Characteristics of Romanticism in Early American Writing

The wilderness was an important factor in American romanticism.The wilderness was an important factor in American romanticism.

Romanticism was an artistic and intellectual movement with roots in Western Europe during the 1770s. It arrived in the United States in 1820 after the American Revolution. Later in this movement (mid-1800s), American literature flourished and matured with works like "The Scarlet Letter" and "Moby-Dick" becoming available to the general public.


One characteristic of American Romanticism involves humanity's relationship to nature. Much of the writing during this period revolves around the idea that, in nature, people will have an inherent desire to behave well. It's civilization that hinders the goodness of people. Nature becomes a source of inspiration and instruction as well as delight. Much of this came out of the realization that America's wilderness was quickly disappearing due to exploration and exploitation, both stemming from American expansion and the idea of manifest destiny. Romanticism was a way to reconnect with the dwindling wilderness.

The Individual

Writing attached to American Romanticism deals with the individual. It explores the links between one human being and another as well as to a "larger truth," adding a spark of divinity to this writing. Ideas related to Jacksonian democracy, which stresses the freedom of the individual, is also a prevalent characteristic. Rather than simply exploring large, overarching themes, romantic writers would write on the individual connection to such themes, or rather how universal themes affect everyday life.

Writing Form

American romantic literature dropped much of the rigidity of earlier writing styles. Inspiration and emotion were highly valued, while traditional form became more rejected. The idea that writing should be limited to a group of set rules clashes with romantic ideology. Rules were not completely thrown out, but writing during this period had subjective forms stemming from organicism, whereas past works were connected to Neoclassical rules of form.


Characters in American romantic writing were stagnant. There was little character development in writing at this time. Characterization in this period saw elements of Gothicism, attaching grotesque or strange qualities to characters. Many of these characters were imbued with a desire to search for beauty or freedom. They reveled in solitude, were frequent wanderers and often acted and behaved exactly as the author stated they would, not allowing for much creative deduction on the part of the reader as to a character's personality.

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