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The history of the development of the American Literature has its roots in the oral traditions of the indigenous tribe that lived in the country before the Europeans. Due to the lack of a unified written language during the time, the Europeans and other explorers in the country opted to use the English written language. Thus, most of the early productions focused on the narratives that touched on the experiences and the adventures of the settlers. As time went by, more colonies began to establish, thus leading to the emergence of wake-up camps. Similarly, the focus of the writers changed from personal life experiences to the natural beauty of America and its landscapes.
Eventually, some Americans began to have concerns on the nature of growth of America, especially as the country was becoming a new nation. Therefore, they decided to sit down and document the literature that urged fellow Americans to lead both just and wise lifestyle. The instance resulted in the change of the American literature, which ended in the periods of revolutionary war. For example, most of the literature works made during the time focused on the relationship between the British colonies and others. At the same time, the core of their debate in the literature works was on the case of American’s acquisition of freedom from the British rule. For instance, the aspect of rule from the British that Americans lamented about was slavery cases. The nation indeed waged war against the vice so that they could restore back their original status quo of a slave-free nation. In fact, the orchestrators of the development of the literature materials were mainly from the African-American descent or origin, thus, the poetries touched on African Americans. Following the instance, the current paper presents a study on how the literature played role in the American war.
From the period of 1880s, the American literature started to become independent. For example, some writers during the period were only busy documenting trifles that concerned the American issues. Likewise, the literature they documented comprised of the stories that revolved around the changes the country was passing through. It included the transition periods from a group of colonialists of European to a unified nation. While the writers were busy researching the issue of identity within the American literature, which is different from though has related to European works, the country was grooming for a civil war. In this regard, the major area of focus was the issue of slavery, where most writers drove inspiration in documenting the phenomenon with the goal of waging war against colonialists through the messages they conveyed in their literary productions. Similarly, there were also a lot of creative progresses taking place as the nation underwent divisions and polarization over the issue of slavery. Consequently, it led to the emergence of various American literary productions in the period of 19th century. Writers such as Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman had to part ways because of their sharp difference in the production of poetry works, since each of them was aimed to share the content that could suit his or her needs. Also, the case of Romanticism found its way in the American literature at the same period, and as result also had influences on the writing of various authors.
One of the drawbacks of the American literary imagination is its incapability. For example, despite the effort put in the production, ensuring that poems, novels or plays brings out the central issue of crisis within the national context was a problem. Additionally, the notable failure over the same comes out to be more curious due to the case of prominent characteristics of the moods of the southern people’s literature works. Their moods in the regard have indeed contributed to the compulsive remembrance of the Civil War cases. However, within the context of southern writers, the case here would appear to be more of primary reason for the demand from the southern dwellers for war and peace. In an opposite manner, the instance did receive fewer concerns towards the reconstruction of the exact time to wage war in comparison to the repercussions expected when venturing into the war. Moreover, the other thought was that opting to engage in war could also lead to the loss of the southern culture, which in some cases could even threaten the nation’s survival. Following the development, many literary works from the area resorted to express their opposition on the matter as a way of standing in solidarity with the nation. Some of the works include Marse Chan’s A Tale of Old Virginia, Thomas Nelson Page and his other production of The Sound and Fury. Others are the Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner and The Moviegoer and The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy, and Sophie's Choice by William Styron.
The study will be driven by the following objectives:
- To explore the role played by literature in the American Civil War.
- To establish on the types of literature publications was available during the Civil War.
- To evaluate the lessons learned from reading the literature on Civil War with regards to the literary history of America.
Following the research objectives above, the research question for the study will be as follows:
- What was the role played by literature in the American Civil War?
- Which kind of literature publications was available during the Civil War?
- What are the lessons learned from reading the literature on Civil War with regards to the literary history of America?
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Role played by literature in the American Civil War
Indeed, the literature played a great role in the American Civil War with regards to the cause of divisions within the literature context of American history. According to criticism from Christopher Hager and Cody Marrs, the year 1865 almost had the provision of the unquestionable role of students, teachers and scholars within the American literature. “Literature of the America up to 1865”, “Literary context of Americans past the year 1865” were the statements that formed major titles of the publication, anthologies and critical works based on the American literature. At the same time, Hager and Marrs asked on whether the episode in the literary history of America based on Civil War was indeed the result of rupture and warrant for its extension. Most of the accredited writers of the period of 1850s, such as Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and Frederick Douglass, proceeded to the production of relevant works during the war times. However, the reality in the association of the literary movement and the end of the 19th century had indeed had significant anecdotes within the context of antebellum literature. Therefore, it poses the value of the study of the American literature, especially the nineteenth century [publications in the event of carrying out the explorations on continuities.
