In general, American literature during the first half of the 19th century is categorized under the Romantic Movement. The movement began in an Era of Good Feeling , when Americans felt proud of their young and rapidly expanding country. The good feelings are reflected in William Cullen Bryant s poems. The rise of Transcendentalism brought about a change in attitude and philosophy to a more critical and analytical tone. Finally, toward the end of the Romantic Movement, writers such as Herman Melville became anti transcendentalist.
The changes in language and philosophy during the Romantic Movement are in the writings of Bryant, Emerson, and Hawthorne.
In the early Romantic Period, people felt proud of their country as it expands westward. Literature, such as Bryant s poems, was also optimistic. In Thanatopsis , though the tone is elegiac, the recurring themes are optimistic. God is seen in love, truth, liberty, and justice. Human progress is viewed as a good thing. The narrator learns a lesson from the determination of the fowler to carry on despite its toils Thus, the waterfowl is a fairly noble image.
In both poems, Bryant presents some images and deduces themes from them. As the Era of Good Feeling passed and the frontier disappearing, tensions arose between regions of the country. Again, these changes are reflected in literature.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote his poems and essays with many descriptions and observations. In Ode , numerous images and descriptions are used to urge men to live for friendship and love. He also feels the state should follow men, not vive versa.
Emerson s writings are much more critical and analytical of society than earlier writers. In the latter stages of the Romantic Movement, authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne opposed transcendentalism. They felt that it was too optimistic and na ve. Hawthorne saw the inherent evil in man and human progress, especially scientific progress.
In Rappacini s Daughter , Dr. Rappacini and his seemingly wonderful garden is really a symbol of evil. His daughter Beatrice, though beautiful, is a living poison. When given an antidote that symbolized life, she dies. Like other anti-transcendentalists, Hawthorne wrote about sin and evil in men. Throughout the Romantic Period, change can be seen through three sub-movements: early Romanticism, Transcendentalism and anti-Transcendentalism. The views on life became gradually from positive to negative. Language and technique have also evolved. Writers became more descriptive and used more methods to enrich their descriptions. Overall, writers saw more and more evil in man as the Romantic Movement progressed.