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Puritanism Romanticism And Transcendentalism English Literature Essay

2140 word (9 pages) essay in English Literature

5/12/16 English Literature Reference this

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From the earliest days of our life literature has been going along. The subject of literature showed us the richness of the ancient works and we enjoyed reading the best book ever written: Malory knight tales, fairy tales of Grimm, Shakespeare’s poetry, novels of Charles Dickens and Walter Scott. In other words, we were getting familiar with the treasure of each nation, with its best works ever. But if to ask a question “what exactly is literature”, it is really difficult to answer. We can say the words of appreciation, criticism, likes and dislikes, but the best way to describe this word is our bookshelves. Literature is our life, passions, dreams, and imagination. Literature makes us think of events, evaluating them and making conclusions. When the author writes the book, he must be thorough in the expression of the content of the story, as well as the style of it. He is usually very careful in choosing appropriate words, showing events in the best way. He pays great attention to the melody of the story and its tone. He carefully chooses stylistic devices. We may like these or that characters or dislike them, but nevertheless we will understand the purpose of them in a book. Literature is the best education – ethical as well as moral. Literature discovers our imagination, awakens our emotions, and makes us think about these or that event and to worry about the fates of the main characters. Books cause feelings of sympathy, respect, love, sometimes enmity, sometimes disgust. It helps us to discover our deep feelings and, what is the most important, to inherit the experience of the hundreds of years of people’s living. Let us explore the beginning of the great and powerful literature – the literature of America.

In 1620, long ago after the first American settlements were found, a group of people came to the modern state of Massachusetts is the search of better life. They were called Pilgrims and they sailed from England on a ship named “The Mayflower”. The main reason for them to come here is displeasure with the Church of England. They dreamed about establishing of the ideal church for America. Soon, they created their own list of beliefs, and their aim was to establish the new, ‘pure’ religious movement. This was the origination of the Puritan Literature. This kind of literature completely depended on their firm beliefs:

“The Puritans believed in the innate depravity of man. They also believed that some people were “predestined” to experience an afterlife with God. Only the “elect” or “chosen” were in a good relationship with God.

The Puritans would “search” their daily lives in order to find any symbols from God.

The Puritans were educated and taught their followers to be rational thinkers.

The Puritans feared that humanistic learning would draw people away from the church.

This fundamental Puritan belief became complicated because it had to be determined who belonged to the group of “chosen” people.” (Mr. Kelly)

All Puritan thoughts and beliefs reflect in their literature. The most evident in the Puritan literature is the description of life in a “pure”, truly way, without any exaggerations, vagueness and embellishment. The plainness of the Puritanism works, their simplicity, made literal works available for all of the people. It does not mean that Puritanism authors were illiteral; they just tended to make people a little bit closer to religion, as the only book they had and were impressed by was the Bible. Among the most famous authors Anne Bradstreet must be mentioned, as the first follower of the Puritanism movement. “Some of her early poems, including “The Prologue,” appeared in a book called The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, published without her consent in England in 1650 thanks to the efforts of brother-in-law.” (Anne Bradstreet, Puritan Poet). It concerns people’s daily routine: life, relations, birth, family and so on. She was the only female writer at those times, and remained so until the appearance of Emily Dickson 200 years later. William Bradford’s contribution to the American literature, as well as history can not be overestimated. Besides he was one of the first governors of the Playmouth, he is the author of the famous “Of Plymouth Plantation”, which describes the lives of English colonists from the first days in Cape Code.

Edward Taylor, who was a Puritan Minister, became an originator of the metaphysical phenomena. He was a master to express unbelievable and unknown things with the help of simple, ordinary words.

Nevertheless the movement of Puritanism did not last long and was not that fertile, it definitely managed to bring its own great contribution to the further development of American literature. The Puritans dreamed of better life, they hoped for the creation of the new Garden of Eden and they firmly believed that this would happen. That is why exactly their works are full of optimism. This later encouraged such famous authors as Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and James. Many critics say that Puritans were the early founders of symbolism, as they believed that the word was spiritual and meant much more than a simple definition of the thing. This influenced the works of Melville, Poe, and Hawthorne.

From the period of the 1784 to 1864 America underwent a lot of changes. After winning the War of Independence, the American literature was full of strength to create something new, it needed adventures and entertainment. This is the time of the establishment of the new tendency in literature – Romanticism. Still, the development of this movement was greatly affected by the British or at least European traditions. But still, the new writers of this period truly depicted American society, American traditions and American thought. It was very important, taking into the account the establishment of the new country. The main idea of the Romanticism is that the individual is in the center of events and the events cause different kinds of emotions in him. The words like individualism, mysticism, sensibility, primitivism, freedom, imagination, love are closely connected with this very part of literature. “Characteristics of American Romantic fiction are thus the depiction of the mysterious, irrational and incomprehensible universe, supernatural foreshadowing, and silences of the text, as they reveal universals, rather than learned truths” (Sirinya Pakditawan).

