Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Vernon Louis Parrington’s three-volume Main Currents in American Thought is generally considered monumental for two reasons. First, the detailed tables of contents show an awesome knowledge of literary and political history and the ability to place the major and minor American writers from 1620 to 1900; second, the guide to this imposition of order is a passionate belief in Jeffersonian democracy as the essential philosophy of the United States. Parrington’s work had the revolutionary effect of giving American writers a social dimension never seen in histories of English literature or English thought. This dimension made meaningful and, in turn, greatly accelerated the study of American literature in schools and colleges, as did the work of Frederick Jackson Turner stimulate the study of American history in terms of the United States.
For Parrington, two currents affected the American mind, Romanticism and realism, with the division between the two coming at 1860. His first problem, however, was to establish the growth and actual existence of the American mind itself; this task is accomplished in the historical survey of the first volume, The Colonial Mind, 1620-1800, where colonial conditions formed a certain way of thinking, a way of thinking that changed during the Revolutionary War into the American mind. Parrington then studies the national temper in the two succeeding volumes, dealing with Romanticism and realism.
(The entire section is 1532 words.)
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