American Literature

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American Literature

American Literature: Volume I

    Lectures on American Literature

    1. Historical introduction

    2. Selected Readings

    3. Critical Analysis Course Description

     There is great importance of offering this course for the English major


     The course is made up of three (Volume I) parts, planned to finish within

    72 periods, 18 weeks.

     The students are required to attend the classes and participate actively in

    the group discussion and class presentation A Brief Introduction of the Contents

    Part One The literature of colonial America

    1. Historical introduction

    2. The first American writer

    3. Early New England literature

    4. Puritan thoughts Part Two The Literature of Reason and Revolution

    1. Historical introduction

    2. Benjamin Franklin

    3. Thomas Paine

    4. Thomas Jefferson

    5. Philip Freneau Part Three The Literature of Romanticism

    1. Historical introduction

    2. Washington Irving

    3. James Fenimore Cooper

    4. William Cullen Bryant

    5. Edgar Allan Poe

    6. Ralph Waldo Emerson

    7. Henry David Thoreau

    8. Nathaniel Hawthorne

     9. Herman Melville

    10. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    Lecture 1

    Part One The Literature of Colonial America

    1. Historical Introduction

    a. The early settlement of the New continent

     The earliest settlers who came to settle down in the New Continent include Dutch, Swedes, Germans, French, Spaniards, Italians and Portuguese. The English settlers came later than the above, who chiefly settled down in Virginia and Massachusetts. In the New Continent, there were still Negroes in New England, the Middle Colonies and throughout the South. And the Indian were


everywhere. Read Page 1 and find where they were?

    b. The Indian oral literature

    The Indians were the original settler of this vast continent. The had their own

    type of literature: Oral Literature. The Indian oral literature included the

    legends, tales, heroic stories and love stories which passed down from

    generation to generation before the European settlers came to this continent.

    c. What were the first writings of the settlers?

     The first writings of these settlers were the narratives and journals. They

    wrote about their voyages to the new land, about adapting themselves to the

    unfamiliar climates and crops, about dealing with the local Indians. They wrote

    in diaries and journals. They wrote letters and contracts and government

    charters and religious and political statements. They wrote about the land which

    stretched before the---unimaginable and vast, with rich dense forests and

    deep-blue lakes and rich soil, which stirred the imagination to great heights. All

    seemed possible through hard work and faith.

    d. Where did the Englishmen firstly settle down?

     The first permanent English settlement in North America was established at

    Jamestown, Virginia, in 1617, Captain John Smith was the leader of the small

    band. His reports of exploration, published in the early 1600s, have been

    described as the first distinctly American literature to be written in English.

    Smiths description of America were filled with themes, myths, images , scenes, characters, and events that were a foundation for the nations literature. His

    portrayed English North America as a land of endless beauty. His vision helped

    lure the Pilgrims and the Puritans who saw themselves as new saints with a

    spiritual mission to flee the Old World and create a New Israel, a New Promised

    Land, in the America that John Smith had described.

    2. Who is the first American writer?

     Captain John Smith is the first American writer. In 1608, his little book

    entitled A True Relation of Such occurrences and Accidents of Note as Hath Happened in Virginia Since the First Planting of That Colony was published,

    which was read eagerly by many and made a reputation for its author.

     His next book was A Map of Virginia; with a Description of the Country

    which was published in 1612. This book was a guide to the country and an

    invitation to the bold spirits needed to enlarge and strengthen the English

    plantations in new land.

     John Smith published altogether eight works in all, some of them dealing

    with New England, the coast which he explored and mapped after his fortune

    faded with the Virginia Company.

     His General History of Virginia which was published in 1624 contained many

    famous tales of how the Indian Princess saved him.

    3. What are the contributions of his works? (for students group discussion)

    4. Early New England Literature

     The early New England literature had from the beginning a literature of

    ideas: theological, moral, historical, and political.


     The Puritans built a way of life in the New England: hard work, thrift, piety

    and sobriety. These Puritan values dominated much of the earliest American

    writings, including the sermons, books and letters of such noted Puritan

    clergymen as John Cotton and Cotton Mather.

    5. William Bradford and John Winthrop

     William Bradford, the first governor of Plymouth, and John Winthrop, who

    held the same position at Boston, were men of leadership who left us a priceless

    gift: Bradford, The History of Plymouth Plantation (1856) which gave an account

    of the small group of Puritans who migrated from England to Amsterdam and

    then to the New World, he also wrote some poems about the colony. Winthrop,

    The History of New England which gave a account of the life and work of those

    Puritans in New England.(1826).

