American history



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When European settlers set foot in Noerth America for the first time they started an historical process that had effects on the rest of the world: in fact, in 200years, the United States has become the most powerful country in the world.There was however a darker side.
When Cristopher Columbus discovered the continent in 1492, North America was inhabited by 1'500'000 native Indians who lived in reserves and nowadays they have problem of alchool and unemployment; in 1900 they were just 250'000. Europeans destroyed their lands and oral culture(songs poem)
- The first colony was established in Virginia (South) in 1584 by Sir Walter Raleigh who introduced plantation of tobacco and potato to England.
- He was followed in 1620 by the persecuted Pilgrim Fathers, a small group of Puritans who, on board the Mayflowers, founded a colony in Massachusetts.
- There was also a strong Dutch presence on the east cost in 1660s in fact New York was known as New Amstedam. Settleres arrived from Europe and more colonies were set up in the north-east that became known as New England.
A new society
Some people left Europe to escape from poverty or social and political discrimination. Someone dreamed a country were the religious divisions of Europe could be left behind but for example Puritans were very intolerant with who didn’t live by their principles. They cut off ear to whom cursed and executed women suspected to be witches.
The economy
There was a big improvement of economy. Rice, corn, wool, sugar, tobacco and cotton soon satisfied the demands of internal market but they were also exported in England. America was a source of raw materials so English government tried in every way to have the monopoly on all goods produced there.
In 1660 were passed the Navigation Acts in which there was written that goods had to be transported in English ship with ¾ of the crew English. At first colonies were quite happy because this guaranteed them a secure market; then, in the 18th century, English imposed taxes on goods and a group of colonists protested in 1773 against the tax on tea (Boston tea party)They threw a ship cargo of tea into the sea.Also this lead to war
The American War of Indipendence
From the middle of 17th to the middle of 18th century, England France Spain and Netherlands had fought intermittent wars for the control of the continent. Whit the treaty of Paris England gained control over Canada, Louisiana and Florida. The colonists couldn’t accept economic and political limitation; the American War of Indipendence broke out in 1775 and on the 4th of July 1776 a Declaration of Indipendence was issued by George Washington. In 1783 England garanted the colonies indipendance.
The leaders tried to find a political system that would garantee the autonomy of the individual states but together in an unified nation. In 1787 delegates of colony drew up a Constitution (by Thomas Jefferson): it was agree to elect a President and set up two houses of Parliament (Congress and Senate).
The capital was named in honour of Gorge Washington, the first President.
Emily Dickinson (1830-86)
Author profile:
Father was a lawyer who believed to Puritan princicples, mother loved by her, sister took care of all, brother concentrated on the country. She was educated in a female seminar and kept between people without hope.
From her mid-20 she began to close in herself and rarely left home. By 30 total recluse.
She was influenced by Higginson who advised her not to publish her poems (only 7 of 1800 poetry and writing letters).
The themes of her poems are traditional love, nature, religion, and mortality explained in original way. She talks about funerals, volcanoes, storm but also butterflies, birds and sunrays.
She use methaphors, unusual personification, frequent dashes and capital letters.
1. “Apparently with no surprise” (Parafrasi)
Apparently, with no surprise,
frozen drops of water cuts its head off
to any happy flower
in an accidental way.
The blonde assassin passes on;
The sun, unmoved, proceeds
marking out another day
for an indifferent God.
2. “The saddest Noise”
Charming poem in ballad form (like others Dickinson’s song) that describes the strong impact of nature on the senses and feelings. The voice of birds reminds us of the past, things we now regret so they can break the heart. In fact, the ear (the senses) and are the heart (the inner life) are closely connected.
Trascendentalist movement (middle ‘800) marked a significant break from the puritan tradition.
It was exalted feelings and intuition over reason. A self realisation through a life lived organically in communion with nature.

• Calvinistic conception: all men are sinner while few men are predestined (God’s chosen people). Strict conformity to the rules.
• Literature not for pleasure, only for moral instruction (1630 Harvard College in New England)
• Hard work was a pleasure.
• Success in business means to be on God’s side. Poverty was a very bad thing.
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
Author profile:
born in Long Island, NY, belong to a working-class family he was outgoing. Brief period as an editor that ended when his opposition to slavery became a problem. He travelled a lot and was impressed by the vastness of the American landscape and the variety of people.
