This article is about the Great American Novel as a concept. For other uses, see Great American Novel (disambiguation).
The "Great American Novel" is the concept of a novel that is distinguished in both craft and theme as being the most accurate representation of the spirit of the age in the United States at the time of its writing or in the time it is set. It is presumed to be written by an American author who is knowledgeable about the state, culture, and perspective of the common American citizen. The author uses the literary work to identify and exhibit the language used by the American people of the time and to capture the unique American experience, especially as it is perceived for the time. In historical terms, it is sometimes equated as being the American response to the national epic.
2 Books referred to as "Great American Novel",
3 See also,
5 Further reading,
6 External links,
While fiction was written in colonial America as early as the 17th century, it was not until a distinct "American" identity developed during the 18th century that what is understood to be "American literature" began. America's identity as a nation was reflected alongside the development of its literature.
The term "Great American Novel" derives from the title of an essay by American Civil War novelist John William De Forest. More broadly, however, the concept originated in American nationalism and the call for American counterparts to great British authors.
In modern usage, the term is often figurative and represents a canonical writing, a literary benchmark emblematic of what defines American literature in a given era. Aspiring writers of all ages, but especially students, are often said to be driven to write "the Great American Novel". Theoretically, such is, presumably, the greatest American book ever written, or which could ever be written. Thus, "Great American Novel" is a metaphor for identity, a Platonic ideal that is not achieved in any specific texts, but whose aim writers strive to mirror in their work.
Books referred to as "Great American Novel":
At one time or another, the following works have been considered to be a Great American Novel:
1851: Herman Melville's Moby-Dick,
1884: Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,
1925: F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby,
1936: William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!,
1938: John Dos Passos's U.S.A. trilogy,
1939: John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath,
1951: J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye,
1952: Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man,
1953: Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March,
1955: Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita,
1960: Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird,
1973: Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow,
1975: William Gaddis's J R,
1985: Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West,
1987: Toni Morrison's Beloved,
1996: David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest,
1997: Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon,
1997: Philip Roth's American Pastoral ,
1997: Don Delillo's Underworld,
2010: Jonathan Franzen's Freedom