Sophocles. His later plays include the acknowledged
masterpieces The Iceman Cometh (1946), a stark work on the theme of death, and Long Days
Journey Into Night (1956) a powerful, extended autobiography in dramatic form focusing on
his own family and their physical and psychological deterioration, as witnessed in the course of
one night. This work was part of a cycle of plays ONeill was working on at the time of his
death.
ONeill redefined the theater by abandoning traditional divisions into acts and scenes
(Strange Interlude has nine acts, and Mourning Becomes Electra takes nine hours to perform);
using masks such as those found in Asian and ancient Greek theater; introducing Shakespearean
monologues and Greek choruses; and producing special effects through lighting and sound. He is
generally acknowledged to have been Americas foremost dramatist. In 1936 he received the
Nobel Prize for Literature the first American playwright to be so honored.

Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, Personal Issues

Personal Issues: ONeills relationship to women, particularly his blaming of his mother for
his fall from innocence; ONeills lapsed faith in the Catholic God, leading to a philosophical
search similar to Yanks; ONeills love of death.

Historical Issues: modern industrial capitalism as destructive of harmony (Paddy versus


Yank) but ONeills lack of faith in social solutions (repudiation of Long).
Themes: alienation as major theme, not belongingdramatized in dialogue, setting, sound
effects, and character distortions as well as in action, a quintessential modern theme.

Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions

The primary question is the theatrical mode of expressionism, and why ONeill chose a style
employing distortion and fragmentation for themes of industrialism and alienation.
A related issue is how this expresses the experimental spirit of the 1920s and the questioning of
American bourgeois culture spearheaded by Mencken and othersparticularly the recognition of
class divisions apparent in other works, like Gatsby.

Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections

As indicated above, the play invites comparison with The Waste Land (fragmentation) and
The Great Gatsby (social criticism) as well as with figures like Stephen Crane and Theodore
Dreiser and Jack London (the latter influenced ONeill, in fact), whose American naturalism
emphasized the animal, instinctual behavior of man. Darwinism, the struggle toward evolution
(note Yanks emergence from the sea onto land in scene 5) clearly informs the assumptions of the
play.

T. S. Eliot
(18881965)

1. Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (what is our place in the universe? how can anyone love and
communicate with anyone else?)
2. The Waste-Land (the failure of Western civilization, illustrated by WWI)
We know too much, and are convinced of too little. Our literature is a substitute for religion,
and so is our religion,
- Created poetry that is complex, packed w/ obscure allusions, and based on the rhythms of
natural speech.
- Although an American, gave up citizenship and became British in 1926 and shortly after
converted to Episcopalian. Saw religion as the antidote for the type of spiritual emptiness
he described in poems such as The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Waste
Land
- Eliots poem The Waste-Land, the most important poem of the first half of 20 th century,
deals with the failure of Western civilization, illustrated by WWI.

Also wrote plays, such as Murder in the Cathedral and The Cocktail Party

THOMAS STEARNS ELIOT (1888-1965) received the best education of any major
American writer of his generation at Harvard College, the Sorbonne, and Oxford University. He
studied Sanskrit and Oriental philosophy, which influenced his poetry. Like his friend, the poet
Ezra Pound, he went to England early and became a towering figure in the literary world there.
One of the most respected poets of his day, his modernist, seemingly illogical or abstract
iconoclastic poetry had revolutionary impact.
In The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915), the T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) ineffectual,
elderly Prufrock thinks to himself that he has measured out his life in coffee spoonsthe
image of the coffee spoons reflecting a humdrum existence and a wasted lifetime. The famous
beginning of Eliots Prufrock invites the reader into tawdry urban alleyways that, like modern
life, offer no answers to the questions of life:
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table.
Similar imagery pervades The Waste Land (1922), which echoes Dantes Inferno to evoke
Londons thronged streets around the time of World War I:
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many
I had not thought death had undone so many...
Although American prose between the wars experimented with viewpoint and form,
Americans wrote more realistically, on the whole, than did Europeans. The importance of facing
reality became a dominant theme in the 1920s and 1930s: Writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and
the playwright Eugene ONeill repeatedly portrayed the tragedy awaiting those who live in
flimsy dreams.
One of the most respected poets of his day, his modernist, seemingly illogical or abstract
iconoclastic poetry had revolutionary impact. He also wrote influential essays and dramas, and
championed the importance of literary and social traditions for the modern poet.
As a critic, Eliot is best remembered for his formulation of the objective correlative, which he
described, in The Sacred Wood, as a means of expressing emotion through a set of objects, a
situation, a chain of events that would be the formula of that particular emotion.
Poems such as The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915) embody this approach,
when the ineffectual, elderly Prufrock thinks to himself that he has measured out his life in
coffee spoons, using coffee spoons to reflect a humdrum existence and a wasted lifetime.
The famous beginning of Eliots Prufrock invites the reader into tawdry alleys that, like
modern life, offer no answers to the questions life poses:
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread

out against the sky


Like a patient etherized upon
a table;
Let us go, through certain halfdeserted
streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night
cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with
oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a
tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming
question...
Oh, do not ask, What is it?
Let us go and make
our visit.
Similar imagery pervades The Waste Land (1922), which echoes Dantes Inferno to evoke
Londons thronged streets around the time of World War I:
Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter
dawn,
A crowd flowed over London
Bridge, so many
I had not thought death had
undone so many... (I, 60-63)
The Waste Lands vision is ultimately apocalyptic and worldwide:
Cracks and reforms and bursts
in the violet air
Falling towers
Jerusalem, Athens, Alexandria
Vienna London
Unreal (V, 373-377)
Eliots other major poems include Gerontion (1920), which uses an elderly man to
symbolize the decrepitude of Western society; The Hollow Men (1925), a moving dirge for the
death of the spirit of contemporary humanity; Ash-Wednesday (1930), in which he turns
explicitly toward the Church of England for meaning in human life; and Four Quartets (1943), a
complex, highly subjective, experimental meditation on transcendent subjects such as time, the

nature of self, and spiritual awareness. His poetry, especially his daring, innovative early work,
has influenced generations.

Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, Personal Issues

The symbolism of the waste land, garden, water, city, stairs, and so on, as Eliot expresses the
themes of time, death-rebirth, levels of love (and attitude toward women), and the quest motif on
psychological, metaphysical, and aesthetic levels. Dantes four levelsthe literal (Eliots use of
geographic place is more basic than has been given sufficient attention), allegorical, moral, and
anagogicare interesting to trace throughout Eliots developing canon. The relations between
geographic place and vision; between the personal, individual talent and the strong sense of
tradition, are also significant.

Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions

Eliots relation to romanticism, his significance in the development (with Ezra Pound) of
modernism, and his role as an expatriate effecting a reconciliation with America in The Dry
Salvages are all important considerations. His techniques of juxtaposition, aggregation of
images, symbolism, the use of multiple literary allusions, and the influence of Dante are all
worth attention, as is his use of free verse and many various poetic forms. Note also the
musicality of his verse and his use of verbal repetition as well as clusters of images and symbols.

Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections

Compare Eliot with Ezra Pound, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, and Wallace
Stevens. Pound for his influence as the better craftsman and for his early recognition of and
plumping for Eliot; all of these poets for their combined (but differing) contribution to
modernism and the search for reality as a way out of the heart of darkness. Williams and
Stevens (Adamic poets) make interesting contrasts with their different goals and techniques:
Williams criticizing Eliots lack of immediacy, Stevens commenting that Eliot did not make the
visible a little difficult
to see.