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  • How to write a literary analysis essay | A step-by-step guide

How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay | A Step-by-Step Guide

Published on January 30, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on August 14, 2023.

Literary analysis means closely studying a text, interpreting its meanings, and exploring why the author made certain choices. It can be applied to novels, short stories, plays, poems, or any other form of literary writing.

A literary analysis essay is not a rhetorical analysis , nor is it just a summary of the plot or a book review. Instead, it is a type of argumentative essay where you need to analyze elements such as the language, perspective, and structure of the text, and explain how the author uses literary devices to create effects and convey ideas.

Before beginning a literary analysis essay, it’s essential to carefully read the text and c ome up with a thesis statement to keep your essay focused. As you write, follow the standard structure of an academic essay :

  • An introduction that tells the reader what your essay will focus on.
  • A main body, divided into paragraphs , that builds an argument using evidence from the text.
  • A conclusion that clearly states the main point that you have shown with your analysis.

Table of contents

Step 1: reading the text and identifying literary devices, step 2: coming up with a thesis, step 3: writing a title and introduction, step 4: writing the body of the essay, step 5: writing a conclusion, other interesting articles.

The first step is to carefully read the text(s) and take initial notes. As you read, pay attention to the things that are most intriguing, surprising, or even confusing in the writing—these are things you can dig into in your analysis.

Your goal in literary analysis is not simply to explain the events described in the text, but to analyze the writing itself and discuss how the text works on a deeper level. Primarily, you’re looking out for literary devices —textual elements that writers use to convey meaning and create effects. If you’re comparing and contrasting multiple texts, you can also look for connections between different texts.

To get started with your analysis, there are several key areas that you can focus on. As you analyze each aspect of the text, try to think about how they all relate to each other. You can use highlights or notes to keep track of important passages and quotes.

Language choices

Consider what style of language the author uses. Are the sentences short and simple or more complex and poetic?

What word choices stand out as interesting or unusual? Are words used figuratively to mean something other than their literal definition? Figurative language includes things like metaphor (e.g. “her eyes were oceans”) and simile (e.g. “her eyes were like oceans”).

Also keep an eye out for imagery in the text—recurring images that create a certain atmosphere or symbolize something important. Remember that language is used in literary texts to say more than it means on the surface.

Narrative voice

Ask yourself:

  • Who is telling the story?
  • How are they telling it?

Is it a first-person narrator (“I”) who is personally involved in the story, or a third-person narrator who tells us about the characters from a distance?

Consider the narrator’s perspective . Is the narrator omniscient (where they know everything about all the characters and events), or do they only have partial knowledge? Are they an unreliable narrator who we are not supposed to take at face value? Authors often hint that their narrator might be giving us a distorted or dishonest version of events.

The tone of the text is also worth considering. Is the story intended to be comic, tragic, or something else? Are usually serious topics treated as funny, or vice versa ? Is the story realistic or fantastical (or somewhere in between)?

Consider how the text is structured, and how the structure relates to the story being told.

  • Novels are often divided into chapters and parts.
  • Poems are divided into lines, stanzas, and sometime cantos.
  • Plays are divided into scenes and acts.

Think about why the author chose to divide the different parts of the text in the way they did.

There are also less formal structural elements to take into account. Does the story unfold in chronological order, or does it jump back and forth in time? Does it begin in medias res —in the middle of the action? Does the plot advance towards a clearly defined climax?

With poetry, consider how the rhyme and meter shape your understanding of the text and your impression of the tone. Try reading the poem aloud to get a sense of this.

In a play, you might consider how relationships between characters are built up through different scenes, and how the setting relates to the action. Watch out for  dramatic irony , where the audience knows some detail that the characters don’t, creating a double meaning in their words, thoughts, or actions.

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Your thesis in a literary analysis essay is the point you want to make about the text. It’s the core argument that gives your essay direction and prevents it from just being a collection of random observations about a text.

If you’re given a prompt for your essay, your thesis must answer or relate to the prompt. For example:

Essay question example

Is Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” a religious parable?

Your thesis statement should be an answer to this question—not a simple yes or no, but a statement of why this is or isn’t the case:

Thesis statement example

Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” is not a religious parable, but a story about bureaucratic alienation.

Sometimes you’ll be given freedom to choose your own topic; in this case, you’ll have to come up with an original thesis. Consider what stood out to you in the text; ask yourself questions about the elements that interested you, and consider how you might answer them.

Your thesis should be something arguable—that is, something that you think is true about the text, but which is not a simple matter of fact. It must be complex enough to develop through evidence and arguments across the course of your essay.

Say you’re analyzing the novel Frankenstein . You could start by asking yourself:

Your initial answer might be a surface-level description:

The character Frankenstein is portrayed negatively in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein .

However, this statement is too simple to be an interesting thesis. After reading the text and analyzing its narrative voice and structure, you can develop the answer into a more nuanced and arguable thesis statement:

Mary Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as.

Remember that you can revise your thesis statement throughout the writing process , so it doesn’t need to be perfectly formulated at this stage. The aim is to keep you focused as you analyze the text.

Finding textual evidence

To support your thesis statement, your essay will build an argument using textual evidence —specific parts of the text that demonstrate your point. This evidence is quoted and analyzed throughout your essay to explain your argument to the reader.

It can be useful to comb through the text in search of relevant quotations before you start writing. You might not end up using everything you find, and you may have to return to the text for more evidence as you write, but collecting textual evidence from the beginning will help you to structure your arguments and assess whether they’re convincing.

To start your literary analysis paper, you’ll need two things: a good title, and an introduction.

Your title should clearly indicate what your analysis will focus on. It usually contains the name of the author and text(s) you’re analyzing. Keep it as concise and engaging as possible.

A common approach to the title is to use a relevant quote from the text, followed by a colon and then the rest of your title.

If you struggle to come up with a good title at first, don’t worry—this will be easier once you’ve begun writing the essay and have a better sense of your arguments.

“Fearful symmetry” : The violence of creation in William Blake’s “The Tyger”

The introduction

The essay introduction provides a quick overview of where your argument is going. It should include your thesis statement and a summary of the essay’s structure.

A typical structure for an introduction is to begin with a general statement about the text and author, using this to lead into your thesis statement. You might refer to a commonly held idea about the text and show how your thesis will contradict it, or zoom in on a particular device you intend to focus on.

Then you can end with a brief indication of what’s coming up in the main body of the essay. This is called signposting. It will be more elaborate in longer essays, but in a short five-paragraph essay structure, it shouldn’t be more than one sentence.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a crude cautionary tale about the dangers of scientific advancement unrestrained by ethical considerations. In this reading, protagonist Victor Frankenstein is a stable representation of the callous ambition of modern science throughout the novel. This essay, however, argues that far from providing a stable image of the character, Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as. This essay begins by exploring the positive portrayal of Frankenstein in the first volume, then moves on to the creature’s perception of him, and finally discusses the third volume’s narrative shift toward viewing Frankenstein as the creature views him.

Some students prefer to write the introduction later in the process, and it’s not a bad idea. After all, you’ll have a clearer idea of the overall shape of your arguments once you’ve begun writing them!

If you do write the introduction first, you should still return to it later to make sure it lines up with what you ended up writing, and edit as necessary.

The body of your essay is everything between the introduction and conclusion. It contains your arguments and the textual evidence that supports them.

Paragraph structure

A typical structure for a high school literary analysis essay consists of five paragraphs : the three paragraphs of the body, plus the introduction and conclusion.

Each paragraph in the main body should focus on one topic. In the five-paragraph model, try to divide your argument into three main areas of analysis, all linked to your thesis. Don’t try to include everything you can think of to say about the text—only analysis that drives your argument.

In longer essays, the same principle applies on a broader scale. For example, you might have two or three sections in your main body, each with multiple paragraphs. Within these sections, you still want to begin new paragraphs at logical moments—a turn in the argument or the introduction of a new idea.

Robert’s first encounter with Gil-Martin suggests something of his sinister power. Robert feels “a sort of invisible power that drew me towards him.” He identifies the moment of their meeting as “the beginning of a series of adventures which has puzzled myself, and will puzzle the world when I am no more in it” (p. 89). Gil-Martin’s “invisible power” seems to be at work even at this distance from the moment described; before continuing the story, Robert feels compelled to anticipate at length what readers will make of his narrative after his approaching death. With this interjection, Hogg emphasizes the fatal influence Gil-Martin exercises from his first appearance.

Topic sentences

To keep your points focused, it’s important to use a topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph.

