The Small Town in American Literature

The Small Town in American Literature

The Small Town in American Literature

The Small Town in American Literature

Excerpt

Continuously from the third quarter of the eighteenth century until the present there has developed a body of native small town literature too large and varied to be ignored by the student of American life and letters. Poetry, fiction of many types, histories, essays, diaries and notebooks, and autobiographies all have mirrored in varying degrees of verisimilitude, social satire, and romantic portrayal the prevailing attitudes toward a widely diversified community life. A survey such as this may serve, therefore, to trace the rather complex progression of the small town and its prototype, the village, through American literature, and, incidentally, to correct the false impression held by some that the literary history of the small town had its beginning in the sensational receptions accorded such modern works of protest as Spoon River Anthology and Main Street. The present study is a presentation of the literary patterns of American small town life comparable in purpose to earlier and now widely known investigations emphasizing the part played by the city, the frontier, and the prairies in the making of American literature. It has been designed to show through discussions, notes, and bibliographical aids that the little town has long interested many of our best writers, whose art has variously touched small town life, however isolated, in all parts of the nation. Undoubtedly, the portrayals of the American small town in literature represent far more than passing fancy or an occasional revolt from the village.

In selecting the historical-geographical approach as a method best adaptable to a cohesive presentation of the various treatments of the town, I have not been unaware of other acceptable modes of interpretation. Perhaps later investigators may choose to approach the undeniably rich field of small town literature by way of emphasizing agrarian, industrial, intellectual, and other frequently used community themes. In this study such familiar problems, common to small towns in many sections and many decades, appear as an integral part of the regional presentations.

In the preparation of this volume I have incurred so many obligations that to acknowledge the assistance of all who have . . .

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