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1.1. Aims of the unit.
1.2. Notes on bibliography.


2.1. Before the Civil War.
3.1.1. War of Independence (1778-1783).
3.1.2. The aftermath of the war. Social consequences. Economic consequences. Political consequences.
2.2. The Civil War (1861-1865).
2.3. The aftermath of the Civil War (1865-1901).
2.3.1. Social consequences.
2.3.2. Economic consequences.
2.3.3. Political consequences.


3.1. Main literary features: romantic and post-colonial literature.
3.2. Main literary forms.
3.2.1. Drama.
3.2.2. Prose: the novel and short story.
3.2.3. Poetry.


4.1. Herman Melville (1819-1891).
4.1.1. Life and works.
4.1.2. Main themes and style.
4.2. Edgard Allan Poe (1809-1849).
4.2.1. Life and works.
4.2.2. Main themes and style.
4.3. Walt Whitman (1819-1892).
4.3.1. Life and works.
4.3.2. Main themes and style.





1.1. Aims of the unit.

The present unit, Unit 53, aims to provide a useful introduction to the main literary
contributions on the novel, short story and poetry in the United States in the nineteenth century.
In general, the literature of the time was both shaped by and reflected the prevailing ideologies
of the day, that is, the main social, economic, political, cultural and technological conditions of
this period and the colonial literature of nineteenth-century in America, namely represented by
the writing of relevant figures such as Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman, in
novel, short story and poetry, respectively.

As we shall see, these three writers are a reference point in which social, economic, cultural,
technogical and political allegiances are placed very much to the fore. Actually, H. Melville
reflects the situation of adventure within colonial travelling and the moral duality between ‘god’
and ‘evil’ of the first colonists; E.A. Poe represents the birth of mystery fiction within the
atmosphere of the time; finally, W. Whitman would glorify both physical and spiritual life, and
also, would account for the political situation of America and its democracy within the previous
and following years of the Civil War (1861-1865). Then we shall frame our three authors within
a historical and literary background so as to provide an appropriate context for their life and
literary works.

Chapter 2 namely offers a historical background of the United States in the nineteenth century
regarding social, economic and political changes. So, we shall divide our study in three main
sections which are associated to a key event: the Civil War, thus (1) before the Civil War, where
we shall examine (a) the War of Independence (1778-1783) and (b) the aftermath of the war in
terms of (i) social, (ii) economic and (iii) political consequences; (2) the period of the Civil War
itself (1861-1865); and finally (3) the aftermath of the Civil War up to President Theodore
Roosevelt (1865-1901), which coincides with the end of nineteenth century. Here we shall also
examine the main consequences of the war in terms of (a) social, (b) economic and (c) political

In Chapter 3, we shall provide an overview of the literary background of this period with the
aim of going further into its main literary productions and, in particular, into the nineteenth -
century novel, short story and poetry in the United States. As we shall see, all literary genres
(drama, prose, poetry) shall reflect the prevailing ideologies of the nineteenth century, which are
divided into, first, romanticism in the first quarter of the century (approximately up to 1837),

and the Victorian literature (1837-1901). These periods correspond respectively to revolutionary
American writers (romantic period) and the post-colonial writers (imperialist period) together
with the rise of realism in the aftermath of the Civil War. So, we shall examine the (1) main
features of romantic and post-colonial literature; and the (2) main literary forms, regarding (a)
drama, (b) prose, including the novel and short story, and (c) poetry.

In Chapter 4 we shall attempt to provide an account of the main literary figures in the American
novel, short story and poetry, that is, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman.
Despite the fact that the three authors under study moved on the ground of novel, short story and
poetry indistinctively, they are framed within a certain literary form for the sake fo clarity.
Therefore, we shall introduce: (1) Herman Melv ille (1819-1891), as a novelist; (2) Edgard Allan
Poe (1809-1849) as a short story writer; and (3) Walt Whitman, as a poet in terms of (a) life and
main works, and (b) main themes and style.

Chapter 5 will be devoted to the main educational implications in language teaching regarding
the introduction of this issue in the classroom setting. Chapter 6 will offer a conclusion to
broadly overview our present study, and Chapter 7 will include all the bibliographical
references used to develop this account of the United States’ History and Literature in the
nineteenth century.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.

An influential introduction to the historical background of the United States of America in the
nineteenth century, is based on Thoorens, Panorama de las literaturas Daimon: Inglaterra y
América del Norte. Gran Bretaña y Estados Unidos de América (1969); and White, The
Horizon Concise History of England. American Heritage (1971). On the literary background,
relevant works are: Rogers, The Oxford Illustrated History of English Literature (1987); Albert,
A History of English Literature (1990); Speck, Literature and Society in Eighteenth -Century
England: Ideology Politics and Culture (1998); Alexander, A History of English Literature
(2000); Ward & Trent, The Cambridge History of English and American Literature (2000);
Allan Neilson, Lectures on the Harvard Classics (2001). Specific bibliography on the life,
works and style of Melville, Poe, and Whitman, include respectively: Kirby (1993), Herman
Melville; Brodhead (1976), Hawthorne, Melville, and the Novel; Springer (1995), America and
the Sea: A Literary History; Shaw (1983), The Short Story: A Critical Introduction; and Ford
(1988), The New Pelican Guide to English Literature.

The background for educational implicatio ns is based on the theory of communicative
competence and communicative approaches to language teaching are provided by the most
complete record of current publications within the educational framework is provided by the
guidelines in B.O.E. (2004) for both E.S.O. and Bachillerato; and the Council of Europe,
Modern Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. A Common European Framework of
reference (1998).



Chapter 2 namely offers a historical background of the United States in the nineteenth century
regarding social, economic and political changes. So, we shall divide our study in three main
sections which are associated to a key event: the Civil War, thus (1) before the Civil War, where
we shall examine (a) the War of Independence (1778-1783) and (b) the aftermath of the war in
terms of (i) social, (ii) economic and (iii) political consequences; (2) the period of the Civil War
itself (1861-1865); and finally (3) the aftermath of the Civil War up to President Theodore
Roosevelt (1865-1901), which coincides with the end of nineteenth century. Here we shall also
examine the main consequences of the war in terms of (a) social, (b) economic and (c) political

2.1. Before the Civil War.

2.1.1. War of Independence (1778-1783).

The War of Independence, also known as the American Revolution, was first regarded as a civil
war against Britain, but when other countries entered the confrontation, namely France (1778),
Spain (1779) and the Netherlands (1780), it became an international war. Initial confrontations
were mixed (the British being successful at Brandywine but suffering badly at Saratoga), but the
situation improved for the colonists when these three countries utilized the opportunity caused
by the confrontation to declare war on Britain as well. Eventually, by 1782, the British
campaign was crumbling.

The British Parliament demanded an end to the war, largely due to its high expenses. The Prime
Minister, now Lord North, resigned and, on 3 September 1783, treaties were signed at

Versailles. Britain retained Canada and the West Indian Islands but the thirteen rebellious states
were formally recognised as the United States of America. On the other hand, France retained
their West Indian Islands and were given Tobago in addition, and Spain recovered Florida after
twenty years of British control (but later sold it to the Netherlands).

2.1.2. The aftermath of the war.

Therefore, the aftermath of the war was particularly felt in the national division of the states due
to the political struggle over slavery and the spread into new territories (the West). Hence, the
North representing the modern, industrial, and business-minded states versus the South, which
represented the cultures, colonial and aristocratic states. Yet, in general, the main consequences
following the loss of the American colonies were to be noticed at all levels. For instance: Social consequences.

In social terms, the Constitution had been able to regulate conflicts of interest and conflicting
visions for the new, rapidly expanding nation. But from 1820 to 1860 many other factors had
changed, thus the rise of mass democracy in the North, the breakdown of the old two-party
system, the increasingly virulent and hostile sectional ideologies (especially that of “free labor”
in the North), the acquisition of new lands in the West in the 1840s and slavery in the south,
which would catapult the nation into civil war.

