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Stephen Ali Barkah

Firman. A
Inan Sri Utari
Siti Aisyah Akhtar
Literary Nationalism

For most of the latter half of the twentieth century, mid-nineteenth-century


American literary nationalism appeared to be a straightforward subject, by 1855
all of the american writers had contributed to the creation of what came to be
seen as a distinctively national canon.
Critics have identified other national narratives, told by Americans who did not
belong to the northern male literary elite, and have challenged this account. Long-
neglected writings by women and by African Americans have been rediscovered
and reclaimed, along with the stories told by Native Americans and immigrants,
and it is now generally recognized that American literary nationalism is a complex
and multi-voiced genre. Although Matthiessen's subjects were (and remain)
integral to the emergence of a national voice, American literature was not merely
constructed as a discourse concerned with distancing itself from English texts
written in a shared language. Instead, as the writings of women, African
Americans, and other once-marginalized groups illustrate, the American identity
was multiple, contested, and unsettled in the years preceding the Civil War.
Literary Nationalism
- Two Authors -

Walt Whitman Washington Irving


Literary Nationalism
- Two Authors -

Walt Whitman and Washington Irving contributed to the formation of American


literature through the very use of language. This language, then, served as a
positive influence in placing America on its own literary map. Irving, for example,
was one of the most popular and leading names who believed that we should
model a new American identity in fiction. Later, of course, others followed his
notion, i.e., the form of satire. Whitman is commonly accepted to be the first
indisputable American poet. His use of free verse, different from European
traditions, was used to symbolize America in its expansion, in its freedom, and its
refusal to be confined to rank, custom, power structures, etc.
Both Irving and Whitman, in their own rights, contributed towards the making of
literature which was essentially part of a historical movement overall in America in
regard to literature nationalism.
In literary circles, Irving will always be remembered for having created the
character of Rip Van Winkle. His "Rip Van Winkle, A Posthumous Writing of Diedrich
Knickerbocker carved the path for the influence of the short story in becoming an
American literary art form. It was the humor in the form of satire with which Irving
reached his audience. As such, he became the first American writer to acquire
international literary fame. "Rip Van Winkle" is set in New York and encompasses
the Dutch colonizing New York.
Literary Nationalism
- Two Authors -

As the reader digests the language, attempts to visualize the milieu of the tale are
combined with the effects of early society in New York. With the poetry of
Whitman, a new form of serious literature came alive with thought provoking
language--genuine emotional language. If Whitman's poem was published shortly
after Lincoln's assassination, surely he would have readers with comparable
emotions who would greatly feel his pain.
With the prose of Irving, humorous literature was introduced into a fictionalized
account of a memorable character within the confines of a short story. Historical
circumstances were linked into Irving's tale and Irving's style and form were linked
into a piece of national identity in America.
Finally, Irving gave America a lovable, yet fictional, hero of the community.
Whitman reminds America about one hero who helped to shape it, and other
heroes who helped to make it. One is born out of fantasy and imagination and one
is born out of reality and emotion. Both contributed to the makings of literary
nationalism in America and continue to be influential to the present day.
Literary Nationalism
- Other Voices -

The notion that a select group of writers from New England and New York
could speak for the American people remained largely uncontested until
the 1970s. With a general critical consensus accepting
transcendentalism as the benchmark of American cultural identity, even
the most popular white male writers of the early to mid-nineteenth
century, such as Washington Irving (17831859), James Fenimore
Cooper, and the poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (18071882), James
Russell Lowell (18191891), and John Greenleaf Whittier (18071892),
were largely forgotten, their national narratives condemned for their
adherence to European forms despite Longfellow's celebration of Native
American legends and Lowell and Whittier's support for the abolitionist
cause.
Literary Nationalism
- Other Voices -

As popular a writer as Edgar Allan Poe (18091849) did not warrant a mention
from Matthiessen, perhaps because his southern upbringing and sympathies
generated a discourse that refused to participate in American cultural life in the
manner of Thoreau, Whitman, or Melville. In line with his southern sympathies, Poe
appears to have been not only proslavery but also very different from his New
England contemporaries in his understanding of the writer as an aristocratic,
rather than democratic, figure and in his attitude toward women. In addition, most
of Poe's fictions deal with American national identity obliquely, in narratives set in
a timeless European past, rather than in the open fashion of Thoreau, Whitman,
and Melville. As a resultand also perhaps because of the unease with which most
critics confront his political positionPoe has tended to be read as a modernist
and removed from his specific historical circumstances. The defeat of the South in
1865 and the canonization of transcendentalism as the embodiment of American
literary nationalism have led many critics to forget the extent to which the debate
over what constituted American literature was contested at the time.
Literary Nationalism
- Women and Literary Nationalism-

The exclusion of women from the nationalist canon was a product of the belief that
women's lives were confined to the domestic sphere and that their selves were
defined accordingly. In some ways, the writers of the American Renaissance
underwrote the process: following the death of the leading transcendentalist
Margaret Fuller (18101850), Emerson spent many years subtly undermining her
reputation; likewise, Hawthorne and Melville resented and ridiculed the success of
their much more commercially successful female contemporaries, condemned by
Hawthorne in a letter to his publisher as a "damned mob of scribbling women."
Later, a generation of critics that accepted implicitly the primacy of the public,
political world assumed, almost by definition, that writing by women would be
inferior and unimportant.
Literary Nationalism
- Multicultural Literary Nationalism-

A further product of the construction of an American literary canon comprised of white New
England and New York writers involved in adapting (and distancing themselves from) the
European Romantic tradition was the marginalization of other racial voices. Much recent
criticism has demonstrated that fugitive slave narratives can be seen to construct a very
different kind of national literary identity that both embraces and subverts dominant
narratives of individualism and self-reliance. In addition, scholars such as Eric J. Sundquist and
John Carlos Rowe have extended the critical studies of African American literature conducted
in the 1960s and 1970s in order to illustrate the presence of African folklore alongside
strategies of affirmation developed to deal with centuries of oppression, not only in slave
narratives but also in the work of white writers such as Melville. Sundquist sees a reciprocal
process of exchange between the traditions of European American and African American
literatures, and Rowe shows how the explicitly political works of Frederick Douglass (1818
1895) and Harriet Jacobs (c. 18131897) engage more directly with national identity than do
many texts by Emerson, Whitman, and Melville. It is clear not only that there are important
independent traditions inherent to women, and to African Americans (as well as to other
groups whose narratives had less effective political or literary impact at the time, such as
Native Americans), but also that there is an ongoing dialogue across and among these groups
and the figures once assumed to define American literary nationalism.