Annotated Timeline of
The American Literary
American Literature Overview
1. Puritan/Colonial (1650-1750)
2. Revolutionary/Age of Reason (17501800)
3. Romanticism (1800-1860)
4. American Renaissance/
Transcendentalism (1840-1860)
5. Realism (1855-1900)
6. The Moderns (1900-1950)
7. Harlem Renaissance (1920s)
8. Post-Modernism (1950 to present)
9. Contemporary (1970s-Present)
Puritan/Colonial Period
• Genre/Style: Sermons, religious tracts, diaries, personal
narratives, religious poems.
• Effect/Aspects: Instructive, reinforces authority of
the Bible and the church. Very little imaginative literature
was produced.
• Historical Context: Puritan settlers fled England
where they were being persecuted for their religious
beliefs, and came to New England to have religious freedom.
Puritan/Colonial Period
• Anne Bradstreet
– She was the first North American to publish
a book of poems, the first Woman and the
first Puritan in North America to publish!
Born and educated in England, Anne
Bradstreet was the daughter of an earl's
estate manager.
– Anne married Simon Bradstreet when she was
just 16! Two years later she and her husband
left Europe and moved to the Massachusetts
Bay Colony.
– Her writing is characterized by the Puritan
Plain Style (short words, direct statements,
and references to ordinary, everyday objects
and events).
Puritan/Colonial Period
Cotton Mather
– No timeline of American
colonial literature would be
complete without mentioning
Cotton Mather, the master
scholar. Third in the fourgeneration Mather dynasty of
Massachusetts Bay, he wrote
at length of New England in
over 500 books and pamphlets.
Literary Terms
• Allegory: A story or visual image with a
distinct second meaning partially hidden
behind its literal or visual meaning.
• Alliteration: The repetition of the same
sounds – usually initial consonant sounds of
words – in any sequence of neighboring
• Allusion: An indirect of passing reference to
some event, person, place or artistic work,
the nature and relevance of which is not
explained to the writer.
Literary Terms
• Anapaest – A metrical foot made up of two
unstressed syllables followed by a stressed
• Apostrophe – The speaker addressed a dead
or absent person, or an abstraction or
inanimate object.
• Beat Writers – a group of writers in the
1950’s Led by Allen Ginsberg and Jack
Kerouac. (Spontaneous self expression and
recitation to jazz accompaniment).
Puritan/Colonial Period (1650-1750)
Edward Taylor
– Taylor was a Puritan through and
through. His every action proved
it. He was born in England, and
left for Massachusetts in his
early twenties, attended Harvard
College in preparation for the
ministry, and spent the remaining
58 years of his life in a town 100
miles west of Boston. It was in the
wilderness, and he served there as
both minister and town physician.
Puritan/Colonial Period
Fundamental Puritan Beliefs:
– Taylor believed:
– Sinfulness and damnation of man
– Salvation for an elect few
– Redeeming grace of omnipotent God
– He wanted a church that was purified of all
Roman Catholic and Anglican embellishments
– He, along with other educated men of his time,
believed in evil spirits, devils, and witches.
Revolutionary Period/Age of Reason
Overview of Revolutionary Period/Age of Reason
• Genre/Style: Political Pamphlets, Travel
Writing, and highly ornate persuasive writing.
• Effect/Aspects: Patriotism and pride grows,
creates unity about issues, and creates
American character.
• Historical Context: Encouraged Revolutionary
War support.
Revolutionary Period/Age
of Reason (1750-1800)
Benjamin Franklin
– Benjamin Franklin, “practical yet idealistic,
hard-working and enormously successful,” was a
second-generation immigrant who lived in
Boston Massachusetts. Writer, printer,
publisher, scientist, philanthropist, and
diplomat, Mr. Franklin was the most famous and
respected private figure of his time. He was
the first great self-made man in America, a
poor democrat born in an aristocratic age that
he helped to loosen up through his excellent
Abigail Adams (1744-1818)
• She wrote letters that
campaigned for women’s
rights. Her grandson,
Charles Francis Adams,
published The Familiar
Letters of John Adams and
His Wife Abigail During the
Revolution, which were just
what they said they were,
letters written by Abigail
and her husband.
Age of Reason
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
• Jefferson is best
known for writing the
Declaration of
Independence, the
document came about
as people started
thinking for
themselves and
realized they wanted
to be free from
England’s rule.
Age of Reason
Patrick Henry
• Speech at the Virginia
Convention – “Give me Liberty
of Give me Death”
Thomas Paine (1737-1809)
Paine wrote mostly
pamphlets that would spur
ideas and immediate
action. In the document
"The American Crisis,"
Paine wrote about the
oppression that America
suffered from Britain, and
propelled America into a
war with Britain.
