An Overview of American Romanticism in Literature

Romanticism in American Literature brought us some of the world’s greatest writers. Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Washington Irving and Henry David Thoreau are still studied in classrooms throughout America and in Europe. Help students understand the context in which they wrote with this convenient one page handout.


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ELA Common Core Standards Covered

Teaching American Romanticism and instructing students to find aspects of American Romanticism in the literature they read covers the following ELA Common Core Standards.

  1. RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  2. RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

Romanticism

Romance describes strange lands and wonderful adventures. It allows the writer greater latitude to include the marvelous with the real. The romance may include the traditional hero with white hat on the white horse; the evil villain with the long black mustache; the lovely young woman in need of rescue, and the hairbreadth rescue itself.

Romanticism as a movement began in the late 18th century, moved to England where it developed an emphasis on the glorification of nature, the supernatural, and the rebel—the individual against society. It spread to America in the early to mid 19th century and is represented in such writers as Hawthorne, Poe, and Cooper.

American Romanticism

In the 1830’s, America began to experience the impact of the Romantic Movement that was transforming European civilization. Like the European movement of which it was an offshoot, American Romanticism was, in a broad sense, a new attitude toward nature, humanity, and society that espoused individualism and freedom. Many trends characterized American Romanticism. Among the most important are the following:

  • An impulse toward reform (temperance, women’s rights, abolition of slavery)
  • A celebration of individualism (Emerson, Thoreau)
  • A reverence for nature (Cooper, Emerson, Thoreau)
  • A concern with the impact of new technology—the locomotive, for example
  • An idealization of women—Poe’s Anabel Lee, for example
  • A fascination with death and the supernatural (Hawthorne, Poe)

Important Writers

The following authors are closely associated with American Romanticism.

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882): Self-Reliance
  • Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862): Walden, Civil Disobedience
  • Washington Irving (1783-1859): The Devil and Tom Walker, Rip Van Winkle Tales
  • Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849): The Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque of the Red Death, The Raven and many many more
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, Doctor Heidegger’s Experiment, Young Goodman Brown, Rappaccini’s Daughter

Genres of Literature

Teaching literary genres helps provide context and understanding.