A good topic sentence allows a reader to see at a glance what the paragraph is about. It can introduce a new line of argument and connect or contrast it with the previous paragraph. Transition words like “however” or “moreover” are useful for creating smooth transitions:

… The story’s focus, therefore, is not upon the divine revelation that may be waiting beyond the door, but upon the mundane process of aging undergone by the man as he waits.

Nevertheless, the “radiance” that appears to stream from the door is typically treated as religious symbolism.

This topic sentence signals that the paragraph will address the question of religious symbolism, while the linking word “nevertheless” points out a contrast with the previous paragraph’s conclusion.

Using textual evidence

A key part of literary analysis is backing up your arguments with relevant evidence from the text. This involves introducing quotes from the text and explaining their significance to your point.

It’s important to contextualize quotes and explain why you’re using them; they should be properly introduced and analyzed, not treated as self-explanatory:

It isn’t always necessary to use a quote. Quoting is useful when you’re discussing the author’s language, but sometimes you’ll have to refer to plot points or structural elements that can’t be captured in a short quote.

In these cases, it’s more appropriate to paraphrase or summarize parts of the text—that is, to describe the relevant part in your own words:

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The conclusion of your analysis shouldn’t introduce any new quotations or arguments. Instead, it’s about wrapping up the essay. Here, you summarize your key points and try to emphasize their significance to the reader.

A good way to approach this is to briefly summarize your key arguments, and then stress the conclusion they’ve led you to, highlighting the new perspective your thesis provides on the text as a whole:

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

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By tracing the depiction of Frankenstein through the novel’s three volumes, I have demonstrated how the narrative structure shifts our perception of the character. While the Frankenstein of the first volume is depicted as having innocent intentions, the second and third volumes—first in the creature’s accusatory voice, and then in his own voice—increasingly undermine him, causing him to appear alternately ridiculous and vindictive. Far from the one-dimensional villain he is often taken to be, the character of Frankenstein is compelling because of the dynamic narrative frame in which he is placed. In this frame, Frankenstein’s narrative self-presentation responds to the images of him we see from others’ perspectives. This conclusion sheds new light on the novel, foregrounding Shelley’s unique layering of narrative perspectives and its importance for the depiction of character.

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Caulfield, J. (2023, August 14). How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay | A Step-by-Step Guide. Scribbr. Retrieved November 3, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/academic-essay/literary-analysis/

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The Ten Best American Essays Since 1950, According to Robert Atwan

in Books , Literature | November 15th, 2012 3 Comments

american literature essay

“Essays can be lots of things, maybe too many things,” writes Atwan in his foreward to the 2012 installment in the Best American series, “but at the core of the genre is an unmistakable receptivity to the ever-shifting processes of our minds and moods. If there is any essential characteristic we can attribute to the essay, it may be this: that the truest examples of the form enact that ever-shifting process, and in that enactment we can find the basis for the essay’s qualification to be regarded seriously as imaginative literature and the essayist’s claim to be taken seriously as a creative writer.”

In 2001 Atwan and Joyce Carol Oates took on the daunting task of tracing that ever-shifting process through the previous 100 years for  The Best American Essays of the Century . Recently Atwan returned with a more focused selection for  Publishers Weekly :  “The Top 10 Essays Since 1950.”  To pare it all down to such a small number, Atwan decided to reserve the “New Journalism” category, with its many memorable works by Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Michael Herr and others, for some future list. He also made a point of selecting the best essays , as opposed to examples from the best essayists. “A list of the top ten essayists since 1950 would feature some different writers.”

We were interested to see that six of the ten best essays are available for free reading online. Here is Atwan’s list, along with links to those essays that are on the Web:

  • James Baldwin, “Notes of a Native Son,” 1955 (Read it here .)
  • Norman Mailer, “The White Negro,” 1957 (Read it here .)
  • Susan Sontag, “Notes on ‘Camp,'” 1964 (Read it here .)
  • John McPhee, “The Search for Marvin Gardens,” 1972 (Read it here with a subscription.)
  • Joan Didion, “The White Album,” 1979
  • Annie Dillard, “Total Eclipse,” 1982
  • Phillip Lopate, “Against Joie de Vivre,” 1986 (Read it here .)
  • Edward Hoagland, “Heaven and Nature,” 1988
  • Jo Ann Beard, “The Fourth State of Matter,” 1996 (Read it here .)
  • David Foster Wallace, “Consider the Lobster,” 2004 (Read it here  in a version different from the one published in his 2005 book of the same name.)

“To my mind,” writes Atwan in his article, “the best essays are deeply personal (that doesn’t necessarily mean autobiographical) and deeply engaged with issues and ideas. And the best essays show that the name of the genre is also a verb, so they demonstrate a mind in process–reflecting, trying-out, essaying.”

To read more of Atwan’s commentary, see his  article in Publishers Weekly .

The photo above of Susan Sontag was taken by Peter Hujar in 1966.

Related Content:

30 Free Essays & Stories by David Foster Wallace on the Web

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Wow I think there’s other greater ones out there. Just need to find them.

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American Literature I – ENGL 201

CG • Section 8WK • 07/01/2018 to 12/31/2199 • Modified 09/05/2023

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Course Description

A survey from the early Colonial period through the American Renaissance. Two critical papers are required.

For information regarding prerequisites for this course, please refer to the  Academic Course Catalog .

English 201 provides an opportunity for students to explore and analyze some of the more significant works of American literature.  Through studying and writing about the literature, students will discover the connection between historical, philosophical, and religious views expressed by the authors of this period.

Course Assignment

Textbook readings and lecture presentations/notes

Course Requirements Checklist

After reading the Course Syllabus and  Student Expectations , the student will complete the related checklist found in the Course Overview.

Discussions (2)

Discussions are collaborative learning experiences. Therefore, the student will create a thread in response to the provided prompt for each discussion. Each thread must demonstrate course-related knowledge. In addition to the thread, the student will reply to at least 1 classmate’s thread. For Discussion: American Literature from a Christian Worldview, the thread must be 250–300 words and the reply must be 200–250 words. For Discussion: Reflection, the thread must be 250–300 words and the reply must be 150–200 words. Both the thread and the reply must demonstrate correct, formal writing style. (CLO: 1, 6; CT 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

This step in the writing process will help the student to map out their ideas, develop organization, and ensure that they are on the right track. The student will develop a one-sentence thesis statement and outline for each essay. The student must plan for their thesis statement to be the last sentence of the intro paragraph. The thesis and outline should address one of the prompts from the essay instructions.

Essay: The Colonial Period Assignment

The student will compose a 750-word critical analysis essay (3–4 pages). The essay must focus on the colonial period of American literature that is covered in the course. The essay must include a title page, thesis statement, and outline followed by the essay and a correctly documented works cited page. The essay must include two (2) or more secondary, scholarly sources. The student will have the opportunity to receive instructor feedback by submitting the thesis and outline prior to the essay. (CLO: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6; CT 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Essay: The Age of Reason/Revolutionary Period Assignment

The student will compose a 750-word critical analysis essay (3–4 pages) that focuses on the Age of Reason/Revolutionary Period of American Literature covered in the course. The essay must include a title page, thesis statement, and outline followed by the essay and a correctly documented works cited page. The essay must include two (2) or more secondary, scholarly sources. The student will have the opportunity to receive instructor feedback by submitting the thesis and outline prior to the essay. (CLO: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6; CT 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Essay: The American Renaissance/Romantic Period Assignment

The student will compose a final paper of at least 1,200 words (4–5 pages) that incorporates a minimum of three (3) secondary, scholarly sources. The paper must have a title page, thesis statement, and outline followed by the paper and a correctly documented works cited page. The student will have the opportunity to receive instructor feedback by submitting the thesis and outline prior to the research paper. (CLO: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6; CT 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Practice Quizzes (3)

In the module before each quiz, the student will take a Practice Quiz (Practice Quiz: The Colonial Period, Practice Quiz: The Age of Reason/Revolutionary Period, and Practice Quiz: The American Renaissance/Romantic Period) that will help him/her prepare for the subsequent quiz. Each Practice Quiz will be open-book/open-notes; consist of 16 multiple-choice and true/false; and have a 1-hour time limit. The student may take each Practice Quiz as many times as he/she likes until the due date. The final attempt will be counted toward the final grade. (CLO: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6; CT 1, 5)

Quizzes (3)

The student will take 3 quizzes (Quiz: The Colonial Period, Quiz: The Age of Reason/Revolutionary Period, and Quiz: The American Renaissance/Romantic Period). Each quiz will be open-book/open-notes; consist of 40 multiple-choice, true/false, and reading comprehension questions; and have a 1-hour time limit. Unlike the Practice Quiz, the student may only take each quiz once. (CLO: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6; CT 1, 5)

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American literature - Essay Samples And Topic Ideas For Free

Of mice and men – a classic work of american literature.

