American hedonism closes its eyes to death, and has been
incapable of exorcising the destructive power of the moment
with a wisdom like that of the Epicureans of antiquity.

- Octavio Paz
Death is un-American, and an affront to every citizen's inalienable
right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

- Arnold Toynbee
the_band_huge
the_band_huge
"As long as such self-serving hypocrisy
motivates America's response, Ukraine will
only sink further into needless bloodshed,
and that blood will be on America's head."
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
the_band_huge
In America everybody is of the opinion that he has no social superiors,
since all men are equal, but he does not admit that he has no social inferiors,
for, from the time of Jefferson onward, the doctrine that all men are equal
applies only upwards, not downwards.

― Bertrand Russell
Global Coke
Global Coke
"What those 'racists' are reflexively and rightly reacting
to is the soulless chill as the fire goes out beneath the
melting pot. Those who think America can thrive as a
'cultural mosaic' are worse than fools; they're Canadians."

JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Global Coke
Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe.
It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster,
in which the taints, the sickness and the inhumanity of Europe
have grown to appalling dimensions.

― Frantz Fanon
What the United States does best is understand itself.
What it does worst is understand others.

- Carlos Fuentes
Poor Mexico, so far from God
and so close to the United States.

- Porfirio Diaz
the_band_huge
the_band_huge
"Indeed, everything about the American southland was magical
and exotic to the young Canadian musicians, from the sights
and smells to the drawling manner of speech to, especially, the
central role that music played in people’s everyday lives."

JOIN THE DISCUSSION
the_band_huge
America is a mistake, a giant mistake.
- Sigmund Freud
America is an adorable woman chewing tobacco.
- Auguste Bartholdi
chimerica
chimerica
"This is the tone of the China Century, a subtle
mix of Nazi/Soviet bravado and 'oriental'
cunning -- easily misunderstood, and
never
heard before, in a real enemy, by the West."

JOIN THE DISCUSSION
chimerica
Coke and 'America the Beautiful'
Coke and 'America the Beautiful'
"And for the others who argued for English-only
patriotism, I note that there are more than
57 million Americans (about 20% of the nation)
whose first-language is not English...."

JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Coke and 'America the Beautiful'
predator-firing-missile4
predator-firing-missile4
"This is the behavior, and the fate, of paranoid
old-world tyrants like Hitler or Saddam, not liberal new-world democracies like America pretends to be."

JOIN THE DISCUSSION
predator-firing-missile4
America is the only nation in history which
miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to
degeneration without the usual interval of civilization.

- Georges Clemenceau
I found there a country with thirty-two religions and only one sauce.
- Charles–Maurice Talleyrand
A people who are still, as it were, but in the gristle,
and not yet hardened into the bone of manhood.

- Edmund Burke
America is the only country ever founded on the printed word.
- Marshall McLuhan
"The removal of racist sports nicknames (and mascots) seems outrageously belated
-- why, exactly, has this civil rights cause
taken so long to gain momentum?"

JOIN THE DISCUSSION
The atom bomb is a paper tiger which the
United States reactionaries use to scare people.
It looks terrible, but in fact it isn't.

- Mao Tse-tung
They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but
they kept only one; they promised to take our land, and they did.

- Red Cloud
In America sex is an obsession,
in other parts of the world it is a fact.

- Marlene Dietrich
I would rather have a nod from an American,
than a snuff-box from an emperor.

- Lord Byron
One day the United States discovered it was an empire.
But it didn’t know what an empire was.
It thought that an empire was merely the biggest of all corporations.

- Roberto Calasso
Americans are so enamored of equality, they would rather
be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.

- Alexis de Tocqueville
newtown
newtown
"No one, I thought, could watch those scenes, of young children slaughtered en masse, and so many parents grieving, without thinking that this, finally, would tip some kind of balance in the country."
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
newtown
If you are prepared to accept the consequences of your dreams
then you must still regard America today with the same naive
enthusiasm as the generations that discovered the New World.

- Jean Baudrillard
I am willing to love all mankind, except an American.
- Samuel Johnson
America, thou half brother of the world;
With something good and bad of every land.

- Philip Bailey
"What can be more powerful than disinformation in the Information Age?"
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
England and America are two countries separated by the same language.
- Sir Walter Besant
Christopher Columbus, as everyone knows, is honored by
posterity because he was the last to discover America.

- James Joyce
Now, from America, empty indifferent things
are pouring across, sham things, dummy life.

- Rainer Maria Rilke
If the United States is to recover fortitude and lucidity,
it must recover itself, and to recover itself it must
recover the "others"- the outcasts of the Western world.
- Octavio Paz
The youth of America is their oldest tradition.
It has been going on now for three hundred years.

- Oscar Wilde
"America really is, for most Americans, all things considered, a good place to be, and all they really want is for everyone to enjoy the same privilege and pleasure."
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
When good Americans die they go to Paris;
when bad Americans die they go to America.

