Characteristics of American Romantic Literature

In the early 1800s, when the United States was still struggling to find a national identity and culture, a revolution occurred in American literature. Written works changed drastically, from being strictly records, journals, and Puritan literature to publishing fictional stories which emphasized characteristics such as an awe of nature, a distrust in artificiality and civilization, youthful innocence, individual freedom and the worth of the individual, faith in inner experience and the power of the imagination, value in feeling and intuition over reason and logic, a distrust in progress, and a trust in the wisdom of the past.

This literary revolution featured prominent writers such as Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the Fireside Poets, which consisted of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, as well as the Transcendentalists, most notably Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. An example of American Romantic literature showing an awe of nature is The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. The story describes the surrounding area as a place of wonder, fantasy, enchantment,and awe; “A pleasing land of drowsy head it was, Of dreams that wave before the half-shut eye; And of gay castles in the clouds that pass, Forever flushing round a summer sky” (Irving 1).

The Devil And Tom Walker, also by Washington Irving, exhibits the converse of the awe of nature; it places a deep-seated distrust in the artificiality of civilization and the city. The story itself describes the protagonist, Tom Walker, making a deal with the devil to become a wealthy banker in Boston. Tom Walker’s morals and conscience, which start off already practically nonexistent, sink even lower upon moving to the city; Irving uses this to poke fun at Tom Walker, and successful people like him in the city, by making Tom out to be worse morally than the devil himself: “‘You shall op…