Also, the United States exerted an irresistible attraction on visitors and therefore, immigrants,
namely from Germany and Ireland. Between the 1830s and 1840s, population grew at an
amazing rate attracted by an efficient network of economic and cultural richness in the new
land. The German did well whereas the Irish immigrants were not rich enough to buy land.
Hence they had to take the menial and unskilled labour needed by the expanding economy, and
as a result, they suffered discrimination in towns and cities (their discrimination is compared to
the free blacks in the North).

There is little question that the salient issue in the minds of the public and popular press of the
time, and the histories written since, was the issue of slavery. Slavery had been abolished in
most northern states, but was legal and important to the economy of the Confederacy, which
depended on cheap agricultural labor. State sovereignty (for the South) and preservation of the
Union (for the North) have both also been cited as issues, but both were reflections of the

slavery issue. Since Northern blacks possessed theoretical freedom, they suffered discrimination
at all social levels (politics, employment, education, religion, and even in cemeteries).

Yet, their situation improved between the 1830s and 1850s under the Age of Reform, where a
great variety of ideals and movements flourished in favor of women’ rights, pacifism, abolition
of imprisonment, capital punishment, improving workin g classes conditions, and a better
education, among others. Yet, a vast majority of Americans did not support these changes. The
Reform reflected the sensibility of a small number of people. Economic consequences.

Economically, after the War of Independence two different economic models towards
capitalism developed, thus represented by North and South ideals. On the one hand, the North,
supported by the Middle West, based its economy on industry and farming in order to set up
tariffs to protect themselves against rival European products; on the other hand, the South,
namely aristocratic, based its economy on cotton production in big plantations, and therefore,
free trade of slaves. Slavery did not exist in the Northern states, so the North found it difficult to
accept the attitude of the South. Political consequences.

Political consequences were felt in Britain and in the American colonies. Let us examine the
most relevant events in both continents.

• In the British Empire, there was an increasing interest in the east. The East India
Company had long been the main agent of Imperial expansion in southern Asia and
exercised many governmental functions. Although the company maintained sole
responsibility for trade and patronage, in 1784 under the India Act, a Board of Control
was established to oversee the revenue, administration and diplomatic functions of the
company as well as the aspects of its military expansion.

Yet, the new target of Britain was not only the East, but also the colonisation of the
Antipodes so as to establish penal colonies (1788). The colonisation of Australia and
New Zealand began with the desire to find a place for penal settlement after the loss of

the original American colonies. The first shipload of British convicts landed in Australia
in 1788, on the site of the future city of Sydney1 .

• Regarding the American colonies, the resolution on the settlement in the West was to be
realized by a Federal government, which was established according to the interests of
the North states. Until 1789, the United States was governed by the Articles of
Confederation, which created an extremely weak central government. The United States
had no power to levy taxes; for income, it relied essentially on money from the states. In
addition, the government of the United States had no central executive branch, making
its already weak government further divided and lacking strong leadership. The
government of the United States under the Articles was also weak with regards to
foreign affairs, and during this period Britain and Spain treated the United States like a
third-rate power.

Therefore, since the South was afraid of a possible centralized government, they started
to think about the possibility of breaking with the Union and replaced the Articles of
Confederation with a stronger central government. Those who advocated the creation of
such a government took the name Federalists, and quickly gained supporters throughout
the nation. The most well-known Federalists include Alexander Hamilton, James
Madison, and John Jay. These were the main contributors to the Federalist Papers, a
series of 85 essays which served in many ways as seminal documents for the new
United States that was to come.

The Constitution of the United States was adopted as a direct response to the Articles of
Confederation and as a result, a strong executive branch was created for the first time to
give the government the power to tax. After the first elections then the old nationalists
(Federalists) took the power. Moreover, the Federalists gained a great deal of prestige
and advantage when George Washington joined their cause.

The political atmosphere before the Civil War was, therefore, one of unremitting cris is. The
underlying problem was that the United States had been on the whole a country, but not a nation
and hence, the major functions of government (education, health, transport) were carried out at a
state or local level. Yet, an enduring manifestation of hostility toward the nationalizing
tendencies in American life was the reassertion of strong nationalistic feelings threatened by the

The majority of these convicts were young men, many of whom had committed only petty crimes. New

There were several points of view from West, East, North and South. On the one hand, the West
developed a strong sectional feeling, blending its sense of uniqueness and the feeling of having
been exploited by the businessment of the East and, on the other hand, the East reasserted his
national feeling. Moreover, the South persisted on Negro slavery, which had already been
abolished or prohibited in all other parts of the United States. So, people from the South stated
an elaborate pro-slavery argument on defending their institutions on biblical, economic, and
sociological grounds. On the contrary, the North reaffirmed its position towards industry and
against slavery, and made a great effort to change the South’s point of view.

In fact, George Washington received every electoral vote and became president, and only a
handful of Anti-federalists were elected to Congress. When Washington determined not to
continue, president John Adams was elected president, and in turn, Jefferson (a republican) in
1800, and James Madison in 1809. Britain and France were forced by Madison to respect the
commercial restraints in the seas, but the efforts were futile. Britain periodically humiliated the
small American navy by seizing American ships.

By 1812, American relations with Britain did not improve. Rather, a popular clamour for war
began to arise, namely due to the frustration and desire to redeem the national honour, and
eventually, America declared the war against England in 1812. Two years later (1814), the
Americans defeated England in 1814 and peace was reestablished in the United States by James
Monroe (former secretary of state and president in 1816). This period was to be known as the
“Era of Good Feeling”.

By 1860, the American society underwent both a sectional confrontation and an economic
revolution.depression, sharpened by economic and class divides, realigning the interplay of
race, class, and political ideology. In other words, the realignment of cleavages and cooperation
among geographical, social classes, and party affiliations in politics between the depression of
1857 and the election of 1860 led to the election of a president so objectionable to Southern
slave-owing interests that it would trigger Southern secession, and consequently a war to save
the integrity of the Union.

Hence, in 1860 the presidential election of Abraham Lincoln took place in an atmosphere of
great tension and was not received in the same way in the North and South. In the South,
Lincoln’s election was taken as the signal for secession and South Carolina became the first
state to withdraw from the Union. This time they were determined and soon, other states

South Wales opened to free settlers in 1819. By 1858, transportation of convicts was abolished.

followed their proposal. In 1861, in February 4, six Southern states sent representatives to
establish a new independent government, but Lincoln was not in favour of the Union to be
divided. Then, in his inaugural address, his speech closed with a plea for restoration of the
bonds of union. The South, particularly South Carolina, ignored the plea, and on April 12, the
South fired upon the Federal troops stationed at Fort Sumter in the Charleston, South Carolina
until the troops surrendered.

2.2. The Civil War (1861-1865).

The Civil War has been also called the main American social revolution, a watershed in the rise
of modern industrial society in the United States and as the result of free-labor industrial
capitalism, and the resolution of sectional conflict in the North. This war was fought between
the northern states, popularly referred to as the “Union,” the “north,” or the “Yankees,” and the
seceding southern states, commonly referred to as the Confederate States of America, the
“Confederacy.” the “south,” or the “rebels.”

As stated above, the Civil War started with Lincoln’s victory in the presidential election of
1860, which triggered South Carolina’s secession from the Union. By February 1, 1861, six
more Southern states had seceded. On February 7, the seven states adopted a provisional
constitution for the Confederate States of America. The remaining southern states as yet
remained in the Union, and less than a month later, on March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was
sworn in as president of the United States.

Since then a march of Union troops under the command of the Confederate force was built up
by July 1861 at Manassas, Virginia . The first battle is known as the First Battle of Bull Run (or
First Manassas), whereupon they were forced back to Washington, DC by Confederate troops
under the command of Generals Joseph E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard. Alarmed at the loss,
the United States Congress passed the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution on July 25 of that year in
an attempt to prevent more slave states from leaving the Union. Also, it stated that the war was
being fought to preserve the Union and not to end slavery.

