Imagining and Re-Imagining
Nature’s Nation: American Landscapes and National Identity
After revolution and war 1812 it was called for the development of a national culture and the main concern was the cultural independence. Moreover, in that time literature would play a central role for the national project of cultural independence. The struggle of national self-definition started after war of independence and the ideas of freedom, equality, self-realization. America was praised because of its beautiful and unique nature, moreover, because of the efforts of frontier in shaping the present America. The focus was on the differences of America and European’s nature. America was considered as exception and different from Europe and other countries. The focus which turned to nature led to Romantic movement.
Romanticism in Great Britain started in late 18th century to 1830s and the emphasis of it was on the emotion, subjectivity, personal feeling and unique experience. On the whole, the poetry was considered as the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling of the poet who was creative and worthy of being worshiped. The subject of poetry was mostly nature and self-reflection in nature. On the other hand, romanticism was a reaction against artistic styles of classical antiquity.
In America after war in 1830 and fifty years after War of Independence American citizens were eager to create their own identity and independent from Europe and European values. Hence, it was a rapid time of expansion and growth in the United Sates. During this time the romanticism was occurred and it produced more stories, novels and poetry. Imagination, individuality, nature as a source of spirituality, turn to history, seeing the common man as a hero, emphasis on the imagination and individuality and interest in simple life and folk culture were the characteristics of romanticism in American literature.
America was called virgin land and it means a land that is in a natural state and has not been changed or used by people. The other name that was considered for America was The Garden of Eden and it means that Adam and Eve began their conquest of the earth in the upper part of what is now the state of Missouri. However, the American nature was not only in poetry and novels, but also in other genres as well such as travel literature and natural history and both were important for national project. Among writers of this genre are John James Audubon (1785-1851) and William Bartram (1739-1823).
Philip Freneau and William Cullen Bryant were two considerable poets who wrote poems about American nature.
”The Prairies” which was written by William Cullen Bryant in 1832 describes the uniqueness landscape of America and celebrate this uniqueness with words and phrases such as ”glorious”, ”magnificent temple”, ”great heavens seem to stoop”, ”rival the constellation”. It shows the history as a succession of civilization.
Two major terms of aesthetic theory in 18th century was: the beautiful and the sublime, the beautiful means principles of harmony and order whereas the sublime means aw-inspiring, majestic and grand. In 19th century American landscape painting was trend and the paintings were in two genres: pastoral ideal and wilderness sublime.
In pastoral ideals America is considered as garden, social changes were included and civilization and culture were closely related to wilderness. On the other hand, wilderness sublime had religious connotations, social themes were mainly excluded and America was considered as paradise or wilderness.
Waterfalls and wild river streams, dying tree trunks, hanging rocks, huge mountains are the examples of sublime in American landscape paintings. Furthermore, the imagined community and new beginning are expressed by painted landscape.