What role did Romanticism play in the literature of America in the 19th century?

Expert Answers
lhc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Romanticism in literature can be seen as a sort of backlash against a rapidly changing world.  Generally characterized as dating from the late 1700's to about the first third of the 1800's, romanticism was a term coined to express a new emphasis on an individual, his or her inner world and experiences, and a suspicion of organized religion and the church in general.  Set against the backdrop of the newly formed United States of America, and the revolution in France, as well as the Industrial Revolution, Romanticism can be seen as reflecting the idea of new beginnings for a new nation founded on individual rights and self-worth (unless you were a woman, African-American, Native American, of course). 

Romanticism morphed into what has been called the Transcendentalist movement that literary critics usually date from about the mid-1830's to the mid 1840's.  This era was characterized by the Romantic skepticism of the church, and emphasized the value of a person's soul and individual worth over church doctrine as well as an interest in democracy as it was being practiced in the relatively new United States.  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry DavidThoreau, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allen Poe were American authors associated with these movements.