His poetry was influenced by Emerson (Trascendentalism), it was a sort of celebration; durin the civil war he served as a volunteer in military hospital (famous elogy to Abraham Lincoln).
Rest of his life spent working on 6editions of Leaves of Grass. His literature was disregarded by the public shocked by his frankness in sexual matters and his rough working-man image.
1. “Leaves of Grass”
his great masterpiece; originally published with 12poems it grew to include 400. he believed American poetry should be like the country it represented, free of strict rules; a poet should be a man of the common people.Use of metaphors and smilies.Many poems are a celebration of USA.
2. “O Captain! My Captain”
his most popular poem; he was sorry for having written it ‘cause it was asked him to read it in public. Its popularity is due to the style, elements of the ballad form.
3. “When I heard the learned astronomer”
is one continuous sentence and there is no end rhyme. It extols the beauty of the natural world leaving a stuffy lecture hall to smell the air and watch the stars.
4. “I hear America singing”
this poem is dedicated to America’s different voices, men and women alike. He is delighted by the song of common people, the builders of new American nation.

American Dream
It’s the idea that trought hard work, courage and determination one can achieve prosperity.
In mid 1800s the Gold Rush and then immigration from Europe where people wanted to escape from poverty (persecutions and economic problems) to embrace a financial security and constitutional freedom in the Usa, until 1965. In the 20th century, many industrialists became the new model of the American Dream; their great wealth demonstrate that they had talent.
In 1950s the concept of Perfect family belonged to the American Dream but there were also young people that denied its traditional values embracing the hippie’s one.
It was also very criticised: it’s no possible to everyone to become prosperous and people who are not successful could be seen as lazy. And then: difficult for poor children to attend college, limited economic mobility, economies of scale, genetic lottery and ethics differences.
The Great Depression
the worst economic slump in American history
-Causes: unequal distribution of money between rich/middle-class, industry/agriculture, Usa/Europe; this imbalance of wealth created an unstable economy. But also the extensive stock market speculation. In the 20s there was an oversupply of goods because people don’t have enough money to pay them so they let credit sales. As a result there was a booming of auto and radio factories while agriculture began to decline. But the first couldn’t expand at infinitum and when they declined, agriculture were already in ruin.
-Consequences: people stopped buying goods with credits and also foreigners stopped buying American products for the high trade taxes. Jobs were lost, store, banks and factories closed and unemployment grew up.
-Cures: it was created the FED that inflate the money supply and raised interest rates (bad to do).
Roosevelt 33 introduced an economic-social program knew as “New Deal”.
The Usa in the 20th century had an important role in the world: a powerful economy, army and navy able to compete with other countries. Also an imperial power with an empire of colonies.
A good time for America (roaring 20s) in particular for women who after winning the right to vote they felt a new sense of equality with men and explored new roles in the society. The age of prohibition of alcohol and of bootlegging business.
The Lost Generation
During the 20s many of American writers lived in Paris (best city for dissatisfied ones). After Ww1 they found hard to relate with Americans who were enjoying the new prosperity forgetting the brutality of the War. Lost generation=no sense of purpose or direction, war profoundly affected them. Their novels reflect this sense of emptiness.
The Harlem Renaissance
After Ww1 African Americans continued their migration from the country to cities (New York city neighbourhood of Harlem). 20s time of great excitement for them ‘cause black soldiers died for the country in Europe and expected respect. They think about racial justice and their work express racial pride and the subject is the examination of black people. A famous author is Hughes.
Mark Twain (1835-1910)
Life:He was born in a small village in Missouri. Then he moved to Hannibal on the Mississippi River (symbol of American changing life). He worked as a printer and at 18 he began to travel so he did the steamboat pilot, the volunteer in the Confederate army and the miner. In 1862 he became an editor, married a girl and dedicated himself to his family and writing. In 1886 when he travelled in Hawaii he understood that civilisation was destroying the island’s inhabitants; he was active in Anti-Imperialist League.In his last years he knew the bankrupt and his wife and 2of his 3 sons died.
5. “The adventures of Huckleberry Finn”
STORY: Huck is a teenage boy adopted. He doesn’t like staying at home very much but prefer going out in search of adventures; his father was a drunken and often he gets him. So, with a runaway slave (Jim) he sails down the Mississippi on a raft. During the journey they meet interesting and cruel characters who sell Jim back to slavery.
