The English Literature course has greatly benefited me as a student in several aspects. It intrigues me immensely to try to understand the message that a writer tries to project through his or her work. Whether the literary works are poems, stories, novels or plays, this is a chance for me to sharpen my own writing, reading and persuasive skills. While analyzing a literary piece, my interpretative skills are inevitably exercised. The required textbook for this course is well organized and a new student of Literature can easily navigate through the whole book. The most interesting and amazing learning experience from this course is the vision on the evolution of literary writing through time and how the literary works were put under different categories or eras.
In this experience report, the key features of literary writing styles found in each of the six eras mentioned in the textbook, will be highlighted. The six eras that will be covered are:
- Late Romanticism (1855-1870) which will be referred as The Romanticism Era (1855-1870) in this report.
- Realism (1865-1890) which will be referred as The Realism Era (1865-1890) in this report.
- Naturalism (1890-1914) which will be referred as The Naturalism Era (1890-1914) in this report.
- Turn of the Twentieth Century and The Growth of Modernism (1893-1914) which will be referred as The Premodernism Era (1893-1914) in this report.
- Modernism (1914-1945) which will be referred as The Modernism Era (1914-1945) in this report.
- American Literature since (1945-Present) which will be referred as The Postmodernism Era (1945-Present) in this report.
For each of the above era, a list of three prominent writers and two works by each writer will be listed. While each writer did not have every feature incorporated into his or her work, it was still clear enough for each writer to belong to a distinct era.
The Romanticism Era (1855-1870)
This era recognized the presence of significant male American writers, but it neglected the writing of women, African American and Native Americans. These neglected works would be recognized after the 1970s.
The main writing features of this era emphasized on the freedom and quality of self expression. Patriotic and historical ballads changed to free verse which is poetry that lacks both rhyme and regular meter. The works of the romanticism era placed much importance on the individual feeling, and interest in the common man and his childhood. The poet’s voice was what mattered and the “I” was central. Imagination is another key feature in this era. Other characteristics of the romanticism style of writing that I have learned is that there is a strong sense of heartfelt emotions and the reverence and glorification for nature.
Few prominent writers of The Romanticism Era are:
- Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849). His works include: “The Raven” and “The Fall of the House of Usher”.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). His works include: “Prometheus” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”.
- Walter Scott (1771-1832). His works include: “The Lady of the Lake” and “Marmion”.
The Realism Era (1865-1890)
In this era, writers produced characters from the middle class and used common everyday speech and dialogues in their works. Realism writers wanted to show ordinary people living their ordinary lives, struggling with ordinary life problems. They also found it important to show “truth” in their writing. Instead of dramatizing or romanticizing, realism writers wrote on mundane everyday life experiences. They rejected imagination and their stories were written
with plausible plots.
The two literary styles that emerged in this era were Local Color and Regionalism. Local color writing took American Literature away from the romantic style and it tended to be realistic, sentimental stories with happy endings. Local color writing led realism writers to produce more authentic American style and storyline. Regionalism, on the other hand, was
considered to be a more sophisticated form of Local Color writing. Regionalism writers often used the protagonist as the main character that offered a specific point of view in the story while still using local color elements in the story. Regionalism contributed to the beginning of feminism in American Literature.
Few prominent writers of The Realism Era are:
- William Dean Howells (1837-1920). His works include “My Year in a Log Cabin” and “The Rise of Silas Lapham”.
- Henry James (1843-1916). His works include “The Turn of the Screw” and “Daisy Miller”.
- Mark Twain (1835-1910). His works include “The War Prayer” and “A Ghost Story”.
The Naturalism Era (1890-1914)
Naturalism writers showed extreme realism in their literary work based on the idea that the human character is shaped by its surroundings or environment. They also showed how man submits to the material world, and that man has no control over his fate. Common naturalism themes revolved around pessimism, social environment, hereditary and human nature, poverty, and survival.
Naturalism writers rejected spirits and deities. They produce novels that seemingly had a narrative detachment. It was because they felt a need to keep a safe distance from the characters speech or lines in the novel. The plot of decline in the stories showed the decline of the human character to derogatory social levels or death. It was also emphasized that
naturalism writers were influenced by the evolution theory of Charles Darwin.
Few prominent writers of The Naturalism Era are:
- Emile Zola (1840-1902). His works include “The Masterpiece” and “The Beast Within”.
- Charles Darwin (1809-1882). His works include “On Natural Selection” and “The Voyage
of the Beagle”.
- Stephan Crane (1871-1900). His works include “The Open Boat” and “War is Kind”.