Age of Reason
After the “Age of Reason” came to an
end, the people of America were tired of
reality; they wanted to see life as more
than it was. This was the Era of
Romantics. The main medium that
presented itself at that time were short
stories, poems, and novels. During this
era, as appose to the “Age of Reason” the
imagination dominated; intuition ruled
over fact.
Gothic literature was also introduced at
this time, which is a sub-genre of
Romanticism, this genre included stories
about characters that had both good and
evil traits. Gothic literature also
incorporated to use of supernatural
Authors of
Washington Irving
Edgar Allen Poe
Herman Melville
• Genre/Style: Character
Sketches, Slave Narratives,
Poetry, and short stories.
• Characteristics: High regard for
inner feelings, imagination over
reason, optimism, hopes for a
better tomorrow, love for
• Historical Context: Publishing
expands and industrial revolution
brings new ideas.
• Expansion of US through
Louisiana Purchase, Monroe
Doctrine Keeps Europeans out of
North and South America,
Cherokee Indians forced to
march the “Trail of Tears”.
Washington Irving (1789-1851)
• Irving was the first
“famous” American
author; he’s also known as
the “Father of American
Literature.” He wrote
travel books, short
stories, and satires.
Some of his works include;
Legend of Sleepy Hollow,
Rip Van Winkle, and Devil
and Tom Walker.
Herman Melville
– Herman Melville was a descendant of an old,
wealthy family that fell suddenly into poverty
upon the death of the father. In spite of his
aristocratic upbringing, proud family traditions,
and hard work, Melville found himself in poverty
with no college education.
– At 19 he went to sea. His interest in sailors' lives
grew naturally out of his own experiences, and
most of his early novels grew out of his voyages.
Herman Melville (1819-1891)
• In his time Melville
was not entirely
however, in the
more recent years
he has been
considered one of
the most top rated
novelist of all time.
He is most well
known for his epic
novel Moby Dick.
Romanticism (1800-1860)
Edgar Allan Poe
– Edgar Allan Poe was a southerner with a darkly
metaphysical vision mixed with elements of
realism, parody, and burlesque (caricature or
– He refined the short story genre and created
detective fiction.
– Many of his stories foreshadow the genres of
science fiction, horror, and fantasy so popular
Edgar Allen Poe
Poe had an unpleasant childhood
that made him despise the
world, and his works reflected
his work. He is credited for
creating the modern short
story, and the detective story.
He also challenged two longstanding theories, one, a poem
had to be long, and two, a poem
had to teach you something.
Some of his works include, "The
Raven", "Bells", “The Fall of the
House of Usher", and "Dream."
• Poe believed that strangeness was an
essential ingredient of beauty
• His stories and poems are populated with
doomed, introspective aristocrats (Poe,
like many other southerners, cherished an
aristocratic ideal).
• These gloomy characters never seem to
work or socialize; instead they bury
themselves in dark, moldering castles
symbolically decorated with bizarre rugs
and draperies that hide the real world of
sun, windows, walls, and floors.
• Hidden rooms reveal ancient libraries, strange art
works, and eclectic oriental objects. The
aristocrats play musical instruments or read
ancient books while they brood on tragedies,
often the deaths of loved ones. Themes of deathin-life, especially being buried alive or returning
like a vampire from the grave, appear in many of
his works, including "The Premature Burial,"
"Ligeia," "The Cask of Amontillado," and "The Fall
of the House of Usher."
• Gothic settings are not merely decorative. They
reflect the over civilized yet deathly interior of
his characters disturbed psyches. They are
symbolic expressions of the unconscious, and thus
are central to his art.
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne, a fifth-generation
American of English descent, was born in
Salem, Massachusetts, a wealthy seaport north
of Boston that specialized in East India trade.
One of his ancestors had been a judge in an
earlier century, during trials in Salem of
women accused of being witches. Hawthorne
used the idea of a curse on the family of an
evil judge in his novel The House of the Seven
Nathaniel Hawthorne
• Many of Hawthorne's stories are set in Puritan
New England
• The Scarlet Letter (1850), has become the
classic portrayal of Puritan America. It tells of
the passionate, forbidden love affair linking a
sensitive, religious young man and the sensuous,
beautiful townsperson, Hester Prynne.
• Set in Boston around 1650, the novel highlights
the Calvinistic obsession with morality, sexual
repression, guilt and confession, and spiritual
Nathaniel Hawthorne
•For its time, The Scarlet Letter was a daring and even
subversive book. Hawthorne's gentle style, remote
historical setting, and ambiguity softened his grim
themes and contented the general public, but
sophisticated writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson
and Herman Melville recognized the book's "hellish"
power. It treated issues that were usually suppressed
in 19th-century America, such as the impact of the
new, liberating democratic experience on individual
behavior, especially on sexual and religious freedom.