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What Is American Literature? Essay

Before speaking about American literature, it should be mentioned that the literature of every country greatly reflects its development in all spheres of life. In today’s literature, it is possible to observe the artistic, historical, social, and political value of literary work in connection with the social and political conditions of the definite epoch. This formulation means that features of an epoch are reflected in a theme selected by the author, its characters. These features can add to the work a great public and political significance.

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The close connection of the present and history gives rise to new genres (for example, the novel-chronicle) and new graphic means: documents are entered into the text, moving to the time of many decades, and another is popular. The desire to help society forces the writers to pass from novels and stories to publicists ( Bradbury, 1992) .

The literature is the last and maximum expression of an idea of people shown in a word. The organic sequence in development – here that makes the character of the literature, and here the difference between literature and writing. If the literary work carries on itself a press of essential advantage, – it cannot be the casual phenomenon any more which would not be to some extent result of work preceded it or, at least, would not generate other literary phenomena or, at least, would not have on the direct or indirect influence.

In one of the public performances, a well-known American writer Sol Bello has declared: “To be the intellectual in the United States – means to be immured in privacy where you think, but think under the oppression of that humiliating sensation as it is insignificant a little can to change an idea in life“( McMichael, 2006) . Loneliness and inability to go in a waterway of life – the basic theme of the modern American literature declared during the post-war period when the mood of winners was replaced by confusion before the crisis phenomena which began to declare it both in material and in spiritual parties of life.

If the peculiar feature of the writers of school ” hot blood ” – from Jack London up to Ernest Hemingway – “clearness and distinctness of intonation, since 50th in the American prose, poetry and dramatic art ironicalness, anxiety, self-flagellation, shyness, and sensitivity have started to prevail” (Baym, 2002).

The American literature for some last decades – from the end 40 up to 90 – had been made the important opening: one of the vital phenomena and it is necessary to recognize the crisis as the fact and to sustain it before it is possible to overcome it.

In 1940 the novel by E. Hemingway, “For whom the bell calls,” has put the end of a certain stage in the history of American society. In the 30-40ies, the works of Hemingway, with great accuracy, transferred the tastes, smell, and sensation of reality. The readers of Hemingway translated this reality on the language of their own emotions that helped them to perceive the world what it was seen by heroes of the writer. After the war, the universe was lost, the life lost the habitual reliable outlines. Heroes of the great writer died in the struggle against fascism that is why they get tired of living and struggle without clearly realized purpose (Tom Hudson in “The Islands at the ocean”) ( Cain, 2004) .

The creativity of Hemingway became defining for a new generation of writers who were united in general school “new prose” – to K.MacCalers, J.Wetley, T.Kapote, R.Morris. The subjectivity and ambiguity in the definition of the moral position are the main features of the aesthetic ideals of this school. Wide epic cloths were extremely seldom created now: the art consciousness was split up under the influence of a set of subcultures that drew the serious literature aside mass.

Nevertheless, the moral searches, pilgrimage to the truth, to internal “I” always were in the focus of creativity of writers of the post-war period – Apdake, N.Mailer, S.Bello, D.Salinger, U.Staron. The big influence on the American literature of the 50-70ies was rendered with the philosophy of existentialism. The problem of alienation of the person has been laid down on the basis of ideology. In 50th in San Francisco, the group of young intelligence which has named itself “the broken generation” was formed. They have apprehended close to heart such phenomena as post-war depression, “cold war,” threat of a nuclear accident. They fixed a condition of estrangement of the human person from modern societies and is, naturally, poured out in the form of the protest. Representatives of this youth movement let know that their contemporaries-Americans live on ruins of a civilization. Revolt against establishment became for them the original form of interpersonal dialogue, and it made related their ideology with French existentialism writers (McMichael, 2005) .

In the American literature of last decades, Charles Bukovski (1920-1994) takes a special place, belonging to the writers from the category “enfant terrible.” The writer uses thus a non-normative lexicon.

The special place in the literary process of the USA is taken with the Negro literature. Its brightest representative James Baldwin (1924-1987), has called Black writers to depart from stereotypes in the image of the Blacks and to show in all sincere riches and discrepancy of the person of the black American. Baldwin’s position was also divided by other Black writers, and all of the movement has got the name of “a new wave.” Writers brought the focus to the moral aspect of the Black person instead of that has been generated by racist prejudices ( Skipp, 1992).

So, it is obvious that literature and national experience are interconnected. They can not exist without each other. As it was mentioned before, literature reflects the experience of the nation, and at the same time, from literature, people learn the experience of the past, which can help them to avoid the same mistakes in the future.

As we know, American literature has developed over several centuries, and it is worth saying that English and French literature have influenced greatly.

Works cited

  • Baym Nina, The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Shorter Version, W. W. Norton & Company; 6th edition (2002)
  • Bradbury Malcolm, Ruland Richard , From Puritanism to Postmodernism: A History of American Literature, Penguin (Non-Classics) (1992)
  • Cain William E., American Literature, Volume I (Penguin Academics Series), Longman (2004)
  • McMichael George, Leonard James , Anthology of American Literature, Volume I (Anthology of American Literature) , Prentice Hall; 9th edition (2006)
  • McMichael George, Leonard James , Concise Anthology of American Literature, Prentice Hall; 6th edition (2005)
  • Skipp Francis E., American Literature (EZ-101 Study Keys), Barron’s Educational Series (1992)

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"The Passenger": a Critical Analysis of Cormac Mccarthy's New Novel

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American Literature Essay

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20 th Century American Novel

The history of the novel in the U.S. during the twentieth century can in many ways be charted in terms of a fundamental, interactive tension between, on the one hand, the idea or sense of the national space and, on the other, local or regional specificities or densities that are in some fashion resistant to this idea. The “national” in this context signifies essentially the rapid and expansive unfolding of capitalist modernity in America following the end of the Civil War in 1865, an era that saw the increasing unification of what had hitherto been a more loosely aggregated national realm. With the full advent of industrialization, along with the widespread implementation of railroads and the telegraph, a genuinely national commercial marketplace was established for the first time. The rhythms of wage labor and commodity production (and consumption) became increasingly the norm, and people, goods, ideas, and images could now circulate more widely and easily than ever before, all of which fostered a manifold set of overlapping and often contradictory perceptions and experiences and offered up a new social substance for literary reflection. Thus, modernity might be welcomed for its social dynamism and cosmopolitanism, or instead criticized for its rootlessness and cultural depthlessness; the local, meanwhile, might either be favored for its traditional values and sense of connectedness (to people, to the land) or shunned for its backwardness and refusal to embrace innovation. This multivalent, ongoing cultural dialectic of nation and region, intertwined with a tension between modernity and tradition, affords a productive framework for considering the course of the twentieth-century American novel.

American Literature Essay

American Naturalism

Regardless of this question of generic function, regionalism doubtless expanded the reach of realism, if we follow that account of realism which stresses its opening up to literary representation hitherto unrepresented social groups, classes, and spaces. Regionalism thus helped make way for the brief flowering of that variant of realism known as naturalism during the first years of the twentieth century. While some naturalist fiction toyed with Darwinian themes (notably Jack London’s work, as in The Call of the Wild, 1903 and White Fang, 1906), naturalism is best grasped as a turning away from the more genteel realisms of William Dean Howells and Henry James (with their comfortable middle-class settings) toward working-class and ethnic subjects—rendered all too often through broad caricature—and a more frank consideration of themes of sexuality, violence, poverty, and prejudice.

With this came a strong emphasis on the determining influence of both the physical and social (chiefly economic) environments on individual behavior and destiny. Norris’s work is central here, with its cast of vivid Californians enmeshed by greed and the railroad companies, as is that of the brilliantly unclassifiable Stephen Crane, whose Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893) is one of the earliest tenement or slum tales. Also important are Abraham Cahan, a Russian-born chronicler of the Jews of New York’s Lower East Side and a pioneering figure in the coming wave of immigrant fiction— Yekl (1896), The Rise of David Levinsky (1917)—and the prolific journalist, social critic, and activist Upton Sinclair, whose novel The Jungle dramatized the deplorable conditions in the U.S. meatpacking industry. But it is Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie (1900) that stands as perhaps the central achievement of naturalism, offering a brilliant anatomy of money, desire, and commodity spectacle which, while rooted in a certain regional experience (in particular Dreiser’s flight from the restrictions of small-town Indiana and his German Catholic family), in effect short-circuits the dialectic invoked above and develops an immanent presentation of the social forces of modern capitalism. The work of Edith Wharton, meanwhile, despite its generally more privileged settings, might plausibly be grouped with naturalism for its clear-eyed focus on the inexorable and destructive force of gender and class conventions on individuals—The House of Mirth (1905), The Age of Innocence (1920).