    6. What are the Puritan Thoughts?

     Puritans included people from the humblest to the loftiest ranks of English

    society, both educated and uneducated, poor and rich. They held extreme

    opinions and looked upon themselves as the chosen people, and followed logically

    that anyone who challenged their way of life was opposing the Gods will and

    was not to be accepted. They were thus zealous in defense of their own beliefs

    and often intolerant of the beliefs of others.

     Puritans opposition to pleasure and the arts has sometimes been

    exaggerated, but it is true that their lives were disciplined and hard. Puritans

    tended to suspect joy and laughter as symptoms of sin. The Puritan made laws

    about private morality as well as public behavior.

     Puritans religious tended to emphasize the image of a wrathful God and to

    forget His mercy. Nathaniel Hawthorne called the Puritans the stern and

    black-browed Puritans. If we want to know more, we may study John Cotton

    and Roger Williams.

    7. John Cotton and Roger Williams

    a. John Cotton

     John Cotton was regarded as the first spokesman of the Massachusetts Bay

    Colony or “ the Patriarch of New England”. John Cotton wrote several books of

    hard-hitting Puritan arguments, but his primary influence was through the

    pulpit and the local people liked to hear him preach and some of his listeners

    were convinced that he could make no mistakes, for God would not suffer Mr.

    Cotton to err. Through Cotton we could see that the Puritans were more concerned with authority than with democracy.

    b. Roger Williams

     Roger Williams had been educated in law at Cambridge University but he

    finally entered the church and was caught up in the Puritan tide. In 1631, he

    came to Massachusetts colonies and was exiled to Rhode Island for his

    democratic views and disagreement with the leaders.

     With Williams begins the history of religious toleration in America, and with

    him too, the history of the separation of church and state. Because of his strange

    ideas and disagreement with the governor Cotton, he was banished and exiled.


He founded a community which he called Providence, because of Gods merciful

    providence to him in his distress. Roger Williams showed much interest in the

    Indian language and wrote some literary works including A Key into the language

    of America; Or, a Help to the language of the Natives in That Part of America

    Called New England.

     Williams is as important for his political views as for his religious beliefs:

    Oaths in the name of God should not be administered to unbelievers because

    such an oath is a form of religious affirmation; no political order or church

    system could identify itself directly with God.

    8. Anne Bradford and Edward Taylor: Two Poets

    a. Anne Bradstreet is one of the most interesting of the early poets, both her

    father and her husband were governors of Massachusetts, and Anne

    herself was a productive poet, a wild wife and a mother of eight children.

    It was her brother-in-law who finally put her work into the hands of a

    publisher and finally got her poems published, the title of the collection of

    her poems was The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, most of the

    poems were about the simple life of her daily life. See page 13.

    b. Edward Taylor is the best of the Puritan poets, who came from England

    as a young man and attended Harvard, later entering the major

    profession of the time, ministry. He is the most accomplished poetic

    craftsman of the early years. His work followed the style and forms of the

    leading English poets of the mid-seventeenth century and his poems

    showed his authentic poetic ability. Most of his poems treated religious

    themes. His poems were found in manuscript in 1937 and got published in


Lecture 2

Part II The Literature of Reason and Revolution

    1. Historical Introduction



    c. Thomas Paines Common Sense

    d. Declaration of Independence

    e. The reasons of the Independent War

    f. American Enlightenment

    g. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine

2. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

    a. Biographical introduction

    The greatest man and ornament of the age and country in which he lived.

     ____________Thomas Jefferson

    Benjamin Franklin is a hero of Colonial America and remains the most

    famous, multi-talented figure in the nations history. He is a blend of a


    philosopher, scientist, inventor, printer, musician, economist and statesman

    and is regarded as one of the founding fathers of America. He was born in

    Boston in 1706 into a poor soap and candle makers family by the second wife

    of his father---poor and obscure as he says of himself in his autobiography,

    the tenth boy of 17 children, he only attended grammar school for two years

    and had very little formal education. At the age of 10, Franklin worked for

    his father. However, his did not enjoy the candle-making profession, and two

    years later, he was apprenticed to his older bother, James, as a printer.

