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Additional info for Early American Literature, 1776-1820 (Research Guide to American Literature)

Sample text

Even in Franklin’s account of his life, though, he appears to be very deeply embedded in his community. One analysis of Franklin might pit his own sense of his independence against the many ways in which his community supported his success. Similar approaches to other narratives can help focus a consideration of the extent to which life-writing did or did not valorize Biography and Autobiography: Stranger Than Fiction 33 the individual over the larger demands of society. What role does religion play in this conflict?

Although it may seem that the writer of a letter is revealing his or her “true” self, like any other kind of writing, the speaker of a letter is a persona created by the author, whether consciously or unconsciously, for the audience he or she is addressing. In addition, since Revolutionary-era writers knew that others might read their letters, they surely kept in mind that the image they projected in their letters might reach people they did not anticipate. So in looking at any 30 Early American Literature, 1776–1820 letter or collection of letters, we can and should analyze the persona the writer has constructed.

This is by no means to say that Wheatley, Freneau, and the Wits are not worth reading and remembering for other reasons; rather, they are only a small slice of a broader poetic field that is also worth consideration. Wheatley’s work, although unusual because of its author’s enslaved status, is representative in many ways of the major trends of poetry of the time. Wheatley’s poetry is serious, written in recognizable forms and genres, often has a moral purpose or intent, uses poetic diction, and often is written to a specific person or group of people to commemorate a specific event.

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