The Romantic Period (1820-1860) in American Literature

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      At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the American nation consisted of sixteen states and stretched across one-third of the American continent. Alaska and Hawaii were later admitted as states. The total population became more than a million and a half. By 1820, it was increased to nine and a half million. By 1860, it was risen to thirty-one and a half. The vast Louisiana territory was purchased by the France. Florida and Oregon were ceded by the Spain and Great Britain. The huge areas from the south were taken from Mexico over a period of thirty years. The result was that an enormous flux of immigrants took place. In the first four decades after the Revolution, the immigrants came from the British Isles. In 1820, the immigrants from nations of Europe and the world also entered. There was a change in the growth, size and diversity of population.

      The abominable tariff of 1828 rankled with South Carolinians with their garments-some wore homespun garments untaxed by the Yankee tariff and their slaves strutted about in the streets in discarded clothes. The nullifiers mastered the necessary two-thirds in the legislature but the minority of the Unionists blocked them. Back in Washington, the Congress touched off the fuse by passing the new tariff in 1832 which led to the reduction of 10% and many Southern had a disquieting air of permanence. A new tariff passed in 1833 and a feud between them continued at low key and there was a victory for both Unionist and Nullifiers. “Texas Revolution” took place between 1835-36.

      The reign of “King Andrew “ended and Tyler became the president without a party. The Whig Congress hated to pass a law ending the independent treasury system which led to establishment of a new Bank of the Unites States. The issues of Oregon and Texas continued as political conflict between the Britain and the Americans (Yankees). The factories established by the British were already there in addition to some small-scale enterprises working in the eastern part. The American phase of industrialization which first blossomed in the cotton textiles, was well on its way due to invention of new machine of separating cotton seed from the fiber by Eli Whitney.

      A new factory system flourished and it embraced numerous other industries in addition to the textiles. The conquest of the space was no less important than the conquest of the Redman. The railroad transportation improved drastically especially in the east and south-east parts of the country. The lines of communication were also improved due to the perfection of telegraph achieved by Samuel Morse. There was also improvement in other fields like education, music and there was blossoming of the national literature.

      The economic base of the country was changing from agriculture to industry and the population was moving from the country to the town. In 1830, the first locomotive was manufactured and it reached a speed of twelve miles per hour. In 1840, many miles of rail tracks were laid down and also the water canals. The diverse modes of transport helped the farmers to shift their production to the markets. Finally, it led to the rise of the powerful and expansionist America.

      The laws against teaching slaves to read and write began to be rigorously forced. The opportunities for slaves to acquire a trade or hire out their time began to disappear. A whole series of political compromises meant to resolve the differences between the slave holdings and the Free states, seemed likely to cement the status quo and postpone different possibilities. Thomas Jefferson has sketched out for emancipation indefinitely. There was insistence upon the southern states to define their social forms existing within their borders without any feudal intervention. Three events were very important-one, a slave insurrection led by Nat Turner succeeded briefly in Virginia in 1831; two, the Virginia legislature discussed a proposal for freeing all slaves within the state borders only to reject it; three, William Lloyd Garrison founded anti-slavery journal, The Liberator. The growth of the abolitionist movement and the fear of slave insurrection encouraged the south to close ranks to defend its peculiar institutions. In 1831, the debate in Virginia turned out to be the last time the abolition of slavery was given such a public airing below the Mason-Dixon Line.

      There were also urgent similar demands from the North from the black and white writers. In 1844, the most tribes removed to the west but even there they were unsafe. The rapid westward movement of population led to the election of the first President from a region west of Appalachians, Andrew Jackson, meant that the white wanted most of the land to which the Native Americans were removed. Andrew Jackson claimed that his policy would keep the tribes out of danger and oppression and bring parental care to the ‘General Government’. In 1841, another President William Henry Harrison summed up the thinking that the subjected Native Americans during the period to dispossession and decimation.

      Many leaders spoke on behalf of the Native Americans. Some of them spoke out in favor of the abolition of slavery or rights of women were fired from their belief in the social gospel. By 1830s, three in four Americans belonged to church. Most of them were either evangelical or protestant. The Baptist and Methodist groups were predominant. The newly converted subscribed generally to a faith that emphasized a purely spiritual redemption. They tended to identify the arrival of God’s kingdom with the political destiny of the United States. The progress of democracy was taken to be a measure of progress towards the millennium. Those who opposed or supported slavery claimed to be acting in obedience to God. In 1834, the American Anti-Slavery Convention met its Declaration certainly invoked the Declaration of Independence, with its thoroughly rationalistic allegiance to natural rights. Even among the writers and thinkers, there was a sudden split in the anti-slavery movement. In total, the period is full slowly raising social-economic prosperity without which the production of the romantic literature was impossible.

