The literary history of the United States of America began with the settlement of Jamestown in 1607, the early settlers from England and Europe took pretty long time to record their human experience in the new environment. They had no time to write poems, essays, diaries and books. Survival was the first and most vital problem for the pioneer settlers. They had to fight the wilderness and had to convert a rugged forest into cultivable land. They had to encounter adverse elemental forces and they had to make out a meager existence on the barren soil and uncongenial environment. Lack of leisure accounted for the lack of literature. They brought copies of the Bible and the prayer book with them and those were enough to cater to their literary needs. They could read new volumes that arrived from England only when they availed of leisure.1
The creation of literature requires the feeling of national consciousness, awareness and unity which was conspicuous by its absence in early settlers in the early decades of the seventeenth century. The explosion of population coupled with increasing poverty compelled Englishmen and Europeans to migrate to America, where they settled in isolated colonies, which were the independent units.
Columbus, a Genoese in the service of Spinishkin Freidan, sailed through unchartered seas and discovered the new continent Columbus reached Mexico and the California coast, over the great plains of the north and south-ward into Brazil and Peru. French explorers and priests reached New Orleans. British, Dutch, and Swedes settled on the ferial Atlantic coastal plain. During the colonial period which stretches from 1607 to 1763. We find not one American person, but many American peoples. Georgia, Carolina, Virginia, Mary Land, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut,
Rhodef Island, Massachusetts, Florida, Alabama, Philadelphia and Maine were the thirteen centers of colonial life. The populations were of the same England and Europeans stock but they were different widely in personal in social peculiarities. The settlers in these colonies absorbed various racial characteristics and evolved 'an autonomous cultural life' each of the colonies was isolated in law, in military plans, in social usages, in spirit on opinion and in customs. Although they were unfriendly and un-sympathic at time they contained the formative elements of a nation.
The Catholic French dominated the North and the West, Spanish emigrants dominated in Alabama and Florida and the English where confined to the coast line by 1700. According to the literary history of the United State “If they were later to absorb the most of the continent the long delay allowed them time to adjust to new conditions, to put down roots to adopt their heterogeneous old world inheritance to a new environment they developed colonial education colonial books, colonial publishing, colonial literary art.'' Out of this came in time a national culture.
The year 1765 is of crucial importance in the history of the United State. During this the delegate from different country assembled in New York to participate in the first continental congress. The long period of colonial isolation came to an end and a current of unity, assimilation and national awareness swept through all countries.
The Stamp Act of 1765 was a momentous event, which was followed by a great tumult and upheaval. It forged national unity. The first effect of the Stamp Act and the unrest that followed it was to unite the countries and prepare them for nationality. The American or continental congress meet at Philadelphia in 1774 focused on the unity and concord and the amazing resemblance among the members.
In 1774 the American colonies were united in sprit. By that time they were loyal to England in thought, in spirit and in action. Only a few and bold visionary thinkers like Henry and Adams had envisaged a separate national existence.
Thomas Paine held up to Americans the goal of independence and republicanism in 1776. It was clear that the revolution would take the shape of Civil War in which Americans fought Americans. A large number of colonists continued to be loyal to Great Britain because they feared that the democratic revolution would usher into an era of American independence. The declaration of independence pronounced that ''all men are created equal' it ushered in a new order based upon the principal that the government was created for the welfare of the common men. The constitutional convention held in Philadelphia in 1787 was another landmark in the process of the creation of the United States of America. It drew up plans for the creation of '' more perfect union''. It aimed at reconciling order with liberty and creating ''a strong central government capable of resisting foreign foes and American populists alike''.
The spirit of unity and integration in national life was strengthened by the spread of educator, and the establishment of colleges in colonial America. During the colonial period seven colleges were firmly established in Haward, Yale, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Rhode Island, and two other colleges were known as William and Mary, and Kings.
These colleges maintained a very high academic standard and exhibited high regard for learning and educated people. In these colleges young men from various colonies fraternized and created.
On returning to their distant colonial settlement they belonged to, they carried the ideal of common fellowship and nationality.
The educated young men were the vanguard of the Revolution that changed some of colonies into the American nation.
For about a century and a half America was a cluster of colonies, some hardly sows tentatively moved westward. After a successful rebellion against Great Britain America became the United State, powerful and influential nation in the comity of nations.
According to the literary history of the United States of America they developed as powerful nations by 1820.
