As the world around us changes, so does the way that we see the world, and how we express that vision. Literature, arts, and philosophy evolve to mirror their historic and social context. An appreciation of a particular piece of literature is grounded by an understanding of the work’s context. Looking at literary movements helps students articulate the common approaches to writing, big ideas of each movement, and social and political influences of the time period. It is important for students of American Literature to understand the author and characters’ attitudes; connecting a piece of writing to the ideologies of its time is a significant component in this task.
American Literary Movements Timeline - Follow American authors throughout American literature
Native American (Before 1600)
AMERICAN LITERARY MOVEMENTS
Characterized by oral traditions, epic poems, creation myths, songs, and poetry. Native American literature has been around long before the settlers arrived. Recently, authors like Sherman Alexie have revived stories of American Indians with his stories, which give insight into life on the reservation.
Puritanism or Colonial (1620-1750)
Characterized by their desire to 'purify' the Church of England with the simple worship of God, Puritans left England to colonize the new world. As settlers, they recorded their experiences through diaries and historical accounts.
Revolutionary, Age of Reason, Enlightenment (1750-1800)
Characterized by human desire to understand the world around them through reason rather than faith. This era was mostly composed of philosophers and scientists whose writing sparked an enlightenment in thought.
Romanticism, American Gothic (1800-1865)
This era valued feeling, intuition, and idealism. It placed faith in inner experience and imagination. Individual freedom and the worth of the individual was paramount, and poetry was seen as the highest expression of the mind. Dark Romantics or American Gothic writers used dark supernatural themes and settings.
Transcendentalists advocated self-reliance and individualism over authority and conformity to tradition, believing institutions and organizations were responsible for corrupting the inherent goodness of people. In their writing, transcendentalists commonly reflected on nature, a unified “divine spirit”, common to all people, and community.
This movement was marked by feelings of disillusionment. Familiar subjects included ghettos of rapidly growing cities, the industrial revolution, and corrupt politicians. Authors focused on painting a realistic setting of everyday life and ordinary people, including local color, while also seeking to explain human behavior.
Lost Generation, Jazz Age, Roaring 20’s & The Harlem Renaissance (1917-1937)
Beginning as an extension of realism, this era broke with literary and poetic traditions. Authors were bold and experimental in style; an example being “stream of consciousness”. Modernist literature can seem bleak, but is characterized by the optimistic belief that people can change the world around them.
Beat Generation (1950-1965)
African American culture in Harlem, NY was flourishing. Much of the style derived from poetry rhythms based on spirituals, jazz lyrics on the blues, and the use of slang in everyday diction. These influences intersected with prohibition, reactions to WWI, and the sultry nightlife of the big city to produce an energetic progressive culture.
A small group of authors whose literature explored and influenced American culture, post-World War II. The Beats were against the prudery of their parents’ generation and promoted sex and sexuality as healthy topics of discussion. Beat hipsters defied modest America. with their hedonistic bohemianism and celebration of nonconforming creativity.
Literature was influenced by studies of media, language, and information technology. It is marked by the fact that nothing is truly "unique" and the idea that our culture endlessly duplicates itself. New literary forms and techniques focused on intense dialog, a blend of fiction and nonfiction, and the overall appearance of the work.