This semester we took an inspiring journey into the world of the American writer. We looked at many genres and authors, starting with the Native American writers. A running theme in all the pieces we looked at is the obvious deep connection the Native Americans have with nature and the importance of this relationship. I was particularly taken with Oren Lyons’ essay ‘Our Mother Earth’. Lyons believes that animals and humans are ‘brothers’ and that we are all connected. As such we have a duty of care to speak on behalf of all living creatures and the Earth. We need to care for the Earth just as the Earth cares for us.
We wandered through the works of African American writers since the Civil War. One of the authors we looked at was Pulitzer Prize winner, Alice Walker. Re-reading some of her work, I was reminded of the splendour of Walker’s storytelling and how she brings her characters to life.
Reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn again after so many years it was great to make the connection of nature as an important character in the novel. Twain uses literary tools, such as personification, to assist in capturing the spirit of nature in this novel. Twain’s deep detail of the surroundings allows the reader to appreciate, to see and feel Huck’s world, as though we are there travelling alongside him.
We explored the works of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman- the Mother and Father of American poetry. I was especially drawn to Whitman’s `freestyle’ approach to poetry. Whitman was a humanist and was part of the move between transcendentalism and realism, often including both in his work.
I was equally drawn to Robert Frost and Robert Lowell, two iconic American poets. In his poems, Frost uncovers that man’s most revealing mirror, is nature and this is the clearest window into the human character. In that respect, Frost embodies the spirit of a transcendentalist.
The Beat Generation week reintroduced me to Jack Kerouac and his legendary autobiographical novel On the Road. Despite its sense of loneliness (or maybe because of it), as a teenager, the novel had a massive effect on me. I embraced the hippie culture and started wearing flares and second-hand clothes and approached life and art with new eyes- it was like my blinkers had been taken away.
Of all the works we looked at this semester, nothing affected me more than the discovery of Transcendentalism. Transcendentalists believe that humans are their best when we are `self-reliant’ and independent. Like the Romantics, there is also an emphasis on intuition. `Walden; or Life in the Woods’, written by Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau explores the notion of simple living in natural surroundings. Published in 1854 after two years of living in a small cabin in the woods, `Walden’ can be seen as a manual for self-reliance and a guide to promoting human spirituality. 163 years after it was first published; ‘Walden’ is more relevant than ever.
I enjoyed exploring American Literature this semester, especially leading up to the study trip next year to New York City where we will discover the literature and drama of the city.