The season of naturalism was in some respects short-lived: Sister Carrie sold poorly and Dreiser did not really regain his writerly footing until the seldom-read Cowperwood Trilogy of 1912–15; London became increasingly alcoholic and erratic; and both Crane and Norris died young, leaving the first two decades of the twentieth-century novel in the U.S. with a somewhat patchy record of achievement. One standout emerging in the teens is Willa Cather, a Virginia-born transplant to the Great Plains who brilliantly reenergized the regionalist dialectic with deceptively complex meditations on the passing of tradition, the growth of new wealth, new roles for women, and the fate of immigrant culture in the Plains and Southwest—O Pioneers! (1913), My Antonia (1918), The Professor’s House (1925), Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927). Cather’s work presages in part the fiction of the so-called “revolt from the village” movement, a set of mostly Midwestern writers who, far from casting the small town as a bulwark against modernity, see it as all too eager to embrace everything that is corrupting and spiritually deadening about bourgeois society. The novels of Sinclair Lewis—Main Street (1920) and Babbit (1922)—and Sherwood Anderson—Winesburg, Ohio (1919) and Poor White (1920)—while popular and critically acclaimed in their day (indeed, Lewis was the first American recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature), have in recent years fallen into disfavor as readers have found their critique to be rather one-note.

Lewis and Anderson were certainly not wrong, however, in training their attention on a rapidly modernizing capitalist system. With innovations such as Henry Ford’s “five-dollar day” (the substantial, if conditional, wage increase given hi sworkers starting in 1914), the layaway system and other forms of credit, and the rapid growth of advertising, modern mass consumerism was gradually though unevenly extended to certain sectors of the working- and lower-middle classes. The economy in the 1920s famously boomed (a misleading image, to the extent that inequalities of wealth were also increasingly exacerbated), and President Calvin Coolidge could declare, in a phrase that grates on the sensibilities of cultural workers to this day, that “the business of America is business.”

The writers of the 1920s thus found themselves in a difficult situation: while passionately committed to the aesthetically and culturally New (spurred on, of course, by the twin thunderclaps of 1922, James Joyce’s Ulysses and T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, and by modernism more generally), the “new” as it manifested itself in other social domains often occasioned a good deal more uncertainty. Hence the choice of expatriation for so many of the central writers of the decade, or the renewed and intensified focus on specific locales for others, as ways of keeping alive a kind of imaginative tension or distance, or perhaps a paradoxically nourishing sense of marginality, in the face of both the increasingly exuberant materialism of American culture together with its still dominant Puritanical ways, as witnessed for example by the (in hindsight, remarkable) prohibition on the sale of alcohol between 1919 and 1933.

The impact of modernism on the novel in the U.S. was in most instances subtle rather than overt, inflecting the main realistic current rather than reshaping its course outright. The time shifts, lyrical density, and cinematic flourishes employed in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece of upward mobility and American mythmaking (chiefly the abiding American myth of transcending one’s origins), The Great Gatsby (1925), are a good example of the distinctive yet accessible modernist elements writers began to use. Fitzgerald, for many the representative novelist of the decade, was a Midwesterner who went to Princeton and then Paris, and whose sharp (if exaggerated) sense of class and regional marginality fuels much of his best work. Ernest Hemingway, meanwhile, under the influence partly of the journalism trade and partly of modernist doyenne Gertrude Stein, developed a lean, stripped-down (and much imitated) style designed to say little and imply much. The success of books like In Our Time (1925), The Sun Also Rises (1926), and A Farewell to Arms (1929), along with his assiduous cultivation of the Hemingway “brand,” centered on the masculine pursuit of strenuous pastimes, made him for a long time the most famous American author in the world. Even Cather, a writer not generally known for formal innovation, began to speak, as the 1920s wore on, of the novel demeuble (“unfurnished”), a vision of clean, spare prose shorn of what were seen as the weighty encumbrances of older realisms.

The most exuberant modernisms appeared, first, with John Dos Passos’s Manhattan Transfer (1925), whose fragmentary, jump-cutting style attempts to capture the rhythm of a city and which was directly inspired both by Joyce and the cinema (indeed, film and its techniques are an abiding source of fascination and inspiration for many writers during these decades). Dos Passos amplified this approach in his epic U.S.A. trilogy—The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), and The Big Money (1936)—an admixture of glassy, depersonalized prose, news clippings, biographical pastiche, and subjective lyricism. Here Dos Passos attempts to “synthesize” the nation/region dialectic through a great totalization of all regions of the country and offers a grim panoply of political dreams crushed and ambitions of all sorts squelched by the routinized grind of profit making. Djuna Barnes, another expatriate, brought together female sexuality and cultural decay in the dense and harrowing Nightwood (1936). But it is undoubtedly William Faulkner who went furthest and most lastingly with the modernist enterprise in fiction. Faulkner chose to stay in the rural northern Mississippi of his childhood and make of its history and geography, and that of the South more generally, the stuff of an intricate and architectonic fictional world, over which hangs the gothic curse of the South’s history of defeat and the baleful aftereffects of slavery, inflected in turn by the belated modernization of the region. The elaborate stream of consciousness of The Sound and the Fury (1929) and the serpentine, multiclausal sentences of Absalom, Absalom! (1936) are only two instances of the many techniques he employed in the construction of his fictionalmythos—see also As I Lay Dying (1930), Light in August (1932), and Go Down, Moses (1942).

Another key literary movement beginning in the 1920s, one centrally rooted in spatial and demographic processes, is of course the Harlem (or New Negro) Renaissance (ca. 1918–37). The Great Migration, beginning around 1910, brought tens of thousands of African Americans from the rural South to the urban, industrial North. Places like Harlem fostered strong social and cultural ferment as more settled, middle-class blacks lived cheek by jowl with new working-class arrivals. The Renaissance itself was a rather more loosely knit affair than its name might suggest, comprising writers with strong ties to Harlem as well as many others with more tangential affiliations. Harlem in that sense was less a stable geographic locale than a touchstone for a kind of imagined community, a space of flows serving to organize symbolically a disparate collection of cultural producers. Their striking social positionality, meanwhile—on the liminal cusp of North and South, modernity and tradition, all complicated by the fraught calculus of race—allowed them to ring intricate changes on the many facets of the cultural dialectic we have been foregrounding, and to interrogate the bearing of African American culture with respect to American culture more generally. The outstanding novelists of the movement include Nella Larsen—Quicksand (1928), Passing (1929)— Claude McKay—Home to Harlem (1928), Banjo (1929)—Arna Bontemps—Black Thunder (1936)—and Zora Neale Hurston— Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937).

The arrival of the Great Depression in 1930 began to change the literary landscape in the U.S. in many ways. The rapid economic deterioration (fully one-quarter of the workforce unemployed by 1932) led to a widespread leftward movement amongst writers and intellectuals and an often contentious reconsideration of the appropriate forms and purposes of literature. While this politicization was by no means consistent— with some joining the Communist movement, others remaining within a more liberal/ progressive orbit, with many offshoots in between—nonetheless what Michael Denning has called a broad “cultural front” came into being in the 1930s, marked by a fellow-traveling sensibility at once critical of capitalism and engaged in advocating on behalf of the dispossessed. One early outgrowth of this was the set of novels, all by women, focusing on the textile strike in Gastonia, North Carolina, in 1929: Mary Heaton Vorse’s Strike! (1930), Myra Page’s Gathering Storm (1932), Grace Lumpkin’s To Make My Bread (1932), and Fielding Burke’s Call Home the Heart (1932).

More representative, however, of fiction in the 1930s is what Denning calls the “ghetto pastoral,” portraits of largely ethnic working- class urban neighborhoods and the daily struggles of their inhabitants. Such work differs from earlier naturalistic excursions into this territory in that the later writers frequently shared this plebeian social background with their subjects. The ghetto, of course, was a region unto itself, caught between an ambivalently desired mainstream America on the one hand and the values of the Old Country on the other. Tonally, the ghetto pastoral was often an uncertain blend of tough, even brutal naturalism (conditioned in part by the cynical, often violent hardboiled detective fiction pioneered in the 1920s by writers like Dashiell Hammett), as in James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan trilogy (1932–35), set in Irish Chicago, and lighter material, often drawing on youthful escapades and comic neighborhood tales and gossip, as in Mike Gold’s Jews Without Money (1930) and Daniel Fuchs’s Williamsburg trilogy (1934–37), both set in poor Jewish neighborhoods of New York. While versions of realism were the dominant stylistic strain in the ghetto pastoral, more modernist techniques feature in important works like Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep (1934), Pietro DiDonato’s Christ in Concrete (1938), set amongst immigrant Italian bricklayers, and Tillie Olsen’s Yonnondio (wr. 1930s, pub. 1974).

