Everything You Wanted to Know About American Literature to 1860 but Were Too Afraid to Ask

Updated on July 2, 2018
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Brandon Riederer recieved his M.A. in English from National University in 2016.

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How familiar are you with American literature to 1860?

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American Literature to 1860: Q&As

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The arrival of the early explorers was met with hostility from some native peoples. Do you think this foretold the struggles and battles between the Old and New Worlds?

The first encounters between Europeans and Native Americans, from the coastlines of South American up to the islands of the St. Lawrence River, absolutely foretold the struggles and battles between the Old and New Worlds. Suspicion, deception, and outright aggression reamed aglow on both sides. The Natives were weary of the weapons, drinks, and technologies the Europeans displayed; the Europeans viewed the Natives as dangerous, unpredictable, and yet gullible people. From the readings this week between pages 52 and 81 (First Encounters), we see a panoramic view of some of the first European-Native American interactions. Ultimately, following these readings from Cortes to Underhill it is quite easy to see how the relationship between the Europeans and the Natives is at best politically strategic and at worst culturally incompatible. For instance, Champlain's alliance with the Montagnais Indians had immense political implications for European nations (England/French/Dutch) in the future French-Indian War; and yet, his narrative also illustrations the deep socio-ideological divide between the Christians and the Natives, and the differences between undeveloped and industrial living. Collectively, these important cultural rifts highlight two very different ways of life and thinking. In these first encounters, the Natives and Europeans were mostly like oil and water: they don't mix too well.

Another oft-overlooked source of conflict is language; language barriers can be at the crux of a conflict. In fact, even when two people speak the same language, a lack of effective communication can seriously hinder the resolution of conflict. Just think of how modern forms of communication such as email, texting, and condensed social media posts (Twitter) can introduce challenges in communication.

Whenever reading works in translation, you must always consider the effects of the translating itself. How do stories told by Native Americans change as they are written in English?

The greatest struggle translating Native American oral stories into English literature is overcoming the challenge of creating semantic equivalence. This is particularly difficult because Native American languages are polysynthetic and the English language is moderately analytic but mostly considered as fusional. Thus, just one word in Native American could mean an entire English sentence! So it is pretty easy to see how a translator must have an immense knowledge of a culture before even attempting to create semantic equivalences. This is especially true when we consider cultural specific words that are impossible to be translated literally. Furthermore, local slang and figures of speech can create more barriers. My favorite example to think of this is from Beowulf. The very first word of the Old English epic "Beowulf," is one of the most diversely translated word I can think of. The word is hwaet, ofwhich literally translates into the English what. This literal translation wouldn't make any sense for modern readers. The archaic meaning of hwaet was similar to calling everyone in the room to attention; this single word has been translated into many 'modern' equivalents from so, listen, and attend, to even hear me and what ho! The remarkable aspect of how many discrepancies exist from this simple translation is that Old English is a forerunner to modern English. Think about trying to capture semantic equivalence from languages not even closely related... like Native American languages and English...

Furthermore, I'll provide an example here of linguistic instability taken from Lois Tyson's awesome introductory guide to critical theory (1999, pg. 242, 243).

Let's take a very simple sentence such as:

Time flies like an arrow.

There are three ways I can think of this sentence.

The first is the obvious old saying that expresses that time passes by quickly.

Time flies like an arrow.

(noun) (verb) (adv. Clause)

The second one will have a different meaning because we can also think of time as a verb instead of a noun.

Time flies like an arrow.

(verb) (obj.) (adj. clause)

In this case the meaning is altered to something like "get out your stopwatch and time the speed of the flies as if you would measure the speed of an arrow."

The last example is by combining time with flies as if it were a kind of insect like fruit flies.

Time flies like an arrow.

(noun) (verb) (obj.)

The meaning of this sentence then would be equated to something like "Time flies are fond of arrows or a particular arrow."

Thus, even from a very simple such as "time flies like an arrow" could be denoted in many different ways. This way of thinking about language is deconstructive and can offer glimpses into the slippery qualities of language--a very helpful tool for revealing a text's undecidability and underlying ideological contradictions.

The difficult part of this process would be trying to translate this sentence into a different language while trying to preserve its meaning. How can we accurately translate something when we can hardly agree on an interpretation in the first place in its original language? Such is the trickiness of figurative language and comprehension. We see it all the time in our classes; nearly everyone will interpret a line in such a way that is unique from everyone else's interpretation; but that is half the fun of being an English major though: arguing your perspective!

Tyson, L. (1999). Critical theory today: A user-friendly guide. New York, NY:Garland Publishing, Inc.

The explorers had an idealized image of what might be possible in America. Where is this evident, and how does it conflict with reality?

The Europeans definitely had an idealized image of the Americas beginning with the arrival of Columbus. In his narrative it is clear he and his sailors were mesmerized by the islands they discovered. Columbus particularly liked to compare them to the Canary Islands and he frequently sways favoritism towards the New World. Everything from the thousands of different trees, birds, and animals to the prospects of unearthing precious metals were on the minds of Columbus' men. Ideally, Columbus believed that his people could easily coexist with the Natives through barter and trade, and the Spaniards could establish a firm foot in the New World to revisit time and again (the conclusion of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca's narrative "The Relation" also painted a hopeful picture of harmony between Europeans and the Native Americans). However, as the story went, upon Columbus' return he found that all the men left behind were killed and he was ultimately brought back to England bound in chains. For the remainder of Columbus' voyages relations only worsened with the Natives. According to Bartolome de las Casas account of "The Devastation of the Indies," the bad blood between the Europeans and Native Americans resulted in substantial violence and exploitation on such a scale that was very shocking and disturbing for me to read for the first time. Ultimately, the Europeans did not plan their economic and political agendas in the New World around realistic variables: the biggest curveball was the issues created by the lack of communication and understanding across linguistic and cultural barriers.

What is the role of nature in Native American myths?