Subsequent encounters took place and the first victory of the war was under the Union flag
under the figure of Ulysses S. Grant, who captured Fort Henry, Tennessee on February 6, 1862.
Later on in September 5, the Confederates made its first invasion of the North under the rule of
General Lee, who led 55,000 men of the Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac River at
White's Ford near Leesburg, Virginia into Maryland. Then, on September 17, 1862, Lee's army,

checked at last, returned to Virginia. Yet, the war’s turning point was made by George Meade,
who stopped Lee’s invasion of Union-held territory at the Battle of Gettysburg between 1-3 July
1863, inflicting 28,000 casualties on Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia , and again forcing it to
retreat to its state.

In general terms, while the Confederate forces had some success in the Eastern holding on to
their capital, fortune did not smile upon them in the West. Confederate forces were driven from
Missouri early in the war. The Union's key strategist and tactician Ulysses S. Grant, won
victories at Fort Donelson, Battle of Shiloh, Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Chattanooga,
Tennessee, driving Confederate forces out of Tennessee. Grant’s aim was to defeat the
Confederate forces and bring an end to the war.

At the beginning of 1864, Grant was given command of all Union armies in the East, who
attempted to defeat Lee and fought several battles during that phase of the Eastern campaign:
the Battle of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, and Cold Harbor. Grant was tenacious
and kept pressing the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of Robert E. Lee. He
extended the Confederate army, pinning it down in the Siege of Petersburg and, after two failed
attempts, he finally found a commander, Philip Sheridan, who could clear the threat to
Washington DC from the Shenandoah Valley.

Yet, the North superiority was in the air. The main advantages widely believed to have
contributed to the Union’s success include the North’s strong, industrial economy; the North’s
strong compatible railroad links (and the South’s lack thereof); the North’s larger population;
the North’s possession of the United States’ merchant marine fleet and naval ships; the North’s
established government; the North’s moral cause given to the war by Abraham Lincoln (the
Emancipation Proclamation); and last but not least, the recruitment of black men, including
many freed slaves, into the Union Army after the Emancipation Proclamation was approved.

On 9 April 1865 Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court house.
The Battle of Palmito Ranch, fought on May 13, 1865, in the far south of Texas was the last
land battle of the war and ended with a Confederate victory. All Confederate land forces had
surrendered by June 1865 whereas Confederate naval units surrendered as late as November of

2.3. The aftermath of the Civil War (1865-1901).

The aftermath of the Civil War is namely represented by several international and national
events which are interrelated regarding (1) social consequences reflected by the strong spirit of

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reform, reflected on important social and cultural changes; (2) economic consequences, which
include the emergence of new industrialized fronts in the South and the West as a result of the
late consequences of international events, such as the Industrial Revolution and the imperialist
policy of powerful countries; and finally, the main (3) political consequences in this period.

2.3.1. Social consequences.

The main social consequences were to be felt since ancient times, such as (1) the question of
slavery, and also, due to the industrialization and expansion to the West regarding (2)
immigration movements to the West and from different parts of the world, and the new (3)
distribution of social classes.

• The question of slavery.

The question of slavery is closely related to the Emancipation Proclamation, which was
supposed to free all slaves who were in territory under Confederate control at the time of the
Proclamation. Yet, slaves were not freed in the remaining states and parts of the Confederacy
until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment by third quarters of the states, which did not
occur until December of 1865. A good deal of ill will among the Southern survivors resulted
from the destruction inflicted on the South by the Union armies as the end of the war
approached, the resulting shift of political power to the North, and the Reconstruction program
instituted in the South by the Union after the end of the war.

• Migrations to the West and from the rest of the world.

On the one hand, as a result, thousands of Americans and immigrants started farms in the West,
namely on the Great Plains. Mine and cattle industry also developed in that area, so after 1870,
settlement became so widespread in the West that it was no longer possible to draw a
continuous frontier line. This expansion to the West meant the end of native Indians since new
settlers occupied their land and slaughtered indiscriminately buffalo herds, namely their main
way of survival. Eventually, federal soldiers were sent by the government to crush the Indian
conflict, and pushed them onto reservations.

Following Brogan (1985), another kind of immigration is the early twentieth-century one, which
was given at a higher scale. America had received immigrants from its colonial days due to its
attractive image, which was derived to a large extent from its dynamic economy, but in a low
number. Yet, immigration reached its highest point after the American economic recession in

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the decade from 1901 to 1910, when millions of emigrants came from south-eastern Europe.
This movement is known as the Melting Pot of America due to the ethnic diversity.

After obtaining its independence, the United States lacked a cultural pattern and was
continuously searching for an identity. In this sense, the mass immigration has helped the
United States define the national culture as politically egalitarian and democratic since the first
large-scale immigration occurred. Also, it has provided richness, color, cultural heritage and art
to American life. Yet, immingration also creates conflicts, such as those regarding housing,
sanitation, crime and, therefore, legal system due to problems of assimilation and adjustment.

• Distribution of social classes.

On the other hand, the effects of the Industrial revolution on society made the spirit of reform be
stronger, and were to be felt namely on the American people lives and, therefore, social classes
since thousand of people moved from farms to cities. Hence we can distinguish three main
social classes: a small percentage of high social class, who enjoyed wealth and luxury lives; a
larger percentage of middle class, who lived comfortably, but below the level of the former; and
a huge number of people who belonged to the low social class and lived in extreme poverty.

It is worth mentioning that during the early 1900’s the reformers wanted to reduce poverty by
improving the living conditions of the poor and regulating big business. Also, the government
aimed at putting an end to corruption, making government closer to the people, and obtaining
other goals such as the women suffrage. Yet, by 1917, since the reformers had achieved most of
their aims and some of them were called progressives, this period of American history is often
known as the Progressive Era (Palmer, 1980).

2.3.2. Economic consequences.

First of all, following Musman (1982), “after the Civil War, American industry changed
dramatically.” On the one hand, “machines replaced hand labor as the main means of
manufacturing, thus increasing the production capacity of industry.” As a result, “a new
nationwide network of railroads enabled businessmen to distribute goods far and wide” and
promoted the rise of big business and the industrialization of the South and the West.

On the one hand, the rise of big business was the result of the increase in American industry
produced by the value of goods between 1870 and 1916, and several production developments.
Thus, the improvement of production methods favoured the use of machines in manufacturing.
This use made factories employ thousands of workers, which were assigned specific jobs. This

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system of labor is known as the division of labor, which sped up production and had a
tremendous impact on economy. It also allowed prices to get lower and meant that more people
could afford more products.

On the other hand, the emergence of new industrialized fronts in the South and the West took
place when the South decided to rebuild its society since, in economic terms, it had been behind
the rest of the nation. Hence, though some industry developed in the region, the South remained
an agricultural area throughout the period of American industrializatio n. On the other hand, the
West industrialization started when the Congress passed the Homestead Act (1862) by means of
which public land was offered to people for free or at very low cost, which had a great impact in
social terms.

2.3.3. Political consequences.

The main political consequences of the Civil war are the Spanish-American War (1898), the
American domination policy in the Caribbean area, the Mexican revolution, and the First World
War (1914-1918), but for our purposes we shall only focus on the former one since the other
political consequences are not framed within the nineteenth century.

Then the Spanish-American War (1898) was the principal event of the administration of
President William McKinley (1897-1901), who fought over the issue of the liberation of Cuba,
though it started under the rule of the previous President, Cleveland (1885-1893). Following
Brogan (1985), most Americans wanted their country remain away from European affairs and
thought it should offer an example of democracy and peace to the rest of the world. Actually,
this war made the United States come up into the world politics on a new road to imperialism.

Previously to the event, it is worth remembering that Spain ruled over Cuba, Puerto Rico, the
Philippines and other overseas possessions during the 1890’s. When Cuba rebelled against the
Spanish rule in 1895, the repression was hard. Yet, soon the rising public in America demanded
for intervention.Yet, on February 15, 1898, the American battleship Maine was blown up off the
coast of Havana, in Cuba and, although it is not clear enough who caused the explosion, many
Americans blamed Spain.

