Romanticism in American literature has been a pivotal change in the American tradition. During the divisive time before the Civil War, America sought to move away from its industrialized manner in favor of the more natural and emotional individual existence. Untamed nature, the spiritual existence, a glorification of past events, an evaluation of progress and the search for truth all brought romantics to the forefront of American writing.
Walden is a recount of Thoreau’s time at Walden Pond. He built a cabin and grew his own food. It was during this time that Thoreau found out what you really need to live. Thoreau was free to live his life freely as he saw fit. Walden is a great example of romanticism because Thoreau is seeking to get away from the modern life and find a more deliberate one. His gravitation towards nature and simplicity are the hallmarks of romanticism.
Henry David Thoreau was born July 12, 1817 and died May 6, 1862. Thoreau began writing as a nature poet and even lived two years on Walden Pond (Biography Thoreau). His stay at Walden Pond heavily influenced his later writing Walden.
Whitman’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry is an exemplification of romanticism. The speaker describes how he takes the ferry every day and gives his daily digest of his travels. Whitman writes about the weather and beauty of the trips and the other people on the ferry. This poem shows romanticism in its showcase of the natural world. It also makes the distinction between current passengers and future passengers. Everyone is unknowingly connected because they will all experience the same sights and scenes that the speaker is currently seeing. This is a very romantic theme in that all these people are or will share a certain experience together. The ending commanding nature to continue its duty also shows a yearning for natures supremacy.
Walt Whitman was born 1819 and died in 1892. Whitman was a school teacher before pursuing a full-time journalism career in New York, and later moving to New Orleans where he saw the horrors of slavery (Quite Curious). It can be assumed that Whitman’s time in New Orleans help solidify his anti-slavery positions and informed many of his own writings.
One of Hawthorne’s works that shows romanticism is The Ministers Black Veil. In the story, the minister wears a black veil at his sermon about hidden sin and the townspeople have no idea why. The minister goes as far as to never take off the veil in front of his fiancé who ends up leaving him saying she can’t handle a life with someone wearing a veil. On his deathbed, he still refuses to remove the veil and instead gives the townspeople one last lesson. This work best exemplifies romanticism in its lesson on purification and spirituality. The Puritans in the story somewhat scold the minister at first but later come to accept him and his congregation even grows. It would be after his death, however, that his lessons finally come to fruition. The black veil symbolized the sin that every person carries with them that separates one from another. There are several ways one could interpret the story; the minister could have been trying to live with his own sin, trying to teach others to accept their sin rather than hiding it, or even wishing to remain faceless as the word of God. Regardless, the return to spiritual purity over objective science makes this story one of the great American literary examples of romanticism.
Nathanial Hawthorne was born in 1804 and had an ancestral heritage with the Pilgrims that immigrated to America; he was also a direct descendant of a Salem witch trial Judge (Biography Hawthorne). From Hawthorne’s own writing it can be assumed that he did not agree with the Puritan life or his own family’s decisions.
One of Poe’s writings that exemplifies romanticism is The Raven. The Raven is about the lost love of a woman named Lenore. The speaker is terrorized in his home by a Raven who constantly reminds him that his love is nevermore. The Raven is a good example of romanticism and more specifically gothic romanticism because of Poe’s emotional exploration of death. The loss of the main characters beloved Lenore is transferred to the audience using a fantastic rhyme scheme and word choice. The fact that Lenore is never detailed should also be noticed because this helps the audience connect to Lenore as if she was their own lost love. The Raven is the most obvious sign of symbolism in the story. The main character cannot escape the raven who is a constant reminder of his loves death just as death gives us the constant pain and reminder of our loved ones. The Raven is that unshakable feeling and the constant pain of love lost.
Edger Allen Poe was born January 19, 1809 and died October 7, 1849. Poe wrote everything from short stories and poems to critiques of others work for newspapers. Poe would go on to marry his 13-year-old cousin Virginia who would later die of tuberculosis and become a great source of inspirational pain for his work (Biography Poe). Poe didn’t find much fame or fortune in life, but in death, he would become a literary household name.
America during the nineteenth century was well suited for Romanticism because it placed a specific value on the individual and individual liberty. Aristocratic government and divine kingships were being protested and the progression of science and industry were being cast away in preference of emotion and the natural world. Writers wanted their audience to feel there writing rather than just read and appreciate their style. Their writing would be full of simpler times where the world was not so small.
literary, artistic, and philosophical movement originating in the 18th century, characterized chiefly by a reaction against neoclassicism and an emphasis on the imagination and emotions, … an exaltation of the primitive and the common man, an appreciation of external nature, an interest in the remote, and a predilection for melancholy (Romanticism 2018)
Romanticism is defined as a:
Romanticism in American literature is a call for a simpler and more rooted existence. During the 19th century America was a relatively new Nation and the romantic movement was a rebellion against the modern life. The Civil War, Industrialization, progressiveness and modernization all pushed society to rebel in favor of a more natural time.