In examining the history of US literature, the authors mentioned all made substantial contributions to the development of novels, stories, and poetry. Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, and Walt Whitman were all white, male, American, nineteenth-century authors.
Collectively, they were active from the 1820s–1870s. Poe’s career began the earliest and he died young, Melville published in the 1840s–1850s, and Whitman’s output ranged from the 1850s–1870s. During these years, American literature underwent tremendous transformations. Each of these authors made significant innovations in these genres, but their contributions also had effects on literature that endure to the present day.
The fundamental American idealization of the individual’s struggle for self-realization was a common theme in American literature of the day. This battle may be waged against natural or social forces, as well as other humans or oneself. All three authors explored, although in different ways, such fundamental conflicts in uniquely American ways. Their writings were also innovative in structure and style as well as content.
In Melville’s case, internal struggles as well as the individual against nature are evident in his masterpiece, Moby Dick. Ahab’s relentless quest for the whale shows both the importance of tenacity and the dangers of obsession. Poe is credited with inventing the detective story with his French character C. Auguste Dupin, who pits his intellect against clever evil-doers. In probing the inner torment of disturbed individuals, his psychologically complex stories, such as “The Tell-Tale Heart,” helped establish the anti-hero as a standard type of protagonist. In poems such as “Song of Myself,” Whitman celebrated the individual both intellectually and physically.