Myths are 'public dreams', according to prominent scholar Joseph Campbell. Thus it is no surprise that nature plays a pivotal role in Native American mythologies. The pivotal role nature plays in Native American culture and religious practices naturally seeps into their stories just as issues of urbanization naturally seeped into American Modernist writings, for example. An environment (or setting) can be heavily inspiring and persuasive to authors and audiences, especially when these environments are of utmost importance to an entire group of people sharing a mutual attitude. For instance, the Native Americans viewed nature as its own life force or interconnected web of life forces. In a sense, everything in nature had its own place. Actually in Native American culture it may be more realistic and accurate to say that nature was everything... humans were just a small part of everything--an obvious conflicting view with the egocentric Europeans who viewed the earth and all the heavens as theirs to explore, cultivate, and acquire. Strictly from a comparative cross-cultural view, Indo-European and Native American mythologies generally differed on their specific perceptions nature through their creation stories. Where the Iroquois believed the earth was a giant turtle that was always here, the Bible makes it clear that the world was created like a work of art by God. Where humans were an afterthought in the Iroquois creation story (just here to fill in a role), humans were made in God's image to be our own creators on earth in the Bible. Ultimately, the role of humanity and nature ambivalently influence and clash each other in ancient mythologies (Indo-European and Native American). It is clear from this point of view how Natives respected nature in its unchanged state and also how the Europeans always admired nature for what it could potentially yield or produce.

Why do you think myths played such an important role in Native American culture? Do we have myths in our culture? What are these? How do these compare to Native American myths?

To my understanding myths are important for several reasons and we can think of their significance in terms of impact towards the individual and state, and its influence on the formation of culture (not just in regard to Native Americans).

Myths serve the individual by creating a sense of understanding and purpose. Typically myths attempt to explain philosophical conundrums spreading from metaphysical and epistemological mysteries to ethical and legal dilemmas. In a sense, myths help individuals understand abstract concepts such as justice or wisdom through figurative language whether it is anthropomorphization or allegory. In other words, ancient myths turn simple concepts into stories.

Even so, the services of mythology do not end there. While the creation of concepts is not a product of human invention, the understanding of them is dictated more or less by a governing power. Essentially, concepts such as justice and wisdom do exist in nearly every culture on the planet, each culture has a different understanding of said concept and this is usually a result of governing influence. Thus, myths serve states by providing them with fragments of ideas which ultimately piece together a distinct ideology. In turn, this ideology gives individual's a purpose to live and contribute within a society.

At this point I have explained the relationship between the individual and the state and how myths serve to bind them together. A good contemporary example is the American individual and the United States and how the relationship between the people and the government is supported on the concepts of life, liberty, equality, and freedom. These concepts are the basis of the so called 'American Dream' which is the ultimate American myth/reality (depending on your outlook). At this point, we can examine the mythological impacts on culture or our ways of life. When individuals have something to believe in and are living under a governing power that promotes those ideals, naturally people begin to act religiously towards its ideal realization-- not in the sense of spirituality, of course but in the sense of acting in faith of your beliefs and values. This is why Americans believe in things like hard work, pragmatism, frugality, and persistence--because these are the kinds of qualities that people must embody religiously day-to-day in order to realize their 'American Dream,' or at least that is what our cultural myths tell us to do.

Do you think myths reinforce humans' desire for certainty and explanations? What are the benefits of relying on myths to explain one's world, and what are the drawbacks?

For starters, I like to align myself with deconstructive point of view and admit that my powers of reason are limited and there is no way I can know the answers to any deep philosophical truths.

Unfortunately, many of the disciplines today in academia teach students about concrete facts and irrefutable theories that ultimately breed ignorance and uncritical thinking. These are the same fields of study that promote methods of research that attempt to discover truths or hidden meanings, such findings that claim to unlock the 'secrets to [fill in the blank].' The irony is that at some point along the way, someone else with an equally compelling argument manages to displace the status quo and ignite a paradigm shift in their field of study. This ultimately would displace, nullify, and make obsolete the old truth in favor of a newer, more accurate one. The fact is, however, that none of it concrete and objective. My favorite way to think of it is: "The only objective truth is that everything is subjective." This is an obvious paradox that reveals my inner Protagorian relativist.

Obviously, people would go crazy without formulating a sense of understanding or direction. I have suffered my own episodes of critical theory schizophrenia--not knowing what method to take because they are all in contradiction each other yet each can be so valuable. This state of undecidability is highest uncomfortable and it is directly linked to the human mind's voracious appetite for order and understanding (probably a product of Western philosophy's long-time divided influencers Plato and Aristotle- both of whom created models of rational thinking intended to categorize knowledge, nature, the universe, and so on). Even so, in the end to keep myself sane, I believe that every argument has two sides that may be equally valid and whoever has the better argument is ultimately the one who can claim a 'truth' (even though it is still false). Thus, my major focus is on rhetoric and the slipperiness of language rather than objective hermeneutics. In this case, I think of the critical theories like my tools. Use the right tool for the right job and come away with the most convincing argument. Unfortunately, the Europeans in our readings this week lived in an ideological vacuum where everything was a one-size fits all brand of Christianity and imperialism. They walked into the Americas and it became a scenario of "get with our program or get out of our way." Intellectual and spiritual tolerance was replaced by an arrogant hierarchy of "whose views, technology, ways of life were superior?"

Benjamin Franklin's works are still influential today. What qualities do you see in Franklin's works that make him attractive as a model for contemporary American culture?

Benjamin Franklin's works promote the several virtues outlined in his biography (temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility) and expands upon such concepts in his "Way to Wealth" using witty aphorisms that are as entertaining as they are enlightening. Such qualities valued by Franklin and endorsed in his writings are relevant in contemporary American culture, specifically capitalism. Such behaviors like hard-work are highly valued in America today and are supported by Franklin when he says "Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears; while the used key is always bright" (pg. 458). Other behaviors favored in America like timeliness is also exemplified in Franklin's words such as "If time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must be the greatest prodigality; lost time is never found again" (pg. 458).

The same qualities that Franklin supports in his writings are the same qualities that America has been endorsing in the literature of Thoreau ("You cannot kill time without injuring eternity") to contemporary figures such as former President Obama ("The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something"). Thus, Franklin is one of the forefathers that shaped American capitalist ideology and that makes him a very attractive model for American culture today.

When analyzing literature, it's always important to consider the author's purpose. What was Benjamin Franklin's purpose for writing his autobiography?

Benjamin Franklin's autobiography has multiple audiences throughout the text and for this reason it can be difficult to pinpoint Franklin's motivation for writing this work.

Part one has a very clear audience, his illegitimate son, William Franklin. It seems as though Benjamin's intentions was to provide William with a path to success by learning from his successes and mistakes. This could be one possible motivation for writing his autobiography; however, after a couple pages, it seems as though the intended audience widens beyond just William and to a more general readership.