- Oscar Wilde
jobs drug dealer
jobs drug dealer
They're nothing more than traffickers; and as the smart traffickers'll tell you, you don't use the merchandise. They are just inoculating their kids with a tech-drug serum, to immunize them against the very merchandise that put the **** bowling alley in their basement.
jobs drug dealer
America is therefore the land of the future, where, in the ages that
lie before us, the burden of the World's History shall reveal itself.

- Georg Friedrich Hegel
America is a large, friendly dog in a very small room.
Every time it wags its tail, it knocks over a chair.

- Arnold Toynbee
Americans always try to do the right thing after they've tried everything else.
- Winston Churchill
The thing that impresses me most about Americans
is the way parents obey their children.

- Edward, Duke of Windsor
Americans are apt to be unduly interested in discovering
what average opinion believes average opinion to be.

- John Maynard Keynes
Europe was created by history.
America was created by philosophy.

- Margaret Thatcher
America is God's crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of
Europe are melting and reforming!... The real American has not yet arrived.
He is only in the crucible, I tell you - he will be the fusion of all races.

- Israel Zangwill
American dreams are strongest in the hearts of those
who have seen America only in their dreams.

- Pico Iyer
America: It's like Britain, only with buttons.
- Ringo Starr
The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer.
It has never yet melted.

― D.H. Lawrence
I have two conflicting visions of America.
One is a kind of dream landscape and the other is a kind of black comedy.

― Bono
The American mirror, said the voice, the sad American mirror
of wealth and poverty and constant useless metamorphosis,
the mirror that sails and whose sails are pain.

― Roberto Bolaño

December 6, 2020

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Author Topic: American Literary Founders...


Geoff-
Hamilton
Administrator
Posts: 172
Geoff Hamilton
American Literary Founders...
on: September 30, 2014, 12:41

This question is primarily aimed at my 'Introduction to American Literature' class, but replies are welcome from anywhere...

What work of American literature has been most influential in defining your conception of the United States (that is, what is your prime literary “Founder,” to use the Their America vocabulary)?

My own choice is Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). I first read it as a kid, and it gave me an immediate and enduring sense of fundamental differences between Canada and America. The latter seemed, in comparison to my safe but bland home in Northern Ontario, romantically dynamic, mythically alive, and, even in its hinterlands, electric with possibilities for adventure, intrigue, trouble. Every place in America was somewhere, and promised infinite pathways to other somewheres, too.

I remember paddling down the Big Pine River, not long after reading the novel, and wishing that its wooded shores might be capable of bringing forth a runaway in need of help, a pair of royal charlatans, or even a vigilante mob. Nothing so vivid could happen here, in adventureless Thunder Bay, I felt, for the real action was all down south (in there America).

More or less, it still feels that way.



gaudreault
New Member
Posts: 1
gaudreault
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: October 3, 2014, 13:23

I believe that the series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder "Little House on the Prairie" was my first literary introduction to the United States and was definitely influential in my early definition of the country, although I wasn't aware of it at the time. I was in elementary school and understood that the stories were written based on pioneer times however I couldn't get over the vastness of the country described in the books. Wilder painted an image of an enormous land full of dangers and adventures which seemed so distant from my own experiences in Canada. To me, the United States seemed like such an exciting place with a rich history compared to what I knew at home.



leahtucker
Novice Their American
Posts: 6
leahtucker
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: October 4, 2014, 16:24

F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" was the first novel I encountered that really made me think about how I viewed America, and more specifically, the "american dream".

I always found it intriguing that Fitzgerald explored and exposed the problems that the "american dream" held. It was the first time I came across something that painted it in a more negative light then positive, and this really stood out for me. While this novel still exists in a realm of fantastic parties and immense wealth, there is something more real about this story then many others. It offered me something new and for that reason, Fitzgerald sticks out as a major literary founder for me.



markcruz
Novice Their American
Posts: 5
markcruz
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: October 4, 2014, 16:38

John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath"

I became interested in the meaning of property ownership after reading this book. The book places emphasis on questions surrounding what it means to own land, and the consequences of losing it. The book takes place during the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s, where people were driven from their homesteads by drought and poverty. Telling the story of the Joad family, the novel explores an America that turned it's back on Americans.



krstevenso-
n
Novice Their American
Posts: 5
krstevenson
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: November 23, 2014, 14:39

Jack Kerouac's "On The Road"

"On The Road" for me is a quintessential American novel. Kerouac, one of the pioneer authors of the beat generation, illustrates life in post-war (WWII) America. This novel chronicles Kerouac's journeys across America as he and his friends search for something greater than what they already have. This quest the characters in Kerouac's novel embark on to find a seemingly ultimate freedom, a higher purpose, really captures the essence of America for me. Kerouac's adventures embody the powerful, essential theme of freedom that is part of the foundation of America. "On The Road" is one of my absolute favourite novels and without a doubt Jack Kerouac is a key literary founder in the realm of American literature.



amruelland
Novice Their American
Posts: 5
amruelland
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: November 23, 2014, 14:43

