When reading about North America, one quickly imagines great open spaces and horses roaming free. Or big cities, buzzing with life and money. The image of the United States overrules the image of the continent, even though literary traditions of this part of the world are much bigger and more complex than the limitations of one country, that just happens to be in the middle and to be mostly advertising systems build on European traditions.
The North American traditions regarding literature and storytelling are a bit different from the other continents and its countries. As with the other continents the origin of the “concept of story” derives from the oral storytelling tradition as much as it did in Europe, Africa, South America, Asia, and Oceania. Stories have existed as long as the continent has been inhabited and are still an important part of cultural heritage amongst native tribes as oral storytelling is used till this day as a way to teach the next generation about their history, religion, morals, and even survival skills. To fulfill this purpose many tales have multiple purposed and serve as spiritual – as well as life-teachings using a mix of metaphores, spirituality, reality, instructions, transformations, and mythological tales to help people understand their place in the manmade as well as the natural world.
However, while the native and ancient traditions are still of great importance in Africa, they are not the biggest influence in modern North America as European colonization brought its own traditions along. What is to be the first American literature consists therefore mostly of observations of ‘the New World’. While the Native Americans have inspired these early written stories, and play a huge role in the genre of Western’s, the European traditions and the native oral stories have rarely mixed into written work until recently due to laws that prohibited and oppressed Indigenous people and their cultures. Those laws, which lasted till far into the ’70’s, left a mark on the modern North American culture as European immigrants -who took their own traditions to their new homes- had no oppression and could develop their own ways freely. Celtic poets of Irish and Scottish descent were amongst those who brought the English literary traditions to North America. The known language was then influenced by the new environment, as well as the ongoing colonization. Hardship, survival, a rural area, and eventually the tales of revolution, and war, formed a large amount of what we now consider to be classic American literature.
As with the European traditions, language development influences modern literature, as do modern developments in the world. The ongoing fight against racism and discrimination has had a great impact on written works, and several of these works have had a great effect on the awareness amongst minorities in North American countries. It creates an area where they can -finally- express themselves freely in a way that will leave a mark for generations to come as so humanity won’t forget the dark days from the past. And so American literature is of course riddled with light, fluff books. However, an even larger amount of books shows the hardship dealt with by many people living in the countries that make up North America. Loaded with historical and present day problems, these books can hopefully be lessons to all, and therefore many of them deserve a moment of your time. So pick a country, and see where you can travel to from the comfort of your couch.
To read about other continents, and find out about different countries, return to Read Around the World.