Part two also seems to be intended for a general audience and his didactic tone prevails through his style. It is a good subsequent section to the text and it expands on his intentions outlined in part one: "My posterity may like to know, as they may find some of them suitable to their own situations, and therefore fit to be imitated." The final section, part three, however takes a drastic turn from the earlier sections and this is where I find it difficult to pinpoint Franklin's ultimate motivation for writing his autobiography.

Part three is mostly a recount of all of his personal, economic, and political successes. It is like he is showing off his lifetime accomplishments without so much as telling his readership why. It could be a section to inspire his son to strive for great things in life--never to settle for something less, but if this is the case it is certainly implied, although its effect is most dulled by his arrogant approach. Ultimately, the purpose of his autobiography is to educate not only his son but also a general audience by showing them his successes.

Although, having been written over the course of 18 years--lacking unity at times and altering in tone at others-- it can be difficult to even agree upon this interpretation of the purpose of Franklin's autobiography. Some may say that the purpose of the text was to enshrine himself into literary immortality.

If we think of autobiography as self-creation, what sort of self is Benjamin Franklin creating in his autobiography? Why?

It seems that Franklin creates himself in the model of a mentor or even the 'Wise Old Man' archetype. From the very beginning of his autobiography he tells us that one of his major aims of writing the text is for his readership to inspire his readers with a story of social mobility, show that political power and respect can be earned, that by the blessings of God and hard-work anyone could accomplish what he had done. This is exemplified in his text on the very first page when Franklin says, "Having emerged from the poverty and obscurity in which I was born and bred, to a state of affluence and some degree of reputation in the world, and having gone so far though life with a considerable share of felicity, the concluding means I made use of, which, with the blessing of God, so well succeeded, my posterity may like to know, as they may find some suitable to their own situations, and therefore fit to be imitated" (Franklin, pg. 481). Throughout the remainder of the text Franklin adopts a highly didactic tone with further establishes his unique 'self' expressed in the text as a person intended to profess his truths, pass on his wisdom, and nurture his audience towards leading a good life.

Franklin emphasized that industriousness can help anyone achieve worldly success in America. How is this related to the contemporary American myths?

Benjamin Franklin's "The Way to Wealth" is perhaps one of the earliest shaping forces of American economic pragmatism and capitalist ideology. Notorious for his aphorisms and witty advice, Franklin relied on the rhetoric of humor and the power of words to persuade audiences to embrace industriousness (and avoid slothful ways of living). The text is jam-packed with financial advice; he covers everything from the concepts of time and pride, to debts and lying all-the-while writing in a style that is transparent for most readers. His sayings are easy to memorize and surely his audience back then memorized them too. I was standing in a coffee shop just last week and I overheard an old man say, "for want of a shoe, the nail was lost; for the want of a shoe the horse was lost; for the want of a horse the rider was lost, being overtaken and slain by the enemy; all for want of care about a horseshoe nail." I thought to myself, "what a witty saying! I wonder where that came from?" and lo and behold-- I found it this week! The impact of Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac still resonates today. I even my grandpa throws a couple of these aphorisms around in conversations from time to time. Heck, I'll even use them without thinking half the time. Ideologies (like the American dream) often work unconsciously in the minds of many individuals, though, who are not fully aware that they place an unwavering faith and value upon a traditional ethos.

How were the witch trials related to the colonial concern with moral perfection?

According to Cotton Mather's "The Wonders of the Invisible World," witchcraft was viewed as evidence of the devil's work and a desperate effort to corrupt Puritan ideals. In Mather's words, witches took part in the devil's battle to "overturn this poor plantation, the Puritan colony." This battle, however, was fought silently because 'the enemies' blended in with ordinary citizens: "and the houses of the good people are filled with the doleful shrieks of their children and servants, tormented by invisible hands." Essentially, Mather's understanding of witchcraft is like imagining an inverted, perverted Holy Spirit. Just like the forces of heaven are the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the antagonist forces of hell are the Devil, demons, and the invisible hand. This interpretation makes sense when we consider Mather's title closely--"The Wonders of the Invisible World." His secular concerns in Salem are mere reflections of the holy wars happening between the forces of Good and Evil. This weight of this is paramount through the Puritan perspective because they essentially view earthly life as nothing but existence for the glory of God. If moral purity was tainted--even in the smallest detail--they are ultimately forbid to achieve future happiness nor access to heaven in the afterlife (the latter of which was valued more than the former).

Based on her narrative, how did Mary Rowlandson expect to be treated when she was taken captive by Native Americans? How was she treated?

Mary Rowlandson must have been scared to death. After watching more than half her family and friends die before her very eyes she must have been expecting to meet her fate as well. Several times throughout her narrative she mentions her bleakness towards her fate. I'm sure there were many times she believed the Natives were going to kill her as they sometimes would threaten. Even so, the Native Americans treated her very peculiarly. Some would be very abusive--physically and mentally--whereas others, such as complete strangers, would show her heart-warming compassion. Even her master, whom would toss burning ashes into her face would still allow her to travel from village to village by herself, read her bible, and even talk with other English captives including her captive family members.

Thus, it is very difficult to pinpoint any particular adjective to describe the treatment Mary Rowlandson received from the Native Americans. Peculiar fits it best in my opinion. They let her live amongst their communities, provided her a role in the societies (knitting), and some even gave her food, fire, and a shelter; However, she was also a frequent victim of theft, violent threats, verbal and physical abuse, and nearly every other captive she came across but brutally killed before her eyes.

I am quite sure (it would be very hard to think otherwise) that Mary Rowlandson never believed she would see the light of day again in the midst of the attack on Lancaster Feb. 10, 1675. In conclusion though, she beat the odds and lived.

How is Mary Rowlandson's captivity narrative similar to or different from the men's accounts of interactions with Native Americans?

Mary Rowlandson's captivity narrative is equal in religious fervor as her male contemporaries; however, there is a significant difference between her style of language in comparison to others such as Bradford or Winthrop.

Rowlandson's incredible knowledge of the bible and her passion for Christianity (particularly Puritanism) rivals the best male writers of her time. She frequently uses passages from the bible and explicates on their moral teachings and significance in everyday life. She is very skilled at relating her dreadful situation within the context of biblical texts ranging from Corinthians and Job, to psalms and proverbs. Her male contemporaries also make use of such wide-ranging biblical texts and expand on their lessons and relevance in their writing. Mather and Taylor constantly provide readers with textual evidence from the bible throughout their writings.