My first encounter with American literature was reading "Charlotte's Web" by E.B White in elementary school. For me the Arabel's painted the perfect "American dream" family. This book introduced me to the idea of what it meant in America to have the ideal family life: mother and father happily married, children, large home/farm where they worked to support their family. This booked shaped my idea of what family life was like, it was a family structure very similar to what I experienced growing up. The Arabel family is what i pictured as the perfect American family, although they faced issues throughout the story it showed how strong of a unit this family was. This book helped me to draw a connection between my life in Canada and Ferns life in America, it made the United States seem much more familiar to me because I was able to connect to the characters experiences in the book.



jmlevesque
Novice Their American
Posts: 6
Janelle
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: December 3, 2014, 14:39

I also think Gatsby for me is an American “literary founder” of sorts. I agree with Leah that it is one of the first novels that ultimately paints a different picture of America—Fitzgerald dismantles the idyllic, nostalgic notions of America (similar to what Geoff described). He does it in a way that enchants our sensibilities resulting from preconceived notions of America as Winthrop’s “city upon a hill”, and then tears them down in the face of corruption.

Gatsby is indeed a story of the corruption of the American dream, or rather the ultimate realization that it is only a façade. Through the perspective of the stock character and unreliable narrator Nick, we see the American dream through his eyes, in all its glamour and lustre—a life of enchantment that is always just out of reach. Gatsby’s absence for much of the novel seems to reflect this unattainable aspect of the American dream—that it is reserved for the elite, or perhaps that it is simply a hollow pursuit (which I think becomes the resonating theme Fitzgerald speaks to). Gatsby himself is a symbol of the American dream in the context of the economic prosperity and consumerism of a capitalist’s paradise. The cynical disillusionment of the novel is reminiscent of T.S. Eliot’s writings, if we compared America to the “cactus land” that a population of “hollow men” (Americans) inhabit. In this way, living in a society characterized by economic fertility is ironically positioned against the resulting sterility of the psyche, and of human progress. We see such in a love destroyed by social status and wealth.

The famous concluding line of the novel, “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther […] So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The passage aptly articulates that the concepts of individualism and exceptionalism that are bound up within the idealistic package of the so-called American dream, are precisely so—a dream. The “orgastic green light of the future” seems perpetually suspended in the future, and receding time is evoked in the imagery of receding tides, emulating America’s inability for real progress, making the American dream unattainable, in its ceaseless thrust back into the past.



Kathleen-
Fox
Novice Their American
Posts: 5
Kathleen Fox
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: December 4, 2014, 23:44

Steering Clear of Anti-American Rhetoric: A Failed Experiment

I will attempt to reflect on my very specific, altered conception of foundational American literature. Mostly, this reflection intends to draw attention to the kind of American poetry that I have come to appreciate as incredible works of art, rather than discussing the literary works that have informed my cynicism. This habit, in itself, is quite important. As Geoff has mentioned, a student’s smugness that is often present in the beginning stages of an American Literature class is relatively problematic; differing from a nation’s ideology is not an appropriate (or substantial) reason to dimiss the nation’s creative and artistic potential. To put simply, so much of the world’s most exquisite poetics have dripped from American pens.

Thus, if only for a minute, let us dismiss the successes of America’s revolutionary literature, America's post-independence literature, and even the works associated with the American Civil War; instead, I am fast forwarding to a work that has established itself as an icon of post world war II America. More specifically, the Beat Generation: Allen Ginsberg’s poem, “Howl”.

If nothing else, “Howl” speaks of human complexities; and if nothing else, as does America’s chaos. Maybe my appreciation for American Literature can be attributed to Ginsberg’s ability to encapsulate so many American vices in one breath; perhaps it is his hypnotizing way of turning political criticism into extraordinary poetry. When Ginsberg wrote "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness...", he became cosmological.

I suppose I’ll say goodbye now; you see, I am returning to my old ways.



acormier2
Novice Their American
Posts: 5
acormier2
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: December 5, 2014, 11:54

My first taste of American literature, at least that I remember, is E.B. White's "Charlotte's Web". It was my absolute favourite book when I was a kid; I read it over and over and over again, and it never became boring. I grew up in the countryside surrounded by farms, and every spring I would find two or three baby spiders making their webs outside of my bedroom window. Because of that, the book was really relatable.

The book offers a glimpse into the simple, rural American life which, now that I think about it, differed from my childhood experience in many ways. I think I noticed it when I was a kid but never thought much about it. Whether the characters were going for a swim in the river, going to church, playing on a rope swing in the barn, or attending a county fair where people gather from all around the state, there's just something about this lifestyle that reflects on American ideals and values. Family, friendship, patriotism, working hard to be successful, sacrifice...all of these are core American values and, to a younger version of myself, defined what the perfect American family is all about.



ZTownsend
Novice Their American
Posts: 5
ZTownsend
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: December 5, 2014, 12:38

Personally, I think To Kill a Mockingbird was most significant to me in this regard. It is widely taught in classrooms both in America and around the world for many reasons - it showed us the racial turmoil that took place in the South during the Great Depression and we also saw the flaws in the U.S. justice system in the extensive courtroom scene. The use of Scout, a child, as the main character allowed us to bear witness to how her perception of small-town life and the larger world around her shifted as she grew older and lost her innocence. What I read in this book is still how I subconsciously perceive some towns in the South to be - for better or worse.



