Just like any other literatures across the world, American literature was highly dependent on the history occurrences and events in the country. After the arrival of the British colonialists to the Americas, America was not a nation as it is today. The country was comprised of a number of colonies that were distributed throughout North America. During the colonial times in America, neo-classical literature was characteristic for many writers at the time. Neoclassical literature existed in the United States for over a century approximately from the 1660s to the 1790s after the United States had acquired independence from the British. Considering that the British colonialists were ranked at the top of the social hierarchy at the time, the social norms and values were based on the Greco-Roman values and traditions. Neoclassical literature emphasized on key enlightenment topics such the use of logic, reason, the idea of increasing performance with a given society (Perkins 121). Neoclassical literature was majorly a response to the social norms and conventions that were being propagated during the renaissance period. The Renaissance was a rebirth of knowledge movement originating in Europe and sought to revive artistic and intellectual achievement primarily in Europe. It is during this period that novels and satirist essays were used to spread this revived knowledge across the world.
Phillis Wheatley is a good example of a neoclassic writer. She was African American and traced her origin in the West African state of Gambia. She was brought to the United States during the times of slave trade. Phyllis was age seven at the time she was brought in the United States as a slave (Wheatley 23). However, she was taught how to read and write by her masters. Her ability to read and write helped her write poems that received wide publicity in the United States. Figures such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were among the public figures at the time that were impressed by her writings. One interesting thing About Phyllis Wheatley’s writing was the fact that she did not write about her experiences in slavery, or about the conditions that her fellow slaves were living in. Her writings did not have emancipation intent. Instead Phillis’ writings were written to the white fraternity (Wheatley 57). It talked about things such as history, religion, and morals. A good example of her work is Poems of various Subjects, Religious and morals. These poems do not talk about her fellow slaves but is addressed to the white fraternity. Her writings illustrate the influence of neo-classism at the time that sought to create social norms and conventions based on Greco-Roman traditions.
However, after the colonies of the United States began to rebel against the British Monarchy, neo-classic literature slowly began to be replaced with romantic literature. There was shift in the way that people felt and though about the colonialists. Americans had a new desire for independence and freedom of thought. People in the United States and many nations around the world that had gained their independence began to make modifications about the social norms and conventions that they had acquired from their colonizers. All the struggles that the people of the United States had experienced in their struggle for independence began to shape literature in the country. Romantic literature advocated for the departure of the American people from the norms, attitudes, and belief systems that had been created by colonialist. Romantic literature emphasized on the liberation of people from the social rules and conventions that had been put in place by colonialist. In addition, Romantic literature centered on the freedom of the individual in terms of his freedom of thought and the expression of his emotions, reasoning, and ways of imagination. Romantic literature also responded to the norms that had been created by colonialists regarding the perception of nature. Writers of the time valued nature for are aesthetic beauty compared to the neoclassic writers who viewed nature as a source of raw materials for the industrial revolution (Breen and Noble 41). In addition, romantic literature highlighted the political differences that existed between the United States and, their colonial masters Britain. It is through Romantic literature that people of America were able to view themselves as being unique compared to Britain. The American sphere was characterized by new forms of diplomacy as Britain continued to exercise a monarchial rule on its people back in Britain.
Good examples of writers during the Romantic literature period include Edgar Allan Poe who was formally in the American Army that revolted against the British colonialists before engaging in his publishing careers. Poe’s short stories focused on the atrocities of the American people in the hands of the colonialists. The freedom of expression and imagination is evident in Poe’s work because he is considered among the pioneers of science fiction. Thomas Paine was another Romantic Literature writer who focused on the need for the political independence of the colonies in North America. One of his famous works is the Common sense pamphlet that he published in 1776 before the United States acquired its independence (Perkins 123). Therefore, the shift from neo-classic literature to Romantic literature was shaped by the changing histories and attitudes in the American society.
Breen, Jennifer, and Mary Noble. Romantic literature. London: Arnold, 2002. Print.
Perkins, J. Reason and Revolution. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2011. Print.
Wheatley, Phillis. The works of Phillis Wheatley. New York: 3M Co., International Microfilm Press, 1970. Print.
Wheatley, Phillis. Poems of Phillis Wheatley: a native African and a slave. Bedford, Massachusetts: Applewood Books, 1995. Print.