Even though the topic of religion may be the major underlying theme in Rowlandson's narrative as well as the likes of Bradford, Winthrop, Mather, and Taylor, their stylistic approaches are vastly different. Whereas the latter (male) authors typically used a philosophical voice and intended to sway readers through logos, Rowlandson adopts a highly emotionally-charged voice that impacts the readers through pathos.

Which rhetorical style do you think was more effective--Rowlandson's appeal to pathos in her captivity narrative or Mather's appeal to logos in his "The Wonders of the Invisible World"?

How is the power of words--the ability to use them and arrange them--symbolic of colonial-era writings?

Throughout Colonial American literature, the power of words are used in a few different forms aimed at similar ends. Some used the power of words to argue religious topics, others used them to record events like a historian, and a few such as Benjamin Franklin had political goals. Thus, the colonial authors used words for establishing law (setting church standards), recording the present (reciting the past), and persuading the masses. These major literary focuses shed light into the condition of the young colonials. Most colonialists fled to America in search of religious freedom; however, they quickly realized that it would have been difficult to govern a people divided in beliefs. Bradford frequently speaks of potential mutiny among the divers in his New England colony. Thus, one way the colonists sought to guarantee their safety was in religious unity. They accomplished this goal by combining law with church: a system that was mostly unjust and tyrannical, but nevertheless important for the early colonies to survive.

Many colonists that attempted to preserve the present and recite the past in their writings (playing the historian) hints at the high value Europeans place upon script. In script, words can be preserved so long as the language is comprehensible/accessible, and the medium of its delivery is intact. Thus, the power of words in a historic account is amplified in the long-term. The young colonies, having no history except from the oral stories from the Native Americans, had to establish their own mapping of the geography, founding fathers, and early struggles. Just as the lessons of history in Europe served countless generations and nations as a model of how to govern, how to live, and how to avoid catastrophe, so too did the American colonies need a non-fictive model of the past to avoid the mistakes and learn from the successes of the colonists.

Lastly, being such young colonies, the government and the beliefs of the people were very volatile. Having already overthrown many European traditions, the American colonies had yet to establish a firm way of life. Thus, many colonial writers had political aims such as Benjamin Franklin. The early colonies were still but soft clay. There was little foundation but huge potential to shape the future of their settlements. Some were unhappy of the direction the settlements were heading--a breeding ground for slothfulness or sin--and they made bold attempts to reverse the trends through their writings. We will see even more of this example of the power of words in the writings of Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson.

How are Thomas Jefferson's scientific writings also political?

Thomas Jefferson's "Notes on the State of Virginia" can be seen as a defense of agrarian interests written in an early scientific form. Jefferson makes a case that the "Natural Bridge," a geographical landmark near Lexington, Virginia, was one of nature's most sublime works of art. In so doing he expands upon the measurable dimensions of the rock shape such as length, width, breadth, and thickness in order to shed light into vast immeasurable beauty it possesses. However, the politician in Jefferson must have some sort of an agenda with these lofty descriptions, right? Whether unconscious or not, Jefferson's account of the Natural Bridge highlights some of his personal values, which in turn reflect some of his political values. For instance, his expression of fondness for the natural world triumphs the text. This immediately shows us Jefferson's pride of American landscapes and his strong support for husbandry. In fact, most of Jefferson's "Notes on the State of Virginia" subliminally act as a defense against industrial developments and manufacturing, especially if they infringed upon American wildernesses.

Should political writings by people such as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine be classified as literature or historical documentation? What is the difference between these two types of writing?

Jefferson and Paine's political writings should definitely be considered literature and should definitely not be considered historical documentation. The major reason why is that historical documentation ought to be an accurately detailed account of particular events/ideologies, or record of statistics. Jefferson and Paine's political writings were not intended in such a way nor were should they be viewed this way. Their political writings were literary in the sense that they employed various literary techniques and used figures of speech in order to persuade their audiences using the power of rhetoric. Thus, whereas historical documentation is a writing in which the author aims to gather facts and accurate information, literature is writing in which the author aims to move the audience to feel a certain way about something whether it is political, emotional, or spiritual. Through this perspective it is easy to see how Jefferson and Paine's writings are certainly literature.

Do historical writings inevitably have some bias? Why or why not?

Historical writings do contain bias. In fact, I like to align myself with contemporary deconstructionists and claim that all writing contains ideological bias and contradictions; it all depends upon perspectives and there is no such thing as an all-encompassing, objective lens of perception. From this premise, we can logically come to the conclusion that historical writings contain bias: A: All writings come from humans. B: All humans have ideological biases. C: Writing is an expressive art form in which humans may unconsciously transmit biases. D: Ideologies are largely stored in the unconscious. Therefore, all writings contain ideological biases. An example from our readings includes J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur's "Letter from an American Farmer" and his idealistic record of American culture. Crevecoeur earnestly attempts to write an objective account of American culture, specifically in his efforts to answer: what is an American? It truly is a lofty rendering of religious freedom, economic equalities, and equal opportunities to acquire land and political recognition. His survey ranges from coastal towns to the wild frontiers and has nothing but commendation for the way the American culture is taking shape. However, his later chapters--such as "Letter IX" and "Letter XII"--defy his early statements of praise. Nearly everything he complimented early on, he later complained. Thus, even his casual observations on frontier have entirely different moods: one in which man is free and industrious, the other in which man is a slothful beast. His claims are made in the style of universal quantifications and his writings are made in an effort to record events, places, and people; that is why we must consider his writings historical. His inherent contradictions, however, are what lead us to see his ideological flaws.

Do we see media influencing politics today? Does the written word still have influence? Another point to consider is that although history does not change, does our recording and perception of it change? Is this change related to the value of what we call "literature"?

I'll approach these questions using Wittgenstein's linguistic-epistemological theory as a foundation: we cannot think outside of language. Language is a powerful tool: a double sided blade. Without it, we are merely animals. With it, we are ultimately bound to and contained within it. Language is not limited to the written word. Instead, it can be understood as a sign-signifier relationship. Essentially, we cannot escape this cycle of signs and signifiers because we classify the world through arbitrary sounds and symbols. For instance, we know a real 'tree' not because the word is connected to the thing, but because humans created a grammatical system that assigned certain phonemes-- and combinations thereof-- to stand for things. Later, these phonemes (or sounds) were adopted into the written alphabetical symbols we have today.