C. M.-
Farrell
Novice Their American
Posts: 6
C. M. Farrell
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: October 20, 2015, 21:40

I originally posted a slightly different response to this question, but as I gave the matter more thought, one text came to mind again and again. The literary passage which most epitomizes the American spirit for me comes from a speech given by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1910. The speech was entitled "Citizenship in a Republic," and the passage I've cited is often referred to as "The Man in the Arena."

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Americans see themselves as men and women of action. While it may be a fair critique that we sometimes rush into action without sufficient reflection, I sense that Americans would much prefer to act intemperately rather than sit back armchair philosophizing. While recognizing the jingoistic overtones, I believe this passage appeals to a wider, everyday notion of the pragmatic, "get 'er done" dimension of American exceptionalism.



MelissaRos-
ati
Novice Their American
Posts: 8
MelissaRosati
America Who?
on: October 22, 2015, 11:41

Expanding on a few other posts from previous years, F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby", has to be the novel that most prominently demonstrates my view of America and more specifically the "American Dream". Gatsby, with his lavish parties and important personal relations, is simply delusional in his effort to obtain the ultimate life; the white picket fence, the beautiful wife, and his 2.5 children are not going to emerge out of the depths of his expansive swimming pool or from the bottom of his expensive champagne glass, and I believe he has recognized this. Fitzgerald gives me the sense that Gatsby is just trying to bide his time. To make the most of the life he has left to live with who he believes to be "good company". Unfortunately, these high class people are living in a fantasy land as well. Nick so generously points out, while expanding on the guest list of one of Gatsby's parties, that what he remembers most about these individuals is not the type of outfits they're wearing or the thriving businesses they may own, but instead the one not so pleasant attribute that marks them as ordinary.

The American Dream is a saving grace, a facade to hide behind in order to be something more, something memorable, which is a theme examined throughout numerous American literary works such as Henry James's "The Beast in the Jungle". John Marcher and Gatsby resemble the same type of character, always trying to impress others and be a little more extraordinary than the next person. Gatsby has his mansion and Marcher has his "beast" which he presumes will either make or break the remainder of his life.

The American Dream should not be the defining moment of an individual's life, it should be just as it states, a dream. It should be kept in the back of one's mind in order to encourage progress and growth, instead it has become the ultimate evil that leads an individual the furthest away from said dream; it is an economic rat race of who can lie, cheat, and bargain their way to the end before another. There is no stability for future endeavors as an individual or as a nation as a whole if all anybody is ever encouraged to do is look out for themselves. America or Americans, just like Gatsby, will ultimately end up alone and forgotten or maybe remembered, but for one act, and it may not even be their own act, of wrongdoing. After trying so hard to be someone else, the most sought after, mysterious man in West Egg, he became nothing more than an assumed murderer; no amount of money or expensive things can save you from something like that.



MonikaPecz-
ko
Novice Their American
Posts: 8
monikapeczko
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: October 25, 2015, 11:34

"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald stands out as my first proper and thought-provoking introduction to American literature. The first time I read it, I was more interested in the drama of the story and the era in which it occurs. Upon a second, and more critical read a year later, I was fascinated by the way the "American dream" was portrayed. It was the first time, without the assistance of a teacher/professor that I could make out symbols for my own. I had already been fascinated by America's "Roaring Twenties," and I was interested in the sharp contrast between the brightness and fullness of the novel's aesthetic components (Gatsby's luxurious life/parties) and its empty and broken characters. Gatsby as a twisted manifestation of the American dream has the ability to fascinate and haunt. Gatsby makes it clear to the reader that there is a price to building ones' self on the promise of this dream. He is a dramatized account of this, but it was illuminating to read about this character who, for Nick Carraway, is the epitome of hope and innocence, while in fact having built himself on a foundation of hard criminal activity. It speaks to ideas of representation, that you are what you put out into the world. It is not only your success you can alter, but the very way you are received in society. This idea is shattered in the end, as it is not Gatsby's actual crimes, or the persona he adopted that he is remembered for, but rather a crime he did not commit. Gatsby is a grim portrayal of the American dream, where you can just as easily build yourself, or watch everything you have made fall apart.



MoriahA
Novice Their American
Posts: 8
Moriah Altmayer
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: October 25, 2015, 15:13

The first literary work that influenced my understanding of America was "The Outsiders" by S. E. Hinton. Depicting a world full of social and class conflicts not to mention the harsh reality of family dysfunction. It caused my opinion of America to be one of class inequality, and a place of violence. Not an idyllic American dream but rather breaking that mold and forming what today I believe to be a reality.



AdelaideAt-
tard
Novice Their American
Posts: 8
Adelaide Clare Attard
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: October 25, 2015, 17:22

The first book (well, in this case, play) that gave me an idea of “The American Dream,” and what The United States of America is like was "Death of a Salesman" by literary founder, Arthur Miller. When I read this play in grade twelve, I discovered some of the desires that made up The American Dream. The American Dream consists of wealth, having a well-to-do nuclear family, being well liked, and having extravagant, nice things.