The politicization of the decade energized the feminist movement of the time as well, swelling the ranks of women writing literary fiction (as the above might already suggest). Other important works by women include The Unpossessed (1934) by Tess Slesinger and the Trexler trilogy (1933–39) by Josephine Herbst. The novel of migration, meanwhile, was a recurring form in the 1930s, as the economic crisis forced thousands onto the roads and rails in search of work: John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939) is easily the most famous—indeed, along with Margaret Mitchell’s Civil War saga Gone With the Wind (1936), it is probably the most famous novel of the decade (these two texts themselves, of course, using a regional focus to mount a national narrative). Nelson Algren’s Somebody in Boots (1935) deserves mention here as well. Finally, while much of this writing is already grim enough, there are those writers who present a uniquely pessimistic portrait of American society, in that the political sensibility that animates so much of the foregoing is with them suppressed. Steeped more in European symbolism and surrealism than, say, the Chicago School sociology of Farrell and Algren, these novelists envision society as a danse macabre of people increasingly in thrall to powerful culture industries that stoke unfulfillable desires, inciting violence and madness, with only a shrinking world of private fantasy remaining with which to resist: Henry Miller— Tropic of Capricorn (1938)—Horace McCoy—They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1935)—and, especially, Nathanael West— Miss Lonelyhearts (1933), The Day of the Locust (1939). In works like these we begin to see the emergence of black humor as a device for undermining the conventions of standard realism.

The 1940s and 1950s

The onset of WWII reoriented cultural priorities yet again, and the literary novel, while it did not cease production as did the automobile, nonetheless received less focused attention for a time. If the 1940s were the decade of the noir in cinema, much the same could be said for the novel, with the noir thriller being among the more vital genres of the decade, drawing the efforts of at least a few writers who had been poets and literary novelists in the 1930s. Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Kenneth Fearing, Edwin Rolfe, Chester Himes, and Cornell Woolrich are key figures in a genre that, thrills aside, offers an often complex set of reflections on the political aftermath of the Depression (the richly atmospheric Los Angeles locales frequently deployed are also of note). Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940) occupies an ambivalent and important juncture: between high- and middlebrow fiction (Wright made several choices aimed at broadening his readership, and the novel became a Book-of-the-Month Club selection), and also in terms of genre. A late version of the ghetto pastoral (the story is set in Bronzeville, an African American district in Chicago), it is also something of a noir thriller in its own right, while also presaging the rise of the suburb in postwar fiction. The war itself, meanwhile, furnished the material for at least one major novel, Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead (1948); Mailer would later publish one of the more interesting fictional meditations inspired by the disastrous war in Vietnam, Why Are We in Vietnam? (1967), a scabrous dissection of machismo and the emotional investments in violence that never, title aside, mentions Vietnam. Nor does Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (1961), a WWII novel whose satire on the absurdity and moral vacuity of warfare became increasingly resonant as the 1960s wore on and American involvement in Southeast Asia grew deeper. Distinguished work that does mention Vietnam of course exists, such as The Things They Carried (1990), by Tim O’Brien.

The novelists in the years following the war found themselves once more at a difficult aesthetic and political conjuncture. On the one hand, those realisms that had been the predominant novelistic modes for some eighty years, and had been so strenuously championed during the proletarian 1930s, were now, as the country moved into the era of Cold War conservatism, seen as critically suspect, as if encoding a certain Stalinism in their very heart. On the other hand, modernism was by and large felt to be reaching its limit, its dialectic of innovation having exhausted itself (a situation allegorized in John Barth’s The Floating Opera, 1956). Apolitical irony was the new order of the day in criticism, and older works were refunctioned to fit the new dispensation: thus Faulkner (whose best work was well behind him) and Henry James (who had been dead for over forty years) emerge as in some ways the most important novelists of the 1950s. Those novelists who wished to craft something lasting in the fifties needed guile and determination beyond the usual. One strategy was to cleave to older modes in defiance of prevailing styles, an approach most often leading to failure but one that worked for Harriette Arnow, whose The Dollmaker (1954) is perhaps the last of the great ghetto pastorals. Or one might revive even older forms, now seen as a breath of fresh air, to great critical acclaim, as with the picaresque fabulism and nineteenth-century pontificating of Saul Bellow—The Adventures of Augie March (1953), Henderson the Rain King (1959). But achieving the new in this context demanded once more a certain distance from the constricted literary horizon and related critical fashion, a distance provided, for instance, by the experience of exile, as with the Russian-American Vladimir Nabokov, whose Lolita (1955) stands as one of the few masterpieces of an authentically late modernist style. Another would be Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952), which weds an irrepressible narrative drive to a layered, allusive allegory of African American marginality. For the Beats, immersion in the bohemian (for them) world of jazz and drugs afforded a space apart from the felt conformity of the age. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) and William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch (1959), in their freeform composition and often hallucinatory intensity, revivify prose in yet new ways. The road, in both On the Road and Lolita alike, is an ambivalent trope: for Nabokov, a pathway into the seductive realm of American popular culture, for Kerouac the sign of an always-on-the-cusp-of-vanishing freedom. In any case, it testifies yet again to the irreducibly spatial dimension of literary production in the U.S.

The regional dialectic takes another turn in these years by the emergence of the suburb as a fresh site of narrative investment. The economic boom of the postwar era, coupled with measures like the G.I. Bill (1944) for veterans and tax incentives, helped millions become homeowners for the first time, and the suburban areas of American cities underwent a phase of enormous growth. The phenomenon of so-called “white flight” from more racially mixed city centers, beginning around the early 1960s, only amplified this development. Despite the evident public enthusiasm for these new living spaces, the novelistic suburb is mostly a baleful place, a realm of thwarted dreams, cultural deprivation, and (typically male) anxiety and depression: middle-class privilege is here reimagined as a kind of impoverishment. This is the imaginary terrain treated with a certain sentimentality in John Updike’s five Rabbit novels (appearing every ten years from 1960 to 2001), with rather more pungency in Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road (1961), through to the important work of Richard Ford—The Sportswriter (1986), Independence Day (1995)—and Rick Moody—The Ice Storm (1994).

American Postmodernity

At length we come to the matter of postmodernism and its place in the consideration of U.S. fiction of the last few decades. As with modernism, postmodernism comes in several versions, some more consequent than others. In perhaps its narrowest sense, we have here to do with an aesthetic of the signifier as such, devoted to the cunning free play of language. In an earlier age, such a strategy had more political content, as in the radical maneuvers of Dada, aimed at the repressive conventions of the bourgeois institutions of Art and Literature; under postmodernism this more often issues in elaborate, mazelike metafiction, such as that by Barth and Robert Coover, that displays great inventiveness but can seem rather self-absorbed, arguably possessing little in the way of deeper cultural resonance. When the difficult attempt is made to ground this aesthetic in some wider cultural experience, like the traditions of black signifying as in Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo (1972), Maxine Hong Kingston’s meditations on Chinese mythology and the immigrant experience—The Woman Warrior (1976), Tripmaster Monkey (1989)—or Kathy Acker’s explorations of alternative sexualities and the bodily sensorium, the results are rather more interesting and valuable. Works such as these typify the blending of genres often observed in post-1960s fiction, as nonfictional materials, poetic passages, elements of fantasy, other subgeneric modes, and so forth come together in an increasingly heterogeneous mixture.