Understanding the nature of language is important when considering this question because it makes the answers obvious. Media and politics ambivalently influence each other just as we all influence each other through the power of language. The written word in particular is incredibly powerful today, perhaps the most powerful it has ever been. All the world's pursuits, struggles, visions, and wars are ultimately, on an unconscious level, linguistic and literary issues. How does a decree, legal or not, obtain its recognition or authenticity? A formal document with signatures. What kind of evidence in a court of law will stand undisputable? Word of mouth, or something written down and recorded? Contemporary societies place a heavy value upon the written word today.

This is important to consider when we look at history. Unfortunately, most people untrained in the humanities and especially the study of language believe that language is concrete and accurate (I remember getting into a heated debate once with a fellow classmate on this topic). Language is not a science. If anything, it is a social art. Overtime, grammatical rules change, spellings change, original meanings are lost, new meanings are created, words are borrowed, phrases are obsolete, and even entire languages are destroyed or born. These linguistic developments occur because humans are a socially active species, not static. We have always been morphing the way we live, the places we dwell, the things we place value in, and how we interact with each other. Furthermore, entire languages have always been rubbing against each other and influencing each other--the effects of which created the English language the way it is today. In fact, I was very surprised when I did a linguistic study of the famous American "Preamble" and its etymological origins. Aside the Saxonate pronouns, nearly every other word derives from Norman-French, Latin, and Greek. Such was the influence of the Norman conquest back in the 11th century when the French language literally invaded the English.

Overtime, social changes influence the major ideologies of the people and the state. As language united the American colonies, so it united a particular way of thinking: a Western philosophy. Even so, overtime, language will wrestle with itself. Young people will use language in new and innovative ways. The old people will sustain dying phrases and archaic words. The dictionaries continue to transform. The social uses of language undergo generational revolutions and then we eventually forget where words or phrases came from in the first place. The more significant aspect of this, however, is that we forget how or where our unconscious ideological assumptions come from either. Thus, the tales of history are always under construction. Someday people may view minimum wage as modern-day slavery. Who knows?

Phillis Wheatley's poems are addressed to major political and culture figures. How does this shape her poetry's quality and appeal?

By addressing major political and cultural figures in her poetry, Phillis Wheatley's poetry naturally adopts a grand style, in which she informs the audience of an event or concept, pleases through rhetorical devices and figures of speech, and the finally persuades through its eloquence. She uses ornamented language and avoids slang and vulgarity. Furthermore, she employs plenty of techniques such as anaphora. All this is intended to give her poetry a particularly high degree of importance. She addresses major issues, people, and institutions using the most appropriate style of speech, the grand style, which has long been considered the peak of rhetorical skill. Not only does this add passion and drive to her poetry, it also holds great emotional power over the audience. The downfall of such an approach, however, is that if the audience is not fully prepared for her serious verses, it puts her in danger of coming off pompous and confusing. Thus, some audiences may be very drawn to her style of poetry because it offers them insightful commentary on political and cultural issues. At the same time, however, some audiences may be turned off by her eloquent style and prefer something more light and humorous for political and cultural insights such as Benjamin Franklin's writings on achieving economic prosperity.

William Cullen Bryant and Philip Freneau write about nature and about moving into new lands. How are their writings similar, and what emerging national attitudes do they express?

William Cullen Bryant and Philip Freneau share mutual attitudes concerning the land and newfound American pride. The late-18th century and early-19th century was, in western history, known for its intense nationalism. In fact, the American and French revolutions could be seen as powerful manifestations of nationalistic feelings. By the time Bryant and Freneau began writing their poetry, the United States of America was an established power capable of militaristic campaigns and defense, economic success, and civil order in developed metropolises. The westward lands were largely uninhabited and many political maneuvers were made to force the Native Americans to evacuate their homes in order to open up the American frontier for exploration. It is here, in contemplation and celebration, that Bryant and Freneau share in regard to the vast and empty American wilderness: "No roving foot shall crush thee here,/ No busy hand provoke a tear" (Freneau, pg. 757). This was the New World for these early-19th century Americans. Personally and spiritually, the west was a place of sublimity and loneliness: "All at once/ A fresher wind sweeps by, and breaks my dream,/ And I am in the wilderness alone" (Bryant, pg. 129). Nationally, it was a place of opportunity, advancement, and power: "To his domestic hum, and think I hear/ The sound of that advancing multitude/ Which soon shall fill these deserts" (Bryant, pg. 128). Such poetry by Bryant and Freneau set the stage for the later Transcendentalist poets such as Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau.

Many scholars see the period of the New Republic as devoid of literary history. Do you agree or disagree? Explain your opinion. Consider that in order to answer this question, you will first have to define what it means for a period to be "devoid of literary history."

This is an interesting question with a paradoxical answer. On one hand, the American colonies attempted to reject British influences through the Declaration of Independence. For American authors this meant finding new modes of writing in order to create a unique American style of literature. On the other, however, British and European influence not only helped create the American Declaration of Independence but the British styles of writing were ironically the most influential forms to early American authors. For this reason, the New Republic had very little of its own literary history, but it shared with England and the rest of Europe an extensive Western pool of literary influence. Thus, for scholars to claim that the New Republic was devoid of a literary history is both true and false. It is true in the sense that American authors did not yet create a distinct American style of literature; instead it was mostly imitated in the style of British authors. Even so, the same claim is false in the sense that Americans did have a literary history; it was simply a literary tradition shared with Britain and the rest of Europe: the Western literary history. Therefore, the answer to this question really depends upon the scope we are willing to view American literary influences.

Added note: it really was not until the Walt Whitman's revolutionary poetry when we can detect a distinct American style of literature emerging.

How does the establishment of a national language in the 18th century resonate with the current debate regarding a national language? Why is the issue of national language a timeless theme?