The reality is that Americans published and read more about the instances of war and the aftermaths of it. Following the production of the literary materials, it further led to the culmination of violence and trauma with regards to the interpretations of the Civil War. Tracing back from the period of 1865, it is possible that literature had another effect on the desire to search for the role of meaning of war itself and the final repercussions. Notable personas in the traditional American literary canon include Henry James and Edith Wharton. They mostly omit the case of the main players of American resistance during the period of 1850 until late century. The same Americans wrote, carried publications, and studied more about the war to evaluate its development, history and potential repercussions. In this regard, it brings into attention that the culture of the Civil War literature comprises of various popular and highbrow aspects. The phenomenon entails the headline news, reports on the emancipation, as well as songs and poems dedicated to foster patriotism plus also a number of fictional works. Indeed, it is the literature that was main cause of violence and trauma of the Civil War in America due to the contents they were preaching to the society. For example, the literary works made the Americans come into realization of both sides of the conflict with regards to war and its effects altogether.
The literature publications in the American Civil War
There were a number of various publications that were available during the Civil War period. Most of the literature presented exploration of the ways, through which the literary culture contributed to the shaping of the meaning of war for people who were living with it. The collection of the publications is from the 2014 Newberry Library and Terra Foundation for American Art exhibition; Home Front: Daily Life in the Civil War North by Peter John Brownlee and Daniel Greene. The collection here also complements with another digital collection for the classroom: Home Front: The Visual Culture of the Civil War North. The other excellent example is the collection from Frank Moore that comprises of the anecdotes and familiar poems on the Civil War. Moore was a renowned journalist during the period of 1860s, who had many publications on the realities of the war. Example in the journalistic work is the 12-volume history entitled The Rebellion Record that begins with Abraham Lincoln’s portrait on the frontispiece.
In some situations, the southern experience of the Civil War from the recordings contained memoirs by Confederate army officers also warranted a place within the context of literature itself. An example is the Destruction and the Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Late War by Richard Taylor, War Reminiscence and Stuart Cavalry Campaigns by John Singleton Mosbyy and Lee in Pennsylvania in Annals of the War by Leading Participants by James Longstreet. However, the most significant Civil War presentation is the The History of a Campaign That Failed. The publication is more of a quasi-fictional memoir, where Mark Twain, who was a private officer within the Confederate unit in Missouri, presents the description of his enlistment, short service and dissertation. Through following the implication of the profound quest for the actual meaning of war within the social institution context The History of a Campaign That Failed is a unique phenomenon within the context of writing on the Civil War.
One thing to note is that the direct application of theme setting of Civil War within the context of the Southern poetry was not as pronounced as in the periods of Timrod and Ryan. An example is the most renowned poems of the 20th century within the Southern Literary Renaissance, which is “Ode to the Confederate Dead” by Allen Tate. The author utilizes the character of the dead soldiers from the South to be both the defenders of a historical society and the symbol of capability for chivalric action that got lost in the fragmented, narcissistic society of the current century. Likewise, the critic of the Tate for applying the aspect of a Confederate dead is more of a symbolic in nature. Meanwhile, Donald Davidson presented the "The Army of Tennessee”, which is a poem of conventional heroic manner. However, the port failed to publish it. In “Lee in the Mountains”, which appeared to be his finest poem on Civil War, the writer touches on the longer mediation that failed due to lack of modified aspects of consciousness in the context of the survival of the southern culture.
Lessons learned from reading the literature on Civil War with regards to the literary history of America
Northerners learned more about the Civil War through various texts as discussed in the publications. One of such publications, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, was indeed a popular weekly New York based paper. The paper through its cover on October 25, 1862 gave a good report on the nature of Jeb Stuart’s October 10–12 raid on Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. In the illustration that appeared at one of the bottom half of the pages, the paper provided a reminder effect about the Civil War in the United States and the conflict that the country raised against Dakota. During that war with Dakota, the Indians of Minnesota identified themselves as part of the Northwest. Thus, the Americans were not happy since they could not easily let their land go to the hands of the foreigners. As a result, the Civil War resulted into the development of pressures of the Indian nation. Consequently, both the Union and the Confederacy had claimed the territory, which was external to the already existing states. The instance had led to the emergence of tensions in the year 1862 among the inhabitants of Dakota and the settlers, who later got the support from the US army. The aftermath of the conflict was the loss of lives of many people from both sides. However, December of the same year saw the surrendering of many bands of Dakota following the intensive pressure brought by army. At the same time, the United States held in captive up to 400 warriors and by December 26th executed 38 men. The situation marked the largest executing episode in the history of America, and was reflected in literature.
In conclusion remarks, the American literature before the Civil War had a unique ability to cause emotions that promulgated into the development of upheavals, such as the instances that addressed slavery matters. However, even after the revolutionary war, the American literature has quality documentation of the reality. For instance, most authors were primarily focusing on the literature publications concerned with their life experiences and expertise. Consequently, the period of American literature instance changed the course of American literature.
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