•The book is superbly organized and beautifully
written. Appropriately, it uses allegory, a technique the
early Puritan colonists themselves practiced.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Enjoyed a long career as a
His poetry was optimistic
and sentimental
He became known as one of
the “Fireside Poets”
Writers of the Romantic Period (and
their works)
• William Cullen Bryant – Thanatopsis
• Edgar Allen Poe – “Fall of the House of
• Nathanial Hawthorne – The Minister’s
Black Veil
• Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – “A Psalm
of Life”
• James Russell Lowell – “The First
• John Greenleaf Whittier – “Snowbound”
This movement pushed America
from the elaborate and fantasy like
writings displayed in the period
Romanticism, into a period of literature
that stressed individualism, confidence,
non-conformity and self-reliance. It also
stressed the fundamental idea of a unity
between God and the world (Emerson’s
“Over-Soul”), that each person was a
microcosm for the world.
This period in literature, which was
invented by Emerson and carried on by
Thoreau, lasted a relatively short time
(about a decade).
Authors of the
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Henry David Thoreau
Walt Whitman
[Sarah] Margaret
American Renaissance/
• Genre/Style: Poetry, Short Stories, and
• Historical Context: Publication of Emerson
Publishes Nature, which defines
Transcendental beliefs
• Happiness comes through individualism and
• Reverence for Nature
American Renaissance/
• Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
– One of the most important Boston poets
was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Longfellow, a professor of modern
languages at Harvard, was the bestknown American poet of his day. He was
responsible for the misty, historical,
legendary sense of the past that joined
American and European traditions.
American Renaissance/
• Walt Whitman
– Born on Long Island, New York, Walt
Whitman was a part-time carpenter, whose
brilliant, pioneering work expressed the
country's democratic spirit. Whitman was
mostly self-taught, he left school at the
age of 11 to go to work. His Leaves of
Grass (1855), which he rewrote and revised
throughout his life, contains "Song of
Myself," the most amazingly original poem
ever written by an American.
This literary movement took place during the
Civil War; at a time when a war and people
wanted to see things how they were, so Realism
came about.
Realism also came about as a reaction to
Romanticism, in which there were heroic
characters, and adventures, with strange and
unfamiliar settings. In response Realism authors
tried to write truthfully and objectively about
ordinary characters in ordinary situations.
Characteristics of Realism
• Expression of life as it is actually lived
• Factual description of ordinary characters and
events rather than larger than life heroes in
imagined settings
• Subject matter often consists of factories, slums,
workers, bosses, criminals, and social outcasts
• Regionalism or local color. Focus on dialect,
customs, and characters of a particular region
• Examples: Walt Whitman Song of Myself,
Frederick Douglas, My Bondage, and My Freedom,
Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn, Kate Chopin, Story
of an Hour.
Realism (1855-1900)
• Genre/Style: Novels, Short
Stories, Objective Narrator, and
does not tell reader how to
interpret the story.
• Effect/Aspects: Social and
Aesthetic realism.
• Historical Context: Civil War
brought demand for a more true
type of literature.
Realism (1855-1900)
• Mark Twain
– Ernest Hemingway's well-known statement, that
all of American literature comes from one great
book: Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn;
shows Twain’s high place in the tradition.
– Twain's style, based on strong, realistic,
everyday American speech, gave American
writers a new appreciation for their national
• Emily Dickinson Poems
• Bret Harte “Outcasts of Poker Flat”
Realism (1855-1900)
• Stephen Crane
– Wrote The Red
Badge of Courage
– Realism is often
called "the faithful
representation of
reality”, and Crane
writes about the war
as if he were there,
even though he never
saw battle.
Realism (1855-1900)
• Jack London
– Jack London was a poor, selftaught worker from California. He
became instantly famous from his
first collection of stories, The Son
of the Wolf (1900), set mainly in
the Klondike region of Alaska and
the Canadian Yukon.
Modernism is one of the most
experimental types of writing
styles. Modernist authors used
fragments, stream of
consciousness, and interior
dialogue. The main thing that
authors were trying to achieve
with Modernism was a unique style
that would stand out.
During this period Technology was
taking incredible leaps and two
World Wars took place. The
younger generation began to take
over the main stage, and many of
them protested what was going on
in the world.
