The Norton Anthology of American Literature

What is so important about literature? In The Norton Anthology of American Literature, it discusses many works, poems, and bibliographies about various famous authors all throughout the years between the 1700s and the 1900s. Over a semester period, we have gone over how all these authors, their background, style of writing, how they contributed to the literature world, and the meanings behind their works. During this time we have had some of the most unique and talented

American literature authors

Anne Bradstreet was an early Puritan English poet of North America and the first person not just a woman as a writer in England’s North American colonies to be published. In Anne Bradstreet’s life, she faced many hardships, at a young age, she was bedridden from rheumatic fever and later on almost died from smallpox. Not only that her husband was always gone and not being able to have children after many years of trying. In Bradstreet’s poetry, she expressed herself, her emotions, hardships, and her relationship with God. For example, some of her poems like, To My Dear and Loving Husband, Here Follows Some Verses Upon the Burning of our House, In Reference to Her Children. As in the poem, Here Follows Some Verses Upon the Burning of our House, Bradstreet explains in the poem how she was feeling as she was watching her house burn down.

“Then, coming out, beheld a space

The flame consumes my dwelling place.

And when I could no longer look,

I blest his name that gave and took,

That laid my goods now in dust.

Yea, so it was, and so ‘twas just.”(11-15)

Bradstreet illustrates how a fire burns and destroys her house. She sat and there and watched her house burn, realizing there was no nothing she could do now to stop that situation. The longer she sits there minutes feeling like hours she comes to terms and realizes that it was Gods doing. He let the fire happen for a reason, for he is the one that beholds all the power and he can easily take as he gives. “I blest his name that gave and took”. Bradstreet accepts what’s happening and puts her trust in God. She understands that she is not entitled to any material possessions.


Washington Irving was a writer of American literature, he was called the “first American man of letters” because he was best known for his short stories. Some of his best short stories are, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Wrinkle”. Rip Van Winkle is representing the American revolution years before and after. He took a getaway hike up the mountains and returns ages and unaware of his surroundings this was set to display the vast amount of changes made to the American Revolution what he once remembered was altered and forever remembered. When analyzing Rip Van Winkle, there is a comparison to Benjamin Franklin. According to The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Rip Van Winkle is an 'anti-Franklin' character. This is because he is almost the exact opposite of Benjamin Franklin, and his personality is ill-mannered. Rip Van Winkle is lazy and irresponsible, a “ Ne’er do well” kind of person in Washington Irving’s tale. An example of how they are very much different is Benjamin was self-taught be worked hard to be a printer, scientist, inventor, and statesman. As Rip Van Winkle slept for twenty years of his life. Rip Van Winkle, “Declared it was no use to work on his farm; it was the most pestilent little piece of ground in the whole country; everything about it went wrong, and would go wrong, in spite of him.” On the other hand, some of Franklin's well-used sayings was shows the contrast between the two, “Laziness makes every work difficult”, and “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” Rip Van Winkle was absent of dedication and motivation to get his priorities and responsibilities done. He would much rather have an excuse instead of getting it. “ His fences were continually falling to pieces; his cows would either go astray or get among the cabbages; weeds were sure to grow quicker in his fields than anywhere else; the rain always made a point of setting in just as he had some out-door work to do”. Ben Franklin was supporting the revolutionary movement and was an influencer of the forming of the new government of the United States, becoming one of the Founding Fathers, and signing all three documents of the revolutionary movement. In the text, there are subtle jabs at Franklin whereas they explain Rip Van Winkle as a good, kind, diligent man, 'I have observed that he was a simple good-natured man; he was moreover a kind neighbor, and an obedient, henpecked husband,' When he’s actually lazy and a pessimist. Compared to Benjamin Franklin who taught me everything without any education and did everything he could to make himself successful in life.


Henry David Thoreau was a part of the transcendentalist movement in the 19th century but was most famous for his writings. From the article, Henry David Thoreau, Edmund R. Goode states that “David Thoreau was a New England writer, naturalist, journalist, polemicist, and social critic. He is widely known for his iconoclastic views on religion and politics, his rapturous meditations on the natural world, and his zeal for decisive action”. Thoreau’s philosophy of living simply does not worry about the non-important things and removes all things that are holding you back in being successful in life. To live simply you have to only focus on what things make you happy and will affect your life in a good way. Thoreau discusses how everyday things stop us from living simply as in, our jobs, even gossiping with others, and judging our co-workers. We lose sight of living simply because everyone loses appreciation for each other and everything.

'He has no time to be anything but a machine. How can he remember well his ignorance, who has so often to use his knowledge? We should feed and clothe him gratuitously sometimes, and recruit him with our cordials before we judge him. The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom of fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly.'

The way Thoreau was able to live simply because he always lived off of as little money as possible. He did not hold a steady job to have a clear mind and meditate on life. He was a very simple man, for example when he needed to bathe instead of heating water for a bath he would just wash himself in the Walden Pond.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary.”

Thoreau believed it was better to live simply because then you are truly connected with real life which was nature and freedom.

In conclusion, In The Norton Anthology of American Literature, discusses many works, poems, and bibliographies about various famous authors all throughout the years between the 1700s and the 1900s. Learning the authors’ backgrounds, style of writing, how they contributed to the literature world, and the meanings behind their works. During this time we have had some of the most unique and talented American literature authors. The amazing works that have been discussed are only the peak of the greats of American Literature. American Literature is more than just poems and stories, the authors know how to connect with their audience through their writings and influence them in some way or another. By breaking down each author’s life and writings, you see that there is a correlation to their life and to what they write about. Many of these authors had difficult lives which made it hard for them to become who they were.  

07 July 2022
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