This semester we will use literature to examine the evolution of the American Persona.
At the turn of the 19th Century, America had just completed a revolution and was ready to conquer a country. As a new country, many established country looked upon the “American Experiment” with disdain; Americans did not have any cultural history, and they relied heavily on other literary traditions to define themselves.
In the early part of the 19th Century, one of the first great literary voices, Ralph Waldo Emerson, called for a distinctly American voice — not one that relied on other cultures, but one that testified to the unique life of the American people.
To that point, writers like Washington Irving had told unique American stories, but did so in light of British sensibilities. But, by the time Emerson was pushing for an American voice, Andrew Jackson — America’s first “Western President” had taken office, called for western expansion, and, with each step, the American Story grew bigger — and darker.
Starting with the literary Innocent, we will see how authors — maybe intentionally, maybe not — crafted a distinctly American Identity, exposing American ideals until they begin to crash into themselves in the form of the Grotesque, or people who have fallen in love with their own story to the extent that they cannot consider the story without them.