The Blossoming of American Literature
The Blossoming of American Literature
During the early 1800s, American literature began to divide from its British roots. Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper helped carve out the early territory of American literature, using distinctly American literary themes. Washington Irving achieved international acclaim, writing often satirical accounts of life in colonial New York. Two of his most famous stories are “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” James Fenimore Cooper, the author of The Pioneers (1823) and The Last of the Mohicans (1826), is credited with creating the first western hero. In “The American Scholar” (1837), Ralph Waldo Emerson lauded such American literary advances and urged American authors to continue setting their own course.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Edgar Allan Poe emerged in the late 1840s and early 1850s as prominent writers of fiction. They portrayed individuals as conflicted and obsessive, proud and guilt-ridden. In The Scarlet Letter, published in 1850, Hawthorne explores the moral dilemmas of an adulterous Puritan minister. Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851) portrays a sea captain’s tortured obsession. Poe’s macabre short stories and poems, including “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843) and “The Raven” (1844), examine depravity and moral corruption.
Prominent essayists and poets also emerged during the 1840s and 1850s. Two of the most renowned essayists were the Transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau (discussed in the Transcendentalism section), who favored emotion and intuition over pure logic. The poet Walt Whitman, a follower of Emerson, celebrated America for producing a new type of democratic man uncorrupted by European vice in his compilation of poems, Leaves of Grass, published in 1855.
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