The triumph of democratic ideals and the ending of the menace of foreign intervention enabled Americans to turn their attention to the business of settling and developing the continent. The purely polemical phase of American Literature was passing and writers could give literary expression to something more enduring than political passions of the day. America, it began to be recognized, in its size color and diversity furnished the man of letters with a wealth of material for his pen. No longer wholly concerned with hewing out a livelihood from a forest wilderness, and now imbued with a desire to exploit the literary resources of their country, Americans were prepared for the long awaited and long delayed, American renaissance.
The origin and growth of American literature are intimately connected with the growth of America as a nation. The progenitor of American literature had a European and an Anglo-Saxon past. Chaucer, Shakespeare, the ballads, the English Augustan Poetry and Romanticism, the English novel of character and other Eros-currents of English literature have left an indelible influence on American imagination and literature. Its roots reach down into English literature. But American literary culture is ''transformed'' one. Spiller writes.
Yet, it is equally true that our literature is a transformed culture. It has been written in a few continents and under conditions definitely and impressively different in the vast majority of instances form the circumstances of Great Britain, or of Europe in general.
Although English is the common language of both of English and American literatures, but the literature of the United State of America is written in the English language which expresses ''the value, the expectations, the experiences of life in America'' which have been significantly different from those of England. The language too has been transformed in order to give expression to typical American sentiments and environment. It is written in the English language which bears the stamp of the American nationality sensibility and ethos. Hence it is American literature written in American English. The early writers in America-Captain John Smith, William Bradford, Edward Taylor and Mrs. Bradstreet came from England but they wrote entirely in a new setting America which has left its color and stamp upon their works and hence they belong legitimately to American literature. They form an inheritable part of the story of American literature. They are the founders of this literature. They stamped their spiritual and cultural lineage upon in. These mighty pioneers were devoted with missionary spirit to the cause of building a strong and powerful nation, free from the tyrannical role of kings and based on democratic ideals.
America had no literary tradition. The early settlers in America came from different countries to escape religious persecution in their own country or lured by promise of quick wealth from country's gold or tobacco. During the Nineteenth century further emigrants, driven by poverty and hardship form their own over populated countries, went to America. They were Irish, Scandinavians, Italians, Palend and others. These historical factors highly influenced the origin and growth of American literature. First, America was a vastly scattered settlement of colonies rather than a nation. Secondary, all these settlers had their roots. In Europe, America had no folklores; it had no epic like Iliad or Odyssey in ancient Greece; Beowulf in English. Thirdly, there was no American reading public. There were no means of printing books, thus, the early writers in America followed no literary tradition and lift no tradition. They followed only European or English literary modes. Even this type of literature was confined to those colonial settlements where a civilized society existed.
American literature began with the beginning of American history in 1607. Belle's letters of literature purely in an aesthetic sense came to be written about the close of the Eighteenth Century. Broadly speaking literature records human experiences. So, what the colonists wrote about their explorations and experiences in new colonial settlement must be considered the prelude to American literature. In the beginning it had no tradition of its own and it followed the literary patterns of English literature and that of other European countries. In the course of time it founded its own traditions and now it occupies an important place in the literary map of America.
America lacks in folk literature because its literary tradition is not very old. The colonists came to the new world about three hundred fifty years ago. These early settlers had little time to write because they were fully busy in planting their furrows corn and doing the arrows of Indians. All these settlers had their roots in English or in European tradition, so America could not boast of a rich folklore of its own. It could not have an epic like Iliad or Odyssey in ancient Greece, and like Beowulf of paradise lost in England. It had no literature depicting a heroic or vanished past. America was a new world having a very short history. It had no heroic past. Folk literature flourishes in a country where cultural activities enrich a nation's remote past.
Lack of a cultural past accounts for the lack of folk literature in America.
American literature authentically mirrors the character of the nation since its birth onward. It reflects the myriad cultural traits, which makes America a nation. The early settlers' accounts of travels, descriptions of the land and authentic reports of colonial life reveal the aspiration and hopes, the trails and set back of those who were struggling against the wilderness. these early writing tell us how the nation grew.
Strong tough shifts wants, and pains nursed by stern men with empires in colonial American literature depict the dangerous adventures, the hard works and difficult decisions. American literature reveals the American spirit and character. The American spirit is made up largely of courage, industry and optimism. These are the characteristics where inspire men and enable there to tackle the problems.
