The (Ray). Living moderately, they valued hard work

            The version of America people are
familiar with today is the direct result of the development and evolution of its
political and social attributes. The content and progression of American
literature has been directly impacted by the change in beliefs, experiences,
and cultural mixtures of the people during each stage of America’s history. American
literature can be broken into distinct classifications, including
Pre-Settlement, Puritanism, Age of Reason, Romanticism, Transcendentalism,
Realism/Naturalism, Modernism, Harlem Renaissance, and Post-Modernism, based
upon content and style.

            The first notable instance of American
literature originated prior to the formal discovery of the New World by
Europeans. Creation myths, songs, epic poetry, and most importantly, oral
traditions originated from thousands of distinct cultural groups, collectively
referred to as Native Americans. Though not recognized as real literature until
the 1960s-1970s, oral tradition has a strong foundation and is one of the finest
artifacts of Native Americans. Due to traditional participatory democracy,
strong speaking skills were revered and utilized to pass on beliefs about the
nature of the physical world, which were strongly linked to nature and spirits

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            Following the discovery of the New
World, people began sailing across oceans in search of a new lifestyle. Among
the first groups to successfully colonize America were the Puritans, fleeing Europe
to escape religious persecution, in the 1600s-1800s. They sought to ‘purify’
the Church of England and explored their lives for biblical connections (Ray). Living
moderately, they valued hard work and self-reliance. Their plain, clear writing
style was recorded in diaries, journals, metaphysical poetry, meticulous
religious histories, and letters back to England.

            During the majority of the 1700s, writers
made a sharp shift from trying to understand the world through religion to
seeking answers through logic and reason. The writers of the time were
primarily philosophers and scientists, which composed logical and sometimes satirical
arguments, rather than tales of fantasy (Blair). The Age of Reason coincided
with America’s political evolution; the creation of the modern republic (Sage).

            Between 1800 and 1860, Romantics
were known for their intuition, faith in inner experience, idealism, and
imagination. Poetry was valued as the highest form of expression during the
Romantic Era (Ray). Writers focused on nature, history, and beauty to entice
emotion out of the reader. Romanticism, like other eras, did have
subcategories. Literary works from the Dark Romantics contained grotesque subject
matter or gothic themes (Reuben). Also, within the Romantic era was Transcendentalism
(1840-1860). According to The Norton Anthology of American Literature, “Transcendentalism
was never really a formalized movement”, but its principals were the inspiration
for the works of many great authors. Writers advocated self-reliance and
individualism over institutional conformity. By this time, there was an array
of magazines available to publish the prose, poetry, and reviews of Transcendentalists

            Following the Civil War, between 1850
and 1900, feelings of disillusionment arose within the Realism Era. Literature
parted from the idealistic subject matter found in Romanticism and began
attempting to accurately depict the average life of Americans (Campbell). Due
to their favor for accurate representations, Realists lacked sentimentality in
favor of blunt honesty. Unlike Realism, Naturalism assumes that human life is
determined by biology and sociology and humans have no control over what happens
to them. Influenced by scientific discovery, writers took a calculated approach
to writing during the Realism era (Lynch).

            According to The Norton Anthology of
American Literature, America became a modern nation between the two World Wars
(1914-1945). Social codes became less restrictive, women gained voting rights,
and racial minorities gained some civil liberties. African American culture
began to flourish and gave life to the Harlem Renaissance. Literature was inspired
by jazz lyrics and common slang, and helped initiate the beginnings of modern
rap music. Modernism gave a voice to those advocating for equality through
intellectual and artistic debate.

            American literature has been in the
Post-Modern era since 1950. With technological advances, literature is created
and dispersed among the masses with ease. There is little new subject matter to
create so Post-Modernists have foregone originality in favor of recreating pre-existing
ideas and styles. Plot, character, theme, and setting are now creatively reworked
and literature is focused on media, language and technology (Matos).

            These literary eras are just some of
the most prominent eras of American literature. Each era is likely to have
subcategories that concentrate more closely on the experiences and beliefs of
smaller groups. Overall, the tone of America and the content of its literature
have followed political and social progress closely, from yet to be discovered
land, through its growth and development during colonization, industrialization,
and urbanization, and onward through the technological boom. 


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