Between 1870 and 1910, the USA became a great industrial power which began to také part in world affairs. There were a few enourmously rich and a vast number of poor, especially the immigrants who lived in appalling conditions. The illusion about the American ideal was breaking down. These facts led a group of realists and naturalists to observe and analyse the problems of life in America. They turned their attention to the position of the individual in society. The main representative of the naturalistic trend in American literature was JACK LONDON.
JACK LONDON became very popular with readers all over the world. His most popular stories are those connected with Alaska at the time of the gold rush.
„The Call of the Wild“ is about Buck, a sled dog, who loves his master, John Thorton. After his master is killed by the Indians, he leaves human civilization to become leader of a wolf pack. London takes a great interest in social themes and changes.
„Martin Eden“ is one of his best novels. It is about a struggle of an author to become successful. Martin Eden, a worker and sailor, longs to acquire education. He falls in love with Ruth but she leaves him. When one of his books is published and he ebcomes rich, she returns to him, but he doesn’t love her anymore. At last he commits a suicite.
WASHINGTON IRVING (1783 -1859) wrote on American topics – the history of New York, essays on American life, a large biography of G. Washington. One of his well-known books is „The Sketch Book“.
WALT WHITMAN (1819 – 1892) was a poet of democracy, freedom and sexual love and made the American poetry independent on European poetry. He influenced the whole modern poetry with rhythmical free verse. His most famous collection is „Leaves of Grass“.
HERMAN MELVILLE (1819 – 1849) was the greatest symbolist, he sailed on seas for many years. His experience at sea were the basis for almost all his novels. The most famous one is „Moby-Dick“ , the story of CAPTAIN AHAB,a free man, fighting his own fate, for which Moby-Dick – the white whale- means evil. The book culminates in the tension of the three-day hunt of the whale which ends in disaster – the Captain is pinned to the whale’s body by his own harpoon.
MARK TWAIN (1835-1910) is one of the greatest US authors. He comes from South and he worked as a steam-boat pilot on the Mississippi river. His real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens. He became famous as a humorist and story-teller.
His novel „The Gilded Age“ (Pozlaceny Vek) gave the name to the whole period after the Civil War. It is a bitter satire on one period of the get-rich-quick years in the second half of 19th century.
His best books are based on his own experience along the Mississippi. These are „The Adventures of Tom Sawyer“ and „The Adventures of Hucleberry Finn“. They describe the adventures of boyhood. Huck is a free boy and remains free until the end of the book, when he runs away because he’s afraid that Aunt Sally will adopt him and civilize him.
His other books are: The Prince and the Pauper, The Innocents Abroad, The Celebrated Jumping Frog, Life On the Mississippi….
EDGAR ALLAN POE (1809-1849) a poet and short story writer, critical essayist, the founder of sci-fi and detective story. He’s said to be a forerunner of modern literature and French poets Baudelaire to Valery regarded him as a genius.
His best poem is „The Raven“- on a stromy night a tired student who has lost his love asks if he will ever meet her again in some other world. His doubts are underlined by the raven’s repetition of „Nevermore“.
Poe wrote wondrful short stories such as „The Black Cat“, „ The Golden Bug“, „ The Pit and the Pendulum“ etc…
After the WWI a group of writers known as „The Lost Generation“ entered literature. They were writers who were influenced by the war (some of them were on service in The Army like Hemmingway or Dos Passos). Thier experience resulted in disillusionment. The best are Ernest Hemmningway and Francis Scott Fitzgerald.
FRANCIS SCOTT FITZGERALD (1896-1940) is connected with the Jazz Age of the 20s. He wrote many stories about wealthy people, for whom everything is so easy because of money (Tales of the Jazz Age).
„The Great Gatsby“ is is best novel – about a very rich man who earns all his money by smuggling. He is doing this because he wants to be on the same level as Daisy, his former lover who had always been rich.
WILLIAM FAULKNER (1897-1967), another Nobel Prize winner (1949), a Southerner who wrote a cycle of novels dealing with all possible problems of the South („Light in August“, „As I Lay Dying“).
SINCALIR LEWIS (1885-1951) was the first US writer to win the Nobel Prize in literature in 1930. He deals mainly with a small town in the Middle West and its middle-class citizens („Main Street“, „Arrowsmith“, „Babbit“)
JOHN SETINBECK (1902-1968) won the Nobel Prize in1962. He tried to uncover the reasons of social injustice.
„The Grapes of Wrath“ describes the Depression following after the crisis of 1929. This novel is a picture of a poor family which is exploited by the fruit-growers in California.
His other famous works are „Of Mice and Men“, „Tortilla Flat“, „Cannery Row“, „The Wayward Bus“, „East of Eden“, „Travels with Charley“.
Other known writers of this era: PEARL BUCK, JEROME DAVID SALINGER, SAUL BELLOW, NORMAN MAILER, JOHN UPDIKE, WILLIAM STYRON, WILLIAM SAROYAN, JOSEPH HELLER, RAY BRADBURY…
20th century poetry is famous for a group of poets and atrists who gathered around 1956 in San Francisco and are called „the Beat Group“. They practised new ways of free life , behaviour and new use of language. They were disgused by corrupt, commercial and conventional world around them and hoped they can make their world better by some excitement given by drugs, drink and they were also influenced by Zen Buddhism teaching.
ALLEN GINSBERG (1926-1997) was born in New Jersey. After graduation from Columbia University he worked at lots of odd jobs, and finally found his place in San Francisco during the Beat movement.
His collection „Howl and Other Poems“ (Kvileni a jiné basne) became famous when its publisher, Lawrence Ferlighetti, was tried and acquitted for issuing that allegedly obscene work.
LAWRENCE FERLIGHETTI (1919) was born in New York, but he has spent a great part of his life in San Francisco. He is a cofounder and owner of the City Lights Bookshop. In the „Pocket Poets“ series he published many new works of the period, and in his bookstore public poetry readings were held for enthusiastic audiences.
Much of his own verse was written to be read aloud, often to the accompaniment of jazz music. His poems are witty and full of lyrical intensity. There is less self-concentration and nihilism and more social concern and political satire in his poems than in the works of the beatniks with whom Ferlinghetti was for some time lumped together.
He has written several books of poetry, a novel, and some experimental plays.
In April 1998 he visited Prague. During his stay his poems were read in the Salvator church for three days and nights non-stop. Prague and its beauty impressed him so much, that one night, at three o’clock, when he suddenly woke up, he wrote a poem about it and called it „Rivers of Light“.
JACK KEROUAC (1922-1969) „Mexico City Blues“, „The Town and the City“, „On the Road“ – it was the bible of the beat group. This novel is about friends wandering on their motorcycles back and forth across the continent and shows us their „beat“ characters, they search for experience, restlessness.
WILLIAM BORROUGHS (1914) „Junkie“, „The Naked Lunch“
The most outstanding personalities in the 20th century drama are
EUGENE O’NEILL (1888-1953), a Nobel Prize winner in 1936. He wanted to study and show the bad sides of human character and the difficult conditions people in this world have („Mouring Becomes Electra“, „Desire under the Elms“, „The Emperor Jones“).
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS (1914) shows in his plays people’s crude, selfish, violent and cruel motives of their behaviour as well as deep desire to love and be loved. („A Streetcar Named Desire“, „Orpheus Descending“, „Cat on a Hot Tin Roof“)
EDWARD ALBEE (1928) is one of the leading experimental playwrights. He wants to entertain, amuse and mainly offends by attacking the narrowmindedness, hypocrisy and conformity of people. („The Zoo Story“, „The Sandbox“, „Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf“)