Ms. Richmond

English 223

Early American Literature

Native Americans

  • Even before European settlers arrived, Native Americans had “cultural values and literary traditions of their own” (Lederer 4).
  • Native American tradition was entirely oral; tribes had no written form of language.
  • Several hundred Native American tribes existed at the time of Columbus. They each had their own language, government, and traditions.
  • Native Americans arrived on this continent 12,000-70,000 years ago! They have been here “thirty times longer” than any other Americans (Lederer 4).
  • Archeologists and storytellers have reconstructed the NA tradition since no written records exist (Lederer 5).
  • A big part of the NA literary tradition is the origin myth, an explanation about the creation of humans and the world.
  • Many of these myths contain archetypes, “symbols, patterns, or character types that repeat across cultures” (Brozo, et. al. 18).
  • Most NAs greeted the first European settlers as friends.
  • Native Americans believe that the Creator is found in nature. This love and respect for nature is found throughout NA literature.
  • Five of the Great Lakes and half of our states have names taken from Native American words (Lederer 12).

The Founding of America

1492: Christopher Columbus lands in the Caribbean.

1500s: Several explorers reach America and some settlements are begun unsuccessfully.

1607: The first colony, Jamestown, is founded.

Pilgrims: critical of the Church of England; gave up reforming it and separated from it; formed the Plymouth Colony

Puritans: critical of the Church of England; decided to reform it by staying members; formed the Massachusetts Bay Colony


  • Formed a “city on the hill” (Lederer 5) guided by Biblical principles
  • Their government is called a theocracy, based on the Christian faith.
  • Central beliefs:
  • Humans exist to glorify God.
  • The Bible is the only thing that expresses God’s will.
  • Predestination: God has already decided who will be saved.
  • Puritan ethic: hard work and self-discipline lead to good (still considered American values)
  • Puritan belief lessened in the early 1700s but was renewed with The Great Awakening in 1720 (Lederer 6).
  • The sermons of ministers such as Jonathan Edwards were popular.
  • Puritan literature was dominated by religion.
  • It focused on the sinful nature of humans and the wrath of God.
  • Sermons, hymns, and other theological treatises were the main types of writing.
  • Personal journals were self-reflective.
  • Puritans did not write drama because they believed it to be sinful (Lederer 8).
  • They did write poetry as a form of “spiritual enlightenment” (Lederer 9).
  • Puritans believed that writing should be clear – easily understood – and not ornate so as to glorify God.
  • The Puritans founded HarvardCollege in 1636 (Lederer 9).
  • They also made the first printing press and public schools in the colonies.
  • The Salem witch trials occurred during Puritan times, leading to the death of hundreds of people. We will discuss this in-depth when we read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

African-American Slaves

  • Slavery at one time existed in every colony in America, even in the North.
  • Slavery flourished in the south because of the large labor forces needed to run plantations.
  • Most plantation owners were members of the Church of England (Lederer 6).
  • Slaves were brought over from Africa on ships.
  • Slaves did not have the rights of American citizens.
  • Some blacks were free persons.
  • The slave narrative chronicles the first-person experiences of these African-Americans.

During this time, the American Dream was:




Works Cited

Brozo, William G., et. al. “Close Reading Focus: Origin Myths and Archetypes”. Pearson Common

Core Literature: The American Experience. Hoboken: Pearson Education, Inc., 2015.

Lederer, Richard. “Beginnings to 1750.” Prentice Hall Literature: Timeless Voices, Timeless

Themes – The American Experience. UpperSaddleRiver: Pearson Education, Inc., 2005.