The Necessary Earth: Nature and Solitude in American Literature
The Necessary Earth is a study of the degree to which the long American experience with an open frontier has entered into an inherently American literature to distinguish it from that of other lands. Since literature is, in the author's words, "a compound of time, place, and the individual projection of personal experience and reflection into objective forms," the American compulsion to communicate their experience and their difference was a virtual guarantee that a native literature would arrive.
The text falls into three major portions. The first considers the "age of wonder," the impact of New World upon Old World comers to effect profound changes, and to set the new American on the parallel paths of idealism and pragmatism. The second part examines the effort of native-born writers to appropriate this experience for new metaphors and new literary theme. Without this effort, the frontier might have remained no more than a dwindling legend, and the transference to the theme of self-reliance might never have appeared. In the third portion the author turns to the twentieth century, examining here the degree to which the national theme of reliance on experience over tradition has persisted in the work of major authors.
Ranging thus from Jamestown and Plymouth to Wallace Stevens, the book stresses, throughout, the pull of untamed nature on the human spirit, and the echoes of that experience in what is most intrinsic in American literature. Without denying frontier lawlessness or native chauvinism, Clough directs our attention primarily to the problems of the creation of a new language and a new metaphor to meet the new experience, and the persistence of a truly American note into a maturing of both manner and matter.
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