In the 1840s and 1850s, a style
that was truly American emerged in the world of literature
. Hawthorne, Thoreau, Melville, and Whitman, who came after other greats such as Irving
, and Poe
, answered Emerson’s call for a democracy
of literature. These writers showed their differences from Europe
in being less orthodox and traditional.
In 1837, Emerson stated in his Phi Beta Kappa address that there should be the creation of a “literature of democracy,” that wouldn’t follow European example. The people of America should have a literary style of their own, without the necessary influence of outside sources. He emphasized a need for someone who could write with the common people as his audience.
The four most notable figures of this area were Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Thoreau, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman. Their most famous works, respectively, are The Scarlet Letter, Walden, Moby Dick, and Leaves of Grass. Hawthorne was fascinated with Puritan tradition and the history and legends of New England. Melville preferred to set his stories on the high seas. These two authors were tortured with the philosophical questions of man’s nature and the source of evil. Thoreau answered Emerson’s call through writing essays as well as his masterpiece novel.
Whitman was the most extreme of all, though. Being a heart transcendentalist, his poetry (which was unorthodox and not written in proper verse) was regarded as crude and inappropriate by some. Even Emerson himself found Leaves of Grass shocking, but he still commended Whitman. Whitman was famed for taking the ideas of transcendentalism out of the dull world of study and gave them a more colorful appearance.
After Emerson’s address at Harvard University, four important writers answered his calling. Hawthorne, Thoreau, Melville, and Whitman all expanded developing American literature and write to please the common man. Their differences from traditional European literature created a truly national style.