What I find the most interesting in literature is how writers captured society long ago and how modern, multi-cultural writers provide a new and fresh perspective on those same stories. There are always two sides to history, and it takes them both for writers like me to find a third perspective that reinvents those ideas which I find a challenge and a personal interest. What I found intriguing in the book entitled A History Of American Literature is that it represents that very idea when the author states, “I have tried to be responsive to the immense changes that have occurred over the past forty years in the study of American literature” (Gray). The very line shows why writers are relevant in correcting facts that often get lost to history. If I had to choose a favorite literary era in history, it would be the American Renaissance because of how different groups combined forces to bring about, perhaps, the greatest social changes in American history.
My favorite author is Walt Whitman. As a woman, I can imagine full well the oppression I would have faced. As a gay man in a highly religious atmosphere, I find his courage admirable in the way he stood tall even during the worst of criticism. He used his literature to speak for him, and that is a lesson all writers can learn. Another favorite author is Sylvia Plath who was a contemporary 20th-century writer. Her sadness, grief, and depression dripped from every word she wrote. Her ability to use descriptive language is second to none. Plath writes, “And a head in the freakish Atlantic / Where it pours bean green over blue” (Daddy). The use of colors to describe the ocean is ingenious. Doesn’t it beat the words aqua or green which so many inexperienced writers tend to use? When I read her diary, I learned so much about her daily struggle with mental illness as well. If I were going to write about such a character, she would be a perfect muse. Comparing the two eras, they both fought against societal norms, yet one was influenced by religious persecution and slavery and the other by world war and family dysfunction.
Regarding power and individualism, I found a line in Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass that says it all in respect to the social changes that were taking form during the American Renaissance period. In the preface, it notes, “A slaveholder’s profession of Christianity is a palpable imposture. He is a felon of the highest grade. He is a man-stealer” (Douglass). The choice of language shows the growing sentiment against slave owners, and the usage of ‘felon’ and ‘man-stealer’ authentically captured how style can be a useful tool in persuasive copywriting. Those words were calls to action that a coming war was on the rise. Moreover, Douglass reflects his own identity evolving after his slavery had ended. Perhaps he still felt a slave to social restraints. It is how activism is born. He rose to prominence because of his ability to write based on his individual experience as well as a voice for those still enslaved. He represented power in two forms: his writing shined a light on the power of slaveowners, but he also showed his power in bringing together, so many people to rally against slavery. That is a power all its own. It is because of American Renaissance writers that social change like slavery, education, and religious reform took shape. His strength as an individual shows a shift had taken place from the days of Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams who were forced out of their communities for daring to speak against them. For sure, power and individualism are parallels throughout history just as love and loss were.
I also admire Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. He wrote, “As a long and violent abuse of power, is generally the Means of calling the right of it in question” (Paine). With a forced government oversight like the Stamp Act which taxed anything made of paper, or the Quartering Act that forced colonists to house British troops, it forced upon colonies a need for an individual nation without tyranny. In effect, individualism became a large part of the American identity. Paine writes, “Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries” (Common Sense).
We are once again, in 2018, experiencing this same form of tyranny. We know from history that leaders fought for dominance. In the earliest colonial days, men were told who to vote for from the pulpit which is still happening today, yet now religious leaders control our government which has forced many Americans to become activists to protect our constitution. If one freedom falls, they all do. People do not seem to learn from history until facing the consequences of their actions. I believe this is the responsibility of new-age writers to use the wisdom of the past ages to reflect on current changes as well as impart some understanding as to how society always corrects itself no matter the circumstances. Power always leads some to a belief in individualism because there are still those who refuse to submit to it.