Great American Novel  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



The "Great American Novel" is the concept of a novel that is distinguished in both craft and theme as being the most accurate representation of the spirit of the age in the United States at the time of its writing or in the time it is set. It is presumed to be written by an American author who is knowledgeable about the state, culture, and perspective of the common American citizen. The author uses the literary work to identify and exhibit the language used by the American people of the time and to capture the unique American experience, especially as it is perceived for the time. In historical terms, it is sometimes equated as being the American response to the national epic.


While fiction was written in colonial America as early as the 17th century, it was not until a distinct "American" identity developed during the 18th century that what is understood to be "Ameri can literature" began. America's identity as a nation was reflected alongside the development of its literature.

The term "Great American Novel" derives from the title of an essay by American Civil War novelist John William De Forest. More broadly, however, the concept originated in American nationalism and the call for American counterparts to great British authors.

In modern usage, the term is often figurative and represents a canonical writing, a literary benchmark emblematic of what defines American literature in a given era. Aspiring writers of all ages, but especially students, are often said to be driven to write "the Great American Novel". Theoretically, such is, presumably, the greatest American book ever written, or which could ever be written. Thus, "Great American Novel" is a metaphor for identity, a Platonic ideal that is not achieved in any specific texts, but whose aim writers strive to mirror in their work.

Authors and books referred to as "Great American Novel"

At one time or another, the following works have been considered to be a Great American Novel:

19th century
20th century

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Great American Novel" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools