Major American Writers 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.