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Making Connections

  1. After World War II, America turned outward politically but inward culturally; new ideals of conformity and homogeneity developed that are best seen in works that argue against that conformity, like Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman; Saul Bellow’s Adventures of Augie March; Allen Ginsberg’s Howl; and Philip Roth’s “Defender of the Faith.”  Other works of nonconformity and rebellion against convention throughout American literature include William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation (in which the Pilgrims record their reasons for sailing from England); Jonathan Edwards’s “Personal Narrative;” Henry David Thoreau’s “Resistance to Civil Government;” Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener;” Henry James’s “Daisy Miller;” Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Edwin Arlington Robinson’s “Miniver Cheevy;” and William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning.”
  2. One interesting feature of postwar literature is the theme of cross–cultural mixtures and hybrid perspectives that result from globalized contemporary life. Works like Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Sexy;” Rita Dove’s “Parsley;” Gloria Anzaldúa’s “How to Tame a Wild Tongue;” and Li–Young Lee’s “Persimmons” all have to do with translations of customs or language from another culture into American English. The vexed issue of translation has been part of the American tradition from its inception: see Cabeza de Vaca’s and Thomas Harriot’s descriptions of Native “orature;” and Roger Williams’s A Key into the Language of America.
  3. A major shift in American literature after World War II was the inclusion of new immigrant voices in the spectrum of national perspectives. Examples of works that maintain ties to a previous culture while establishing links to America include Sandra Cisneros’s “Woman Hollering Creek;” Cathy Song’s “The White Porch” and “Lost Sister;” Maxine Hong Kingston’s “No Name Woman;” and Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Sexy.” But the process of naturalization and the salvaging of ethnic identity were not always accepted by the majority of Americans. The best place to start examining the nation’s growing pains is the “Americanization” cluster in the 1865–1914 section of the anthology, especially in Twenty Years at Hull-House by Jane Addamsand Jose Martí’s “Our America.”  Other works that deal with the inclusion or exclusion of minority groups include William Bradford’s “Dealings with the Natives” and “The First Thanksgiving” from Of Plymouth Plantation; Philip Freneau’s “An Indian Burying Ground;” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Jewish Cemetery at Newport;” Emma Lazarus’s “In the Jewish Synagogue at Newport” and “The New Colossus;” and Carlos Bulosan’s “Be American.”
  4. The publication in the late 1950s of poetry in the “confessional” mode helped authors break some conventions of formality and universality in the lyric voice in favor of an autobiographical intensity. Examples of confessional poets include Allen Ginsberg; Robert Lowell; Sylvia Plath; and Anne Sexton. Earlier works that allowed for more individual expression include John Woolman’s Journal; Thomas Jefferson’s Autobiography; Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography; the slave narratives of Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass; Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself; and the slightly fictionalized autobiographical accounts in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”