My primary intention with this list is to cover as much ground as possible in the critical period of the formation and development of the United States. While I am wary of unifying theories of American literature, I do want to put these texts into their historical moment. Whether this period is viewed as one of nation formation or transformation, this is undeniably a period of turmoil. Three wars and their accompanying ideologies, revolutions in Europe, changes in the family, reform movements, religious zeal, the rise of industry and the popularity of oratory made this a time in which ideas, beliefs and opinions were unusually significant and available to the American public. By matching literary texts with religious and political ones, I hope to discover the way that literature has entered into the national exchange of ideas.
As my particular interest has been American religion, I have included Jonathan Edwards as a precursor. I am interested in the way that American authors, literary, political and religious, have treated morality in post-revolutionary, ante-bellum America. I want to explore the ambiguous relationship between Christian passivity and violent action that is at the core of Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, Melville's Pierre, Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance and much of Garrison's purportedly non-violent writings. Why was Thoreau so supportive of John Brown, while Hawthorne thought Brown got what he deserved? How does Christian rhetoric unify the country for the revolution but fail to do so over an issue such as slavery? I am also interested in the way that American religion is tied to Americans' view of history. How does Christian progressive history co-exist with Christian primitivism?