Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Daniel Hoffman is as well known for his literary criticism as for his poetry. He began his scholarly career by exploring myth and folklore, primarily in American literature. In Paul Bunyan: Last of the Frontier Demigods (1952), he examines the effect of folk materials on literary forms. The story of the master-logger Paul Bunyan is interesting to Hoffman because for such writers as Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, W. H. Auden, and Louis Untermeyer, it has served as a national myth.

Hoffman’s brilliant Form and Fable in American Fiction (1961) demonstrates the shaping role of folklore in nineteenth century American romances and tales, including Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Maypole of Merry Mount” and The Scarlet Letter (1850), Herman Melville’s Moby Dick: Or, The Whale (1851) and The Confidence Man: His Masquerade (1857), and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). Hoffman chose these authors because they wrote in the formative period of the American literary identity. In this book, he attempts to delineate the generic American folk hero, one who reflects the culture of the New World—a man without a past or a family or a lifecycle, one with all the virtues and defects of youth, who never matures but metamorphoses into a stronger version of the self. Hoffman is interested in the moral or cultural meaning of folkloristic motifs. In his analysis of The Poetry of Stephen...

(The entire section is 575 words.)