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.
Where as we have discussed several other literary traditions before, the North American one is a bit different from those. As the others, the origin of the concept of story derives from the oral storytelling tradition as much as it did in Europe, Africa, and the other continents.
Native American stories have existed as long as the continent North America has been inhabited, and are still an important part of cultural heritage amongst native tribes as oral storytelling is used till this day to teach the next generation about history, religion, morals, and even survival skills. A lot of stories have mixed backgrounds, and may serve as spirital guides through life as well as teachings, as they are 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 traditions are still of great importance in Africa, they are not the biggest influence in North America, as European colonization brought its own traditions along. The first American literature consists therefore mostly observations of ‘the New World’. While the Native Americans have inspired 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. Immigrants took their own traditions to their new homes and developed that on their own. Celtic poets, often 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 know as 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.
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.