The early literature ''it is a great reservoir of material and inspiration for nineteenth century for readers today it still provides an understanding of those bedrock of American experiences which developed the national character and our peculiarly American institutions.'' To trace the root of American literary tradition we have to go right back to the colonial period.
Individuality and dignity of labor distinguish Americans. These two aspects elevate the common man. The entire gamut of this literature is highly individualistic and democratic. The poetry of Walt Whitman, Robert Frost and Pound; the novels of Faulkner, Hemingway, Sherwood and Erson and many others glorify the common man in their works. What Faulkner describes as ''the quest for social justice'' finds its strongest expression in the novels of Hemingway. His novels deal with the Idolization of the common man.
American literature deals with facts and not with abstraction, American are not best theorizers as English men are. They are the world's best fact finders. This love for facts is revealed in American literature, especially in novel, up to Sinclair, Hemingway, Dreiser etc. dealing with facts. American literature is factual and realistic, American writers deal with literary, philosophical, social, political and economic problems of society.
The aboriginals, popularity known as Red Indians, occupied the forests and vast stretches of land before English men and Europeans invaded the New World. They were the nomadic descendents of rich and powerful Mongoloid races which had migrated many centuries earlier form Asia. They were reluctant to be converted to Christianity and did not follow the idealism of the colonizers who had invaded their land. The American Indian was marginalized.
''Pushed back despoiled, and exploited for three hundred years; He' left an indelible stamp upon the imagination of his conqueror. The Indian was an individualist not because he was in revolt, but because he had accepted his place in the physical universe, and with it his place in his own limited society. The Red Indians had no written record of their thoughts and feelings. Their prose and poetry mainly existed in oral tradition. In the beginning the colonizers were considerate and sympathetic to them. It was the Indian of the white man's imagination, says Robert spiller, rather than the Indian of historical fact who finally become an important part of the usable past of American literature''.
(I)AMERICAN NOVEL AND IT'S IMPACTS
(A BRIEF SURVEY)
World events and upheavals, such as the two World Wars, the spread of communism, the fall of Fascism, and the national and local events such as rapid industrialization and urbanization, the great dust bowl disaster, the prohibition experiment of the twenties, the great depression of the thirties left their mark on the social, cultural and literary life of America. The inventions of sciences as the advent of radio, the automobile, the moving picture theatres, the television and the electrification of rural America ushered into an era of scientific and technological advancement and further research, which changed national thinking, social life and cultural values and readers were influenced by interest in psychology, especially the works of Freud and Jung' the sociological studies of environmental influences upon the development of personality and the concept of causality developed in the physical science.
Naturalism fostered by Stephen, Crane, Frank, Norris, Jack, London and Theodore Dressier, dominated the American novel during the first three decades of the twentieth century. Humanism was a marked characteristic of American novel during this period.
The American novel of the first sixty years of the twentieth century is conspicuous for the following characteristics:
(i) Naturalism and Realism
As a literary movement naturalism came into prominence with the works of Stephen Crane, Frank Morris, Jack London and Theodore Dressier. These novelists modified the gentler realism of the previous age. Naturalism is related the developing sciences of the end of the nineteenth century. As a literary method it '' attempted scientific objectivity in the treatment of the natural man, and emphasized the overpowering aspects of his environment on his passions and instincts.
French Literature especially the works of Lola influenced the rise of naturalism in American literature. Dressier for first time was fully devoted to the method of Lola and could be described as the first great naturalist in American novel of the twentieth century.
Hamlin Garland (1860-1940), who had wide but superficial reading in popular science, had bitter memories of harshness in his boyhood. He had some knowledge of French impressionism too. He pioneered the movement of divorcing American novel from tradition and at limitation and put emphasis at the exploration of truth. He observed that both the pleasant and unpleasant aspects of life must or the theme of novel. The form of the novel must be based on the movement of experience His novel “The Crumbling Idols” (1894) is an early example of the use of naturalism in American novel.
Naturalism gave way to realism, which can be rough, cradle and strong. It can also be delicate and sharp. Realism is an outstanding characteristic of modern American novel. Commenting on realism William Van o' Connor writes in The Introduction of Modern American Novelists.
“We expect a fiction writer to know his craft, and to help us discover something about the world we did not know before or know in the same way, something we believes to be true and that has relevance to own attitude. And conduct. We expect a fiction writer to find as we do in life, themes submerged in action, he must ponder them and make them live, like a vital electrical force.”