As a result, on April 25, 1898 McKinley gave way to the Congress to declare the war on Spain.
The war was officially ended by the Treaty of Paris in the same year. Militarily speaking, this
war was brief and relatively bloodless whereas its political and diplomatic consequences were
enormous. Actually, this event marked a turning point in the history of the United States foreign

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policy since Spain relinquished Cuba (whose independence was recognized in 1902) and ceded
to the United States the Philippine Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico.

Expansion of the nation to include regions outside of the North American continent was
denounced as imperialism by the Democratic Party, and became the principal issue of the 1900
presidential campaign. The nation, however, supported the policy of expansion as carried out by
the McKinley administration. In September 1901 McKinley was assassinated by a crazed
anarchist, and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt became president. His administrations
marked a new attitude held by a section of the Republican Party toward the important social,
political, and economic questions of the time, and led gradually to a sharp split in the party.



In Chapter 3, we shall provide an overview of the literary background of this period with the
aim of going further into its main literary productions and, in particular, into the nineteenth -
century novel, short story and poetry in the United States. As we shall see, all literary genres
(drama, prose, poetry) shall reflect the prevailing ideologies of the nineteenth century, which are
divided into, first, romanticism in the first quarter of the century (approximately up to 1837),
and the Victorian literature (1837-1901). These periods correspond respectively to revolutionary
American writers (romantic period) and the post-colonial writers (imperialist period) together
with the rise of realism in the aftermath of the Civil War. So, we shall examine the (1) main
features of romantic and post-colonial literature; and the (2) main literary forms, regarding (a)
drama, (b) prose, including the novel and short story, and (c) poetry.

3.1. Main literary features: romantic and post-colonial literature.

The period before the Civil War coincides with democratic origins, revolutionary writers and
the beginning of the Romantic period. The triumph of American independence was regarded as
a divine sign of greatness, where military victory fanned nationalistic hopes for a great new
literature. Yet with the exception of outstanding political writing, few works of note appeared
during or soon after the Revolution. Since American books were harshly reviewed in England
and there was an excessive dependence on English literary models, the search for a native
literature became a national obsession.

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Whereas Europe could afford the luxury of romanticising its past and finding its ideal in the
pastoral, America’s past was too close. Yet America’s literature was in need of tradition in
which literature could flourish. The American Romanticists created a form that, at first glance,
seems ancient and traditional; they borrowed from classical romance, adapted pastoral themes,
and incorporated Gothic elements. Hence the unique features of American prose fiction are as
follows: (1) separated lovers and woman’s chastity; (2) an intricate plot, including stories within
stories; (3) exciting and unexpected chance events; (4) travel to faraway settings; (5) hidden and
mistaken identity; and (6) written in an elaborate and elegant style.

Hence it would take fifty years of accumulated history for America to earn its cultural
independence and to produce the first great generation of American writers: Washington Irving,
James Fenimore Cooper, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville,
Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson. America’s
literary independence was slowed by a lingering identification with England, an excessive
imitation of English or classical literary models, and difficult economic and political conditions
that hampered publishing.

Then American awareness of literary fashion still lagged behind the English, and fifty years
after their fame in England, English neoclassic writers such as Joseph Addison, Richard Steele,
Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, Oliver Goldsmith, and Samuel Johnson were still eagerly
imitated in America. Moreover, the challenges of building a new nation attracted talented and
educated people to politics, law, and diplomacy. These pursuits brought honor, glory, and
financial security. Writing, on the other hand, did not pay. Early American writers, now
separated from England, effectively had no modern publishers, no audience, and no adequate
legal protection, so until 1825, most American authors paid printers to publish their work.

On the other hand, nineteenth-century literature in the Victorian period, that is, from 1837 to
1901 coincides with the late consequences of the British imperialism since the mid-Victorian
period (from 1850 to 1873) saw the highest point of the British imperial expansion, and
economic and political prosperity. Yet, the late Victoria n period (from 1873 to 1901) is
associated to a loss of consensus due to the Great Depression (1873) which marks the end of
British economic supremacy and, therefore, the decline of the British empire.

All in all, this literary period is characterized by its morality, which to a great extent is a natural
revolt against the grossness of the earlier Regency, and the influence of the Victorian Court. In
addition, literary productions are affected by the intellectual developments in science, religion,

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and politics, where we observe a strong literary interaction between American and European
writers (specially in political and philosopical writings). The Victorian literature is also
characterized by the telling of every detail, as in photography so as to get a real image of the
object or person described. The fact may suggest concepts of clarity, precision, and certainty.
On the contrary, the disadvantages of being close to the object, and of possessing masses of
information about it is the production of copious works.

3.2. Main literary forms.

Broadly speaking, the nineteenth century saw a wide variety of American authors in the
Romantic and Victorian period who produced their work within the field of the most important
literary forms: drama, prose and poetry. It is worth noting that, broadly speaking, the Romantic
literature is regarded as a poetic period whereas the post-colonial one is namely regarded as a
novel period (fiction novel, short story). Let us briefly examine the three literary forms so as to
provide a basis for a detailed analysis in next chapter.

3.2.1. Drama.

Drama was written as freely as ever, but did not monopolize the activities of the major poets.
Following Albert (1990), “from the dramatic point of view the first half of the nineteenth
century was almost completely barren” since the professional theatre of the period was in a low
state and the greater part of the dramatists work never saw the stage”, both in Britain and
America. “The popular pieces of the day were melodrama, farces and sentimental comedies,
which had no literary qualities whatever, were poor in dialogue and negligible in
characterization, and relied for their success upon sensation, rapid action, and spectacle”.

The comic spirit in drama was in abeyance, but in general there were a few dramatic
productions and therefore, little interest on this literary form (Shelley’s Oedipus Tyrannus, or
Swellfoot the Tyrant; Wordsworth’s The Borderers and Coleridge’s Remorse). Following
Rogers (1987), “it is natural to ask whether the Romantic period was as distinguished in other
genres of literature as it was in poetry” since drama contributions was disappointing. Yet,
towards the end of the nineteenth century, the last decades of the reign saw major talents in a
revival of literary theatre, namely on the European continent (Oscar Wilde, George Bernard
Shaw, John Millington Synge, Henry Arthur Jones, Sir Arthur Wing Pinero, John Galsworthy).

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3.2.2. Prose: the novel and short story.

Within prose we find different types of productions (novel -fictional and non-fictional- , literary
criticism, periodical literature -political, philosophical-, essays, and other miscellaneous works
which receive scanty notice), but we shall focus on the novel (American romance) and short
story in the United States The first fiction writers used American subjects, historical
perspectives, themes of change, and nostalgic tones. They wrote in many prose genres, initiated
new forms, and found new ways to make a living through literature. With them, American
literature began to be read and appreciated in the United States and abroad.

The Romantic period and, in particular, the Romance form indicated how difficult it was to
create an identity without a stable society. Most of the Romantic heroes die in the end: All the
sailors except Ishmael are drowned in Moby-Dick , and the sensitive but sinful minister Arthur
Dimmesdale dies at the end of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. The self-divided, tragic note in
American literature becomes dominant in the novels, even before the Civil War of the 1860s
manifested the greater social tragedy of a society at war with itself. It is in this background that
we find relevant writers such as Herman Melville and Edgar Allan Poe.

Similarly, there is no doubt that the Victorian era, even in America, was the age of the English
novel, namely realistic, thickly plotted, crowded with characters, and long. By the end of the
period, the novel was considered not only the premier form of entertainment but also a primary
means of analyzing and offering solutions to social and political problems, only challenged by
the revival of realism towards the end of the century.

The American romance, which shows a literary form in which happy country life is portrayed as
a contrast to the complexity and anxiety of the urban society, as we can see in the American
romancers’ use of the frontier, Indian society, Arcadian communities, Puritan villages, and
shipboard societies. Hence typical features of romance are the manuscript, the castle, the crime,
religion, deformity, ghosts, magic, blood, which are used as the basis and end of a tale of terror.
The other variety of prose is the short story (namely developed in the next century), which
shares the same features as the American romance or gothic novel, but differs in length (shorter
than the novel).