A national language is a timeless theme because the organization of people, places, and things depend upon a common set of rules; otherwise people naturally divide themselves according to who they can communicate the best with because they will have the most similar ways of categorizing and making sense of the world. Furthermore, through the perspective of the state, it is easier to govern a people that speak a common language just as it is easier to govern them using common currency, laws, and religions. During the early-19th century, the idea of nationalism was very strong and it manifested in U.S. efforts to Americanize Native American populations. This resonates today because there is a large controversy over the national language today, particularly its lack of openness to diversity. For instance, in Phoenix, AZ (where I can happily tell you I am currently on vacation!) there are large populations of Native Americans as well as Mexicans that inhabit the region. In some places the English language has replaced indigenous tongues and has adverse effects on the preservation of traditional beliefs and customs of, for instance, the Hopi culture. In other places, however, the English language is hardly spoken at all and conversing is all but impossible; this is a huge problem tied together with crime in Maricopa County, the home of the infamous Tent City prison. Last year, June 4, 2014, there was a major lawsuit filed, United States v. Maricopa County, et al., alleging the sheriff "have engaged and continue to engage in a pattern or practice of unlawful discriminatory police conduct directed at Latinos in Maricopa County and jail practices that unlawfully discriminate against prisoners with limited English language skills" (Phoenix New Times, 2014). In other places throughout the U.S., other such issues exist for other citizens or immigrants that primarily speak a foreign language.

The Puritans placed importance on the wellbeing of the whole group, whereas the Transcendentalists emphasized self-identity and self-reliance. Why do you think this shift in thinking occurred?

The first reason could be a cause of the environment. The Puritans as well as the Transcendentalists occupied nearly the same space (northeastern U.S.) but in different times. The result of the latter variable illustrates drastically different perspectives for these two groups in relation to their surroundings. From a strictly physical viewpoint, the Puritans occupied a very primitive version of society compared to the Transcendentalists. The villages were young, their governments were inexperienced, and the Native Americans were a legitimate threat to peace and prosperity. In order for the Puritans to survive, unity was the only option. Thus, we read so much of Bradford and Smith's concerns of 'divers' or people who were non-conformists who could threat the stability of an entire society. In these early American days, the saying "join or die" was a literal statement with real consequences. Transcendentalism, however, emerges from a culture in which the vast majority of society has been cultivated. Concord, Massachusetts was a well-developed metropolis; the U.S. government was already established: authority and compliance with state and federal laws were reputable. Society at large on the east coast was approaching industrialization and modernization. In such a growing environment as this, the people within American society naturally separated from each other. With this, communities that were once close-knit became fragments of individuals. A cause of this must concern the lack of communal purpose. Whereas the Puritans were bound to each other by the will to survive, the Transcendentalists had no immediate requirements of their neighbors. Instead, they were bound to the mechanics of a more modern society-- most notably the economy of their own estate. The writings from figures such as John Smith's "Wealth of Nations" and Benjamin Franklin's "The Way to Wealth" inspired many 19th century Americans to pursue their own economic dreams through their own diligence and self-reliance. These are the unconscious values that underlie the Transcendentalist movement.

What style of writing tends to result from Ralph Waldo Emerson's theory of language?

Ralph Waldo Emerson's style is intriguing to say the least. This theory is grounded on the principle that all words--even abstract--can be traced back to their roots in a concrete, visually-oriented sign. Essentially, all signifiers can be located in the world around us. Some of Emerson's examples are: "Right originally means straight," and "Spirit primarily means wind" (Emerson, pg. 223). From this foundation, Emerson proceeds to argue that every natural fact or figure is merely a symbol of some spiritual fact or state of mind (a philosophical twist on Plato's metaphysics on forms). It is really an interesting argument and it makes sense: how could we ever conceive of something abstract without situating it within a physical context first? Such is the nature of most metaphors! Even so, though Emerson praises the notion of concrete language and Saxonate words, he ironically writes in a highly philosophical style, full of Latinate words, which forces his language closer towards abstraction. Perhaps he does this on purpose to coerce his readers to pursue the "truth" of his words and the accuracy of his statements by doing etymological research. Having done some etymological research myself, it can be an incredibly rewarding pursuit. For instance, did you know that the original meaning for the Hebrew word for 'lord' was 'loaf-giver'? In this case, a subtle morphological alteration could harness the power to change the reading-reception of the bible from a spiritual work to a political work. In Emerson's case, he was imploring his readers to embark on literary paths untrodden by cultivating a new perspective based on locating origins in nature.

What is Henry David Thoreau's purpose for writing Walden?

Henry David Thoreau wrote "I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up" (Thoreau, pg. 980). Thoreau went into the woods to discover himself; ironically, however, he discovered the machinations of modern society. In its absence, and from its distance away, Thoreau was in prime position to analyze the some of the important aspects of modern living: the practical, the trivial, and everything in between was his topic. But why? Why would Thoreau publish a book about his time spent in isolation at Walden Pond? What is he trying to tell his readers?

Thoreau's experience in isolation and living a primitive, minimalist lifestyle allowed him ample time to ponder society. By venturing into the wilderness and living a life unknown to most people-- with the exception of frontiersmen in the west-- Thoreau could juxtapose life in the woods with life in civilization. This led to many of his great insights! By returning to society with his newfound wisdom he could offer readers a unique perspective on contemporary issues. Of course, his true purpose, however, extends beyond this simple fact. Surely Thoreau's rhetorical style was a means for a persuasive end. His exact intentions though may be hard to pin point. It is certain though that he promotes the Transcendentalist movement and its values: self-reliance, individualism, discipline, frugality, minimalism, and self-awareness.

Why was it necessary to remove himself from society in order for Thoreau to gain objectivity? Would his actions be socially acceptable today? Does society today encourage integration and conformity or isolation and independence?

Like Mary Rowlandson's narrative, it's hard to realize your own state until you are removed from it; only then can you gain the ability to compare where you once were and where you are now. Even Thomas Paine said that after separation follows reason and clarity when he was talking about the state of the colonies in his "Common Sense." Only after the United States earned its independence did the justification for war seem flawlessly righteous. Thus, insight is a consequence of conflict resolution (after weighing both sides equally). Thoreau's experiment in at Walden Pond exemplifies this statement. Thoreau was accustomed to civilized life: he went to Harvard, lived within metropolises, and taught at different schools and colleges. He was well-versed in the art of modern living. However, surely growing up in the early times of United States history he had to have heard stories of life on the frontier before there were laws, taxes, roads, newspapers, and the burdens of civilized living. Some of these stories may have been harsh realities recorded like the accounts we have read from those like Bradford and Smith, but newer stories of folklore by Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, and Johnny Appleseed were tall tales capable of stirring the common people's imaginations and feelings into a desire for adventure, lawlessness, and self-reliance. It is here, in the realm of viewing nature as idealistic and utopian that Transcendentalism was initially drawn into and it provides Thoreau his working hypothesis in "Walden."