Some realists like John Steinbeck and William Faulkner wrote novels which are the best example of regionalism, Steinbeck chose California during the depression years. He depicted it with amazing reality. His work is the finest example of regionalism in the twentieth century.
(ii) Political Awareness
Political Awareness has also engaged novelists of the modern era. It represents an important aspect of realism.
Robert Alter writes: Two opposite strategies have been adopted to portray a realm of politics that often appears facial or sinister or both at once. On the one hand, most of our serious, self consciously innovative novelists have chosen to represent politics as sheer farce, in a mood of hilarity or range more essential the other strategy, which has appealed to more popular of least more conventional have lists, is not peer into what might prove vertiginous depth, but instead to write about contemporary politics more or less as Trollope wrote about the British parliamentary politics of his day, making minor adjustments to catch the spirit of moment like saying ''media'' where a Victorian would have written press. 2
Robert Pen Warren's All the King's men (1946) is a fine political novel which fulfils both these requirement. It provides a probing scrutiny of a political man's character and a suggestive sense of connections between political and the enigmas of existence. John Dos Passes was a great innovator of the American political novel. His USA trilogy is not a political novel. The second trilogy District of Columbia covers the depression of the Second World War years. The first novel of the trilogy Adventures of a Young Man does not deal with the political system in action.
The American novel after 1960 also dealt with contemporary reality. Richard Condon's the Manchurian Candidate and William Braymer's. The Gay Place made significance contribution to American political novel.
(iii) Hope and Idealism
Some novelists of this period were hopeful and idealistic. They emphasized the nation's past virility and sought to give it meaning for the present. Some writers in this group have been labeled romantic but this term strictly applies to those who presented a fanciful view of the past. A Lost Lady 1923 admirably depicts the sturdy frontier. Families, but the irony is that their children and grand children lack some of the magnificent qualities of their forefathers.
Ellen Glasgow, ''a novelist of social history'' writes about Virginia in her novels. She endeavored to depict the chivalric legends personifying the faded glory, gentility and sterile culture of the state of Virginia in her novels. She highlighted the problem of modern time. In her finest novels she deftly combines realism with idealism. In such widely separated novels as The Battle Ground (1902) and vein of Iron (1935).
She wrote realistically of the civil war and its aftermath. Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949) is remembered for her only novel Gone with the Wind (1936). Its heroine, Scarlett, O'Hare is a fascinating character. A woman of remarkable beauty, Michel shows iron determination to win the man she loves and to build the family plantation pearl. S Back, a noble prize for literature.
(iv) Impact of the First World War
The First World War greatly impacted the American novel of the twentieth century. The Idealism of President Woodrow Wilson's era was on the wane with the beginning of the First World War. War belied all hopes for achieving an ideal and peaceful world order. The post-war era was conspicuous for disillusionment, frustration, hopelessness and pessimism. The post-war spirit is variously described as the wasteland or the lost generation. The writers of the lost generation were young men who had just returned from armed services and had bitter experiences of World War-I. The term lost generation was used by Gertrude Stein.
It seemed to suggest the restlessness, the insecurity and the angry protest of the disillusioned group of writers. Many writers like Hemingway felt that life was nightmare. Hemingway, Faulkner, Sinclair, Lewis F., Scott Fitzgerald and John Das Passes belonged to the lost generation. In Hemingway's novels the hero is an American looking on at a war fought by other people, for things which did not concern him. Hemingway introduced in to his works violent physical action, bloodshed brutality and sex. He also authentically depicted shooting deep sea fishing and war. He has shown an obsessive interest in death. All his heroes are generally involved in situations in which death is an imminent danger-violence, disillusionment; uncertainty anger and protest are predominant in all his novels: The Sun Also Rises, In Our Time, Fiesta, Men Without Women. Death in the Afternoon, The Old Man and the Sea and A Farewell to the Arms.
Sinclair Lewis belonged to a period of national self scrutiny. In his famous novels Main Street, Babbitt and Arrow Smith he aimed at curbing social evils through ridicule and satire. He could very well be called the conscience of the nations.
The novelists of the last generation share a common cultural pattern of isolation, of revolt and of denial. The First World War disintegrated American society. The Agrarian democracy was replaced by capitalism, which created literary and cultural chaos. The general feeling was that of helplessness, frustration, disenchantment disillusion and protest.