The term refers to the unique place of California both geographically and historically, and to their influences in literature. Geographically, California is the farthest west of all the states, and as such, the terminus for the impulse in all settlers to “go west, young man.” There is a psychological impulse to move away from the strife and bustle of the East Coast big city life, so that, even in 2011, when all the physical settling is over, California draws the wandering spirit to “start over”—witness the Dust Bowl migration if the 20’s (Grapes of Wrath), the Beatnik movement of the 50’s (On the Road), and the Flower Child movement of the ‘60’s. Add to that impulse the need for benevolent weather, and the need for rest after surviving the crossing of two mountain ranges—the Rockies and the Sierra Nevadas—and the traveler sees California as the welcome stopping place of all wandering.
Historically, California, on the Pacific, was discovered, explored, and claimed by a different culture from the Atlantic coast—the Spanish, Catholic explorers. Consequently, the Spanish mission string of colonial settlements on the Camino Real made the settling of a different order from the original thirteen colonies.
Add to this mix the Oriental cultural influences, both from the railroad construction workers,and from migration across the Pacific, and we see the multiple-culture texture of the West Coast, much more heterogenous that the colonial East. The House of Seven Gables is not California literature.
In literature, these influences are seen in the mise-en-scene, the conflicts, the geographic hardships, the fictive personalities, and the implied values of the main characters of “California literature.” Writers such as Bret Harte, Jack London, and Jack Kerouac are followed by new writers of the 21st century, such as Jonathan Franzen.