After examining the text in class, my teacher brought forth another theme of the American Dream; the idea that one can become rich if they try hard enough. That no matter what their past was, or where they came from, that they could start anew and become wealthy. The idea that one can become rich if they try hard enough is also shown through the character Bernard, because Bernard becomes a lawyer. He says he started at 19, and got rich by the age of 21. Bernard becomes rich, but does not do it in an honest fashion. This is an instance in which The American Dream is challenged in “Death of a Salesman.” Sure, a man can start from scratch and make a lot of money to provide for his family, but doing it in an honest and genuine way is another story. Bernard does not become rich by being a genuine guy. Much like Gatsby, Bernard becomes rich by doing sleazy, dishonest work. Bernard does not become rich in the so-called “honest, all American way.”

The idea of rags to riches mentioned above was brought forth through the father and protagonist of this play, Willy Loman. Loman believes that you will go far in life if you are charming, attractive, and personable. Loman pushes these beliefs onto his sons. Although he does this, Loman’s philosophy on how to go far in the business world backfires in the end, when he gets fired from his job. This play challenges The American Dream because, once Loman gets fried from his job, he is no longer able to provide for his family. This means that man, who is “supposed to be” the breadwinner of the family is now out of work.

Lastly, America’s need for consumption and how it helps man achieve their ideal American Dream comes forth in this play. In the United States Declaration of Independence, the phrase, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” has helped Americans shape their lives for decades. In this play, Willy Loman is concerned with what his family’s life looks like form the outside. Loman creates a façade, trying to hide ugly truths about his family from the rest of the world. He is interested in material consumption and the belief that one can find happiness through material possessions. By doing this, Loman takes advantage of what new, modern America has to offer. He consumes and attempts to sell products, but, as mentioned above, this backfired. His superficial qualities in life get him in trouble in the end.

Because of the above reasons, Arthur Miller’s, “Death of a Salesman” gave me an idea of The American Dream, and what happens when it all goes wrong.



Nicole
Novice Their American
Posts: 8
Nicole Bernadowitsch
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: October 29, 2015, 17:33

My choice would also be "Little House on the Prairie" by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was very young when I read this book for the first time, and to me it was simply the coming of age story of a young girl in pioneer times. Years later I realized that this novel is perhaps one of the oldest literary depictions of the American Dream. However at that time, instead of being rich and living a life of luxury, the dream was to survive and live comfortably. As a child (int he first few books) Laura Ingalls had very little, and although she dreamed of having more, the dream was always to be healthy and live a comfortable life. As survival became easier the American Dream of Laura Ingalls Wilder evolved from simply surviving and living a comfortable life, to being as wealthy as possible and wanting for nothing. Despite her situation and poor upbringing Laura Ingalls Wilder grew up to become an educated woman and eventually became a successful author. Her literacy and education alone would have slightly elevated her standing in society at the time. Not only did Laura improve her station by becoming a school teacher (at 15), she did it honestly. Although she lived a life of misfortune and hardship, Laura Ingalls Wilder eventually became one of the earliest female authors of modern literature. Even though it happened after her death, Laura eventually became published and is now a famous author. In an odd way, she managed to achieve the America Dream after her death, long before the creation of the America that we know today even existed.



nicoleland-
ry
Novice Their American
Posts: 6
nicolelandry
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: November 6, 2015, 01:04

My first encounter with American literature was the play Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller. The play’s proclivity to the “American dream” sent me back in time to a moment in my early childhood when three students in the grocery store asked my father for a quote on “what the ‘American dream’ meant to him,” for a school project.
Having had this experience, I always believed that the American dream was something open to interpretation, something arbitrary, and something everyone had a different idea about. However, upon reading Miller’s play at thirteen, my understanding of the American dream was challenged and resulted in Death of a Salesman greatly influencing my understanding of what America was, and what Americans strived for. My understanding of the American dream shifted from “health and happiness for my wife and children,” as my father described it, or “a debt free future where I can buy a coffee everyday if I want to,” as described by a fellow shopper in the produce section that day, to an elusive and unattainable dream of respect and financial success, of a man “[knowing] what he [wants] and [going] out and [getting] it,” (Miller) even if it makes him gravely unhappy.



sergiobald-
ini
Novice Their American
Posts: 6
Serge
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: November 19, 2015, 16:19

I won't speak too much on the Williams's "A Streetcar Named Desire" until a greater understanding of Williams's themes and writing is spoken of in my American Literature class. However, I will state that it is perhaps the saddest piece of text I have ever read. This opinion is largely gained from the play's ending and the fate of Blanch. As mentioned previously, I don't know much about Williams yet, but I'm intrigued to find out if he had thoughts on mental health and psychological conditions. Blanche clearly seems to need some help at the end and I'm curious to know if that is something of relevance or whether I'm touching on a subject that really isn't broached in the play.



