Essay, Research Paper: Major American Writers

Literature: Toni Morrison

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The honored title of "Major American Writer" tends to be ambiguous and
ill defined in part because each individual reader holds preconceived notions
about what characteristics a writer should possess to be classified as a major
author. Every work an author creates combines with the others to form a body of
material on which the writer is judged. This class on Major American Writers
studied five authors with completely different genres, writing styles, and
general appeal. The choice for these particular authors was based on criteria
unique to the instructor. Since every reader requires different characteristics,
this paper will outline my specific criteria for a Major American Writer and
apply those to Robert Frost and Henry James. Frost is a perfect example as
defined by my characteristics of a major writer. His work embodies all the
features necessary to categorize him as such. While James's work is well
critiqued and studied, he does not meet my criteria for a major writer. His work
falls short in some of the fundamental requirements. There are four specific
criteria by which I define a Major American Writer. The most important for the
significance of an author is the relevance of the writings to human nature.
Timeless works of literature or poetry connect with the audiences' innermost
emotions. The nature of the world is constant change and if the work of an
author is not able to transcend the change it will be forgotten or obsolete. One
thing constant enough to be the focus of the work is the human condition.
Another criterion for a Major American Writer is that the substance of the work
must also engage the reader. Writing cannot be effective without an audience. If
the author has no impact on people the material written accomplished nothing.
Engagement may come about through the entertainment value or intellectual
interest, neither being of greater importance. Style as well as substance is
necessary when discussing criteria for an author to be a Major American Writer.
The technical aspects of a work, such as narrator and form, are important in a
work because they are ways to distinguish a superb writer from a mediocre
writer. The last criterion for a Major American Writer is the overall impact on
literature. Major authors should have the ability to reshape or redefine
literature or public thought in some manner. Considerations of the author's
contributions to the genre as well as the world of literature are consequential
when deciding to include the writer in the category of a major writer. Not every
author who is considered as a major writer needs to totally fulfill all the
criteria set forth. There are many other considerations that could qualify an
author for this honor. These four conditions are simply a starting point for
qualification. The first writer I chose to examine is Robert Frost. He expressly
fulfills all four criteria for qualification as a "Major American
Writer". Many of his poems deal with the innermost workings of the human
experience. He beautifully illustrates difficult to explain emotions with prose
and poetry. His poem "The Road Not Taken" reveals the conflict between
choices made and choices passed. This is not something easily expressed in
words, but Frost eloquently makes his point. The second criterion Frost meets is
the engagement of the reader. The excellence in his work lies in the fact that
anyone can read and enjoy his writings. There are levels of meaning that can be
read in a very basic, literal manner or studied for complexity of meaning so as
to engage lay readers or scholars. "After Apple-Picking" is as much
about picking apples as it is about life and death. Frost's writing style also
helps his writing to be accessible and to engage the reader. This writing form
fulfills the third criterion for a "Major American Writer." His style
of blank verse and unrhymed lines give the poetry a tone of normal conversation.
The technique is followed almost continually throughout his poetry revealing his
dedication to the technical aspect of writing as well as the artistic. Metaphors
are present in his work but not dominating to the point of convolution. They
relate to the actual events in the poem and attribute the work a deeper meaning.
A lyrical poet with a passive style, Frost allows the audience to decide the
meaning of the poem. He attempts not to show too much personal influence on the
reader's understanding. Frost's work left a legacy on the world that will not
soon be forgotten. A modernist poet, he combined the substance of modern poetry
with the technique of traditional verse. Most of his contemporaries thought this
impossible, but he accomplished it masterfully. Frost was one of the few poets
praised by critics while still being popular with the people. His poems
influenced many writers and his literary impact is being felt even today as
modern poets imitate his work. Frost also enthralls readers continually as each
consecutive generation discovers Robert Frost. The second author examined is
writer Henry James. Although James is a wonderful writer with a well-respected
body of work, he does not sufficiently meet the criteria to be hailed a
"Major American Writer." James' work lacks a connection to the human
spirit and emotion. His characters are much more psychologically explained and
explored than emotionally driven. James is noted for his psychological realism
but his characters seem one-dimensional and curiously lacking in complexity.
Charlotte is a good example of this aspect of the novel, The Europeans. She is a
stereotypical Southern Christian and never really deviates from that role. While
some characters may be more complex they too do not have the emotion to make
them live. Eugenia may be complex and varied but her emotions and humanity are
set aside in favor of exploring her psyche. James' work certainly has the
possibility of engaging some reader's attention, but it did not engage mine. The
subject matter did not seem to relate to any experience or thought I have ever
had and required real substance. The clash between the cultures of Europe and
America is out dated and is almost non-existent since the novel was written. The
work did not explore the inner workings of the relationships or the personal
conflict in any characters and so the novel held little interest. Though the
substance of James' work may be questionable, his style is above reproach. The
uses of imagery are quite vivid, and the detail is unflawed. The beginning scene
of The Europeans makes the reader feel as though standing in a window above a
busy Bostonian street. James also beings to remove the narrator from his stories
to permit the reader a greater glimpse into the psyche of his characters. James
falls short of meeting the fourth criterion set for a "Major American
Writer." James' body of work is certainly worthy of study but he has no
definitive place in the history or future of literature. His stories did not
cause people to think differently or change long held world views. The novels he
wrote did not greatly influence other writers to follow his style. He was a
talented author whose work should be read but I think he misses the bar for the
honor of the distinction "Major American Writer." Robert Frost and
Henry James are both writers worthy of academic study. However, that does not
equally qualify them as "Major American Writers." Frost clearly stands
at the front of his genre and brought much to the art of poetry. James, while a
wonderful writer does not have the exemplary qualities to merit the title. One
author I believe would be a great addition to the list of "Major American
Writers" is Toni Morrison. Her work reaches people and explores the deepest
recesses of the human spirit ranging from goodness to evil. Her magnificent
style and eloquence translate themselves to the reader as enjoyment and
understanding. Her impact on literature and people will be severe and long
lasting.
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