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The Early American Novel was a period that began in the late 1700’s. It was a time when reading novels was thought by clergy to bring on immoral thoughts and corruption. Novels that were produced during this period were egalitarian in nature. Egalitarianism is the belief that all men are created deserving of equal treatment and should be provided with the same social, economic, and political opportunities. Novels that were written tended to speak-out for the underdog such as women, orphans, beggars, and children. A strong theme that radiated was that women needed to be educated.
Novels written during this period were sentimental and filled with emotion, very descriptive through the use of mental imagery, tended to be Gothic style, and were filled with political support and the American spirit. There were also several problems encountered in the early American novels. 1) America had no defined culture unlike other countries. 2) America did not have a sense of its own style for writing and much of the earlier works were an effort to break away from previous writing styles such as those by British authors. 3) Much of America was influenced at the time by clergymen who were against the “written word.”
Some examples of novels written during the period of the Early American Novel were Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851) and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). Both novels dealt with conflict. Melville's novel addressed man versus nature, while Stowe's novel covered the issues of man versus man and the ill treatment of slaves. Another significant example of early literature was James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers (1823). However, the novel still had a strong influence of European culture.
America authors were struggling to find their own style, their own voice, and their own culture. They were speaking out for social change and they were using pen and ink to make their way through uncharted territory. Just as much as America was a new country developing its own government, boundaries and culture, the literature of the Early American Novel was a period of discovery and change and the outcrys of the recognition for social change.
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