Romanticism V Realism
Throughout the course of American literature there have been noticeable sweeps and vast changes in the writing style popular for any given era. These changes in the literary world are known as movements. One movement, kown as Romanticism, took place in two different places. The Romantic Era began in Europe as Europeaen Romanticism and migrated to the United States as American Romanticism. The two, as one might guess, differ in a variety of ways, but are similar in most . It seems unlikely that two such similar movements could have occurred so relatively closely in time.
This is due to the similar conditions which promoted the rise of each movement. There were many factors involved in the rise of European Romanticism, many of which are very similar in nature to the events to later take place in the United States. Romanticism almost directly opposed the period that it replaced, classicism. Classicism mainly focused on Jean Jacques Rousseau’s belief in the goodness of the natural. Romanticism, however, holds that pure logic is insufficient to answer all questions, that logic in itself is incomplete as an explanation.
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Romanticism was in many ways a reaction to the dominance of Enlightenment. Throughout the 18th century, reason and science dominated the literary world. Eventually, a sense of disillusionment rose up in opposition to the calculated Age of Enlightenment. Romanticists feared the oppressive, conformist society that Enlightenment seemed to have brought along with its popularity. They believed that one could never even hope to know or understand everything about the world and human personality. One major factor which jumpstarted Romantics in Europe was the British Industrial Revolution.
By the 1700s was beginning to greatly accelerate. Manufacturing, business, and the number of wage laborers soared, starting a trend that would carry itself well into the first half of the 19th century (Wesson para. 12). This economic transformation was paired with a social transformation with equivalent or even greater strength than that of the Industrial Revolution. Industrialization meant thousands working in factories, often in unsafe conditions. The first act to protect workers in Britain went into effect in 1802, though it did little to actually help orkers in these conditions. Romantic styles of writing were used to address the lack of representation for workers at the time. Romanticism seems appropriate of the topic – the emotion behind losing a loved one to a machine in a factory is vastly more compelling than logically explaining the need for that worker in society as a piece form classicism would have done. European historians have been quarreling over the meaning of the word Romanticism for decades. One of the problems is that the Romantics were liberals and conservatives, revolutionaries and reactionaries.
Some were preoccupied with God, others were atheistic to the core. Some began their lives as devout Catholics, lived as ardent revolutionaries and died as staunch conservatives. In other words, there is no cookie-cutter or mold for the Romanticists, they all had their own beliefs, opinions, values, and positions on different social and economic issues. Romanticism is a movement in the arts that flourished in Europe and America throughout much of the 19th century from the period of the French revolution in 1789. Romantic artists glorified nature, idealised the past, and celebrated the divinity of creation.
There is a fundamental emphasis on freedom of self expression, sincerity, spontaneity and originality. The movement rebelled against classicism, and artists turned to sources of inspiration for subject matter and artistic style. Their treatment of subject was emotional rather than reasonable, intuitive rather than analytical. Among other Romantics, the focus on the human being was manifested in a fascination with the eerie and exotic and with the effects of guilt, evil, isolation, and terror on the human psyche. Romanticism was seen as a revival of the essentially modern, spiritual and fantastic culture of the Middle Ages.
Romantics were involved in emotional directness of personal experience and individual imagination and aspiration. They no longer wanted to conform to the impersonal, artificial ordered rationality. The expression Romantic gained currency during its own time, roughly 1780-1850. However, even within its own period of existence, few Romantics would have agreed on a general meaning. Perhaps this tells us something. To speak of a Romantic era is to identify a period in which certain ideas and attitudes arose, gained currency and in most areas of intellectual endeavor, ecame dominant. That is, they became the dominant mode of expression. Which tells us something else about the Romantics: expression was perhaps everything to them — expression in art, music, poetry, drama, literature and philosophy. Just the same, older ideas did not simply wither away. Romantic ideas arose both as implicit and explicit criticisms of 18th century Enlightenment thought (Smith Para. 9). For the most part, these ideas were generated by a sense of inadequacy with the dominant ideals of the Enlightenment and of the society that produced them.
Romanticism appeared in conflict with the Enlightenment. You could go as far as to say that Romanticism reflected a crisis in Enlightenment thought itself, a crisis which shook the comfortable 18th century philosophe out of his intellectual single-mindedness. The Romantics were conscious of their unique destiny. In fact, it was self-consciousness which appears as one of the keys elements of Romanticism itself. The philosophes were too objective — they chose to see human nature as something uniform. They had also attacked the Church because it blocked human reason.