3.2.3. Poetry.

Poetry, broadly speaking, reaches its peek in America in the 19th century although some of the
most imaginative and creative poetry was created centuries earlier (Tu Fu of the Tang Dynasty

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in China in the 7th century B.C.;William Shakespeare in the 16th century; Dante in the
thirteenth century). It is in the nineteenth-century where we include the works of Samuel Taylor
Coleridge, Percey Bysshe Shelley, Walt Whitman, Lord Byron, and some of the greatest poets
of the nineteenth century, along with examples of of their work.

This period is characterized by a spirit of revolt where the general tendency is towards
simplicity of diction and away from the mannerisms of the eighteenth century, except for Keats
who is too fond of golden diction and did not avoid the temptation to be ornate. It namely
developed on standard literary forms under the age of the lyric (the Spenserian stanza and the
ballad), which reflected the Romantic spirit of the time in liberal and varied measure. It
comprised the exalted passion of Shelley, the meditative simplicity of Wordsworth, the
sumptuous descriptions of Keats, and the golden notes of Coleridge. Within descriptive and
narrative poems, we find Byron’s early works, Keats’s tales, Coleridge’s supernatural stories,
and Scott’s martial and historical romances.

Literary writing was not as simple and direct as political writing. When trying to write poetry,
most educated authors did it in an elegant neoclassical style. The epic, in particular, exercised a
fatal attraction, and soon American literary patriots felt sure that the great American Revolution
naturally would find expression in the epic (a long, dramatic narrative poem in elevated
language, celebrating the feats of a legendary hero).

Yet, many writers tried but none succeeded, and not surprisingly, satirical poetry and mock
epics fared much better than serious verse. The mock epic genre encouraged American poets to
use their natural voices and did not lure them into a bog of pretentious and predictable patriotic
sentiments and faceless conventional poetic epithets out of the Greek poet Homer and the
Roman poet Virgil by way of the English poets.



In Chapter 4 we shall attempt to provide an account of the main literary figures in the American
novel, short story and poetry, that is, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman. It
is worth pointing out that these three authors, together with Nathaniel Hawthorne and Emily

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Dickinson, represent the first great literary generation produced in the United States and, as
such, they reflected the Romantic and imperialist vision in the form called the ‘Romance’
(serious novels that dealt with chastity, morality, adventure) and in the form of short story,
where writers tended to express the features of gothic novel (mystery, terror, suspense) within a
time of exploration, allegorical and supernatural elements, as well as mysterious and wild.
Finally, poetry was represented by social and political events of the time where the democratic
American individual had to invent himself.

Despite the fact that the three authors under study moved on the ground of novel, short story and
poetry indistinctively, they are framed within a certain literary form for the sake fo clarity.
Therefore, we shall introduce: (1) Herman Melville (1819-1891), as a novelist; (2) Edgard Allan
Poe (1809-1849) as a short story writer; and (3) Walt Whitman, as a poet in terms of (a) life and
main works, and (b) main themes and style.

4.1. Herman Melville (1819-1891): the novelist.

4.1.1. Life and works.

Herman Melville was born on 19 August 1819 into a socially connected New York family. He
was the third child of Allan and Maria Gansevoort Melvill’s eight. Like Nathaniel Hawthorne,
he was a descendant of an old, wealthy family, though to his socialite parents, Herman did not
seem to be a noble and refined child. He underwent a fast shift in social status after the collapse
of the family’s import business in 1830 and his father’s death in 1832. Since then, Herman’s
oldest brother assumed responsibility for the family and took over the family business. After
leaving school (1834), he worked as a bank clerk and also on the farm of his uncle for some
months, but eventually he joined his brother in the business. It was about this time that
Herman’s branch of the family altered the spelling of its name (from Melvill to Melville).

By the mid-1830s, the young Melville had already begun writing, but financial problems
continued and his family forced him to work again. In 1837, his brother declared bankruptcy
and arranged for Herman to ship out as cabin boy on the St. Lawrence, a merchant ship sailing
in June 1839 from New York City for Liverpool. Since then his interest in sailors’ lives grew
naturally out of his own experiences, and most of his early novels grew out of his voyages.
Although he seemed to enjoy the life of sailing, Melville did not dedicate himself to the sea.
Instead he continued to seek out ways of helping his family working as an elementary school
teacher and then following his uncle out west in hopes of finding steady work. He never found

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the work he sought; so, in January 1841, he returned east and sailed on the whaler Acushnet on a
voyage to the South Seas.

In June of the following year (1842), the ship anchored in the Marquesas Islands in present-day
French Polynesia , where he spent about four months as a guest-captive of the reputedly
cannibalistic Typee people , according to his successful novel Typee (1846). Whatever its precise
correspondence with fact, however, Typee was faithful to the imaginative impact of the
experience on Melville: despite intimations of danger, the exotic valley of the Typees was for
Melville an idyllic sanctuary from a hustling, aggressive civilization with a romantic air.

Next month, in August, he was registered in the crew of the Australian whaler Lucy Ann and, on
reaching Tahiti, he joined a mutiny since the crew had not been paid. On these events and their
sequel, Melville based his second book, Omoo (1847) and in November the same year he signed
as a harpooner on his last whaler, the Charles & Henry, out of Nantucket, Mass. Six months
later he disembarked in Hawaii only to sign on as an ordinary seaman on the frigate United
States and in October 1844 he returned to Boston.

In the summer of 1847 Melville married Elizabeth Shaw, daughter of the chief justice of
Massachusetts. In the same year, he began his third book, Mardi (1847) is about a symbolic
quest that ends in anguish and disaster. Upon its publication, public and critics alike received it
coolly. But soon he wrote Redburn (1849) and White-Jacket (1850) in the manner expected of
him, among which the latter seemed to revive his growing melancholy. By the autumn of 1850
Melville had promised his publishers the novel first entitled The Whale, which become Moby
Dick after the delayed delivery of the manuscript (to be published next year).

By the same year (1850) he had acquired a farm, named ‘Arrowhead’ near Pittsfield and formed
a friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was his neighbour and mentor. Also, for more
steady income, he became a regular contributor of reviews and other pieces to a literary journal
and, published Moby Dick (1851) in London, which brought him neither acclaim nor reward.
Increasingly a recluse to the point that some friends feared for his sanity, Melville embarked on
his next publication, Pierre (1852), which was another critical and financial disaster and ruined
his career. Near breakdown, and after the disaster of a fire at his New York (1853) publishers
that destroyed most of his books, but Melville continued writing.

His contributions to Putnam’s Monthly Magazine, such as “Bartleby the Scrivener” (1853),
“The Encantadas” (1854), and “Benito Cereno” (1855) reflected an increasing despair and
contempt for human hypocrisy and materialism. Then he published Israel Potter in 1855, but
had a modest success. Next year (1856) Melville travelled to Europe to renew his spirits. His
final novel The Confidence-Man (1857) was a despairing satire on an America corrupted by the

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shabby dreams of commerce and was followed by three American lecture tours in his final sea
journey, in 1860. That year he joined his brother Thomas on the clipper Meteor, for a voyage
around Cape Horn, but he abandoned the trip in San Francisco.

By this time, Melville decided to turn from novel to poetry, but the prospects for publication
were not favorable. In 1861, when the Civil War broke out, he volunteered for the Navy, but
was not accepted. Melville got a bit of relief from an inheritance upon his father-in-law’s death,
and by the end of 1863 he was living in New York City. There he became more reclusive and
wrote his final manuscript, Billy Budd which was posthumously published in 1924. Also, the
war was much on Melville’s mind and furnished the subject of his first volume of verse, Battle-
Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866), which brought him a secure income four months after it

Despite poor health, Melville began a pattern of writing evenings, weekends, and on vacations.
Unfortunately, in 1867 his son Malcolm accidently shot himself after a quarrel with his father
the night before his death and his second son also died of tuberculosis nearly two decades after
this event (1886). Eventually, Herman Melville died of a heart attack on 28 September 1981,
completely forgotten in his country since his death evoked but a single obituary notice. It is
worth remembering that, after years of neglect, modern criticism has secured once again secured
his reputation with that of the great American writers and now he is among the most celebrated
of American writers.