The most consequent deployment of a postmodern strategy within the realm of the novel probably comes through the turn to history, what Linda Hutcheon has called historiographic metafiction. This is paradoxical, in that postmodernity has been characterized as a profoundly unhistorical era, but in a sense therein lies the key. The intention of this fiction is in no way to conjure some convincing representation of the past, or to make some case for its continuing claims upon us, as in older historical thinking. Rather, these narratives in effect refract and estrange the present through the past, using the intricate and unexpected juxtaposition of real and imaginary people and events to prize apart the highly compartmentalized social world of late capitalism. This, as Fredric Jameson has argued, is an essentially spatial exercise, that works by undermining the ideological cell walls between the many cultural and political subzones of our social formation, allowing a more synthetic narrative and conceptual process to take place. This would then be the latest (now second- or third-order) development in the sociospatial dialectic with which we began. The central figures here are Thomas Pynchon (1973, Gravity’s Rainbow; 1997, Mason and Dixon), Don DeLillo (1988, Libra; 1997, Underworld), and E. L. Doctorow (1975, Ragtime; 1989, Billy Bathgate). These writers also frequently evince themes of conspiracy and paranoia, another response to the increasingly systematic and all-pervasive character of the times (Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, 1966; DeLillo’s White Noise, 1986). Toni Morrison’s work (1987, Beloved; 1992, Jazz) figures in this context as well, though account must be made of the greater existential density of the historical within the African American context. In addition, the fiction of Richard Powers, such as Gain (1998) and Plowing the Dark (2000), juxtaposes scientific speculation, historical pastiche, and contemporary political events to probe the genesis and structure of the new global order.

Contemporary Novels

The general cultural fragmentation of postmodernity has clearly left its mark on the contemporary novel, making any attempt to survey the territory problematic. In some respects the realm of literary fiction has suffered as creative energies havemoved into subgeneric territory: science fiction, for example, has developed remarkably in the last few decades, encompassing now the full range of so-called “soft” sciences and rich in political and anthropological speculation; detective fiction, too, continues to map social space in ever more inventive ways. Still, staying within our working framework reveals several important recent developments. Thus alongside (often bombastic) calls for a new realism—directed against the perceived narrowness of “creative writing program” fiction—there persists strong work in a (sometimes deceptively) traditional realism, particularly that of Russell Banks, who has explored the conjuncture of America’s racial stain and the injuries of class society with unflagging determination, frequently focusing on small-town New England and New York’s Adirondack Mountains (1985, Continental Drift; 1995, Rule of the Bone; 1998, Cloudsplitter). Meanwhile, there is also a well-established new regionalism, as novelists once more turn to the byways and forgotten corners of the nation. Sometimes, this local is badly in need of a now global modernity, while at other times the local provides the resources to resist the force field of globalized economic and cultural flows, with the narratives seeking to explore an always troubled balance between value and rootedness on the one hand and drudgery and deprivation on the other. Work by Richard Russo, Carolyn Chute, Annie Proulx, Pat Conroy, Barry Hannah, Dorothy Allison, and Chris Offutt, among others, demonstrates once more the absolute centrality to the narrative imagination in the U.S. of the problems of cultural integrity versus cosmopolitanism, of the simultaneous fostering and curtailment of desire and freedom, all thought through a profoundly spatial frame.

Little by little, it seems, the themes that arose so often during the first half of the nineteenth century, as the nation was coalescing and its concept had yet to stabilize, inexorably return, as the uncertain solvents of the unfolding global dispensation increasingly exert their power, complicating and expanding the spatial dialectic. For example, the examination of both the idea and the reality of the border has drawn much interest from novelists as late capitalism slowly redefines the very notion of the nation state. Novelists such as Cormac McCarthy (1985, Blood Meridian; 1994, The Crossing) and Leslie Marmon Silko (1991, Almanac of the Dead) explore the creation and violation of borders and the violence that spreads forth from this, highlighting imperialism and Manifest Destiny, and underscore the unsettling shifts of identity endemic to the borderlands. Perhaps more crucially, the recent wave of writing by people of color is replete with signs and portents of future metamorphoses of American fiction. Taking initial impetus from the political energies of the 1960s, particularly as these shifted somewhat later into the set of debates and movements identified by the notion of identity politics, this literature frequently sets in motion a set of complex exchanges between an increasingly decentred American national space and ever-widening real and conceptual territories in the global South and Pacific Rim (not to mention the disruptive and unmappable terrain of the native reservation system). While varying widely in style, setting, and tone, work by Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros, Sherman Alexie, Amy Tan, Jessica Hagedorn, Junot Diaz, Anita Desai, Ha Jin, Louise Erdrich, and Rolando Hinojosa, among many others, not only reinterrogates amid fresh circumstances the literary dialectic of ethnic and immigrant experience established earlier in the century, but also stays true to the fundamental impulse of realism to bring unexplored social spaces and subjects into the realm of narrative representation. The many ways in which American fiction goes global will continue to surprise.

Bibliography:

  • Bercovitch, S., ed. (1999), Cambridge History of American Literature, vol. 7.
  • Bercovitch, S., ed. (2002), Cambridge History of American Literature, vol. 6.
  • Denning, M. (1997), Cultural Front.
  • Hutcheon, L. (1989), Poetics of Postmodernism.
  • Jameson, F. (1991), Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.
  • Jurca, C. (2000), White Diaspora.
  • Kazin, A. (1942), On Native Grounds.
  • Lutz, T. (2003), Cosmopolitan Vistas.
  • McCann, S. (2000), Gumshoe America.
  • Michaels, W.B. (1993), Our America.
  • Seguin, R. (2001), Around Quitting Time.
  • How to Write a Literature Essay
  • How to Write a Book Review
  • Literature Essay Topics

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american literature essay

  • American Literature

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American Literature Essay Examples

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Summary of Play “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

One flew over the cuckoo’s nest. Briefly Summarize the play.- It takes place ina mental institution where a new patient has just arrived. This patient ends upmessing with everyone and creating chaos in the institution. Briefly Outline thePlot- R.P. McMurphy is a new patient at the mental institution, he is a charmingdevil, who wants to…

Analysis On `The Forever War`

Human Activities

The  book  ‘The  Forever  War’  is  based  on  the  fiction  written  by  Joe  Haldeman. It  is  basically  a  novel  based  on  the  interstellar  war, winner  of  the  Nebula  Award  in  1975  and  Hugo  Award  in  1976. It  is  based  on  the  war  between  the  humanity  and  the  alien  Tauran  species. It  deals  on  the  theme …

Analysis of “Not Marble Nor Gilded Monument” and “The Fault In Our Stars”

The poem “Not Marble Nor The Gilded Monument” by Archibald MacLeish emphasizes the significance of each moment and the fleeting nature of a woman’s life. The phrase “Therefore I will not speak of the undying glory of women” suggests that the speaker will refrain from discussing the deceased woman to others, but will always remember…

Theater of Absurd In American Literature

During the 20th century, there was an evident disillusion and disintegration in religious views and human nature due to the horrific and appalling events andimprovements in technology of this time, such as the Holocaust and the creation ofthe atom bomb. This has left people with little, if any, faith in powers above or intheir own…

Summary of “Irish Rose” by Cronin

The author A. J. Cronin is a doctor by training but a writer as profession. Cronin’s strengths were his narrative skill and powers of acute observation and graphic description. He could see the dark side of life in a better frame. The plot of the story is arranged in a rousing style, the exposition of…

Tchaikovsky Peter Tchaikovsky

Peter Tchaikovsky Peter Tchaikovsky Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in 1840 in present-day Udmurtia, Russia. His father was a Ukrainian mining engineer. Peter began piano lessons at the age of five, and within three years he could read music as well as his teacher. Peter received his education in St Petersburg Technological Intuition, the only…

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Essay Samples on American Literature

Julie garwood: unexpected passing and lasting legacy.

Julie Garwood was a beloved author of historical and contemporary romance novels who passed away in 2023 at the age of 78. Though she is no longer with us, her stories continue to delight readers around the world. Early Life and Career Born in Kansas...

  • American Authors
  • American Literature

Carol Higgins Clark: Remembering the Legacy of a Prolific Mystery Novelist and Actress

Author Carol Higgins Clark passed away on June 12, 2023 at the age of 66 after a battle with appendix cancer. Though gone too soon, Clark leaves behind an admirable legacy as a prolific mystery novelist and actress. She was best known for her Regan...

Judy Blume: A Literary Icon's Enduring Impact and Cinematic Journey

The Legacy of Judy Blume In the realm of children's and young adult literature, few authors are as venerated and renowned as Judy Blume. Her literary gems such as "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret", "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing", and "Blubber" continue...

"The Great Gatsby": Character Analysis Of Jay Gatsby

For some, greatness is the riches and fame one can obtain throughout a lifetime, what's not realized is that there is a deeper, more profound meaning to it. Greatness is having the courage and ability to step out of one’s comfort zone to find the...

  • American Fiction
  • The Great Gatsby

Analysis Of Puritanism In The Works Of American Literature

Anthropology, the study of human societies and cultures and their developments, is almost always directly correlated with sociology which is the study of the structure and functioning of a society. The Puritans’ overarching anthropology was that God is completely sovereign and that man gets attached...