Today his actions would be socially acceptable for only some, not all. For instance, what would be socially acceptable today for young people would be to follow the economic advice of a writer like Benjamin Franklin. His financial advice is a more moderate version of Thoreau's in the sense that both believe in frugality and minimalist living. The major difference, however, is that Franklin's advice promotes industry, whereas Thoreau's advice promotes minimal work, maximum idleness. For this reason, those of us today that follow Franklin would walk up a path towards constant financial improvement, whereas those that would follow Thoreau would walk along a circular path of financial floating (neither sinking nor soaring). On the flip side though, Franklin's values of industry leave us very little time to reflect, contemplate, and "pick the finer fruits of life," whereas Thoreau's theory of self-sustainment would allow people to revival their senses and reflect on their observations every day. Thus, I would think that young people ought to follow the advice of Franklin and constantly improve their own estate; I would then think that old people (if they can afford it) follow the advice of Thoreau and enjoy the rest of their life in deep contemplation and observation.

A recurrent theme of Edgar Allan Poe's work is passion. How does Poe define passion?

Poe's perspective on themes in human nature such as passion and love often invert traditional notions. Whereas passion is normally associated with a combination of attentiveness, persistence, and devotion, Poe's expressions of passion board on intensity, impulse, and obsession. Furthermore, Poe also explores the absence of and the unattainability of passion. This negative rendering of passion aids to the dark tones of Poe's poetry and prose. Even so, we must not be mistaken by Poe's apparently grotesque and grim content. He notes in his "The Philosophy of Composition" that "beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tear" (Poe, pg. 723). This includes the close ally to beauty, death: "When it most closely allies itself to Beauty: the death, then of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetic topic in the world--and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such a topic are those of a bereaved lover" (Poe, pg. 724). Such a melancholic expression of the soul as this can best exemplify how Poe defines passion: in its agonizing and unrealizable state; forever thirsting, forever fleeting, and never ever accessible.

How reliable are Edgar Allan Poe's narrators? Do you think they are telling the entire truth?

Poe is one of the first authors to master the art of creating an unreliable narrator. Essentially, an unreliable narrator is a character that cannot be trusted completely because their story is jaded by their perspective. In Poe's "Tell-Tale Heart," the credibility of his narrator is jeopardized by his apparent mental illness: "but why will you say that I am mad?" (Poe, pg. 691). Same thing in Poe's "Cask of Amontillado," except his narrator in this story is filtered through his anger, which ultimately affects his decision making skills: "The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge" (Poe, pg. 714). This technique of creating an unreliable narrator allows Poe's narrations to stray towards distortion and uncertainty. How can we fully trust or belief the accounts from seemingly psychotic or criminally-insane characters? There is too much darkness and unnaturalness in his characters and their impulsive behaviors for Poe's readers to place their faith in the accuracy of his words; but, that is Poe's genius intention! The effect is a combination of mystery and suspense. The reader's eyes are more glued to the page when they do not know what to except in a situation of discomfort.

Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne had dark themes in their writing. Why would such an emphasis emerge during this period?

Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville were all authors of a sub-genre of the American Renaissance known as Dark Romanticism. Whereas Transcendentalism- the other major sub-genre of the American Renaissance- believed that nature beheld beauty and truth, Dark Romanticism perceived most environments as embodiments of wickedness, evil, and sin. Thus, Dark Romantic authors often used horrific themes, inverted symbols, and expressed deep psychological distress in their characters. The reason why the Dark Romantics focused on such dismal topics could be a result or a reaction from their polar-opposite literary predecessors, the Transcendentalists. The perfectionism of Transcendental beliefs, and its heavy focus on self-actualization and transcendence above oneself and nature, was very idealistic for many skeptical Americans. Poe, for example, was heavily influenced by the romantics in England and France, of who were enduring much political turmoil with figures such as Napoleon attempting to conquer the continent. Such everyday stresses in Europe naturally lead to grim topics in academia, which of course lead to grim theories about human nature. Thus, for the Dark Romantics, their task was to invert the idealistic, utopian world of Transcendentalism upside-down. They did not believe in the infallibility of humans like Emerson and Thoreau; rather, the Dark Romantics like Poe and Hawthorne sought to express the exact ways in which humans were susceptible to corruption, sins, and wickedness.

Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville wrote about obsessed and irrational characters. Why would such an emphasis emerge during this period?

Such an emphasis on obsessed and irrational characters in the writings of Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville could be related to the growth of popular culture and sensational writing, mass-market press writings. The news during this time was not so different from the news we read today with all the horrific crimes, political sex-scandals, local celebrities that fall from grace, and the wide-spread cultural paranoia. It was through these same publishers that aspiring authors could get their work published. The catch, of course, is that their writings had to have an equal or greater than pizazz than their non-fiction competition in order to have a chance to secure a space on the page. So, in the styles of the non-fiction news articles, Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville adopted styles of Popular Irrationalism and Popular Sensationalism in order to compete. This socio-economic perspective may explain why these authors chose such grotesque, dismal, and shocking topics to write about; they knew the people loved the horrific and were eager to feast on fear- both fictional and non-fictional.

What is Frederick Douglass's view of what it means to be human?

Frederick Douglass countered against the idea that blacks were subhuman or beasts by arguing that blacks were fully rational humans. He claimed that the degenerating effects of slavery could turn any human, regardless of race, into an illiterate workhorse and thus argued along the lines of irrationality as a product of nurture (or lack thereof). From this point on Douglass sets the foundation for his view on human nature as encompassing individual rights and liberties. Douglass drew frequently from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to support his case. Furthermore, he also argued that since slaves were rational (and thus had individual rights), then the institution of slavery must be contrary to God's will and nature. Thus for Frederick Douglass, to be human is to possess the capacity for rational thinking, which in turn allows humans to enjoy their natural born rights.

Douglass realized the important point that education is paramount for gaining social power and agency. All, how are these realizations of Douglass' relevant to social issues of our time?

Douglass' commentary on slavery and his philosophical arguments in support of natural rights and liberties resonates today in world politics, particularly in third world countries where slavery is still a common practice. Even so, that is not to say it is limited to slavery; some of his arguments and stances are equally significant in light of the American justice system, politics of war, and American economic practices overseas. For instance, the Ferguson riots and the recent increased awareness of police brutality towards the black population resonate with long battled issues over equality and infringements of natural rights. Furthermore, in the politics of war, particular the treatment of prisoners, echoes issues once debated by Douglass in regard to the institution of slavery and the implementation of torture tactics. Lastly, American economic practices overseas, of which is oft overlooked, show a sort of modern distortion of slave practices; the difference, however, is that instead of working for nothing, the foreign workers are paid dirt cheap (or in the U.S., minimum wage).