LillianOBD
Novice Their American
Posts: 6
Lillian
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: November 21, 2015, 17:49

In High School I became enamoured with the glamour of 20th century american Author's like F. Scott Fitzgerald, his wife Zelda as well as Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. I couldn't get enough of their exciting and glamorous stories that spoke to a kind of world that was fun and adventurous and beautiful even though it was evidently wrought with psychological and social issues. And while my first introduction into american literature was probably J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" which I read and did not at all understand when I was probably about 13. The author and novel that really very much created a distinction of American Literature (funnily enough) was Gertrude Stein's book; "Paris France". The novel is an account of Stein's time spent in Paris and the french country side right at the dawn of the second world war. What better way to understand the distinction Americans make between themselves and the world than by reading a book in which an american tries to define it for you. Stein uses her distinctly simplistic prose style (often referred to as having been 'made beautiful' later on by Hemingway) to recount her experiences in the french capital. Stein talks about her everyday experiences with the locals and her attempts to understand them and represent them in text. For me this text is quintessentially american in the sense that Stein (the american) tries to distinguish and understand the french people as 'other' than the american people while living among them. Treating them as subjects rather than as individuals. The prose style as well demonstrates a penchant for the classical american sense of 'exceptionalism', Stein tries her best to create a new writing style in order to distinguish herself (and american writing in general one could argue) from other styles of "english" writing, which of course originated in Britain long before there was anybody in "America" who was writing in english.



Alexandra-
Lynn
Novice Their American
Posts: 5
AlexLynn
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: November 24, 2015, 16:42

Arthur Miller, Ernst Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Nathaniel Hawthorne and F. Scott Fitzgerald are among my first encounters with American Literature. The singular work that sparked my interest in American lit was in fact not the first one I read. The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams was and still is, in some ways, my favourite American play. The themes of gender identity, disability, love and homosexuality, and family ties speak to some sense of reality for many people and transcend generations. The emotional power of this text is imperative to the story that is believed to be a type of confessional for Williams. Perhaps it’s his lingering memory that reminds the audience that it is ok to have a haunting past; a message I can appreciate.



AlishaP
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AlishaP
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: November 30, 2015, 21:59

For me, my most significant encounter with American literature was in grade 10, when we read To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee. It was the first time that I could fully understand a novel and analyze the deeper meanings of what it going on.
This novel dealt with serious issues of Southern parts of the United States – all that were very real. It gave me an idea of the hardships that people of colour had to deal with. Their struggle was one that was difficult and hard to believe. I never understood how Americans could treat those who are black in that manner. Atticus Finch was such an inspiring and heroic character, who taught readers great lessons on compassion and empathy. One quote that always stood out to me was, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” This meaning was one that my mother always told me, to help me understand that it was important to not judge others and respect them.
I feel like this classic is extremely important for people to read because it can teach them a lot of things. Especially in today’s society and all of the prejudice that goes on in America (and the rest of the world), it is important for people to know that there is a sense of hope and change to come.



stephen
Novice Their American
Posts: 8
Stephen
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: December 1, 2015, 22:43

The novel that was most influential in my understanding of America, was the novel The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. Though it is more of a science fiction and not an exact view on life in America in any historical way, the themes and characters I found spoke to the American way of life. It follows a father and son, fighting to survive in a world against them. The novel spends a lot of time focusing on the themes of family and love. The Father does everything he can to make sure that his son has the best, most comfortable life he can provide him, following them both through good times and bad. Much like all the families who lived through the various depressions that have struck the United States. Cormac uses the idea of fire throughout the novel as a driving force that pushes them. The characters are "carrying the fire" and try to pass it to all they pass.



MoB
Novice Their American
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MoB
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: December 2, 2015, 16:43

As I can see has been the experience with a lot of people, my own worldview has been too steeped in American culture for me to understand many works as distinctly American. Growing up I consumed mostly American media about American people living in America. As a child without any real bearing on the country I live in aside from being physically located inside of it, “America” seemed like a realer world than my own. I read The Catcher in the Rye in middle school and was, I think, relieved to hear an American voice call out as fake a spectacular nature of socializing I associated with my own and my peers’ mimicry of (almost always American) media. I haven’t read the novel in a long time, and whatever understanding I have of it is certainly not very sophisticated, but reflecting on it now I think I really appreciated Holden’s own explicit participation in the behaviour and culture as he called it out—I’m recalling some cinematic fantasies (nursed to health by a crush after being shot by a pimp?) and his attraction to a “phoney” girl. I think this kind of hypocrisy gave me an idea of the way my culture and behaviour was influenced by American media, but also some understanding that “America” was an idea I personally participated in? It’s especially interesting now to think of Holden’s fixation with and romanticization of childhood and nature in relation to authors like Emerson and especially Thoreau, in their belief in a sort of youth and innocence outside of culture that can be accessed in communion with the natural world, or even in meditation on cultural works and objects. I’m sure there’s something to say about the way that project is frustrated in The Catcher in the Rye, but I’d definitely have to revisit the novel to cash it out.



RMOttenbre-
it
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Rachel Ottenbreit
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: December 6, 2015, 19:50

Quote from AlishaP on November 30, 2015, 21:59
One quote that always stood out to me was, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

The first novel I consciously read as an American text was To Kill a Mockingbird. I love the quote above; it really summarizes the novel for me. I loved that it showed people trying to protect an innocent man even in a terribly unjust society. Maybe this is because it gave a real, not idealized, picture of society without ever feeling hopeless. They were fighting for equality and the "American Dream" but never claimed it just came naturally.