4.1.2. Main themes and style.

As seen above, the main themes of his works are framed within the Puritan colonial New
England and the activities around it. Hence his interest in sailors’ lives grew to such extent out
of his own experiences that most of his early novels grew out of his voyages. In these we see the
young Melville’s democratic experience and hatred of tyranny and injustice. His first book,
Typee (1846) was based on his time spent among the supposedly cannibalistic but hospitable
tribe of the Taipis in the Marquesas Islands of the South Pacific. The book praises the islanders
and their natural, harmonious life, and criticizes the Christian missionaries, who Melville found
less genuinely civilized than the people they came to convert.

His second book, Omoo (1847), was inspired on the Lucy Ann’s mutiny on reaching Tahiti in
1842. The book was lighthearted in tone and showed the the mutiny as something of a farce. It
also describes Melville’s travels through the islands, accompanied by Long Ghost, formerly the
ship’s doctor, now turned drifter. The novel revealed Melville’s bitterness against what he saw
as the debasement of the native Tahitian peoples by so-called “civilizing” forces.

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On the other hand, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1856), which is regarded as Melville’s
masterpiece, is the epic story of 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. Certain literary references resonate
throughout the novel, thus Ahab, named for an Old Testament king, desires a total, Faustian,
god-like knowledge whereas Moby-Dick ends with the word orphan.

It is perhaps in this work where we find more references throughout the novel. For instance, (1)
the captain Ahab, who is named for an Old Testament king, and desires a total, Faustian, god;
(2) Ishmael, the narrator, whose name emanates from the Book of Genesis in the Old
Testament; at the end, (3) 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. Also, we find historical references through (4) the ship’s name, Pequod (an
extinct New England Indian tribe); (5) the industry of whaling, which represents the imperialist
power since it required Americans to sail round the world in search of whales; and (6) Captain
Ahab’s death, which represents the tragic version of democratic American individualism.

The ideology of revolution, too, may have played a part in glorifying a sense of proud yet
alienated freedom. The American Revolution, from a psychohistorical viewpoint, parallels an
adolescent rebellion away from the parent-figure of England and the larger family of the British
Empire. Americans won their independence and were then faced with the bewildering dilemma
of discovering their identity apart from old authorities. This scenario was played out countless
times on the frontier, to the extent that, in fiction, isolation often seems the basic American
condition of life.

Hence his novels Pierre (1852) and his contributions to Putnam’s Monthly Magazine, such as
“Bartleby the Scrivener” (1853), “The Encantadas” (1854), and “Benito Cereno” (1855) which
reflected an increasing despair and contempt for human hypocrisy and materialism. Also, Israel
Potter (1855), The Confidence-Man (1857), which is a dispairing satire on an America
corrupted by the shabby dreams of commerce; and Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866),
which brings about a reflection on the Civil War.

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4.2. Edgard Allan Poe (1809-1849): the short story writer.

4.2.1. Life and works.

Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston (Massachusetts) on January 19, 1809 and was the son of
itinerant actors. His mother, Elizabeth Hopkins Poe, was an actress who had attained some
prominence as a leading lady, and his father, David Poe, Jr., had pursued a somewhat less
successful career on the stage. Unfortunately for him, both his father and his mother probably
died of tuberculosis in 1810 and 1811, respectively, and Edgar was taken into the home of a
wealthy Richmond merchant and his wife, John and Frances Allan, who were a childless couple .
Never legally adopted, Poe took Allan’s name for his middle name. Edgar brought up partly in
England (1815-20), where he attended Manor School at Stoke Newington, and it was while he
was there that Edgar first became acquainted with the Gothic literature that was popular in
Europe at the time.

When Allan returned to Richmond in 1820, Edgar continued his education at private schools,
studying Latin, verse, and oratory, but he was not popular. He was taunted by his peers as the
son of actors since this was a disreputable profession. The only support Poe received was from
the mother of a classmate, Jane Stith Stanard, who he looked upon as his idealized mother.
Apparently, her untimely death was the apparent cause of his first extended period of
psychological depression, during which he often visited her grave. By this time, John Allan’s
trading firm suffered a series of financial setbacks and the company was dissolved. Then Poe’s
stepfather took to drinking.

Fortunately, in 1825, John Allan inherited a large sum of money, and this abrupt reversal of
fortune enabled him to enroll Edgar at the University of Virginia (1826), but since then his life
would be a misfortune. Since he was expelled for not paying his gambling debts, he quarrelled
with Allan, and as a result, he was disowned. n trying to make his own way in Boston Poe
joined the U.S. Army in 1827 as a common soldier, enlisting under the fictitious name of Edgar
A. Perry. While he was stationed at Fort Independence, Poe prevailed upon a local publisher to
print his first volume of verses, Tamerlane and Other Poems, By a Bostonian (1827). To these,
he would eventually add six new poems for a volume that would be published in Baltimore
under his real name at the end of 1829. By then, in February 1829, Poe’s stepmother died, and
tragedy struck Poe’s life once more since it was the third mother figure in his life to suffer an
untimely death.

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In 1830 the death of Frances Allan set the stage for reconciliation between Poe and John. Also,
Poe entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, but was dishonorably discharged
next year (1831), for deliberate neglect of his duties. Shortly thereafter, he brought out a third
slim volume of poems; like its predecessors, this third book was comprised of verses on
conventional romantic subjects, notably the myth of an idealized world of beauty and joy
recaptured as dreams and memories. Unfortunately, like his first two collections, it failed to
receive any reviews. Poe applied for editorial and teaching positions, but was unsuccessful in
his effort to gain regular employment.

By 1832, the tastes of the American reading public had turned from romantic poetry and toward
humorous and satirical prose. By June of that year, he had submitted five comic pieces to the
Philadelphia Saturday Courier, thus Metzengerstein, The Duc de L'Omelette , The Bargain Lost,
A Tale of Jerusalem, and A Decided Loss, all of which were first published in 1832. After that,
Poe would write comic and satiric tales, including parodies, burlesques, grotesques and outright
hoaxes. In 1833 and 1834, Poe wrote two serious short stories, MS. Found in a Bottle (the first
of his sea tales) and The Assignation (the first Poe story to appear in a magazine with national

Yet his proposal brought his talents to the attention of John Pendleton Kennedy, and through
Kennedy, Poe received entree to the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond (1835-37), and
in 1836 Poe married his 13-year-old cousin Virginia Clemm. The next eight years were Poe’s
most productive period as a fiction writer, where he composed most of the tale s of terror
Berenice (1835), Morella (1835), Ligeia (1838), The Fall of the House of Usher (1839) and
William Wilson (1840). Then he joined Burton's Gentleman’s Magazine in Philadelphia (1839-
40) where he produced his best-selling work. The Conchologist’s First Book (1839); and finally,
he joined Graham’s Magazine (1842-43). Shortly thereafter, he became an editor of the
Messenger, to which he would contribute additional tales, poetry, and scores of book reviews.
Many of the latter were extremely abrasive and Poe quickly made enemies that would come
back to haunt him, even after his death.

In 1840, Poe financed the publication of twenty-five short stories as Tales of the Grotesque and
Arabesque, which contained one of his most famous works, The Fall of the House of Usher
(1839). But their appearance was neglected by other reviewers, many of whom Poe had already
alienated through his criticism of their talents and tastes. Also, The Murders in the Rue Morgue
(1841) and The Purloined Letter are among Poe’s most famous detective stories. Poe fired back,
with sharply-barbed literary parodies like "How to Write a Blackwood's Article ," and through
political satires, many of which were aimed at the bourgeois life-style and sensibilities of the

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rising middle class. After quarrelling with his co-editor, he was fired and Poe tried to found his
own literary journal, Penn Magazine, but found no financial backers for the project. Thereafter,
he worked for a year (April 1841 to May, 1842) as an editor at Graham's Magazine.