  • Anne Bradstreet

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The Impact of Irving, Poe and Hawthorne on Early American Literature

In the 18th century when television was not invented, people used to read and talk to each other. When electronic devices were not advanced yet, reading is one of the common ways that people get pleasure. Back in the days, people used to read to...

  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne

Differences Between the American and British Gothic Literature

Gothic literature came to America in the late eighteenth century. This genre was paradoxical to the new country based on liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Consequently, the people of America discarded the gothic genre because the novels seemed unreliable. Gothic was based on history,...

  • Gothic Literature

Symbolic Meanings in The Scarlet Ibis

James Hurst establishes “The Scarlet Ibis” by using multiple literary devices such as symbolism. Symbolism is the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities. The main symbol utilized in the short story is the Scarlet Ibis itself. The bird, Scarlet Ibis, is not the...

  • The Scarlet Ibis

Exploring the Evocative Power of Imagery in "The Scarlet Ibis"

In The Scarlet Ibis, symbolism is used as a main story telling element. It expresses the character, Brother’s, feelings toward all that happens, and shows his connections to events taking place in the story. In the story, the character called Brother learns to deal with...

Injustice and Prejustice in The Scarlet Ibis

William Armstrong was a young boy filled with light, energy, and passion. He was burdened with a terrible condition making him sensitive towards the outside world. He had a loving family and aunt, who wanted him to live as long as possible. While having many...

Rhetorical Analysis of Me Talk Pretty One Day

Sedaris employs appeals to pity, a tonal shift from fear to calm, and a humorous tone in order to emphasize the difficulty of living in a foreign country with a minimum level of fluency in the language spoken in that country. Sedaris appeals to the...

  • Me Talk Pretty One Day

The Last of the Mohicans: The Frontier Changing Characters

When Mr. James Fenimore Cooper started writing his books, he was writing them in the American Romanticism era. This means that his books most likely reflected values found in this era. The book The Last of the Mohicans had many of these characteristics. We find...

  • Last of The Mohicans
  • Romanticism

The Problem of Racial Inequality in James Cooper's Novel The Last of the Mohicans

The Last of the Mohicans, written by James Fenimore Cooper, was published around the time of the first “Indian Removal” debates, where the government was deciding on whether or not remove Native Americans from their land and use it for the expansion of the United...

Amelia Earhart Journey Began in 1897

Imagine waking up every morning with the knowledge that you could change lives. Every step you take for yourself is a step taken in the name of equality and change. This is how our great female innovators felt at every stage of their inspiring lives,...

  • Amelia Earhart
  • Women's Rights

Violence, Misery and Abuse against Women in A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hussien

The aim of this study is to focus and illustrate the characteristics of female characters that demonstrate the inner strength and abilities of women being challenged by hard life conditions. Particularly, it aims to explain how a unified vision of selfhood and strong self-identity and...

  • A Thousand Splendid Suns

The Role of Robert Frost's Life in His Art

Throughout the vast collection of American literature, very few individuals have attained a position as distinguished as Robert Frost within literature. Even after his death in 1963, he is still remembered today for his great literary works. Although Robert Frost is heavily associated with New...

  • Robert Frost

Robert Frost's Mastery of Rhyme in His Poetry

Robert Frost was born on March 26th, 1874 to his father, William and his mother Isabelle. Roberts’s father, William, worked as a reporter, while his mother stayed home. Robert was born in San Francisco with his family, until his father passed on May 5th, 1885....

Depiction of American South in Burning Barn and A Good Man Is Hard to Find

Would you ever think that Southern Americans would write stories based on morality in the early 1900s? Probably not based on the fact that slavery was abolished only a few years earlier. Authors, William Faulkner and Flannery O’ Connor were far from exceptions to this....

  • A Good Man Is Hard to Find
  • Barn Burning

Walt Whitman: The Most Impotant Poet in American Literature

Imagine being known as America’s greatest and most influential poet. You’ll be known as someone who could be able to influence people just by using your words and putting it into poetry. Walt Whitman is extremely well-known and is one of the most influential writers...

  • Walt Whitman

My Desire To Study English Literature At A Level

It seems that the greatest situational irony encountered is life itself. For this reason I chose to study English Literature at A Level. Language is ceaseless and boundless and its only limits stem from the conscious decisions of the author, hence, every literary device and...

  • Personal Experience

Best topics on American Literature

1. Julie Garwood: Unexpected Passing and Lasting Legacy

2. Carol Higgins Clark: Remembering the Legacy of a Prolific Mystery Novelist and Actress

3. Judy Blume: A Literary Icon’s Enduring Impact and Cinematic Journey

4. “The Great Gatsby”: Character Analysis Of Jay Gatsby

5. Analysis Of Puritanism In The Works Of American Literature

6. The Impact of Irving, Poe and Hawthorne on Early American Literature

7. Differences Between the American and British Gothic Literature

8. Symbolic Meanings in The Scarlet Ibis

9. Exploring the Evocative Power of Imagery in “The Scarlet Ibis”

10. Injustice and Prejustice in The Scarlet Ibis

11. Rhetorical Analysis of Me Talk Pretty One Day

12. The Last of the Mohicans: The Frontier Changing Characters

13. The Problem of Racial Inequality in James Cooper’s Novel The Last of the Mohicans

14. Amelia Earhart Journey Began in 1897

15. Violence, Misery and Abuse against Women in A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hussien

  • Sonny's Blues
  • Hidden Intellectualism
  • A Raisin in The Sun
  • William Shakespeare
  • A Long Way Gone
  • Nervous Conditions
  • A Christmas Carol

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American literature.

  • Word Count: 774
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             The events of American history are very much connected to the influence of American literature and what it has become today. The inspiration that a writer needs is mostly gathered by the effects of the world around him/her, and this is how the geography and history of America have made an impact on American literature.              THE COLONIAL PERIOD, from 1620-1720, was based upon the Puritan lifestyle. The Puritans were practical, intensely committed, and convinced of the rightness of their purpose. The Bible was the foundation upon which puritan literature was built. The ideal Puritan style was a plain style- strong, simple, and logical. This new writing influence can be found in the works of William Bradford, who wrote OF PLYMOUTH PLANTATION, and Anne Bradstreet, author of HERE FOLLOW SOME VERSES UPON THE BURNING OF OUR HOUSE, JULY 10, 1666. It was the Puritans who most powerfully influenced the course of American literature and the formation of the American imagination.              The period of ENLIGHTENMENT was recognized by Jonathan Edwards, who wrote SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF AN ANGRY GOD. This piece of history was written at the time of a religious revival, the "Great Awakening", which was marked by waves of conversions that spread from congregation to congregation- conversions so intensely emotional as to amount at times to mass hysteria.              THE REVOLUTIONARY PERIOD, which existed from 1750-1800, was the Age of reason that began with the rationalist philosophers and scientists of the seventeenth century. The emergence of modern science and the scientific method had much to do with this new emphasis on reason. Discoveries made by physical scientists and mathematicians were changing the ways people viewed the universe. Scientific investigation seemed to show that the universe was organized according to certain unchanging laws, and that people could discover those laws through the use of their reason.

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Essays Related to American Literature

1. overview of american literature.

american literature essay

American literature has gone through many phases ever since it emerged in the mid-1600's. ... These three themes have changed and developed throughout the course of American Literature, it can be seen most profoundly in rationalism, realism, and modernism. ... Last but not least, modernism, one of the most recent trends in writing in American Literature, takes yet another stance on Independence. ... Besides, they'll see how beautiful I am and be ashamed" (Hughes 1) In conclusion, throughout American Literature many forms of writing have emerged and each has had their own set ...

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2. American Literature

american literature essay

American literature as know it has come along way. ... Also many events have led to the literature as we know it also, like women's suffrage and emancipation for African Americans as well as many wars that have been fought in the history of the United States. ... Also around this time African American were also gaining some new found rights and freedoms. ... Along with these new found freedoms for minorities, many events caused literature to change and be what we know it as today. ... Some even gave people in America sort of an optimistic outlook for the future to help them get throug...

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3. African American Literature

american literature essay

African American Literature is a composite of many different life stories and experiences African Americans have had to endure throughout a lifetime. From African American Heritage, which goes all the way back to literature written by African's who were brought to America as slaves up to now (which is considered the Affirmative Action Era), there has been somewhat of an African American diary that continues to evolve throughout our times. As of now there is Pre-20th African American Literature, which would include authors like Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. ... The second o...

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4. Concepts of African American Literature

american literature essay

African American literature is an extremely dense and rich form of literature that contains many types of similar tropes. These tropes can be seen throughout many of African American works of literature. ... Double-Consciousness Double-consciousness is a major theme that courses through many African American literature works. ... Dubois and is defined in the focus of African American literature and the African American experience as "an individual whose identity is divided into several facets.... This idea of double-consciousness comes through in almost any African American work of lite...