I think this is especially interesting in the light of the just-published sequel Go Set a Watchman. I haven't read the sequel yet, but the idea that impresses me in the reviews and articles I've read about it is that it really encapsulates the mentality of the time. It's not nearly as polished as Mockingbird, but both have this depth (according to what I read for myself in the first and have read about the second) of vision and understanding.



Olivia-
Penney
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Olivia Penney
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: December 7, 2015, 12:57

I would have to agree that the Little House on the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder was my first introduction to American Literature. I read it at such a young age that I can recall believing that it was set in Canada, where I am from, as my knowledge of geography at the age of nine was abysmal and we read it in school. I never really thought of the distinction between America and Canada at a young age and this applied to literature as well, so for me the story of Laura Ingalls could have been set on the Canadian prairies or in the woods of the Muskoka region.



Kristina-
Vassilieva
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Posts: 8
Kristina Vassilieva
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: December 7, 2015, 20:13

On the Road by Jack Kerouac was the first work which shaped by imagination of America. Sal Paradise's wanderings across the country showed an interest and inspiration to explore your own country. The idea that your own country could somehow be enough to satisfy interest and wanderlust never before crossed my mind as my definition of travel always extended across borders. This idea is reflected in the self-satisfied attitude of Americans. Whenever I travel I notice the local distaste of American tourists. From conversations with people from other countries and my own observations I have come to the conclusion that American tourists don't come out of their own world when they travel. They bring America with them wherever they go and are easily noticed for it. To me this signifies that Americans and their national identity are inseparable and that embody their country considerably more than any other nationality does theirs.



nessrhia
Experienced Their American
Posts: 10
rhiannonness
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: December 7, 2015, 21:35

The work that has been the most influential in shaping my conception of America was definitely Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. When I read it at the first time I had already read ~Great American Novels~ like Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, but none of them resonated with me like Lolita did. I’m a first generation Canadian with a very proud and patriotic British background, and I was raised to believe, like Humbert Humbert does, that Americans are typically brash, uneducated, foolish and superficial. Humbert openly shames Charlotte Haze, Lolita’s mother, as being nothing more than a housewife, while she idolizes Humbert’s educated, European sophistication. However, by the end of the novel, Europe seems to be the enemy. Europe (Humbert) debases Lolita (America). He criticizes American culture as being vulgar, yet he is the one raping a child. Humbert bores Lolita with references to art, culture and history, and Lolita eventually leaves him for the American Quilty. Maybe there is no room in American culture for flamboyant sophistication, and maybe Europe is holding on too tightly to their illusions of grandeur. Lolita was the first work of American literature that really made me see Americans in a different light.



JulianaB
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Posts: 9
JBubs
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: December 7, 2015, 21:42

For me, my first depiction of American life was through John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. The story is about an Oklahoman family that is forced off of their land by big companies. They are forced to pack up their things in a wagon and decide to pursue work on the west coast. The novel tracks their journey from the centre of america to the idealized place the west. This novel at its basest reading is about pursuing the american dream, the bitter truths they have to face, and the indomitable spirit of America.
The title comes from their understanding of the plentiful grape fields found in the west. The Joad family believe that they'll never be wanting of work, but when they get there, they are abused and oppressed by the very people who own the land. All throughout their experience, there is a sense that the grapes will eventually come to fruition. As the community grows, the middle class suffers and toils, and will eventually bloom and fruit, and the grapes will have to change. This is an allegory for the spirit of America and humanity's ability to overcome what is necessary for a life to be made.



A.C.-
Charles
Experienced Their American
Posts: 19
Whiskey Priest
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: February 17, 2016, 17:20

In regards to which author made a great contribution to American Literature, I too would say John Steinbeck. In addition to "The Grapes of Wrath", I also found "Of Mice and Men" and "East of Eden" to be quite remarkable. "Of Mice and Men" portrays the complexity of having mentally-unstable friend. Steinbeck challenges the reader to contemplate to what end should George should support Lenny and ultimately were his actions justified. In "East of Eden", Steinbeck portrays three generation lines between two families. The extensive nature explaining multiple character perspectives and connections reveals how a story is not limited to one perspective, despite the narration it is told in. This framework can easily be related to Faulkner's work "As I Lay Dying". Notice the diversity within these novels. "East of Eden" is an epic bildungsroman which includes multiple biblical allusions. "Of Mice and Men" is a novella which tackles a complicated issue in mental instability and how others can react to it. "Grapes of Wrath" portrays a realistic ordeal which many families during that timeframe had to endure: adapting to life in the great depression era. John Steinbeck's ability to cover such a variety of topics makes him, for me, one of most remarkable contributors for American literature.



sergiobald-
ini
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Posts: 6
Serge
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: March 21, 2016, 16:33

Joseph Heller's "Catch-22" and Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian."

