Introduction (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
America became a subject for literature after the Revolutionary War, when writers began the exploration of themes and motifs distinctly American. Continuing the Puritan belief in America as the New Eden, writers stressed the millennial nature of settlement and progress. Each milestone in improvement and enlargement marked a national movement toward spiritually sanctioned political dominion. Geographic, industrial, and social changes found justification in America’s mythic vision of itself independent of England and free of European hierarchy.
A complex and often contradictory ethos emerged based on tensions in American dualities: Calvinistic sin and predestination opposed to romantic optimism; determinism opposed to free will; idealism versus materialism; European aristocracy opposed to democracy; capitalistic prosperity versus economic struggles. As the United States expanded, such dichotomies were complicated by tensions between long-settled areas in New England, the genteel South, the expansive plains states, and the wide open West. These contrary and interlocking forces created variety and crosscurrents in American fiction.
(The entire section is 157 words.)
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