American LiteratureAlthough the roots of American literature are in the chronicles as early as about 1 600 – on William Brandford and his History
of the Plymouth Plantation – the real history of American literature begins in the time of the American fight for independence. It tells us
about the problems and needs of that time. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin describes the life of a scientist,
journalist and politican. Thomas Paine, in Common Sense, urged an immediate declaration of independence which was accepted
thanks mainly to Thomas Jefferson.
Next significant writer is Edgar Allan Poe. He tried to write poetry
but he wasn’t succesful untill 1845 when The Raven was published. Poe was a journalist and edited several American magazines in which he
published his literary critique and some of his short stories. He invented a new literary form: the detective story. As for his work – besides his
most famous poems The Raven (it‘ about the mourning for the death of a beautiful lover) and Annabel Lee on the favorite theme of
death – we should mention his detective story The Gold Bug (a tale of buried treasure). The Fall of the House of Usher represents
his tales of terror.
The pioneer of new poetry in America was Walt Whitman. He is one of the greatest American poets. In
his epoch-making Leaves of the Grass he is a true singer of democracy in the best sense of the word. Jack London belongs to
the greatest personages in literature in the past times. His novels The Call of the Wild and Martin Eden (it’s autobiographical)
still remain world classics.
„The Gilded Age“ is represented by Mark Twain, an American humorist of world-wide popularity.
The son of a poor father himself, he gained most of the material for his stories and novels while piloting a steamboat on the Mississippi. Every child
enjoys reading Tom Sawyer, a series of wild adventures of Tom and his friend Huck. In Hackleberry Finn, Huck himself is the
principal hero and his friend is Negro Jim. But Twain also wrote books that took inspiration from English history - let us mention The Prince and
the Pauper, or a satire A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Twain’s short story The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg
shows how the soul of entire town can be rotten.
Gertrude Stein invented the term „Lost Generation“ for a group of
writers who lost their illusions after the World War I. The most important of them are Francis Scott Fitzgerald with the novels
This Side of Paradise, The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night a John Dos Passos with the novels
Manhattan Transfer and The 42nd Parallel. The next is William Faulkner with the novels The Sound and the
Fury, Absolom, Absolom! and short story A Rose for Emily. Ernest Hemingway wrote novels A
Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls (it’s from the Spanish civil war), novelette The Old Man and the Sea (showing the
fight of a fishernan Santiago with the natural world) and many short stories.
To the same group belongs John Steinbeck.
He wrote The Grapes of Wrath (a saga of a refugee family from the Dust Bowl) and East of Eden, which tells about a long family saga
from the Civil War to World War I. Steinbeck described America in his Travels with Charley in Search of America.
The 20th century was
full o great writers. For example: Irwin Shaw, Joseph Heller and his Catch - 22, Jack
Kerouac, who is the first representative of a group called the „Beat Generation“ which he named. Besides Kerouac’s novel On the
Road, they are represented mainly by poets such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allan Ginsberg. We can’t forget
William Styron who reflected the horrors of fascism and concentration camps in his novel Sophie’s Choice.
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