LITERARY PERIODS AND THEIR CHARACTERISTICS

PERIODS

Genre/Style

Effect/   Aspects

Historical Context

Examples

PURITAN/COLONIAL

1650-1750

Sermons, diaries, personal narratives

Written in plain style

Instructive

Reinforces authority of the Bible and church

A person’s fate is determined by God

All people are corrupt and must be saved by Christ

Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation

Rowlandson's "A Narrative of the Captivity"

Edward's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"

Though not written during Puritan times, The Crucible & The Scarlet Letter depict life during the time when Puritan theocracy prevailed.

REVOLUTIONARY/AGE OF REASON

1750-1800

Political pamphlets

Travel writing

Highly ornate style

Persuasive writing

 

Patriotism grows

Instills pride

Creates common agreement about issues

National mission and the American character

Tells readers how to interpret what they are reading to encourage Revolutionary War support

Instructive in values

Writings of Jefferson, Paine, Henry

Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac

Franklin's "The Autobiography"

ROMANTICISM

1800-1860

Character sketches

Slave narratives

Poetry

Short stories

Value feeling and intuition over reasoning

Journey away from corruption of civilization and limits of rational thought toward the integrity of nature and freedom of the imagination

Helped instill proper gender behavior for men and women

Allowed people to re-imagine the American past

Expansion of magazines, newspapers, and book publishing

Slavery debates

Industrial revolution brings ideas that the "old ways" of doing things are now irrelevant

Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle"

William Cullen Bryant's "Thanatopsis"

Dunbar's "We Wear the Mask"

Poems of Emily Dickinson

Poems of Walt Whitman

AMERICAN RENAISSANCE/

TRANSCENDENTALISM

1840-1860

(Note overlap in time period with Romanticism -- some consider the anti-transcendentalists to be the "dark" romantics or gothic)

Poetry

Short Stories

Novels

Anti-Transcendentalists

*Hold readers’ attention through dread of a series of terrible possibilities

*Feature landscapes of dark forests, extreme vegetation, concealed ruins with horrific rooms, depressed characters

Transcendentalists:

*True reality is spiritual

*Comes from18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant

* Idealists

* Self-reliance & individualism

* Emerson & Thoreau

Anti-Transcendentalists:

* Used symbolism to great effect

*Sin, pain, & evil exist

* Poe, Hawthorne, & Melville

Today in literature we still see portrayals of alluring antagonists whose evil characteristics appeal to one’s sense of awe

Today in literature we still see stories of the persecuted young girl forced apart from her true love

Today in literature we still read of people seeking the true beauty in life and in nature … a belief in true love and contentment

Poems and essays of Emerson & Thoreau

Thoreau's Walden

Aphorisms of Emerson and Thoreau

Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" and "The Black Cat"

REALISM

1855-1900

(Period of Civil War and Postwar period)

Novels and short stories

Objective narrator

Does not tell reader how to interpret story

Dialogue includes voices from around the country

Social realism: aims to change a specific social problem

Aesthetic realism: art that insists on detailing the world as one sees it

Civil War brings demand for a "truer" type of literature that does not idealize people or places

Writings of Twain, Bierce, Crane

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (some say 1st modern novel)

Regional works like: The Awakening. Ethan Frome, and My Antonia (some say modern)

THE MODERNS

1900-1950

Novels

Plays

Poetry (a great resurgence after deaths of Whitman & Dickinson)

Highly experimental as writers seek a unique style

Use of interior monologue & stream of consciousness

In Pursuit of the American Dream--

*Admiration for America as land of Eden

*Optimism

*Importance of the Individual

Writers reflect the ideas of Darwin (survival of the fittest) and Karl Marx (how money and class structure control a nation)

Overwhelming technological changes of the 20th Century

Rise of the youth culture

WWI and WWII

Harlem Renaissance

Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby

Poetry of Jeffers, Williams, Cummings, Frost, Eliot, Sandburg, Pound, Robinson, Stevens

Rand's Anthem

Short stories and novels of Steinbeck, Hemingway, Thurber, Welty, and Faulkner

Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun & Wright's Native Son (an outgrowth of Harlem Renaissance-- see below)

Miller's The Death of a Salesman (some consider Postmodern)

HARLEM RENAISSANCE

(Parallel to modernism)

1920s

Allusions to African-American spirituals

Uses structure of blues songs in poetry (repetition)

Superficial stereotypes revealed to be complex characters

Gave birth to "gospel music"

Blues and jazz transmitted across American via radio and phonographs

Mass African-American migration to Northern urban centers

African-Americans have more access to media and publishing outlets after they move north

Essays & Poetry of W.E.B. DuBois

Poetry of McKay, Toomer, Cullen

Poetry, short stories and novels of Hurston and Hughes

Their Eyes Were Watching God

POSTMODERNISM

1950 to present

Note: Many critics extend this to present and merge with Contemporary -- see below)

Mixing of fantasy with nonfiction; blurs lines of reality for reader

No heroes

Concern with individual in isolation

Social issues as writers align with feminist & ethnic groups

Usually humorless

Narratives

Metafiction

Present tense

Magic realism

Erodes distinctions between classes of people

Insists that values are not permanent but only "local" or "historical"

Post-World War II prosperity

Media culture interprets values

Mailer's The Naked and the Dead and The Executioner's Song

Feminist & Social Issue poets: Plath, Rich, Sexton, Levertov, Baraka, Cleaver, Morrison, Walker & Giovanni

Miller's The Death of a Salesman & The Crucible (some consider Modern)

Lawrence & Lee's Inherit the Wind

Capote's In Cold Blood

Stories & novels of Vonnegut

Salinger's Catcher in the Rye

Beat Poets: Kerouac, Burroughs, & Ginsberg

Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

CONTEMPORARY

1970s-Present (Continuation of postmodernism)

Narratives: both fiction and nonfiction

Anti-heroes

Concern with connections between people

Emotion-provoking

Humorous irony

Storytelling emphasized

Autobiographical essays

Too soon to tell

People beginning a new century and a new millennium

Media culture interprets values

Poetry of Dove, Cisneros, Soto, Alexie

Writings of Angelou, Baldwin, Allende, Tan, Kingsolver, Kingston, Grisham, Crichton, Clancy

Walker's The Color Purple & Haley's Roots

Butler's Kindred

Guest's Ordinary People

Card's Ender's Game

O'Brien The Things They Carried

Frazier's Cold Mountain