    During this period, he read widely and always believed that the doors of

    wisdom are never shut. At the age of 16, he began to publish essays

    commenting on the social life in Boston. At the age of 17, he quarreled with

    his brother and left Boston for Philadelphia to make his own fortune. It was

    in this city that he got his great success and became a great man in the history

    of America. He died in 1790 at the age of 84.

    b. His literary achievements

     Benjamin Franklin started The Pennsylvania Gazette (later The Saturday Evening Post), The Philadelphia Gazette and The General Magazine, which

    publishes his writings and other revolutionary writings. He Wrote Poor Richards Almanac and The Autobiography which it still widely read today.

    c. His literary position

     Benjamin Franklin is the only colonial writer whose works are widely

    read today. He is the writer who had a gift for writing. He had power of

    expression, simplicity, and a subtle humor. He is also sarcastic. He is still

    well-known for his The Autobiography. When he died , one of his fellow Americans said,His shadow lies heavier than any other mans on this young nation.

    d. His masterpiece: The Autobiography

     The Autobiography is Benjamin Franklins masterpiece on which he devoted his efforts on four different occasions over a period of 19 years. He addressed the

    first part of his Autobiography to his son William Franklin (1731-1813) who was

    governor of New Jersey. It was begun on July 30 and ended on or about August

    13, 1771. Not until he was living in France and was minister of the newly founded

    United States did Franklin work on the manuscript again. The last two sections

    were written in August and the winter of 1789-1790, when he stopped because of

    illness. It was published in Paris in March of 1791.

    e. Appreciation of The Autobiography

     The Autobiography is generally accepted as a classic of its kind, and it

    inspires and delights readers everywhere. It is a simple yet immensely fascinating

    record of a man rising to fame and wealth from a state of poverty and humble

    origin, a faithful account of the colorful career of Americans first self-made man.

     The Autobiography is, first of all, a typical embodiment of Puritanism and

    the Enlightenment which were prevailing in the 18th century America. It is a

    puritan document which puts great emphasis on self-examination, order, and


education in found with full expression in the writings.

     The Autobiography establishes in literary form the first example of the

    fulfillment of the American dream. Franklin demonstrates the possibilities of life

    in the New World through his own rise from the lower middle class as a youth to

    one of the most admired men in the world as an adult.

     The Autobiography also tells us today what life was like in the 18th century

    America. Still it is also a reflection of the 18th century idealism.

    As an author he has power of expression, simplicity, sarcasm, and a subtle

    humor. The style of The Autobiography will readily reveal that it is written in the pattern of Puritan simplicity, directness, and concision. The words used should

    be the most expressive that the language affords, provided that they are the most

    generally understood. Franklins style possesses with a masterful flexibility and original vitality. His writings seem to be always highly polished, graceful,

    durable and didactic as a collection of moralizing essays.

     f. What can you learn from the selected parts?

    3. Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

    a. Biographical introduction and literary achievements

     Thomas Paine had a natural gift for pamphleteering and rebellion, and he

    was born into an age of revolution.

     He was regarded as Great Commoner of Mankind, and he was the son of a

    nominal Quaker of Thetford, England. He was early apprenticed to his father, a

    staymaker. At 19, he went to the sea for about two years, then he followed his

    fathers trade as master staymaker in several English communities. For 12 years

    he worked as an Excise officer and spent his leisure time in the eager pursuit of

    books and ideas, particularly the study of social philosophy and new science.

    Later he was dismissed for neglecting his duty and worked as a teacher near

    London for about one year.

    During his working as an excise collector, he learnt much about the

    hardship of the tax-burdened masses and the hopeless of the humble workers of

    his own class. When his first wife died, he married again and got a tobacconists

    shop in Lewes where he stationed, but he still lived a poor life.

    In 1722, he wrote his first pamphlet, The Case of the Officers of the Excise, and spent in London for the next winter working for the benefit of his own

    people in London. Later he lost he job and went to bankrupt. When he was

    thirty-seven, he met Benjamin Franklin who recognized his peculiar talent and

    recommended him to Philadelphia in 1774.

     In Philadelphia Paine edited several magazines such as Pennsylvania

    Magazine, and contributed to Pennsylvania Journal. At that time the relations

    between the colony and England was in tense, and people could recognize the

    political satirist of Paine. On January 10, 1876, his famous pamphlet Common

    Sense appeared, which boldly advocated a Declaration of Independence. And

    Paine became the spokesman of the American Revolution. Later he wrote a

    collection of 16 pamphlets including the most well-known one The American



     When the independent war was over, Paine went to Paris and London to do

    some research work and reported what he observed to General Washington,

    later the first American president. When he got back to America, he continued in

    writing such works as Rights of Man (1791-1792), The Age of Reason (1794-1795),

    Agrarian Justice (1797) and others.

