How are American Literature and the American Identity Interrelated?

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American literature and the American identity.

What are they, and how are they related?

This article will help you understand both the American identity and American literature and make sense of the two of them.

We will also discuss how these two are related and why it is important to know this information.

In short, American identity revolves around individualism, self-reliance, and hard work, and American literature often feeds into this narrative by promoting these qualities in many of its characters.

I’ll unpack this more in the sections below.

What is American Literature?

Rural American Fantasy Literature Fanart

Simply put, American literature is anything that is by an American.

But there is so much more to it than that.

American literature does not have as long of a history as British literature or Middle Eastern literature.

However, it still has a rich history that has helped shape the country as we know it today.

American literature has its roots in the earliest settlers of the east coast.

While Native Americans were certainly here before any European settlers, they do not have as much written literature as they do oral stories and histories.

American literature takes most of its inspiration from British literature simply because many of the first settlers were British, and the US was under British rule for many years.

It really started to take shape during the colonial years, and we have seen it shift and change a great deal in the hundreds of years since then.

American writers often take inspiration from the current events of the day, as well as movements in art, music, and technology.

American literature is a fundamental element of American culture and has helped form the country into what it is today. 

What is the American Identity? 

American Fantasy fanart
Fanart of Native American Fantasy

The American identity is something that is really difficult to define since there isn’t exactly a consensus on its definition.

The melting pot nature of the country means that there are so many different cultures, races, religions, and so forth represented all over the nation.

No two people have the same experience, so the American identity means different things to different people.

Historically, Americans have placed a great emphasis on individualism, self-reliance, and hard work.

In fact, our forefathers founded this country on these principles.

Colonial Americans did not want to be under British rule, so they took matters into their own hands.

They separated themselves from Great Britain and became the United States of America.

As Americans began to move west and take over more territory, the American identity shifted, as well.

It has contributed to a shift throughout the years, making it even more difficult to pin down an exact definition.

How are American Literature and the American Identity Interrelated?

American literature has heavily shaped American identity.

In fact, you can witness the evolution of American identity through its literature.

On the other hand, American literature often takes inspiration from the American identity.

The two are so intertwined with each other that it is hard to see where one begins and the other ends.

Though there are countless books that continue to shape the American identity all the time, there are a few that have historically made this country what it is today.

Check out these important works of literature below. 

Uncle Tom’s Cabin 

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is one of the most famous works of American literature.

In fact, it is the first book that comes to mind for many when they think of American literature.

Especially if we are also discussing the American identity.

This book changed the way we discuss race in America.

It made people across the country consider their black neighbors as real humans rather than just property to own.

This novel laid some of the groundwork for the Civil War.

Where would the country be if Harriet Beecher Stowe had not challenged white Americans to rethink their attitudes on slavery?

While racism is still a problem in the US and world today, it is nothing compared to how black Americans were treated in the earliest years of America.

This is a book that certainly had a massive effect on the American identity. 

The Catcher in the Rye

Another novel that has shaped American identity is The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger.

This novel discusses depression, alienation, and the problems of young people, but it is a novel for readers both young and old.

One of the most popular coming-of-age stories in America, The Catcher in the Rye has influenced readers for nearly 80 years.

It is still in circulation today.

The main character of this novel wants to be different from the rest of society, and it is a way for him to express himself.

This plays right into the individualistic aspects of the American identity.

It is a fascinating novel that many Americans would do well to read.

There is so much to learn from Salinger and his characters. 

The Great Gatsby 

The Great Gatsby is an iconic novel that many people directly associate with the American dream and American identity.

Many high school students across the country must read this within the public school system.

But that does not mean that it is bland or boring.

Rather, it is one of the books that many would say has shaped America into what it is today.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote this novel to show the true nature of the American identity.

Many of the characters in the novel change who they are to better fit in with the rest of society.

Then they try to find a way to stand out.

Additionally, many of the characters in the novel create their own past and their own history.

Money is highly important and at the forefront of this novel, as it is in American culture.

This novel is one that depicts well how American literature and the American identity are interrelated. 


I hope this article has helped you understand how American literature and the American identity are interrelated.

And if you have questions about this topic, feel free to leave a message in the comments below!

Lastly, if you want to read more about American literature on this blog, check out:

American Fantasy: A Simple Genre Guide

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