Romanticism had a great influence on the further development of art. Romantic writers showed people freedom and made them realize that they were free. Romantic works were read with great pleasure and they were available to common people, as the main character, the hero, was often a simple farmer or a shepherd. There appeared a lot of different forms of literary works: essays, novels, stories, poems, narratives. To name the most famous authors it is Edgar Poe who is worth mentioning. He was famous for his tales, such as “The Black Cat”, “The Masque of the Red Death”, “The Oval Portrait”, “Hop-Frog” and others. Despite Poe was mostly known as a literary critic, he managed to make a great amount of the followers of his works and to gain a worldwide popularity not only among the readers, but among the other famous writers and his contemporaries as well.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s works are the examples of the dark romanticism. He inherited some of the ideas of the Puritans. These ideas showed that evil was the main inherit feature of any person. His romances (“The Marble Faun”, The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gable) show psychological problems and there is a distinct image of symbolism – all this later influenced the new tendency in American Literature – Transcendentalism. Actually, some critics claim that Transcendentalism is Romanticism, but on the background of Puritanism. A group of like-minded persons once established the Transcendentalist Club. They met from time to time and shared their ideas. They were of the firm belief that “people would rise above their animal instincts and live according to higher principles” (Andrew Ladd)

They believed, that the most important thing in the World is spirit (God in other words) and only the spirit is responsible for all the events happening with people. God is omnipresent and omnipotent and he looks like a human. They were also of the opinion, that each person must be an example to the further generations and thus, this will contribute to the development of the perfect nature. Besides, the physical world in the minds of transcendentalists was a symbol of the spiritual one, thus underlining the essence and the importance of symbols in nature (for example, the flowing water is the symbol of infinite existence of the planet). As we can see, the religious ideas of transcendentalists were quite alike those of the puritans. They as well considered God a superpower, responsible for everything in the Universe.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the founder of the Transcendentalist Club in Boston, soon became the main its representative. In 1836 he published his first essay “Nature”, which consisted the extraordinary evaluations of nature and it was soon called “the Bible of Transcendentalism” as it contained the primary ideas of this movement. This book was full of optimism and the descriptions of nature, as well as the comparing the bad with the good, where the good is always stronger. “The American Scholar”, “The Poet”, “Self-Reliance” are the ones of the list of Emerson’s works, which, as it has already been mentioned, in their ideas is closely connected with the ideas of Puritanism. A friend of Emerson was Margaret Fuller, who was an intellectual, thoughtful conversationalist, very talented writer and just a smart woman. In her first work “The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men, Woman versus Women” she fought for women’s rights. Later came “Woman in the Nineteenth Century”, which later became the background of the feminist theory. She fought for women’s equality, for letting them work anywhere they want, not only the jobs which a feminine. She wrote: “I wish woman to live, first for God’s sake. Then she will not make an imperfect man for her god, and thus sink to idolatry. Then she will not take what is not fit for her from a sense of weakness and poverty” (George Perkins)

Another works by Margaret, which deserve attention are “Summer on the Lakes” and “Papers on Literature and Art”.

Another leading transcendentalist is Henry David Thoreau. He also supported ideas of nature and its symbols, and he himself was often glad to explore nature: go hiking, go fishing, traveling and think about the symbols the Universe gives us. . “Noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau” . (Martin Luther King, Jr). His literary works are a bit difficult, sometimes overloaded with images, but this is done on purpose. The reader, while exploring Thoreau’s works must rethink his existence, think over his life and to decide to change something immediately. Henry tended to create the moving literature, which would touch upon people’s hearts and to make them do crazy things, considering the nature to be the most important thing in life. To name a few of his works are: “The Service”, “A Walk to Wachusett”, “Slavery in Massachusetts”, “Herald of Freedom”. Henry David Thoreau’s career influenced a lot of writers and political figures. Ernest Hemingway and William Butler Yeats were as well expressed by the essays of Thoreau and tried to imitate his style.

To conclude, it must be said that the three movements on literature, which have been touched upon in the given paper, were the irreplaceable periods for the development of the American literature and the most influential. The history of the country gave its premises to the introduction of the new thoughts, ideas, themes and topics. It is evident, that any art depends on the realia which surround us. Thus, Puritanism had the belief in God as the main idea. Romanticism revived the belief in human, making him the main character of any literary work. Transcendentalism took a lot from Puritanism, still it was the top, the summit of the development of the Romanticism, saying, that nature was full of symbols. Both Transcendentalism, – a spiritual and visionary philosophy, – and Romanticism – asserting the goodness of nature – are idealistic philosophies.” (Andrew Ladd)

The American literature developed very rapidly, and one literary tendency influenced another greatly. Each new coming author studied the previous spheres of literature, and tried to fill, to enrich the earlier known ideas with his own. Still, the American literature for the short period of time became famous all over the world, spreading its ideas to the next generations.

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