     When he became old, Paine stayed on his own farm, living an obscure life

    and died of illness in 1809.

    b. Appreciation of The American Crisis

    The first of the sixteen pamphlets now known as The Crisis, these pamphlets

    were firstly appeared in Pennsylvania Journal, December 19, 1776. The last one

    of the sixteen pamphlets was regarded by Paine as the authoritative, which

    appeared on December 9, 1783.

     In this pamphlet, Paine disclosed the British governments stern ruling

    and exploitation of the colonies and called on the people to fight for their own

    freedom and peace. Paine declared that If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.

     The language Paine used in his pamphlet is simple and concise, the sentences

    are quite short but with much denotations.


    (1) How did Paine describe the sufferings of the colonial people?

    (2) What is the purpose of writing this pamphlet?

    4. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

    a. Biographical Introduction

     Thomas Jefferson was born in Albemarle county, Virginia, on April 13, 1743.

    nd(See the 2 paragraph on page 36)

     It may be that Thomas Jeffersons thought and personality have influenced his countrymen more deeply, and remained more effectively alive, than those of

    any other American. In China, people remember Thomas Jefferson chiefly as the

    writer of The Declaration of Independence as well as the president elected in 1800 for two terms.

    a. Appreciation of The Declaration of Independence

    1) The historic background of The Declaration of Independence

     See Notes on page 42.

    2) Comment on The Declaration of Independence

    The Declaration of Independence is written by Thomas Jefferson with the help

    of Benjamin Franklin and others. It is regarded as the most important document

    in the history of the United States of America. In the Declaration, the

    philosophical and political ideals were expressed and the root of which can be

    thfound in the 18 century thoughts of the Enlightenment Movement. The

    Declaration also reflects Jeffersons authorship, his precise clarity and powerful grace of thought.

    In the Declaration, we can find that Jefferson used the Laws of Nature and of

    Natures God to stress that the colonial Americans have the right to pursue their

    life, liberty and happiness. To carry out this great task, the American people had


only to pick up arms to fight for the realization of their ideals.

    We can find that Jefferson used simple words and simpler sentences in the

    Declaration which makes this great document to be read and understood by all

    the Americans in the thirteen colonies.

    5) Philip Freneau (1752-1832)

    a. Biographical Introduction

     He is worthy of study as a cross-section of an intensely significant period in our

    political and literary history rather than as an intrinsically wise political theorist or

    a profound creator of poetic beauty.

     _________Harry H. Clark

     Philip Freneau is perhaps the most outstanding writer of the

    Post-Revolutionary period. His double role as poet and political journalist in the

    transitional age of the Revolution is consistent with the contradictions of his

    poetry. Freneau was neoclassical by training and taste yet romantic in essential

    sprit. He was also at once a satirist and a sentimentalist, a humanitarian but also

    a bitter polemicist (orator), a poet of Reason yet celebrant of lovely fancy, and a deistic optimist most inspired by themes of death and transience .

     Freneau was born on January 2, 1752, in New York. He was tutored for

    Princeton where he established close relationship with a future president, James

    Madison, and a future novelist, Hugh Henry Brackenridge. In collation with the

    latter he produced his earlier work; slightly later, in The Power of Fancy (1770), a genuine independence appears.

     After graduation and an unsatisfactory teaching experience, he gained his

    first popular success in New York in 1775 as satirist of the British. In 1776,

    Freneau made his first voyage to the West Indies, where he wrote The House of Night, foreshadowing the Gothic mood of Poe and Coleridge---F. L. Pattee calls

    it the first distinctly romantic note heard in America”---and The Beauty of Santa Cruz, blending the praise of nature with social protest in his characteristic

    later manner. This poetry foretold achievement of a distinguished order, but he

    was soon diverted from the literature into the tide of revolution. As passenger on

    an American ship attacked by the British in 1780, he was taken prisoner. The British Prison Ship (1781) reveals this. All Freneaus early poems were collected in The Poems of Philip Freneau Written Chiefly During the Later War (1786). In 1788, his collection of poems, essays appeared. In 1790, he got married and

    almost literally flung himself as a political journalist into the raging

    controversies between the Jeffersonian Democrats, whom he supported, and the

    Hamiltons Federalists.

