The American Journey

The story of America and American literature is one of contradictions and contrasts -- the idea that a few scattered colonies can throw off the shackles of Imperial oppression, the thought that in the battle between Man and the Great Wild, Man might prevail. This gallery explores some of the historical and literary contrasts and fusions which have led to the formation of what we call America.

America's early history was marked by conflict between Native Americans and European settlers. This picture shows the violent clash of these two opposite worlds, as described in such literary works as "Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson."
The European and Native American would each come to assimilate certain features and trends of the other, creating a hybrid Frontier mentality and culture that influenced the development of a distinctively American literature. It distinguished American literature from traditional European writings and infused a new bit of personality and life into literature as a whole. In "Letters From an American Farmer," French author de Crèvecœur describes the singularity of this Frontier ideal and the dynamic of the interactions of the different parties in America. In this picture, the viewer will notice the contrast of the two differing cultures, but one sees also the juxtaposition of the structures in the background-- the Native American is looking toward European civilization and the European gazes out upon Native American lands.
This picture carries on the idea of the frontier but with a different perspective. Here are juxtaposed the enormity of the wild and the nothingness of mankind, ideas that contributed in part to Transcendentalism and which similarly gave rise to Naturalism. Though this painting is of a South American scene, the American painter, Church, would have been very much so influenced by late Transcendental and precursory Naturalist ideas circulating in both art and literature .
America's early history was one beset by wars and conflicts. The Civil War played an important role in the formation of American politics and expressed the moral conflict exigent within America's populace. This same fragmentation can be seen in a number of literary works from the same period, and abolitionist movements surrounding the Civil War were a rich vein of culture and expression for America. These emblems of the civil war, while perhaps intended to contrast the different political factions, sorrowfully emote the divide within the American soul.
Yet another contrast, this time of Whites and Black. Though the Civil War theoretically eradicated the rift in the country, a divide would yet exist, as emphasized in the separation of the figures in the painting. New-found freedom led many African Americans to speak out (or write) more vocally against White oppression and unjust legal systems.
This painting embodies the ideas of Naturalism in its infusion of nature into the very being of mankind. Here, the children are depicted in greens and browns as a sort of extension of nature, and the mother looks in forlorn acceptance of her state, as if unable to escape the influence of the natural world about her. Naturalism played a major role in the development of American texts dealing with inner-city life and represented the decline of confidence in the American dream.
This painting expresses America's strength and spirit of adventure in a way that echoes Whitman's praise of the common man. In the painting, the viewer notices a fusion of the down-to-earth images of the common man and the exalted, Classical images of the Muses in a scene that exalts the common laborer. This praise for mankind is reflected in earlier literary movements like Transcendentalism and in the literature of the mid 20th century's WWII victory fervor. Here is depicted the deification of the American ideal.
This painting exhibits the same freedom and lack of restraint evident within American society and literature in the early part of the 20th century. It is the fusion of a number of different periods and ideals in a wild and unharnessed tribute to man. It conveys a feeling similar to that experienced in reading /The Great Gatsby/ and other similar literary works.
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