Term Paper: New Start as a Theme in American Literature

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¶ … New Start" as a theme in American Literature

The history of the American literature can be considered to be in deep contact with the history of the American nation itself. It represents a close mirror image of the way in which the United States came into being. This is largely due to the fact that one of the few means of manifestation for the early colonists that came in America to manifest themselves was the literary field. At the same time though, literature was largely used to express the feelings and emotions of the beginning of the nation. This is why, from this point-of-view, it is important to consider the history of the American literature as part of the wider attempt to construct the cultural identity of a nation.

There are various themes which are used throughout the literature creation of American writers. In all respects, they somehow relate to the historical times of the nation and to the context in which they were written. In this sense, the 20th century for instance saw an increase in the attention given to the evolutions in the society and novel such as "The Great Gatsby" was the comprehensive portrayal of the economic, social, and cultural conditions of the 1920s in America. From the point-of-view offered by this single example, it can be said that the literature of a nation plays indeed a major role in describing the context of a time period.

The literature from the early times of the nation was greatly influenced by the context in which it was written. In this sense, the theme of "a new start" is eloquent for underlining the importance American writers gave to the portrayal of the beginnings of the nation as a cultural and national entity. This is a widespread discourse which helps to the understanding of the centuries that have passed since the first explorers through the 1860, the time in which the American state is considered to have overcome all sources of potential threat, more precisely internal matters such as the Civil War.

The importance of the theme for the American literature is crucial, especially from the point-of-view of the historical moment in which it was established. The colonial time under the rule of the British Empire had attracted a certain sense of dependence on the way in which literature was written at the time (Outline of American Literature, 2006). To a certain extent this was an explainable phenomenon due to the fact that indeed the U.S. was in fact a British creation and the influence the young nation experienced in terms of literary trends was normal.

The early settlers in the American colonies are considered to be the representatives of the religious literature in particular. It is a rather well-known fact the idea that the Bible was at the time the most spread book in the world due to the limited means of communication and the inability to transport materials across long distances. However, the Puritans, the ones that settled in New England found the Bible to be indeed a source of inspiration. In this sense, "New England Puritans clung to the tales of the Jews in the Old Testament, believing that they, like the Jews, were persecuted for their faith, that they knew the one true God, and that they were the chosen elect who would establish the New Jerusalem -- a heaven on Earth. The Puritans were aware of the parallels between the ancient Jews of the Old Testament and themselves" (Outline of American Literature, 2006). From this point-of-view, it was obvious that the early history of the American literature would be determined by the religious influences of the time.

The importance of the theme "a new start" for the American literature is all the more underlined by the fact that it represented the burst on the scene of a new identity. Feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of the British cultural background and the increased influence of the English literature, the early American writers, not all of them however, began to elaborate on the achievements of the settlers since their establishment on the American land. In this context, Michael Drayton's poetry can be considered as praising the early beginnings of the colonies in America (Simonds History of American Literature, n.d.). Throughout his poems he depicts breathtaking landscapes to present the new land of freedom and liberty, which represented for many a new start in their lives. Other important authors in this sense are Captain John Smith, whose poetic creations pointed out the beauties and ingenue senses of the state of Virginia, the first of the new territories found.

Therefore it can be said that the first period of the American literature was influenced by a sense of religiousness that was visible in the poems this period created. This is largely due to the fact that the society in itself represented a deeply religious environment, as the influence of the puritanical perceptions was clear and evident. However, as the society changed, so did the way in which literature depicts reality. Therefore, the change in the literary perspective was imminent.

This theme changes over time for different considerations. On the one hand, it relates to the issue of the change in time and space. From this point-of-view, it is fair to say that what was in the beginning of the exploration period an enthusiasm poems such as those of Drayton's tried to express, during the revolutionary period, this manifested itself in the new thrill over the building of a new nation. Therefore, the sense of the break away from the imperial rule of the Brits as well as the new national identity and the achievement of the first modern revolution were important incentives for the emergence of a new type of literature. Thus, "early American writing was influenced by a shift from a religious vision to a nationalist identity and by a recognition that traditional literary forms would have to change to accommodate a diversity of voices" (Funston, 1990).

From the perspective of change of attitude towards the American literature, so too the authors changed the way in which they perceive the issue of a new beginning. In this sense, the American literature changed its mood from a religious-based philosophy, to a political based one. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine were in this sense representative for the period. Although Thomas Paine is not considered part of the actual literary trend, he does symbolize an important moment in the history of the American thought. Thus works such as "Common sense" or "The Rights of Man" are viewed as part of the Literature of Revolution (Larkin, 2008). This label justifies precisely the way in which the literary trend changed over time. More and more accent was placed on the issue of the political emancipation of the colonies which was considered to be "a new start" for the American nation. Therefore, "Paine became a major figure in the pamphlet and newspaper controversies of the Revolution, and in both local and national politics. He brought his pen to bear whenever he felt the American cause needed upholding, and he wrote some of his finest prose in the bleakest days of the war. Most famously, as Washington's troops retreated again and again in the face of the British advance in December 1776, he provided the rallying cry his new countrymen needed" (Philp, 1995).

The literature trends in the period of the American Revolution focused on the major nationalistic sentiments that were obvious at the level of the society. It is rather hard to assess the degree to which the early writers of the American literature could identify themselves with the definition of "a new start" given by the Revolutionary Writers. While the formers considered the theme to be more related to the individual destiny of the immigrants that arrived in Virginia and Maryland, the latter considered the theme as being strictly related to the issue of national identity being created at the time.

The theme itself and the meaning given as time passed cannot be seen as being more or less important. Taking into account the fact that each of the two meanings given by the writers of early American literature are related to a certain point in the establishment of the American national identity, it is hard to see which of the two meanings is more important. The first interpretation of the theme "a new start" is related to the first experienced of the immigrants and they were the ones that set the base for what would later become the United States. However, this idealistic perspective diminished as people and the public came to become acquainted and used to the everyday realities of the new land. The Revolutionary writers on the other hand pushed a new perception of a new beginning. They marched on the ideal of forming a nation, and not just a proper way of life, as the early writers has addressed. Therefore, the spirit of a new national identity,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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