Authors of the
Ernest Hemingway
F. Scott Fitzgerald
John Steinbeck
Robert Frost
• A literary movement that flourished between 1912 and
1927 comprised of American and British poets. Led by
Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell, the Imagist poets rejected
nineteenth-century poetic forms and language. The
movement’s goal was to achieve clarity of expression
through the use of precise visual images. Early in the
movement, the name was often written in the French
form Imagisme. The Imagists wrote short poems that
used ordinary language and verse of dry clarity to create
sharp, exact, concentrated pictures. The movement was a
revolt against the prevailing careless thinking and
Romantic optimism of the time period. Writers in the
movement included Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, Hilda
Doolittle (H.D.), Richard Arlington, John Gould Fletcher,
Harriet Monroe, Wallace Stevens, D.H. Lawrence, and F.S.
Flint. T.S. Eliot was influenced by the Imagist movement.
The Moderns (1900-1950)
• Genre/Style: Novels, Plays, Poetry,
experiments in writing styles,
interior monologue, and stream of
• Effect/Aspects: Pursuit of American
Dream, Admiration for America,
Optimism, and Individual Importance.
• Historical Context: Writers
reflected the ideas of Darwin and
Karl Marx, during WWI and WWII.
Modernism – 1918 – Present
(Historical Context)
• Time of Prohibition of alcoholic
• 1929 – stock market crash
• 1930 – 1940 – Great Depression
• 1941 – Japanese bombing of Pearl
Harbor; United States enters World
War II.
• 1954 – Segregation in public schools
becomes illegal.
Modernism – 1918 – Present
(Historical Context)
• 1963 – President John F. Kennedy assassinated
• 1968 – Martin Luther King, civil rights leader,
murdered in Memphis; Vietnam war accelerates
• 1969 – American Neil Armstrong becomes the
first person to land on the moon
• 1972 – Vietnam peace treaty signed
• 1974 – President Richard Nixon resigns from
• 1980 – Ronald Reagan elected President of
United States.
Modernism – Characteristics
• Opposition to dehumanizing trends in modern life
• Dignity of people in spite of great challenges
• Short stories with a more open form that stress mood
and character rather than plot
• Loss of idealism due to war, industrialization, political
• Experimental forms of poetry such as free verse
(irregular and/or unrhymed verse lines) and symbols
that suggest meaning and moods.
• Imagist – short poems with sharp, precise images.
• HARLEM RENAISSANCE – during the 1920’s helped to
preserve African-American heritage and raise
awareness of Black Culture and concerns. Writers
include: Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Countee
The Moderns
T.S. Elliot
– Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in St.
Louis, Missouri, to a wealthy family with
ancestry in the northeastern United
States. He received the best education
of any major American writer of his
generation at Harvard College, the
Sorbonne, and Merton College of
Oxford University. He studied Sanskrit
and Oriental philosophy, which
influenced his poetry.
The Moderns
Ernest Hemingway
– Ernest Hemingway came from the
Midwest United States. He was Born in
Illinois and spent childhood vacations in
Michigan on hunting and fishing trips. He
volunteered for an ambulance unit in
France during World War I, but was
wounded and hospitalized for six
In the years since the
Modernism period, American
Some Authors of
authors have begun to write
the Contemporary
from a plethora of genres.
Americans have realized that
J. D. Salinger
the best way to go is have many
authors writing what ever it is Stephen King
Joyce Carol Oates
they are best at.
Robert Jordan
Contemporary 1946-present
• Flannery O’Conner
• Katherine Anne Porter
• F. Scott Fitzgerald
• Ernest Hemingway
• William Faulkner
• John Steinbeck
• Ralph Ellison
• Joyce Carol Oates
• Alice Walker
• T.S. Eliot
• Langston Hughes
• Gwendolyn
• Robert Lowell
• Sylvia Plath
J. D. Salinger
• Salinger studied at NYU, and
Columbia University. After
which he decided to devote
his life to his writing. His
writing career was
interrupted by World War I,
where he served in the U.S.
Army. His most well known
work was his novel Catcher in
the Rye, published in 1951, a
novel about a high school
student who tries to run away
from his life that he thinks is
Stephen King (b.1947)
• King writes novels that
both frighten and
intrigue. Some of his
major works are; Carrie
published in 1974; The
Shining, publishing in
1998; Salem's Lot,
published in 1993; The
Stand, published in
1991, and The Dark
tower Series.
Joyce Carol Oates (b.1938)
Oates received a type
writer at the age of
fourteen and trained
herself to write novel
after novel through high
school and college. She
earned an M.A. in English
at the University of
Wisconsin. Some of her
works include; Blonde,
published in 2000;
Wonderland, published in
1971; and The Tattooed
Girl, published in 2003.
Robert Jordan (b.1948)• He went to the Citadel,
the Military College of
South Carolina, where
he received a degree in
physics. Jordan’s main
area of expertise is in
the genre of fantasy.
He is currently in the
process of writing a
series of novel entitled
The Wheel of Time.