The Eight Periods of
American Literature
• Late 1500s-1620 Native American & Age of
• 1620-1720 The Puritan Age
• 1720-1820 The Age of Enlightenment
• 1820-1865 The Romantic Age
• 1865-1895 The Age of Realism
• 1895-1920 The Age of Naturalism
• 1920-1945 The Age of Disillusionment
• 1945-Present The Age of Anxiety
Native American Literature
• Primarily oral– Passed down from generation to generation through
storytelling and performance
• Includes myths to explain creation and tales of
heroes and tricksters
• Originally over 200 distinct groups and 500
• Collected in early 1900s by anthropologists
(study human culture and growth over time)
• (Ever play telephone?)
Emphasis in N.A. Literature
• Nature is “alive and aware”
• Kinship with animals, plants, heavenly
bodies, the land, and the elements
• Humans and non-humans part of a sacred
• Humans do NOT have control over nature
– must act to maintain a right relationship with
Trickster Tales
• Mythic folk tales
• Often involved a coyote or fox. Why?
• Use animals or humans who engage in
deceit, violence, and magic
• Explains features of the world
First Explorers
• European’s traveled for
– Adventure and recognition
– To Find great riches
• Had been to India and China
• Looking for Trade
• Slave Trade began with Portuguese in 1400’s
– To find land-commissioned for their country
– To avoid religious persecution
– To spread Christianity
Explorers and Slavery
• Travel to East Indies brought first African slaves
• Africans with most Spanish and Portuguese
• Indians were to vulnerable to European diseases
• English in Jamestown brought first African
Indentured servants in 1600’s
– By 1640, first American-built slave ship
First Explorers
• Written Accounts-Historical & Personal
– Christopher Columbus- for Spain
– Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca
-Spanish to Florida
– William Bradford-Plymouth, MA
– John Smith -VA
– Olaudah Equiano-slave narrative
Historical Narratives
Audience/Point of View
Author’s Purpose
Primary and Secondary Sources
Puritan Literature
• Devotional in nature
• Non-Fiction
• Sermons, essays, speeches,
prayers, instructional;
minimal poetry
• Anne Bradstreet, Edward
Taylor, Jonathan Edwards
Puritan Beliefs
• Predestination-an unfolding of God’s
• Elect-very few are saved and will go to
– Knowledge of salvation from
religious conversion
• Original Sin-human beings are
inherently evil
– Repentance (showing regret)
depended on grace of God
– Sin could never be completely erasedguilt and remorse were signs of
Puritan Beliefs
• Divine Providence-belief God
intervenes in daily life
• Hard Work-a life devoted to
service and duty
– Christian Commonwealth-each
person puts the good of the group
ahead of personal concerns
– Education- primary way to fight
atheism and instill the value of hard
Puritan Beliefs
• Theocracy-the Bible was the
supreme authority on Earth –
including government
• Preoccupied with punishing and
wiping out sinfulness even in
other Christians
– believed in witches as instrument of
the devil
– Intolerant of other viewpoints
– Execution
– Excommunication
Puritan Beliefs
• Rules of morality were severe and
– No play on Sundays
– Relations between the sexes
– Adultery, theft- punishable by death
– Blasphemy and disrespect to one’s
elders led to public whipping; the
pillory on the gallows
• Faith in natural goodness-born without sin
• Helping others
• Possible to improve oneself-birth,
economy, religion, politics
• Caused Writers to search into all aspects of
the world
• Interested in the classics as well as the
• Optimism
• Sense of personal responsibility for success
• Writing celebrated nature rather than civilization
• Nature is beautiful, strange, and mysterious
• Romantics valued imagination/emotion over
rationality and reason
• Emotion and Creativity more important in
individual than reason
• Irrational depths of human nature explored
• Human potential for social growth
Romantics: Friends to the
• Transcendentalism: literary, philosophical,
spiritual movement during the Romantic Period
(transcend: to move beyond or across)
• Perceived truth through intuition-a spiritual
reality which goes beyond the empirical and
• Oversoul-universal soul shared by God,
humanity and nature. Since humanity shares a
soul with God and nature-man intuitively knows
things about them
• Nature worlds are within our inner worlds-all is
symbolic of the spirit
Romantic and Transcendentalist
Washington Irving
Edgar Allen Poe
Margaret Fuller
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Henry David Thoreau
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
• Literature moves away from nature,
spirituality, and creativity
• Accurate and detailed portrayal actual life
typical to middle and lower class
• Class is important
• Ugliness of war, poverty, and resulting sin
• Stephen Crane, Mark Twain, Ambrose
Bierce, Bret Harte
• A branch of Realism
• Writers focused on how natural
environment and instinct influence human
• Fate of humans is beyond an individual’s
• Humans are products of their environments
• Disillusionment-to become disenchanted or
disappointed; to be stripped of an illusion
• Writing mimics confusion of the time
• Stream of Consciousness, free verse poetry
• Ending left for readers to figure out based on
clues in the novel or short story
• Themes implied-reader feels uncertain about
• Reflects feelings of loss of innocence because
reality of situation becomes clear
• Examples:
Writers during the Age of
• F. Scott Fitzgerald
• William Faulkner
• Ernest Hemingway
The Age of Anxiety
• Social changes for women, AfricanAmericans, Japanese-Americans,
Communist Americans
• J.D. Salinger, James Thurber, E.B. White,
W. H. Auden, Tennessee Williams, Truman
Capote, Arthur Miller

The Seven Periods of American Literature