Huck meets his friend Tom Sawyer and with him, they plan how to free Jim but he has already been given his freedom by his owner.
The novel is set along the Mississippi river where Twain grew up. It is a picaresque novel in witch there are 2main characters Jim and Huck, symbols of lost America with true values). Themes are slavery (Twain was against), the prejudices of people toward black, attack on traditional civilised society (represented by Huck’s drunken father).
One of the principal features is the naively humorous way in which Huck narrates his adventures. Naïve or innocent narrator used to add humour and irony to the work. He uses a vernacular English that add realism using regional accents and idioms and for this he was criticized.
He also wrote “The innocents abroad” (1869) ant “The adventures of Tom Sawyer” (1876).
Mark Twain is considered one of the fathers of American literature.
Ernest Hemingway
Life: born in Chicago 1899 he loved sports (fishing/hunting trips with father). Struggle against nature: if a man fights skilfully he will be rewarded. After graduating he worked as a reporter for a local newspaper. During 1°Ww he drove ambulance and was sent in Italy where he was wounded and fell in love with a nurse. Returned home as an hero and was decorated for his bravery. In the 20iest he lived in Paris and was part of the intellectual circle of the “Poets of the lost Generation”. In 1928 moved to Florida where he wrote A Farewell to Arms. His novels paint a vivid picture of what he himself lived through. In 30ies he went to cover the Spanish Civil War as a correspondent for an American news agency.
In 1946 he settled down in Cuba and won the Pulitzer price. In 1954 the Nobel prize for literature.
A Farewell to Arms:
-Structure: 5books (1-2 war and violence, 3 retreat of Italians, 45 love) 1° pers narrator Frederic Henry. It’s set on the Italian front during the 1°Ww and in Switzerland. War reveals manly virtues: bravery, friendship, endurance. Hero: simple character with primitive emotion, the only chance to escape to death=> the pursuit of manly qualities.
-Themes: classic anti war novel, portray of cruelty of war and the wound caused by it, explore the relation between love/death, desertion=cowardice or bravery?
-Style: short, simple sentences, use of common vocabulary, more description of actions than emotions. Use of stream of consciousness and symbolism (rain=death).
-Story: Lieutenant Frederic Henry (ambulance driver with Italian army) falls in love with an English nurse Catherine; they meet up again in Milan where he is wounded. C gets pregnant and F, executed by Carabinieri for abandoning the battlefront, he decides to deserts and to go to Switzerland but few months later, C and her child die during childbirth.
John Steinbeck
Life: born in California 1902 he did a series of menial jobs (close contact with American working-class, material for his works). His masterpiece is The Grapes of Wrath (39) that increased his popularity and reputation. During the 2°Ww he worked as a correspondent and in 1962 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The Grapes of Wrath:
-Structure: 3° person omniscient narrator, the novel is set during the Depression in the America dust bowl (South, x overworking); the Joads travel from Oklahoma to find work in California.
-Themes: condemnation of the exploitation of agricultural workers in Usa during the Great Depression, attack to the production system that destroys excess produce instead of feeding starved people.
-Style: naturalistic and detailed descriptions.
-Story: the Joad family, leave their farm in Oklahoma in search of a better life in California. When they reach it, they soon realised that life in the West is no easier then it was at home; they find work picking peaches and cotton. In the end, they settle in a makeshift camp and Tom is forced to hid himself because of his involvement in trade union agitation.
Arthur Miller
Author : Born in 1915 in NY into a middle-class Jewish family. He lived during the great depression and he had to work in a warehouse to make money; his father was a salesman.
He wrote “All my songs” and received a good success but in 49 he wrote his most famous work: Death of a Salesman. He also won the Pulitzer Price.
Miller knew the McCarthyism because his left-wing views made him a target foe McCarthy’s committee; he refuse to cooperate and was condemned for contempt of Congress.
He added notoriety to fame when he married Marilyn Monroe.
Death of a Salesman: Willy Loman, a 60 yo NY travalling salesman is showing signs of mental stress. He has 2sons: Happy who has a good job and lives in NY, and Biff who lead a feckless existence. We know that Biff’s lack of success is due to an unhappy relationship with his father.
He had been a bright student and a gifted athlete but when he discovered his father had a mistress he gave up his studies so Willy was a bit disappointed by his behaviour.
