American Ethnic Literature the Nature of American Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

American Ethnic Literature

The Nature of American Ethnic Literature

The literary tradition of the United States and the colonies that preceded them is one of the proudest in the world. Even though the United States is relatively young as countries go, literature was born in the states long before the Revolutionary War because many men and women came to America with the ability to add to the growing literary canon. However, most of the people that established this canon were of European origin, and there was little ethnic diversity among the most prominent early writers of the new country. Because ethnic writers had a different experience in the United States than their contemporaries with European ancestry, the literary tradition that they established differed, sometimes greatly from the accepted American literature. People from different cultures and ethnicities had to establish themselves as writers and they had to break the mold of what was accepted by the literary establishment. This essay looks at American literature from an ethnic perspective and examines the growth and acceptance of writers from different ethnic backgrounds than those who had established American literature in the first place.

A literary canon is a group of works that is in some way special to a time period, place, etc. (Tweten, 2011). American literature, at least as far as it applies to the United States, takes its canon from a group of novels that explain the history of America (Tweten, 2011). This group of books includes authors such as Melville, Hemingway and Ellison. It is considered a canon because, as a group, it tells a story. However this does not have to be the only canon of American literature. It can also be the great works from a genre or a time period. Often a canon of works tells the story of a particular time. Melville and his contemporaries wrote of sailing and whaling. Certain of these books could be called a canon because they represent the genre at that time.

The problem with demonstrating a particular literary tradition is that it often will not include all of the influences that have graced literature in a particular region. Because the United States has such a poor history with immigrant groups (Irish), those who were sold into slavery, and the people who here before the Europeans, it has sometimes been difficult for people from these ethnic and racial groups to enter the American literary tradition. It is much like one of the writers mentioned above talked about in his seminal novel on the subject of racism. Ralph Ellison (1952) wrote "Invisible Man" because he had seen what being black in America afforded him. It was not that he was stomped or turned away; he was ignored. That has been the fate of much of the early writing by people who did not fit the literary profile.


Sources Used in Document:


Ellison, R. (1952). Invisible Man. New York: Random House.

Lee, K. (2012). Should we still be using the term 'ethnic literature'? Huffington Post. Retrieved from _b_1291861.html

Tweten, C. (2011). Tweten, C. (2011). What is the American literary canon? Retrieved from

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