"Catch-22" is very high on my list of favourite books. I enjoy it's humour and wit as well as the ferocity it delivers in its images of war and its uselessness. Perhaps I'm reading far too into matters, but aside from critiquing war and WWII in general, it analyzes the business of war and how soldiers are currency, often traded and discarded. For a country such as the US that is a warring nation, the allusion to the treatment of soldiers by the US can be found, although, as mentioned, the book is rooted in WWII and should remain in that context. It certainly is an anti-war book and I believe as it gets older, its themes are becoming increasingly varied and more and more relevant.

Blood Meridian is my favourite book. I enjoy reading McCarthy and often find his work challenging. I have also read "the Road" and "No Country For Old Men" and enjoyed both of them. Blood Meridian is anti-Western book and does an excellent job of de-romanticizing the notion of the West and the wild west and cowboys. It shows the true alienation of individuals caused by violence and the reality of a real problem between Natives and cowboys or "Americans." The goal of Glanton's group was to gather Native scalps for sale and trading. Such imagery is very powerful and McCarthy lends powerful symbolism between making money and doing so, literally, off the head of the Native population. I can speak more of this novel, but I would find myself writing forever.



emilydedon-
atis
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Posts: 8
EmilyD
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: March 30, 2016, 16:32

I'm going to have to agree with a majority of the comments above and say that Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" most profoundly struck me as a literary work that defines a greatly important aspect of America and what the nation stands for. Before reading the novel, I thought that the American Dream stood for independence, with an emphasis on the importance of of making something of oneself through hard work and perseverance. However, after completing the novel, I questioned exactly what the American dream entailed, and whether or not people are still figuratively chasing it. I was under the impression that simply merit and hard work are simply not enough to achieve the American Dream, which has merely become consumed with materialism and the selfish pursuit of pleasure. Another theme of the novel, cheating of many forms, made me wonder if this was the the only way to achieving the American Dream, or if the American Dream itself is about cheating your way to success. There is also a plethora of economic and social imbalances, one of which involving the relationship between Tom and Daisy that struck me as having significant importance. Both individuals come from a wealthy background and appear to have a very successful life together that is consumed with materialistic success. It would appear that both successful individuals are living, breathing examples of what the American Dream is all about. However, both individuals feel the need to cheat on each other in order to find happiness. Essentially, they find happiness with people whose lives are quite different from their own, lives that are not as much infatuated with materialism (and if it is, it is of a false facade in Gatsby's case). What then, does it mean to be happy as an American living in the mid 1920s?



OliBedard
Novice Their American
Posts: 9
Oli
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: April 1, 2016, 18:02

The first literary work I read that left an enduring impression of the U.S. was the popular horror novel 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King, published in 1975. It's a vampire novel, a really fine one, and I consider it an enduring favourite. Its events concern a somewhat successful writer who returns to a small New England town he lived in briefly as a child in order to regain some sense of himself after the loss of his wife, only to find that it is being overrun by vampires. King makes excellent use of local colour, crafting regionally inflected portraits of the town's inhabitants and its Peyton's Place-esque secrets, infused with the Gothic horror of a boyar vampire with "strong, intended echoes of Dracula" (from the 2004 introduction by the author), who has come to glut himself upon the townsfolk.

The novel connects with a sense of profound disillusionment that is often associated with the 1970s American political landscape following, among other things, the decline of '60s idealism, the Watergate scandal, and the mounting horrors of the Vietnam war. Upon a recent re-reading of the book, I found more than ever that it seemed to be a commentary on social corruption, specifically the corruption of establishment political and economic powers in the U.S. state and its increasing movement toward oligarchy. I find it as relevant as ever in the political landscape of today.



cookiesncr-
eam
New Member
Posts: 4
cookiesncream
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: January 25, 2018, 11:54

I afree with most of the responses on "The Great Gatsby", as a fundemental literary work for understanding the American Lifestyle. I rad the book in high school the first time, and before that I was not familiar with, or had an understanding of the concept of the "American Dream". However, after reading it, I got a better understanding of it. It is one of the few books taht focus more on the darker aspects of dreams and desires, not just in general, but also in terms of human nature as well. An example would be Gatsby obtaining his wealth and his obsession with Daisy. And while it does focus on the American Dream as the central theme, it still manages to focus on the dark themes of humanity as well, such as murder. What is interesting is, that all characters in the novel are flawed to some extent. While all novels and literary works show some kind of a flaw in their characters, "The Great Gatsby", places more emphasis on them, such being greed, manipulation and deceit.



heythereal-
e
New Member
Posts: 4
heythereale
Re: American Literary Founders...
on: January 28, 2018, 21:27

I would also agree with "The Great Gatsby" being my first introduction into American literature. It may not have been the first American work I read but it is the first work that was undoubtably of an American genre. The work introduced topics of the American dream with interworking aspects of classism, and while The Great Gatsby seemed surreal, what with a mystery millionaire and extravagant parties, it was so incredibly translatable for readers. Gatsby's wealth and fortune is the (dramatized) embodiment the American dream itself: becoming successful, living your dream and achieving freedom, in this case, financial freedom. Though, for those who have finished the novel, we also see a decline of that idealism. I would say that The Great Gatsby successfully embodies what American literature is defined to be, all while being able to work relatable for present readers.

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