To please his father, one day Biff ask to a friend some money to set up a business and inexplicably he steal an expensive pen from his friend’s desk and leave. He is imprisoned and, that night for the first time tells Willy what he really thinks about him. Willy drives off in his car and commits suicide.
Themes: what success and failure really mean. According to the American Dream, people who work honestly should achieve some successes. Willy, at the end of his career, realises that all his dreams and hopes for his future were only illusions.
The novel stresses the belief that success in life only means financial success. Willy is a victim of the world view. For the materialistic society he represents a failure because he kills himself.
Structure: frequent flashback to the past.
TIMELINE Post-War America
1947: It was realised the Marshall Plan, four-fifths of Europe was reconstructed by Usa.
1952: Usa accessed to economic markets and stipulated political alliances.
1949: NATO was created (attack against one country means attack against the organisation).
1955: First signs of fight for desegregation (Rosa Parks) and the Bus Boycott. Birth of NAACP (national association for advancements of coloured people).
1950-54: McCarthyism: the Cold War had negative effects in Usa, some people believed that they were victim of a communist conspiracy existing inside the institutions. It started a sort of witch-hunt particularly by the Senator Joseph McCarthy who used mass-media to accuse officials of treachery. Finally he was condemned.
1949-53: The years of Korean War: North K (USA), South K (URSS).
1955: The Warsaw Pact was signed and communist countries were united, it created lots of diplomatic tensions.
50’s: The Beat Generation (tired, sad) that expressed the dissatisfaction of a group of people who were against the capitalism and puritan values and preached the gospel of freedom in all his forms.
1959: Cuban Revolution.
1961-75: Vietnam War (involved 4Presidents: Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon); North Vietnam (supported by URSS), South V (USA). At first Usa supplied only money, technical support and military advisors but, in…
1965: troupes and hundreds of thousands of American Soldiers were sent in Vietnam to fight also using chemical products that destroyed the Country; the public opinion was against the War.
1975: War ended.
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the Emancipation Act but Freedom and Equality were never respected because of Segregation Policies (a legal institutional separation).
2 people in particular fought against this segregation are Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.
1) Malcolm X: he too was the son of a pastor but contrarily of Martin, he never finished college because he lived a very difficult life in poverty. He was born in 1925 during the great Depression and he was the last of seven brothers. Before becoming a black Muslin (like others black people, as Cassius Clay, who refused to go to War and burned the military letter) he was a hustler.
He refused his last name and renamed himself X because slaves had no name, only a X given by their owner. He was assassinated in 1965 by Black killers. In his opinion, it was legitimate to use the violence against discrimination. His autobiography was published after his death.
The passage “The Angriest Negro in America” is Malcolm X’s defence of his religious beliefs, his commitment and political ideals, at the risk of his own life. He said that:
During the hot summer in 1964, he was constantly accused of stirring up Negroes and inciting violence. In his opinion, the conflicts had origins from the unemployment, bad conditions and inferior education already in the ghettoes.
People called him “the angriest Negro in America” and he didn’t deny that charge because he always said exactly as he felt. He was also called “Teacher and instigator of violence” but this was a lie because he was for justice. Malcolm X felt that if white people were attacked by Negroes, they should protect and defend themselves from those, using arms if necessary.
The problem was that Malcolm X was a black man talking about physical defence against the white man. In real life, Whites could lynch, burn, bomb and beat Negroes and he couldn’t accept that brutality without doing something to defend himself.
He knew that any moment could brought him death. Even before he was a Muslim he would die a violent death. It was a characteristic of his family: his brothers died by violence and his father because of what he believed in (reverend Little was one of the organizers of UNIA who exhorted black people to return to their ancestral African homeland).

2) Martin Luther King: he was born in 1929 as the son of a Baptist pastor; but soon, after graduating at college, he became an activist, a Civil Rights leader. He was shoot in 1968. it’s important to say that he was on Ghandi’s line: no use of violence.
An important event in the history of black people happened in 1956, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white and for this reason she was indicted. As a result, it started a Bus Boycott: niggers, that were the most important customers for Bus companies, stopped to use public transport so they brought in bankrupt the system.
In 1963 there was the March to Washington (250000 people) with the famous speech of Martin Luther King against segregation for justice. It was structured in three parts:
1°part: talked about negative things.
2°part: imperatives (exhortations).
3°part: the metaphor of the dream.