      The Romantic Movement which originated in Germany and quickly spread to England, France, and beyond, reached America around the year 1820. Some 20 years after William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge revolutionized English poetry by publishing their masterpiece, Lyrical Ballads in America, as in Europe, fresh new vision electrified the artistic and intellectual circles. Yet there was an important difference: Romanticism in America coincided with the period of national expansion and the discovery of a distinctive American voice. The solidification of a national identity and the surging idealism and the passion of Romanticism nurtured the masterpieces of “the American Renaissance.” The Romantic ideas centered on art as inspiration, the spiritual and aesthetic till pension of nature, and metaphors of organic growth. Art, rather than Science, the Romantics argued, could best express universal truth. The Romantics underscored the Importance of expressive art for the individual and society. In his essay “The Poet” (1844), Ralph Waldo Emerson, perhaps the most influential writer of the Romantic era, liserts: “For all men live by truth, and stand in need of expression. In love, in art, in avarice, in politics, in labor, in limes, we study to utter our painful secret. The man is only half himself, the other half is his expression.”

Romantic Fiction During The Period

      Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, and the Transcendentalists represent the first great literary generation produced in the United States. In the case of the novelists, the Romantic vision tended to express itself in the mm Hawthorne called the “Romance,” a heightened, emotional, and symbolic form of the Novel. Romances were not mere love stories but serious novels that used special techniques to communicate the complex and subtle meanings of fictional language. Instead of carefully defining realistic characters through a wealth of detail, as the most English or continental novelists did, Hawthorne, Melville, mike Poe shaped heroic figures larger than life, burning with mythic significance. The typical protagonists of the American Romance are much haunted, alienated individuals. Hawthorne’s Arthur Dimmesdale or Hester Irene in The Scarlet Letter, Melville’s Ahab in Moby-Dick. Many isolated and obsessed characters of Poe’s tales are lonely protagonists pitted against unknowable, dark fates that in some mysterious way grow out of their deepest unconscious selves. The symbolic plots reveal hidden actions of the anguished spirit.

      The main reason for such fictional exploration into the hidden recesses of the human soul is the absence of settled, the traditional community life in America. The great English novelists - Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, William Thackeray - lived in a complex, well-articulated, traditional society and shared with their reader's attitudes that informed their realistic fiction. The American novelists faced with a history of strife and revolution, geography of vast wilderness, and a fluid and a relatively classless democratic society. Their novels frequently reveal a revolutionary absence of tradition. Many English novels show main characters of the poor rising on the economic and social ladder, perhaps because of a good marriage or the discovery of a hidden aristocratic past but the buried plots do not challenge the rigid aristocratic social structure of England. On the contrary, it confirms. The rise of the main character satisfies the wish fulfillment of the hero mainly of the middle-class readers.

      In contrast to the English novel, the American novelist had to depend on his/her own devices. America was, in part, an undefined, constantly moving frontier populated by immigrants speaking different foreign languages and| following strange and crude ways of life. Thus, the main character in American literal tribes, as in Melville’s Type, or exploring a wilderness like, James Fenimore Cooper’s Leather-stocking, or witnessing lonely visions from the grave, like Poe’s solitary individuals, or meeting the devil walking in the forest, like Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown. Virtually, all the great American protagonists have been “loners”. The democratic American individual had, as it were, to invent himself.

      The serious-minded American novelist had to invent new forms as well - hence, the sprawling, idiosyncratic shape of Melville's novel Moby-Dick and Poe’s dreamlike, wandering narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Few American novels achieve formal perfection, even today. Instead of borrowing tested literary methods, they tended to invent new creative techniques. In America, it is not enough to be a Institutional and definable social unit, for the old and intuitional gets left behind. The new, innovative force is the Miller of attention. The Romance form is dark and twinkling, indicating how difficult it is to create an identity a stable society. Most of the Romantic heroes die behind all the sailors except Ishmael are drowned in Moby-mock, and the sensitive but sinful minister Arthur I Hininesdale dies at the end of The Scarlet Letter. The self-divided, tragic note in American literature becomes dominant in the novels, even before the Civil War Tested the greater social tragedy of a society at war with pelf.

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