The Premodernism Era (1893-1914)
During this era, the literary works by white males were not the only recognized works.The growth of African American writers emerged. African American writers expressed their dissatisfaction through their literary writing. For example, they wrote that education, human rights, and civil services provided to the African Americans were unfairly and unequally provided in comparison to others in the country. Thus, their literary works were used as a platform to express the grievances of the African Americans. This era marked the earliest work in the field of sociology, the development of African American narrative and autobiography. The grievances suffered by the African Americans continued and there were attempts to negotiate by premodernism writers through their literary works. In exchange for uplifting African Americans out of their state of poverty and degradation, they were willing to settle for lesser political rights in involvement or control through any type of high-ranking positions and also lesser individual autonomy and social independence.
Few prominent writers in The Premodernism Era are:
- Booker T.Washington (1856-1915). His works include “Up from Slavery” and
- W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963). His works include “The Souls of Black Folk” and “The
- Zane Grey (1872-1939). His works include “The Last Trail’ and “The Spirit of the
The Modernism Era (1914-1945)
During the Modernism era, many African Americans became prominent writers. The Sothern writers were able to show their writing creativity and expertise through the literary movement of the Southern Literary Renascence. Modernism writers expressed themselves in their writing as they reacted to the challenging accelerated times that they were experiencing themselves. These reactions were incorporated through their literary work whether it be through painting, sculpture, or poetry, In poetry, there was a noticeable writing style difference in High Modernism writing and Low Modernism writing. High modernism writers used more formal language looking at their changed society and considered this era as a period of loss. Low modernism writers used informal language with the traditional structure of a poem. In prose, modernism writers expressed their opinions in their political views explicitly. In drama, American playwrights emerged during this era. The Modernism playwrights cleverly blended music and verse in an attempt to make a fresh, brand new literary outlook.
All in all, modernism writers revolved around sad ideas of loss and exile. They also used this era as a period of experimentation in search for new forms of expression. The modernism writers projected morality as the characterized winner but the individualism side of that, as the characterized isolated loser.
Few prominent writers in The Modernism Era are:
- T.S Eliot (1905-1965). His works include “The Waste Land” and “The Hallow Men”.
- William Faulkner (1919-1962). His works include “The Sound and the Fury” and “Light in August”.
- James Joyce (1882-1941). His works include “Araby” and “Chamber Music”.
The Postmodernism Era (1945-present)
The explosion of the computer age affected American Literature tremendously. It exposed the writers to the screens where they were able to see for themselves the lives that they were living. This reflection brought the writers to the Postmodernism era. American Literature heard and produced the voices of various groups of people in the society with different political and social views – radical feminists, conservative regionalists, proud multiculturalist, etc. With
the help of efficient mass distribution, the writers became a reliable and insightful source for anyone who wanted to know about America and its people.
In the Postmodernism era, the Southern writers emerged as the authors of the best acclaimed literary works. These Southern writers became powerful and were very influential over the creative writing programs in national universities. Moreover, the Southern writers authored textbooks and anthologies.
The Postmodernism era became famous with writers’ strategies of blending violence, humour, and religious themes. These artistic innovations in literary writing styles continued to flourish with writers freely using experimental literary techniques and this led to the writers creating their own literary techniques.
Postmodernism writers wanted to devise and create new original techniques towards an inclusive strategy to be able to represent numerous different experiences, views, reactions, and voices that exist from people of all walks of life through many literary worlds. Postmodernism writers did not believe in representing one world with one type of people.
Few prominent writers of The Postmodernism Era are:
- Tennessee Williams (1911-1983). His works include “Memoirs” and “Notebooks”.
- James Dickey (1923-1997). His works include “Diliverance” and “The Whole Motion”.
- Theodore Roethike (1908-1963). His works include “The Walking” and “Words for the Wind”.
When reading a literary piece, the skills I require most, whether it be a poem, story, novel or play, are analysis and interpretation. This activity would in turn stimulate higher order thinking and self- inquiry. Every skill used in the activity helps me to understand the meaning of the literary piece, to get the message the writer is trying to project, to be critical, and to form my own perceptions on the literary piece.
If I regard analysis and interpretation as communication, I believe the activity would have an upgraded value in education. Student exposure to the rich language of a literary piece would boost their comprehension skills and eventually enable them to use the higher level of communicative language.
American Literature has an interesting mix of structure and content in its presentation. Plots, images, setting, etc., are communicated in such rich language – rich in descriptive and literal vocabulary, and display of implicit and explicit expressions. Furthermore, American Literature encompasses its people’s ideas, reactions, grievances, happiness, experiences – life. One can clearly see the impact of political views on American Literature. A thematic feature of American Literature is the characters incorporating the culture and describing clear images of places. Changes in society – political, economic, and social aspects- would affect the writing style and content of a literary piece. These evolutionary literary changes created different categories and literary eras that are known today. American Literature continues to boast to the world for its significant works by its most prominent writers.
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