Due to his family’s financial insecurity, Poe attempted to gain a position at a custom’s house but
was not successful. To earn a living, Poe turned to the composition of comic pieces like Never
Bet the Devil Your Head. Yet, in 1842, his young wife Virginia suffered a burst blood vessel
and contracted tuberculosis, which was reflected in his allegory of epidemic disease, The
Masque of the Red Death (1842) and in the dark poem of lost love, The Raven (1845), which
brought Poe national fame. In the fall of 1845, Poe borrowed a large sum of money and bought
the Broadway Journal. But it failed to turn a profit and ceased publication altogether in early
1846. His wife died in the same year.

After her death, Poe began to lose his struggle with drinking and drugs , suffered from bouts of
depression and madness, and even, attempted suicide in 1848. Yet, he turned to the composition
of theoretical works about literature, human nature, and the cosmos at large, including Eureka:
A Prose Poem (1848), in which he advanced a complete theory about God’s will and the
universe. During this time, Poe developed friendships with several women, including Sarah
Helen Whitman, Mrs. Annie Richmond, and Mrs. Sarah Elmira Shelton (Poe’s adolescent
erstwhile fiancée). He became conditionally engaged to the somewhat older Sarah Helen
Whitman, but their relationship ended abruptly when he called upon her in a drunken state.

Contrary to popular belief, in his final year (1849), Poe’s life was relatively stable. He continued
to earn a living through his lectures and recital performances, and visited friends that he had
made in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Richmond. In fact, it was there that Poe wrote his last
poem, the melancholy Annabel Lee. In late September and in seemingly good health, Poe left
Richmond for New York, but for some unknown reason he stopped in Baltimore. On October 3,
1849, Poe was found deliriously ill and was taken to hospital. There he uttered his final words
and epitaph, “Lord help my poor soul,” on October 7, 1849. He was buried the next day in
Baltimore’s Presbyterian Cemetery.

4.2.2. Main themes and style.

Edgar Allan Poe, a southerner, shares with Melville a darkly metaphysical vision mixed with
elements of realism, parody, and burlesque. He refined the short story genre and invented
detective fiction. Many of his stories prefigure the genres of science fiction, horror, and fantasy

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so popular today. Poe’s short and tragic life was plagued with insecurity and this influenced his
works. He believed that strangeness was an essential ingredient of beauty, and his writing is
often exotic. His stories and poems are populated with doomed, introspective and gloomy
aristocrats (Poe, like many other southerners, cherished an aristocratic ideal).

Regarded as an American poet, a master of the horror tale, and credited with practically
inventing the detective story we shall focus on his novelist style. His main works include The
Premature Burial, Ligeia, The Cask of Amontillado, and The Fall of the House of Usher. On the
other hand, Poe’s verse, like that of many Southerners, was very musical and strictly metrical.
His best-known poem, in his own lifetime and today, is The Raven (1845), an eerie poem. Poe’
decadence also reflects the devaluation of symbols that occurred in the 19th century. The
resulting chaos of styles was particularly noticeable in the United States, which often lacked
traditional styles of its own and the loss of coherent systems of thought. In art, this confusion of
symbols fueled the grotesque, an idea that Poe explicitly made his theme in his classic collection
of stories, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840).

4.3. Walt Whitman (1819-1892): the poet.

4.3.1. Life and works.

Walt Whitman was born on May 31, 1819 at West Hills, Long Island (New York). He was the
second son of Walter Whitman, a housebuilder, and Louisa Van Velsor. Since his parents had
no intellectual interests, his education was vague and random and he had very little schooling.
The family, which consisted of nine children, lived in Brooklyn and Long Island in the 1820s
and 1830s, where he would go to public schools. At the age of twelve Whitman began to learn
the printer’s trade, and fell in love with the written word. Largely self-taught, he read
voraciously, becoming acquainted with the works of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and the Bible.

In 1836, at the age of 17, he began his career as teacher in the one-room school houses of Long
Island. He continued to teach until 1841, when he turned to journalism as a full-time career. The
years 1841 to 1848 were Whitman’s period of inner growth since he founded a weekly
newspaper, Long-Islander, and later edited a number of Brooklyn and New York papers and
magazines. In 1848, Whitman left the Brooklyn Daily Eagle to become editor of the New
Orleans Crescent for three months. It was in New Orleans that he experienced at first hand the
viciousness of slavery in the slave markets of that city.

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On his return to Brooklyn in the fall of 1848, he founded the Brooklyn Freeman, and continued
to develop the unique style of poetry that later so astonished Ralph Waldo Emerson. In 1855,
Whitman took out a copyright on the first edition of Leaves of Grass, which consisted of twelve
untitled poems and a preface which are presented in a threefold classification: Inscriptions
(“Song of Myself”), which deal with the old age and approaching death; “Children of Adam”,
where the major themes are procreation and physical love between man and woman;
“Calamus”, which refers to emotional comradeship between men. He published the volume
himself, and sent a copy to Emerson in July of 1855. In the same year he published Drum-Taps
(1855) and next year, Whitman released a second edition of the book in 1856, containing thirty-
three poems, a letter from Emerson praising the first edition, and a long open letter by Whitman
in response. During his subsequent career, Whitman continued to refine the volume, publishing
several more editions of the book, and from 1865 to 1866 he wrote Sequel to Drum-Taps.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Whitman wrote freelance journalism and visited the wounded
at New York-area hospitals. Then he travelled to Washington, D.C. in December 1862 to care
for his brother who had been wounded in the war, and stayed in the city for eleven years. He
took a job as a clerk for the Department of the Interior, which ended when the Secretary of the
Interior, James Harlan, discovered that Whitman was the author of Leaves of Grass, which
Harlan found offensive, so he was dismissed. In Washington he lived on a clerk’s salary and
modest royalties, and spent any excess money, including gifts from friends, and money to his
widowed mother and an invalid brother.

In the early 1870s, Whitman settled in Camden, where he had come to visit his dying mother at
his brother’s house. However, after suffering a stroke, Whitman found it impossible to return to
Washington. He stayed with his brother until the 1882 publication of Leaves of Grass gave
Whitman enough money to buy a home in Camden. In the same year he wrote his
autobiography Specimen Days and Collect (1882). Whitman spent his declining years working
on additions and revisions to a new edition of the book and preparing his final volume of poems
and prose, Good-Bye, My Fancy (1891). After his death on March 26, 1892, Whitman was
buried in a tomb he designed and had built on a lot in Harleigh Cemetery.

4.3.2. Main themes and style.

Whitman harmonizes romanticism and realism to achieve a true representation of the spirits of
America. Since he was an optimist, he did not show the dark side of life as Melville and Poe
did. Rather, he showed the splendour of the common man in a period of great individualism in

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American history. He visualized the role of a poet as a seer, as a prophetic genius who could
perceive and interpret his own times and also see beyond time. The ideal poet, thought
Whitman, portrays the true reality of nature and comprehends and expresses the genuine self.
For instance, in Leaves of Grass, is an uncritical acceptance of life in its totality, and works
inward to his consciousness through his senses and his insights. Another work, Democratic
Vistas shows the basic idea of President Jefferson that a good society allows the greatest
progress towards human perfection.

His major concern was to explore, discuss, and celebrate his own self, his individuality and his
personality. Hence his main themes were (1) the self, both physical and spiritual, by means of
which we see the man’s individual identity with the self, the soul and with God; (2) the body
and the soul; (3) the nature, which is an emblem of God, that is, divine; (4) time, as the link
between past, present and future; (5) mysticism, as the spiritual meaning which is not clear to
the senses; (6) death; (7) personalism, as the fusion of the individual with the community in an
ideal democracy; and finally, (8) democracy in itself, as the political form of government which
respects the individual.