How does Frederick Douglass create a self by the act of writing?

According to Frederick Douglass' idea of what it means to be a human, his self is created through his writing by demonstrating his capacity for rational thinking. Beasts could not have written their own biography. According to many pro-slavery supporters, black people were merely irrational beasts. However, when writers such as Harriet Jacobs and Douglass overrule this popular assumption by showing Americans in their autobiographical slave narratives that they possess equal (and even greater) intellectual dexterity than their white counterparts. Just the simple act of writing was a significant statement on the (ir)rational status of African American slaves. Politically, reading and writing is incredibly important because everything legal or official is recorded in written language. To demonstrate mastery over the written word is to possess knowledge of abstract concepts such as signs and signifiers, and the intricacies of grammar and syntax; linguistic competence in writing was a difficult task even for white populations during the mid-19th century. For a black author to convey such mastery over the written word in his own slave narrative as Douglass during his time was astonishing to say the least. Furthermore, it was forcefully persuasive for his arguments against the irrationality of slaves. Surely he creates himself in his prose because while he writes, he demonstrates his rationality.

What do you think Douglass and/or Marley mean when they talk about being "mentally" free? What does it mean to be "mentally free"?

To my understanding, to be “mentally free” is to achieve a state in which a person recognizes cultural, political, and familial assumptions, particularly the overarching ideologies which govern them, and no longer thinks within the confines of such institutions. Thus, a person that is mentally free is also a critical thinker because they simply do not accept unwarranted claims or ways of life without first considering the implications and origins of such ways of thought. On the flip side, however, this idea is idealistic. It is impossible to be completely mentally free because language itself is a product and producer of ideologies. The English language, for example, shares a long etymological tradition with many Indo-European languages, of which developed alongside cultural, political, and technological developments. Therefore, language is not and never was stuck within an empty ideological vacuum; there have always been influential factors that undermine even the most common words. The most obvious example I can think of pertains to English pro-nouns such as “mine” and the idea of property. Americans today could scarcely imagine living without the concept of property because our language and culture has already been long-since designed to accommodate the practices associated with it. For this reason, we cannot ever be completely mentally free so long as we remain literate members of society.

Poets in the 19th century were described as missionaries for mankind. What does this mean?

The American poets in the 19th century are much like social activists today in the sense that they were connected to and invested in the major cultural events of their day and sought to make a difference in the world through the power of their voice. The voice of the Transcendentalist poets offered mankind a fresh perspective of Christianity; the voice of the abolitionist poets offered the American public a new view on the status of human nature; the voice of the Franklin, Paine, and Thoreau challenged American readers to think skeptically and pragmatically about politics and economics. Essentially, the American writers of the early 19th century were in a way all "self-help" authors in the sense that their literature was intended to serve audiences for the reason to lecture, persuade, and ultimately guide their readers to [fill in the blank]. Whether it was to become a better Christian, better citizen, or better self-manger, audiences during this time were seeking literary outlets for direction; thus, we could describe them as missionaries for the greater good.

How do the various voices in the debate over removing Native Americans judge the ethics of what is happening?

Black Hawk's "Life of Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, or Black Hawk" is a rhetorical literary work that persuades primarily through pathos. The thematic concern Black Hawk presents to readers is the language barrier between Native Americans and the Americans, specifically the formality of writing, such as in a signature, and how those American customs marginalized Native American political understandings in their delegations with American representatives. Even though Black Hawk's argument is written rather than spoken, it conveys a similar effect as the Declaration of Independence because they both use orality-grounded rhetoric in their respective styles. The irony, however, is that Black Hawk's only opportunity to persuade Americans to sympathize with the Native Americans was by adopting the English language in his autobiography. Furthermore, Black Hawk had to use strictly Western concepts for his audience to understand his issues such as "rights," "lies," "property." Essentially, in order to reach his rhetorical potential Black Hawk had to abandon the very language and culture he was attempting to protect in order to learn the language of the people who was conquering his lands. For Black Hawk, this was a necessary was nevertheless enraging notion.

How does Walt Whitman present himself as a representative of America?

When Walt Whitman embraced Ralph Waldo Emerson's call for a new, distinctly American poet, he proceeded by revolutionizing American poetry as they knew it. Whitman is most famous for his poetic voice which was created using irregular, unrhymed meters known as free verse. This technique allowed Whitman to mimic the prosody of common speech without committing to the forms of prose. Prior to Whitman's approach to free verse, most writers chose to write using iambic pentameter to achieve the effect of mimicking the human voice. Whitman, however, varied his stress patterns according to his context. Thus, rather than making his context fit the form, he made the form fit the context.

Besides Whitman's distinctly American approach to poetry in regard to his form and meter, he also captures American local color in his voice, imagery, and metaphors. Furthermore, Whitman published many patriotic poems that celebrate American culture, nature, and politics. For instance, there was a collection of Whitman's poetry published in 1918 by Richard Maurice Bucke titled "The Patriotic Poems of Walt Whitman" that includes Whitman's poems on American wars, post-wars, landscapes, and ideals such as democracy. Whitman truly is the first of the American poets to celebrate these aspects of the New World in such depth, breadth, and originality and this is how he presents himself as a representative of America.

Do you think the American writers prior to 1860 successfully created an American literary tradition, or did this occur later?

Although this emergence happens late, probably with the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, his successors, especially Whitman, Poe, Melville, Hawthorne, and Thoreau created a uniquely American literary style. Prior to Emerson's influence, American literature in the New Republic and early colonies was heavily influenced by European/English sources and in many cases literary forms were directly mimicked. American poetry never really revolutionized itself apart from Europe or Britain until Walt Whitman famously adopted a free verse style that was as prosaic as natural speech. This development set the foundation for many American authors later down the line, especially with the Beat Poets such as Allen Ginsberg. American prose, on the other hand, never really found its own identity either until the masterful tales of mystery and grotesque by Edgar Allen Poe were produced. The father of modern horror and mystery as Americans know could be responsible for sowing the seeds of many literary trends in the 20th century that reach far beyond American shores. Thus, the answer to this question is yes, there were definitely a few American writers between 1820 and 1860 that should be recognized as the founding figures of a uniquely American style of literature that expands and transforms itself overtime.

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