American Literature

What is American Literature and What Makes it Unique?

American literature is a rich and diverse body of written works that has shaped the history of the United States and its former colonies. While it has its roots in the expansive tradition of English literature, American literature has developed its own unique characteristics that set it apart from other national literatures.

History of American Literature

Before the arrival of European colonizers, the native peoples of America expressed their artistic talents and passed on their traditions through chants, songs, and spoken narratives. While these verbal genres may not fit the traditional Western understanding of literature, they are considered “literary” because they embody the creative and expressive responses of the Native people to their culture.

When European empires colonized America, writing became a means to document the effects of colonization, such as the unintentional spread of diseases and the enslavement of Native Americans. Writing also provided opportunities for individuals, regardless of their social status, to reshape their lives and express their perspectives. The establishment of Harvard University in 1636 and the presence of printing presses in New England contributed to the growth of American literature.

Themes and Style of American Literature

The war of 1812 between the United States and the British Empire marked a turning point in the development of American literature. This conflict, driven by trade restrictions, forced recruitment of American sailors, and British support for Native American tribes, fueled a desire among Americans to create a distinct literary and cultural identity separate from England.

American literature during this period featured humorous works about the American frontier, romantic and nature-inspired poetry, and short stories that explored human psychology and pushed the boundaries of fiction. The transcendentalist movement emerged as a response to the growing desire for American literary uniqueness, advocating for individualism and a state of culture and society.

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Native American autobiographies and the works of minority authors also began to gain prominence, offering new perspectives and experiences. Dark Romanticism, a subgenre that portrayed characters prone to sin and self-destruction, became popular in American literature, incorporating images of evil in the form of satan, devils, ghosts, werewolves, vampires, and ghouls.

What Makes American Literature Unique?

American literature is unique due to its diverse influences and the evolution of its own distinct style. It was shaped by the traditions of Native Americans and the cultural impact of European colonizers. Initially, American literature focused on documenting the experiences of the people in the New World and influencing policy makers in the development of civilization, exploration of natural resources, and understanding of Native American traditions and cultures.

Over time, American literature expanded into various forms, including fiction and non-fiction, which reflected the sentiments of writers on political, economic, cultural, and social issues. American literature broke away from its English origins during the 17th century, developing a unique American characteristic and promoting individualism. It provided a platform for writers to experiment with human emotions, philosophy, and psychology.

American literature pushed the boundaries of imagination and creativity, with writers constantly exploring new ideas and thoughts. This can be attributed to the contemporary writers’ attitude of artistic expression and freedom. American literature serves as a mirror of America’s history, well-being, and characteristics. It not only chronicles the history of the American people but also reflects their creative thoughts and imaginations.

American literature is a powerful tool for defining American characteristics, such as liberalism and individualism. It captures the essence of the American culture, incorporating influences from European colonizers and the rich traditions of the early settlers of the United States.


American literature is a vibrant and diverse body of written works that has evolved over centuries. It has its roots in the traditions of Native Americans and the influence of European colonizers. American literature is unique due to its distinct characteristics, themes, and styles. It reflects the history, well-being, and characteristics of the American people and serves as a defining tool of American culture. Through its constant evolution and exploration of new ideas, American literature continues to shape the literary landscape and inspire readers around the world.


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