Contextualization (W.W.) Copy

WALT WHITMAN (1819-1892)


  • The struggle for independence is over  – The American War of Independence (1775-1783);
  • The USA is threatened by the rivalry between the North and the South;
  • The Civil War (1861-1865) was caused by the issue of slavery; the North was more industrialised and educated, while the South practiced slavery and had an agricultural economy. The Civil War ended with the abolition of slavery.


  • Massive immigration from Europe and China;
  • The North undergoes an Industrial Revolution based on iron and steel production;
  • The South exported cotton and relied on slave labour;
  • A transport network developed to stimulate trade. Roads, railways, and steamboats were built;
  • Technological inventions: mass production of motorcars (Henry Ford); the invention of the telephone (Alexander Graham Bell -1876);
  • After the Civil War immigration increased and business boomed;
  • By the end of the 19th century, the USA had become a huge, modern, industrialised nation;
  • The segregation after the Civil War transformed the Black population from slaves to second-hand citizens (no education, no right to vote, illiterate).


  • The first decades of the 19th century marked the emergence of truly American literature.
  • Literature was still derived from British literary tradition, but began to depict American society and explore the American landscape.
                        American Romanticism  
The individual valued over the group;
The subjective valued over the objective;
Personal experience valued over reason;
The wilderness of nature valued over human-made order;
Support for human rights;
Elements of the supernatural;
Reaction against the negative effects of industrialization (commercialism, hectic pace, lack of conscience);
Importance of nature and man’s relationship with it;
The human psyche is observed in different manifestations.  
A sub-genre of Romanticism that developed from Romantic principles but integrated neo-classical views.  
Dark Romanticism
A sub-genre of Romanticism that developed as a reaction against the light feeling of transcendentalist writing and emphasized the dark and the macabre.
Transcendent feeling (the reader is transported away from the world).
– believed that humans, nature, and God are interconnected;
– had a close relationship with nature;
– celebrated imagination and emotions;
– encouraged spiritual well-being over financial well-being;
– nature is divine and a universal organic mediator;
– humans possess divinity and wisdom.  
Literary themes:
Fear of death
Paranoia from guilt/remorse
Use of Gothic elements: grotesque characters, situations, violent events.
The bizarre imagination is the place where the fantastic, the demonic, and the insane meet.
Nature is dark and eerie; Human is prone to sin and self-destruction.


  • Poet, essayist, and journalist who had a humanistic approach to knowledge;
  • Part of the American Renaissance (a literary and cultural movement that defined the American national spirit in the wake of Romanticism);
  • Worked as a journalist, a teacher, and a government clerk;

Notable works:

  • “Leaves of Grass” (1855)