Reading Old Books: American Literature

Provided in today’s post is a written comment I made in class. The Professor had us discuss reading early American literature from a Christian perspective. Although, I am a Christian, and I love old stories (I read them more than any other), I am critical of trying to see things from a point-of-view that, I feel, simply white washes history and art. I fear it is this kind of thinking that gives Americans a false sense of patriotic mythology.

Here is my comment. Let me know what you think.

Literature travels across time; writing unites the present with the past. By studying, in this case, American literature, we take a walk in the shoes of those early writers. We learn that despite the progress of the modern era, we as humans have not changed all that much. We fear the same terrors, we fall in love the same, we hate the same, we even reason the same. A writer puts into his/her work a great deal of their life experiences, and thus reading writers of early America, we get to share in their experiences. Literature time-travels. 

Reading American literature from a Christian point-of-view, for me, can be difficult. As they say, victors write history, and a great deal of the suffering Christian’s created in early America is often washed-over. Things like slavery and the manifest destiny concept condemns our forefathers, no doubt, to have to answer to God over supplanting millions of natives, and creating a market around the enslavement of other humans. However, no age is perfect, and we find in their literary works questions raised over these very things. Literature tends to be the vehicle that changes the hearts of men, therefore as we comb through each time-period, we will see society change, progress, and grow.

If you want to know how a specific set of people, in a specific century, felt over a specific issue, read their popular writing. When we do that, we see mankind has always been just as hopeful, just as flawed, just as hypocritical, just as dreamy, as it is now and was before. 

-W. Alexander Dunford

If you want to know how a specific set of people, in a specific century, felt over a specific issue, read their popular writing.

Please don’t get the wrong idea, for I love early American literature; I worship the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. However, we should read literature, from any time period, with an appreciation for their times, their struggles, their hopes and dreams, and not project onto their works, something they themselves would not say.

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5 thoughts

  1. I am trying to remember if I read an old classic American book. For American Literature, we had to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which I disliked- that was for college. However, for books I love, I loved both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the things I love about literature is that is can offer a glimpse into minds long gone – as you’ve described. Similarly to you, I think texts usually make the most sense when they’re viewed with an appreciation of their cultural context, allowing readers to understand and empathise with that past, even as we acknowledge its problems and horrors. That being said, I think there’s also great value in seeking out voices which were suppressed or marginalised in their own time, the unpopular writing of its day.
    Lovely post, thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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