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5. Native Americans Influence on Literature

Through their culture, beliefs, and traditions Native Americans influenced the arrival of the new man, including modern American literature. ... This history of literature goes along with the history of the white migration across the United States. ... Even though there are differences among native literatures there are also similar themes throughout all of them. ... A popular traditional character that is also found in contemporary Indian literature is that of the trickster. ... He attempted to show his white audience the world views, customs, literature, and history of the Indians and th...

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6. Literature - American Renaissance and Romantic

american literature essay

Matthiessen, the American Renaissance. ... They were, instead, significantly influenced by the popular literature of the period. ... Reynolds points out that a subversive literature existed prior to the work of the major authors of the American Renaissance, in the form of sensational crime novels, erotic writings, humor writing, etc. ... Generally, romanticism marks a reaction in literature, philosophy, art, religion, and politics from the neoclassicism and formal orthodoxy of the preceding period. ... Henry David Thoreau Best known for his work "Walden," Thoreau presents an exploration of ...

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7. television and literature

american literature essay

Television changed our perception of literature. ... Instead, literature brought Americans new worlds and many science fiction stories that motivated Americans to read more, and with the actual possibility of space travel science fiction became very popular Literature was able to give the public everything that television did not. Americans were very amused by the literature during this period. Television in a way helped to give us another perspective of literature. ... Kagan Neil, The American Dream. ...

  • Word Count: 750

8. Native American Literature

american literature essay

Native Americans literature shows life, logic and informative backgrounds of the life of a Native American. Native American literature is important, and there are numerous reasons why. The study of Native American literature has opened the minds of many people. ... By Stories, Native American literature, were actually documented the literature story was rare, and more important. ... Native American literature is important and it is very educational not only to non-Native Americans, but to younger Native Americans also. ...

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9. American Literature

american literature essay

A DIFFERENTIATION OF TIME PERIODS Throughout the duration of American Literature you can see the evolution if you will, of the peoples thoughts and beliefs on religion, the disenfranchised, and the conflict between individual rights and the group as a whole. ... As America began to change into a revolutionary period you began to see more independency and "Self Reliance" than before. ... Frederick Douglass became one of Americas first acclaimed African-American writer to reflect and portray the life of a slave, which he was. Women were still regarded as a "lesser" being and continue...

  • Word Count: 735

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ENGL 3630 U.S. Literature and the End of the American Century

Course description.

Course information provided by the Courses of Study 2023-2024 .

What is (or was) American empire? This course examines U.S. literature from WWII to the early 21st century. This period has been termed the "American century" because of the U.S.'s dominant role in shaping global politics and culture, a dominance backed by military interventions abroad and the rise of the police state at home. How do the era's writers negotiate and challenge the police, military, and imperial powers of the U.S. state? We will place fiction, poetry, and essays in conversation with historical documents and policies, asking how literature has imagined an end to the American century.

When Offered Fall or Spring.

Distribution Category (ALC-AS, CA-AS) Satisfies Requirement Satisfies the Literatures of the Americas and post-1800 requirement for English majors.

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  Regular Academic Session.   Combined with: AMST 3632

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3 Credits Stdnt Opt (Letter or S/U grades)

Class Number & Section Details

18379 ENGL 3630   SEM 101

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  • MW 10:10am - 11:25am To Be Assigned
  • Jan 22 - May 7, 2024

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Proposals Requested for Modernism in British & World Literature: A (Re)consideration (updated)

Deadline for submissions:

January 15, 2024

Note on Updated Proposal:

We currently have most of the selections made, and essays in process, for a volume on re-considering Modernism with regard to British & world literature. We are, however, still looking for a small handful of high-quality proposals to fill out a few remaining chapters in the project. Our initial call was so successful that we decided to create two collections. The first one, on American Modernism, is currently under review by an academic publisher.

The (neo-)historical in British literature and visual arts (20th-21st centuries)

SEAC International Conference

Université de Caen Normandie, 17-18 October 2024

Special guest: Lucy Caldwell, winner of the 2023 Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction.

Confirmed keynote speakers: Jerome de Groot (University of Manchester) and Diana Wallace (University of South Wales).

Women and Turkish Shakespeares (Edited Volume)

Contact email: [email protected]

Call for Chapters

Turkey has a long tradition of reading, translating and staging William Shakespeare’s plays as part of the country’s modernisation process. Yet, this long tradition has remained relatively obscure for the majority of both Turkish and non-Turkish academic and non-academic circles.

Care Praxis and Care Literature

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” — Audre Lorde, A Burst of Light

A Billion and Fifty Year Spree: Science Fiction, and its Histories, ‘after’ Aldiss

University of Liverpool & Online, 23 January 2024

ParatradIT-2024_UVigo_T&P. International Congress of Paratranslation Interlinguas and Transmedia

Dear colleagues,

The success we had in 2021 with our techling2021- UVigo_T&P congress, held online, has encouraged us to keep working. 

Indeed, we are proud to announce the la I edition of the ParatradIT-2024_UVigo_T&P. International Congress of Paratranslation Interlinguas and Transmedia, organized by the Translation & Paratranslation Research Group (T&P) from the Universidade de Vigo, together with the Universidad de Córdoba.

The Congress will take place both on-site and remotely, between March 20th–22nd, 2024. There are five Congress languages: Spanish, Galician, French, English, and Portuguese.

CFP: Asian American Religious Studies Unit (AAR/WR ANNUAL CONFERENCE 2024)

CALL FOR PAPERS : Asian American Religious Studies Unit

AMERICAN ACADEMY OF RELIGION WESTERN REGION (AAR/WR) 2024 ANNUAL CONFERENCE In-Person Conference at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV)

March 15-17, 2024

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  1. What Is American Literature Essay

    American Literature Definition. American literature refers to the body of written or literary works shaped in the history of the United States and its former colonies (britannica.com). Tracing back America's history, America was once under the rule of Britain as part of the latter's colonies therefore its literary institution is associated ...

  2. American literature

    Literature has existed in the Americas for as long as the people who lived there have been telling stories. Native American cultures have a rich history of oral literature. Mayan books from as far back as the 5th century are known, and it is believed that the Maya started writing things down centuries before that. As a specific discipline viewed through the lens of European literature ...

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  4. How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay

    Table of contents. Step 1: Reading the text and identifying literary devices. Step 2: Coming up with a thesis. Step 3: Writing a title and introduction. Step 4: Writing the body of the essay. Step 5: Writing a conclusion. Other interesting articles.

  5. Writing Handbook for ENGL 72W: Intro to American Literature 1865 to the

    Include a cover sheet with your name, due date, and title. Submit notes, drafts, and outlines with papers. Papers handed in after the due date will be considered late and will be penalized one grade for each day late. All papers should be typed in Times New Roman 12 point font and should be printed out and submitted as hard copies. Grading Rubric:

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  8. The Ten Best American Essays Since 1950, According to Robert Atwan

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    Overview. The American Literature exam covers material that is usually taught in a survey course at the college level. It deals with the prose and poetry written in the United States from precolonial times to the present. It tests literary works—their content, background, and authors—but also requires an ability to interpret poetry, fiction ...

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    Short Essay On American Literature. 876 Words4 Pages. and Porcelaine. (qtd. in Ruland and Bradburry 54) Adams shrewdly realized that literary development of the new nation is a time consuming progress that needs three generations; the first generation involved with political and military issues, the second with science and economics and the ...

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    American Literature. Materialism. Words: 1672 (7 pages) Outline & Thesis I. Introduction A. Growing "The Rocking Horse Winner" by D.H. Lawrence and "The Destructors" by Graham Greene are two thought-provoking short stories that include a lot of truths in it. B. The seeds of materialism are sown and nurtured in lives of the characters.

  22. American Literature Essays at WritingBros

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  23. FREE American Literature Essay

    Edgar Allan Poe. The events of American history are very much connected to the influence of American literature and what it has become today. The inspiration that a writer needs is mostly gathered by the effects of the world around him/her, and this is how the geography and history of America have made an impact on American literature.

  24. Class Roster

    18379 SEM 101. MW 10:10am - 11:25am To Be Assigned. Jan 22 - May 7, 2024. Thomas, L. Instruction Mode: In Person. Spring 2024 - ENGL 3630 - What is (or was) American empire? This course examines U.S. literature from WWII to the early 21st century. This period has been termed the "American century" because of the U.S.'s dominant role in shaping ...

  25. cfp

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