     In New York, Frneau edited the Daily Advertiser. In 1791, probably with the support of Jefferson, he established in Philadelphia the National Gazette, and campaigned against the opinions of the powerful Gazette of the United States supported by Hamilton. He also served in Jeffersons Department of State as a translating clerk and when Jefferson withdrew political circle temporarily, he

    also resigned and his paper declined.

     b. Freneaus literary position


     As a poet, Freneau heralded American literary independence; his close

    observation of nature distinguished his treatment of indegenious wild life and

    other native American subjects. In contrast with the ornate style of his early

    couplets, he later developed a natural, simple, and concrete diction, best

    illustrated in such nature lyrics as The wild Honey Suckle and The Indian

    Burying Ground. Freneau did not establish trends, but he represented qualities that were to be characteristic of the next half century. He has been called Father

    of American Poetry, and it is ultimately in a historical estimate that Freneau was important.

    c. Comment on the three poems by Freneau

     The Wild Honey Suckle`

    The first stanza: This stanza tells the feature of this peculiar flower and where

    this fair flower grows.

    The second stanza: This stanza praises the beauty and elegance of the wild honey


    The third stanza: This stanza shows the authors regret for the short life of the

    wild honey suckle.

    The fourth stanza: This stanza tells that the life of the wild honey suckle is the

    same as everything in this world.

     The Indian Burying Ground

    The first stanza: Despite the learned people’s words, the author keeps his own

    opinion that the died Indians were buried in sitting posture in

    order to keep their souls living eternally.

    The second stanza: When the Indians died, they could still sit with their friends

    and enjoy a happy life in another world.

    The third stanza: When the Indians died, they had all the things they had got

    while they were living.

    The fourth stanza: When the Indian hunters died, they had all their hunting

    tools with them which seemed that they were still hunting. The fifth stanza: When a stranger comes to prove the truth, he finds that the

    Indians were buried as he has been told before. The sixth stanza: This is what the Indian burying ground is like.

    The seventh stanza: The Indian burying ground was a happy place.

    The eighth stanza: The Indian Queen was said to be buried here and she was

    often seen by others.

    The ninth stanza: When night falls, the past Indians were seen hunting as if they

    were still living.

    The tenth stanza: What are decorated here reflect the Indian peoples life.

To a Caty-Did

    Hold group discussion among the student on this poem.

Part Three


The Literature of Romanticism

    Historical Introduction (See page 52)

    1. History of the age

    2. Literary characteristics

Washington Irving1783-1859

    1. Biographical Introduction

    Washington Irving was gently born and well educated, the youngest of 11

    children of a prosperous New York merchant, he began a genteel reading for the

    law at 16, but preferred literature very much. When he was 19, he began to

    publish his writings. When he was 22, he traveled in England, Holland, France

    and Italy, reading and studying what pleased him. Bach in New York, he joined

    his brother in producing some papers, and began to take writing as his career.

    A personal tragedy, however, changed his course for a time; the death of his

    fiancée as well as the demands of his family business. So in 1810, he went to

    Washington as representative of business, and he went to work in Europe for the

    next 16 years. As a writer, Washington Irving was so naturally endowed that he

    seemed to drift into his career at the whim of the circumstances and his own

    inclination. He was the first great prose stylist of American romanticism and his

    familiar style was destined to outlive the formal prose of such contemporaries as

    Scott and Cooper, and to provoke a model for the prevailing prose narrative of

    the future.(p.60, line 1-5)

     Washington Irving was the first great belletrist (pure literature writer),

    writing always for pleasure, and to produce pleasure; yet readers of all classes

    responded to him in a country in which the didactic and the utilitarian had

    formerly prevailed. In his Sketch Book appeared the first modern short stories and the first great American juvenile literature. He was among the first of the

    moderns to write good history and biography as literary entertainment. He

    introduced the familiar essay to America. On his own strange terms, Irving

    restored the declining Gothic romances which Poe soon infused with

    psychological subtleties. The scope of his life and writing was international, and

    produced a certain breadth of view in his readers; yet his best known stories

    awakened an interest in the life of American regions from the Hudson valley to

    the prairies of the West.

    2. His literary achievements

    Washington Irving was a productive writer, his works include Sketch Book

    (1819-1820), Rip Van Winkle (1819), Brace bridge Hall (1822), Tales of a Traveler

    (1824), Charles the Second or The Merry Monarch (1824), A History of the Life

    and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (1828), A Chronicle of the Conquest of Grandada (1832), Voyages and Discoveries of the Companions of Columbus (1832),

    Legends of the Conquest of Spain (1835), A Tour on the prairies (1835). Astoria

    (History of Astors fur trade, 1836), The Adventures of Captain boneville (1837),

    The Legend of the Sleepy Hollow (1836), Life of Oliver Goldsmith (1840), Life of

    George Washington (published from 1855-1859).


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