As seen in his works, Whitman loved America and its democratic people. To him, the United
States were a physical entity in which individuals attained self-hood (in this case against
slavery). He has a remarkable feeling for life to be felt through the senses (sounds, images,
impressions) which is reflected in meter, rhythm and form. The rhythm marks the continuous
stream of feelings as it is when told. Whitman believed that poetry should be spoken, not
written, so he used repetition and reiterative devices. As we may notice, his language is full of
eccentricities, and contains archaic expressions, colloquial terms and also, foreign words.


Literature, and therefore, literary language is one of the most salient aspect of educational
activity. In classrooms all kinds of literary language (poetry, drama, novel, prose, periodicals,
newspapers, pamphlets), either spoken or written, is going on for most of the time. Yet,
handling literary productions in the past and, in particular, American History and Literature,
makes relevant the analysis of the main literary works, such as novels, letters, poems,
newspapers, essays, among others, which reflect the social, political, economical and cultural
situation of the period, for our purpose, the nineteenth century.

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Hence it makes sense to examine relevant figures such as of Melville, Poe or Whitman, among
others because of their relevant contributions not only to American literature, but also to
European literature as well. Who has not read or seen Melville’s Moby Dick when we were little ,
got frightened with Poeo’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue, or listened to the modern Sting’s
version of MS Found in a Bottle ? As we can see, American literature is so close to our culture
and, in particular, to most of our students through TV, films, books, and magazines, among

Currently, action research groups attempt to bring about change in classroom learning and
teaching through a focus on literary production under two premises. First, because they believe
learning is an integral aspect of any form of activity and second, because education at all levels
must be conceived in terms of literature. The basis for these assumptions is to be found in an
attempt, through the use of various modes of literary forms, to develop understanding of
students’ shared but diverse social and physical environment.

Learning involves a process of transformation of participation itself which has far reaching
implications on the role of the teacher in the teaching-learning relationship. This means that
literary genres are an analytic tool and that teachers need to identify the potential contributions
and potential limitations of them before we can make good use of the genre analysis techniques:
poems, comedies, historical accounts and romances. We must bear in mind that most students
will continue their studies at university and there, they will have to handle successfully all kind
of genres, especially poetry and fiction ones within our current framework.

But how do nineteenth-American literature tie in with the new curriculum? American literature
may be approached in linguistic terms, regarding form and function (morphology, lexis,
structure, form) and also from a cross-curricular perspective (Sociology, History, English,
French, Spanish Language and Literature). Spanish students are expected to know about the
American culture and its influence on Europe since students are required to know about the
world culture and history. So, American literature is easily approached by means of the subjects
of History, Language and Literature by establishing a paralelism with the Spanish one (age,
literature forms, events).

In addition, one of the objectives of teaching the English language is to provide good models of
almost any kind of literary productions for future studies. Following van Ek & Trim (2001), ‘the
learners can perform, within the limits of the resources available to them, those writing (and
oral) tasks which adult citizens in general may wish, or be called upon, to carry out in their

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private capacity or as members of the general public’ when dealing with their future regarding
personal and professional life.

Moreover, nowadays new technologies may provide a new direction to language teaching as
they set more appropriate context for students to experience the target culture. Present-day
approaches deal with a communicative competence model in which first, there is an emphasis
on significance over form, and secondly, motivation and involvement are enhanced by means of
new technologies. Hence literary productions may be approched in terms of films and drama
representations in class, among others, and in this case, by means of books: novels, short story,
or poetry, among others.

The success partly lies in the way the language becomes real to the users, feeling themselves
really in the language. Some of this motivational force is brought about by intervening in
authentic communicative events. Otherwise, we have to recreate as much as possible the whole
cultural environment in the classroom. This is to be achieved within the framework of the
European Council (1998) and, in particular, the Spanish Educational System which establishes a
common reference framework for the teaching of foreign languages where students are intended
to carry out several communication tasks with specific communicative goals, for instance, how
to produce a literary text (oral or written): writing a chapter of a novel, a terror story, a poem,
acting out in a theatre play, representing a film scene orally , and so on.

The knowledge about American culture (history and literature) should become part of every
literary student’s basic competence (B.O.E., 2004). There are hidden influences at work beneath
the textual surface: these may be sociocultural, inter and intratextual. The literary student has to
discover these, and wherever necessary apply them in further examination. The main aims that
our currently educational system focuses on are mostly sociocultural, to facilitate the study of
cultural themes, as our students must be aware of their current social reality within the European


On reviewing the literary figures of Herman Melville, Edgard Allan Poe and Walt Whitman, we
have examined the social, economic, and political background of the United States at the heart
of the nineteenth century through their eyes. As seen, fiction writers reflected the Romantic and
imperialist vision in the form called the ‘Romance’ and in the form of short story within a time

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of exploration, allegorical and supernatural elements, as well as mysterious and wild. Finally,
poetry reflected the main human concerns at that time, for instance, social and political events
of the time where the democratic American individual had to invent himself.

As we shall see, the three of them have been a reference point in which social, economic,
cultural, technogical and political allegiances are placed very much to the fore. Actually, H.
Melville reflects the situation of adventure within colonial travelling and the moral duality
between ‘god’ and ‘evil’ of the first colonists; E.A. Poe represents the birth of mystery fiction
within the atmosphere of the time; finally, W. Whitman would glorify both physical and
spiritual life, and also, would account for the political situation of America and its democracy
within the previous and following years of the Civil War (1861-1865).

Within Chapter 2, the historical background of the United States in the nineteenth century, we
have dealt with key events before, during and after the Civil War, such as the War of
Independence (1778-1783), the aftermath of the war in terms of social, economic and political
consequences, the Civil War itself, and finally, the aftermath of the Civil War up to President
Theodore Roosevelt (1865-1901).

Chapter 3 has offered an account of the literary background for these writers to be framed
within a literary form. Then in Chapter 4 we have reviewed how they reflected these key events.
For instance, Whitman’s reference to these events is clear in his life (since he took care of his
wounded brother) and also in his works (Leaves of Grass), which refle cted the main social
concerns of the age. Also, the novel and short story also reflected the main concerns of society,
for instance, the reactionary bourgeois politics, complicit with the rise of monopoly capital and
the resurgence of imperialism.

On the one hand, among novelists whose work has served as an arena of contention about these
matters is Herman Melville, whose career begins by fusing romance and realism in his books
about sailors and South Seas imperialism and culminates in the romantic realism of the great
industrial novel Moby Dick (1851). But he has has also been connected to an American cultural
nationalism, an assertion of freedom from European norms of reality and form, and on the other
hand sometimes to his growing hatred of American politics and economics, sometimes to his
complicity with what he hated, and sometimes to his idea of an artistic individualism that
transcends political conditions.

And finally, short story development, represented by Edgard Allan Poe, experimented the rising
of stories of hauntings, mystery, terror and suspense which was associated to the romantic view

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of gothic novel, and perhaps to his personal life, since Poe shaped heroic figures larger than life,
burning with mythic significance.

Chapter 5 has examined the main educational implications in language teaching regarding this
issue in the classroom setting; and our main aim right now, which is to offer a relevant
conclusion on our present study. Finally, Chapter 7 provides again all the bibliographical
references used to develop this account of the United States’ History and Literature in the
nineteenth century for further information.

So far, we have attempted to provide the reader in this presentation with a linguistic, historical
and cultural background on the vast amount of literature productions in the nineteenth-century
literature in the United States. This information is relevant for language learners, even 2nd year
Bachillerato students, who do not automatically establish similiarities between Brit ish and
Spanish literary works. So, learners need to have these associations brought to their attention in
cross-curricular settings. As we have seen, understanding how literature genres developed into
the ones we know today is important to students, who are expected to be aware of the richness
of English literature, both in the United States and on the European continent.

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Albert, E. 1990. A History of English Literature. Walton-on-Thames. Nelson. 5th edition (Revised by J.A.

Allan Neilson, W. et al. 2001. Lectures on the Harvard Classics, edited byVol. XLI. The Harvard
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Alexander, M. 2000. A History of English Literature. Macmillan Press. London.

B.O.E. 2004. Consejería de Educación y Cultura. Decreto N.º 116/2004, de 23 de enero. Currículo de la
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