The Romantics attacked the Enlightenment because it blocked the free play of the emotions and creativity. The philosophe had turned man into a soulless, thinking machine — a robot. In a comment typical of the Romantic thrust, William Hazlitt (1778-1830) asked, “For the better part of my life all I did was think. ” And William Godwin (1756-1836), a contemporary of Hazlitt’s asked, “what shall I do when I have read all the books? ” Christianity had formed a matrix into which medieval man situated himself. The Enlightenment replaced the Christian matrix with the mechanical matrix of Newtonian natural philosophy.
For the Romantic, the result was nothing less than the demotion of the individual. Imagination, sensitivity, feelings, spontaneity and freedom were stifled — choked to death. Man must liberate himself from these intellectual chains. Like one of their intellectual fathers, Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), the Romantics yearned to reclaim human freedom. Habits, values, rules and standards imposed by a civilization grounded in reason and reason only had to be abandoned. “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains,” Rousseau ad written. Whereas the philosophes saw man in common, that is, as creatures endowed with Reason, the Romantics saw diversity and uniqueness. That is, those traits which set one man apart from another, and traits which set one nation apart from another. Discover yourself — express yourself, cried the Romantic artist. Play your own music, write your own drama, paint your own personal vision, live, love and suffer in your own way.
So instead of the motto, “Sapere aude,” “Dare to know! ” the Romantics took up the battle cry, “Dare to be! The Romantics were rebels and they knew it. They dared to march to the tune of a different drummer, their own. The Romantics were passionate about their belief in subjectivity, about their tendency toward introspection. Rousseau’s autobiography, The Confessions, began with the following words: I am commencing an undertaking, hitherto without precedent and which will never find an imitator. I desire to set before my fellows the likeness of a man in all the truth of nature, and that man myself. Myself alone! I know the feelings of my heart, and I know men.
I am not made like any of those I have seen. I venture to believe that I am not made like any of those who are in existence. If I am not better, at least I am different (Smith Para. 19). American Romanticism began as a European artistic and intellectual movement in the early 19th century. The movement powerfully highlighted the vitality of individual freedoms, instigated by the French Revolution and American. More specifically, the freedoms focused on included freedom from social and political dogma of the day and restraints on human imagination.
Another strong element portrayed throughout European Romanticism was the idealization of nature and its ability to punish and reward characters. Romanticism is much more concerned with emotion rather than rationality. American Romantics tend to admire nature as a sanctum of non-artificiality or authenticity, where the self can fulfill its potential. The earlier Puritans tended to see nature as the fallen “wilderness,” full of “savage” Indians. American Romantics also champion spiritual intuition or self-reliant individualism, which some intellectual historians argue is a ecularized outgrowth of Reformation Protestant radicalism (Pope para. 7). They often, however, illustrate the egotistic, futile, and destructive aspects of their questing heroes. Or they highlight how such self-reliance or intuitions conflict with conventional social and religious dogma, soecifically Fuller and Dickinson (Pope para. 9). Socially, American Romantics are usually radically egalitarian and politically progressive, Poe is the exception, and, in the case of Melville and Whitman, receptive to non-heterosexual relations.
Whitman was believed by many scholars to be “definitely gay; Melville perhaps (Pope para. 14). ” In terms of literary technique, American Romantics will use symbols, myths, or fantastic elements as the focus and expression of the protagonist’s mental processes or to convey deeper psychological or archetypal themes, works such as Walden Pond, the White Whale, and the House of Usher (Meghan para. 22). Their style is often very original and not rule or convention oriented, in other words only Dickinson writes like Dickinson; only Whitman, like Whitman (Meghan 23).
The primary feature of American Romanticism, the obsession with and celebration of individualism, takes on particular social relevance because U. S. culture has always prized individualism and egalitarianism. Democracy elevates everyone ,white males in this time period that is, to the same status. One is no longer part of a traditional, old-world hierarchy. Everyone has a chance, if given laisse-faire government, to maximize one’s own worth. In America one is liberated to pursue one’s aspirations without interference, that’s what “liberalism” originally meant, and that is what Frederick Douglass wants at the end of his Narrative (Pole para. ). Independence also leads to a sense of isolation. Without traditional context, insecurity about values arises, and thus, there emerges a preoccupation with what everyone else thinks. The average middle-class person aspires to be like everyone else. American Romantic writers like democracy and see the dignity of common folk, but also, usually only implicitly. are troubled by the loss of distinction. It is key to see that American Romantics can both celebrate the “common man” and their own, more spiritually and psychologically elite selves.