American Literature: Romantic Period + Transcendentalism
During 1828 – 1865 there was new generation of writers, who called themselves Romantics and Transcendentalists. They created a new literature that was centered in imagination, feelings, individualism, and nature; it is said that these writers were fathers of the first truly American Literature. In regard of literary technique, American Romantics used symbols, myths, or fantastic elements as the focus and expression of the protagonist's psychological processes. Their style was very original and not rule/convention oriented.
Both, Romanticism and transcendentalism are very closely related, mainly because Romanticism influenced the ideas of transcendentalism. The most important differences between romanticism and transcendentalism are their views of nature and the individual. Firstly, Romanticism viewed nature and man as perfect, while transcendentalist saw nature as symbolic. It is correct to say that Romantics also were focused on the self, but not to the extent of the transcendentalists, because they saw the individual as the ultimate spiritual being from which you could derive all truth and knowledge.
Taking into account the lines above, as a reference, we can separate writers into romantics and transcendentalists.
Some of the most famous Romantic expositors are Poe, Dickinson, Melville, Douglass, Cooper, Hawthorn, among others.
In the case of Edgar Allan Poe, it is correct to say that he was the most Romantic of all the authors, since he obsessively isolated individuals seeking the Beautiful or Ideal.
Hawthorne's most of his works was inspired by Puritan New England, combining historical romance loaded with symbolism and deep psychological themes, bordering on surrealism.
Emily Dickinson contributed through the usage of metaphors in her poems. She was an inspiring figure in the time when women really needed some inspiration.
The expositors of this literary/philosophical/theological movement were Emerson, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Theodore Parker, Amos Bronson Alcott, Jones Very, Ellery Channing, among others. They were mainly focused on the spiritual values and the flourish of imagination. According to them, we have the power to regain our spiritual birthright by attending to the divine within.
Thoreau usually emphasizes the need for self-contemplation, the importance of nature, self-reliance, and truth. He isolates/purifies himself at Walden Pond.
Emerson strongly believed in individualism and the harmony between man and nature. He was strongly influenced by the Eastern philosophy of unity and a divine whole, emphasizing God Immanent, to be found in everyone and everything.
According to the University of West Georgia, the characteristics that shape the romanticism are:
- Characters and setting set apart from society; characters were not of our own conscious kind
- Static characters--no development shown
- Characterization--work proves the characters are what the narrator has stated or shown
- Universe is mysterious; irrational; incomprehensible
- Gaps in causality
- Formal language
- Good receive justice; nature can also punish or reward
- Silences of the text--universals rather than learned truths
- Plot arranged around crisis moments; plot is important
- Plot demonstrates
- romantic love
- honor and integrity
- idealism of self
- Supernatural foreshadowing (dreams, visions)
- Description provides a "feeling" of the scene
In the next paragraph there are quotations of Romantic Authors illustrating above characteristics:
- Although, as boys, we had been even intimate associates, yet I really knew little of my friend. His reserve had been always excessive and habitual (Poe, 1917).
- The windows were long, narrow, and pointed, and at so vast a distance from the black oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessible from within (Poe, 1917).
- “But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds will separate between him and vulgar things” (Emerson, 1849)
- “Have mountains, and waves, and skies, no significance but what we consciously give them, when we employ them as emblems of our thoughts?” ” (Emerson, 1849)
- “I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” (Whithman, 1855)
- “Resist much, obey little.” (Whithman, 1855)
Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. Philadelphia: David McKay, [c1900]; Bartleby.com, 1999. www.bartleby.com/142/. [May, 28th 2013].