New Revolution Literature Term Paper

Pages: 6 (1966 words)  ·  Style: APA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Literature

New Revolution Literature

The Literature of the New Republic 1776-1836

The Declaration of Independence of 1776 is probably the most significant moment in American history of all times. This date marks the end of America's War of Independence, when the thirteen colonies existent at that time finally were finally liberated from the dominance of the British Empire. Besides the undoubted historical and political significance of this moment, the year 1776 also tags the beginning of a cultural revolution. It can be argued thus that the foundations of the American sprit were first laid in the period of the Early Republic. The true American Renaissance only began towards the second half of the nineteenth century when some of the most important writers of all times put the basis of the American literature and its original voice. Some of the most important authors of the Renaissance were Emerson, Poe, Whitman and Melville. Nevertheless, it is during the Early Republic that the struggle for cultural independence took place and gave birth to the true American spirit. While in the first part of the eighteenth century America struggled for political independence from the British Empire, it is only afterwards that the states managed to gain their liberty from the European cultural influences. Therefore, the literature of the New Republic bears the evidence of the strenuous effort that the young country made towards discovering its own identity and shaking off the old skin of the European classical influence.

In this period, the most important writers of fiction were the poet Philip Freneau and the writers Washington Irving and James Fennimore Cooper. Other minor authors and many significant women writers also contributed to these first steps towards the development of an original American culture. Together with them, other writers such as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine who both drafted the Declaration of Independence had an undoubted influence on the revolutionary spirit of the age. The period of the New Republic is all the more significant as it shows how the American literature emerged from this struggle for gaining an independence from the European cannon. This literature bears the signs of change and revolution. The writers were conscious of their indebtedness to classical Eastern or European literature and they attempted to give a new voice to the West. Moreover, the new acquired freedom was not only independence from the British Empire, but also the freedom inspired by the new found land with its virgin, natural landscape that encouraged the idea of a new heaven on earth. The rich and wild country that was continuously growing celebrated thus not only its independence from the British nation, but also the emergence of a new, liberal state, a republic that was founded on democratic principles of personal freedom, equality and the unrestrained pursuit of happiness. No wander than that liberty became one of the crucial words for the literary movement as well. The poets and the writers felt the impulse to go on a quest for what the American voice really meant.

Among the principal writers of this period, Philip Freneau was one of the first authors who sang of the birth of the new American culture and of its significance. Perhaps it can be said that during the New Republic the American literature as such had not yet been born, but, notwithstanding, it is obvious that at this time the awareness of the need for a national, well-defined spirit was now born. In one of his very significant pieces, on the Emigration to America and Peopling the Western Country, Freneau pinpoints this necessity for cultural liberation. Everything had to be new and had to breathe the revolutionary air imparted by the war of independence. The feeling of novelty enhanced the uniqueness of the new American state. The discovery of an entire new continent at such a late period in history had been in itself a conquest, but the actual birth of the new state only began with the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Freneau emphasizes this feeling of novelty and purity associated with the now liberated country in his poem. Europe, with its ancient culture and tradition appears as "proud" and "despotic," while America is the virgin land, untainted by monarchy: "From Europe's proud, despotic shores / Hither the stranger takes his way, / and in our new found world explores / a happier soil, a milder sway, / Where no proud despot holds him down, / No slaves insult him with a crown."(McQuade, 312) Moreover, not only was the continent itself still very young, but a part of it was still unexplored and uninhabited.

There was an infinite charm for the mind of the poet in this absolute virginity of the land, in which there were still paths that had not been trodden and where there was no despotic figure to bring restraint from happiness and peace. Freneau thus openly emphasizes the idea of the new born democracy that, in his view, was a virgin state of things. This new world was obviously associated with nothing less than the paradise, a state in which all things flourished in perfect harmony, one next to the other. It is very significant that the Biblical image of Eden resembled, to a certain extent, that of the American continent. In Eden, everything and everyone lived in perfect peace; there were no predators, no slaves, no victims. Democracy sounded just like that, simply because the artificial bliss brought by false pomp and luxury were replaced in America by a state of natural beauty and purity: "Forsaking kings and regal state, / With all their pomp and fancied bliss, / the traveler / owns, convinced though late, / No realm so free, so blest as this-- / the east is half to slaves consigned, / Where kings and priests enchain the mind."(McQuade, 312) Liberty and harmony are two interdependent states of things, and the writers of the New Republic first took their inspiration from the fascinating liberty and virginity of the new land. In another poem, the Wild Honey Suckle, Freneau depicts the virginity of the land by picking his subject directly from the wild nature that surrounded him. Nevertheless, here, he deplores the fact that this virginity and purity, like that of the flower, might be only very short-lived: "Smit with those charms, that must decay, / I grieve to see your future doom; / They died -- nor were those flowers more gay, / the flowers that did in Eden bloom;/...Unpitying frosts, and Autumn's power/..Shall leave no vestige of this flower."(Mcquade, 352) Here, Freneau shows signs of the unavoidable indebtedness of his poetry to the European culture. Although the poets were seeking for their own voice by taking their poetical themes from what surrounded him, the main ideas and the thoughts were still the old European ones.

Another important author of this time is Washington Irving, with his two most important texts, the Legend of the Sleepy Hollow and Rip van Winkle. Significantly, both of these texts contain supernatural elements, and, as such, they have become pieces of the American folklore more than mere fictional writings. Also, in both stories there is a special emphasis on sleeping and drowsiness that lend the text to many possible interpretations from a cultural point-of-view. Critic Greg Smith for instance observes that the ambiguity of the supernatural in both of Irving's works constitutes a significant evidence of the incipient struggle of American literature for independence. He thus argues that the stories show traces of the view that only a primitive culture springs directly from mythology and from the imaginary: "Irving's fiction -- particularly "Rip Van Winkle" and "Sleepy Hollow" -- is populated by characters whose contact with or belief in the supernatural precipitates either, in the first case, their being left behind politically (Rip) or, in the second case, their failure to acquire great wealth (Ichabod). Those characters who scoff at the supernatural, on the other hand, reap the benefits of both social and economic progress, as does Brom Bones when he marries Katrina Van Tassel." As such, as early as that, the conflict between pragmatism and the imagination is already present in Irving's works. Both Rip van Winkle and Ichabod fail socially and politically because their contact with more primitive beliefs and ideas. Moreover, Tarry Town where the action of Sleepy Hollow takes place, already symbolizes through its name the idea of indolence and leisure, a state in which all things are somehow hibernating: "A pleasing land of drowsy head it was, / of dreams that wave before the half-shut eye; / and of gay castles in the clouds that pass, / Forever flushing round a summer sky. -- Castle of Indolence."(McQuade, 373) This state of hibernation that Irving describes is obviously a hint at the state of the American culture and its need for innovation and rebirth. The literature of this period thus emphasized the idea of a need for cultural renaissance and a discovery of the true American spirit.

Moreover, the westward push… [END OF PREVIEW]

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