The first three time periods in American literature had distinguishing characteristics in their subject matter and writing styles. Puritans wrote about their religious beliefs and daily life during the Age of Faith. During the Age of Reason, the Revolutionary War was going on and much of the writings were political documents as a result of the war. The Age of Romantics brought about the first fictional writings. The three time periods, which have unique characteristics in their subject matter and writing styles, were the Age of Faith, Age of Reason, and Age of Romantics.
During the Age of Faith, the subject matter and writing styles were unusual. Puritans wrote about their religion in letters, journals, diaries, and sermons such as Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God by Jonathan Edwards. In this sermon, Edwards uses scare-tactics to get un-saved members of his church saved. Edwards, like many other Puritans, believed that un-saved persons are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell (Edwards 37). Puritan daily life was centered around their religion. Puritans wrote about interactions with the Native Americans, farming, weather, hunting, and other happenings in the settlements such as in Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford. The plain writings of the Age of Faith proved to be quite unusual to the readers of today.
The writers of the Age of Faith wrote about religion because that was the center of their life and during the Age of Reason the Revolutionary War was
the center of their lives. While the Revolutionary War was going on, so was the Age of Reason in American literature. During the Revolutionary War, the future citizens of the United States were divided on whether or not to fight the British. Political pamphlets were given out to get the American people to support fighting the British and once most of America agreed to fight the British the decision still had to be made by the president and delegates at the Virginia Convention of 1775. Patrick Henry, a representative at this convention, persuaded the delegates to fight the British in his very famous speech at the convention. In his speech, he used passionate words and phrases such as the most famous, give me liberty, or give me death (Henry 90). Soon after his speech, the first battle of the Revolutionary War was fought in Lexington, Massachusetts. The writers of this age also wrote autobiographies and essays. In the essay Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America by Benjamin Franklin, Franklin examines the word savages and what it really means. He subtly criticizes the settlers who refer to the Native Americans as savages and points out that the Native Americans are less savage than the settlers. The Revolutionary War not only brought about the independence of our country, but also encouraged free expression.
After the turmoil of the Revolution, the people needed to relax and forget about their worries. The writers of the Age of Romantics knew this and for the first time in American literature, writers wrote fiction. The authors of this age wrote mostly about heroes, god being found in nature, distrust of civilization, love, and the relationships among people in stories and poems. One of these stories was Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving. Rip Van Winkle is a short story about a man in a Dutch village who fell asleep for twenty years in the Catskill Mountains in New England. While in the mountains, Rip was led by the ghost of Hendrick Hudson to a company of odd-looking personages playing at ninepins (Irving 129). He then drank some Dutch gin and fell asleep for the entire length of the Revolutionary War. When he woke he came back to the village to find nothing as it was before. His story becomes a great tale told in his village and everyone lives happily ever after. This short story has all the characteristics of the Age of Romantics. Another product of the age, Old Ironsides by Oliver Holmes, tells the story of a different kind of hero. In this poem, Holmes protested the scrapping of the U.S.S Constitution, a warship that defeated the British warship Guerriere in the War of 1812. Holmes suggested that the ship be sunk in the ocean like a heroic sailor would be. Instead of going along with Holmes idea, the government decided to preserve the ship and keep it in Boston harbor where it still floats today. The writers of the Age of Romantics entertained and relaxed our country after the chaos of the Revolutionary War.
The subject matter and writings styles of American literature during the Age of Faith, Age of Reason, and Age of Romantics were as unique as the time periods in American history that they represented. The journals, diaries, poems, and sermons of the Age of Faith showed the devotion of the Puritans to their religion. The political documents, autobiographies, and essays of the Age of Reason exhibited the independent spirit of the Revolutionary War. The entertaining stories and poems of the Age of Romantics gave the people an escape from the post-war worries that bothered them day-to-day. American literature evolved drastically with the writing styles and subject matter of three original time periods, the Age of Faith, Age of Reason, and Age of Romantics.
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