Themes In American Literatue From 1865-1914 Essay, Research Paper
17 June 2000
Common Themes throughout American Literature
Many authors contributed to American literature between 1865 and 1914. Although these authors came from all over the country and lived different life styles, they still managed to include similar themes in their works. A theme is considered to be the main idea of the work, or a meaning behind the story. Within this period of American literature, three themes continued to emerge: the concept of true beauty, protection of nature, and perception versus reality.
The first theme, the concept of true beauty is evident in “The White Heron” and “The Real Thing”. “The White Heron” presents a little girl torn between material items (money) or saving a heron. It isn’t until she climbs into the heron’s tree and sees its perspective of the world, that she decides it’s not worth the money to give the bird’s hiding place up. Within “The Real Thing” a photographer begins using a beautiful, almost perfect, couple to do his photo shoots. After a few comparisons to his other female model he realizes that the couple is not as perfect as he thought. The female model can allow herself to act and be something she’s not, creating a creative image. While the couple can only allow themselves to stand and look “pretty”. Each of the characters eventually comes to terms with the true meaning of beauty and it changes them both.
“The White Heron” also advocates the second theme, protection of nature. The little girl becomes aware of the heron’s view and she is protecting nature by deciding to give in to the hunter and turn the bird in. Cochise writes in “I am alone” about the Spanish arriving and pushing them off their land. Although the Mimbreno Apache did not do anything themselves to destroy their land, the Spanish did reek havoc on it. Protection of nature is still a theme that is ever present in today’s society and well as during the Reconstruction period.
The final theme, perception versus reality is presented through “The Yellow Wall-paper” and “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”. The woman in “The Yellow Wall-paper” is placed inside a room by her husband in order for her to get over her illness. While in the room she notices the wallpaper is tearing at the bottom and there seems to be a woman stuck behind it, so she begins to peel away at the paper. The woman’s perception and reality are confused, the woman behind the paper and the woman peeling eventually become one in the woman’s mind, but the woman peeling never realizes that she was the woman stuck behind the paper the whole time. In “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” a man, Peyton Farquahar, is set to be hung. He about to lose his last breath when the rope suddenly breaks, he falls into the water and miraculously gets away. He makes it all the way home and as he is about to hug his wife, it all goes dark. Peyton Farquhar had never fallen off the bridge nor made it home, he only imagined this while in the process of being hanged. His perception and reality were confused, possible because of the fear of death. In these two cases each of the two characters were confused on what was really happing and what they imagined.
True beauty, protection of nature, and perception versus reality are three themes that are common among American literature. Each of the authors creates a story to reflect their personal view on life and it becomes connected to the other stories by theme. Theme is one of the most important literary terms used in a story. Without the theme, there would be no meaning to stories.