I think American Romanticism can be seen in the Transcendentalism movement during the Age of Reform, preceding the Civil War. Some characteristics were the love of nature, as seen in Thoreau's "Walden," and a belief that the natural world can provide a sense of wonderment to our identities as human beings. The incorporation of emotions into a daily frame of reference was another aspect stressed in this movement, and the exploration of this can be seen in the works of Melville and Hawthorne. There was also a belief in non-conformity, in recognition of the individual and the unique spirit within it. This was seen in the works of Emerson, such as "Self Reliance."
Romanticism is a movement of thought which touched all the arts (painting, sculpture, writing, drama, architecture, etc..)during a period of time. Each era of thought usually is in some way a reaction or rebellion to the era before it. This is true of Romanticism which was in rebellion to the rigid thought process of the 18th Century which was very logical, reason-driven, procedural, and in love with politics, society as a whole, wealth and poverty, and religion.
The Romantics, tired of being told what to do and think, rebelled. As a result, their writings, music, artwork, etc. reflected a "back to basics" approach. The individual person as opposed to society as a whole was a focus. Imagination and emotion were upheld as opposed to reason and logic. A love of the supernatural and nature can be found in most of these works. In writing, most authors wrote plainly so that everyone could read and understand instead of attempting to impress himself with his own intellect. They write of simple things (a blade of grass, a flower, the every day man) instead of the abstract or subjects that hold interest only to the wealthy classes. Of course, these key ideas won't appear in every piece of literature published during this time period, but you will probably find 3-4 of them in any piece you peruse.
Some great Romantic writers include Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, William Cullen Bryant, John Keats, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Here is a paragraph from the British Literature textbook I teach from, introducing the Romantic Era (Literature and the Language Arts, The British Tradition):
"During the Romantic Era, from 1785 to 1832, artists, philosophers, and writers rebelled against the rational, orderly forms of Neoclassicism, creating works that celebrated emotion over reason, nature over human artifice, ordinary people over aristocrats, and spontaneity and wildness over decorum and control."
An excellent example of a Romantic Era poet was William Wordsworth, who believed that poetry should be written about and for ordinary, common people, in the same language and ways of speaking that they used, not in perfectly rhymed and metered forms of poetry. Another great example was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose poem "Kubla Khan" is one of my favorites!
Nature was especially important to these writers because they considered it to be the opposite of human invention and society, which is what their poetry, writing, and art was rebelling against. They wanted to glorify the beauty and wildness of the natural world, not what humans have done to alter it.
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Can someone discuss at least 4 of the major characteristics of American Romanticism?