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The idea of the Great American Novel (GAN) is the concept of a novel of high literary merit that shows the culture of the United States at a specific time in the country's history. The novel is presumably written by an American author who is knowledgeable about the state, culture, and perspective of the common United States citizen. The author uses the literary work to identify and exhibit the language used by the people of the U.S. during that time and to capture the unique experience of living in the U.S. or one part of the U.S., especially at that time. In historical terms, it is sometimes equated as being the U.S. response to the national epic.


While fiction was written in colonial North America as early as the 17th century, it was not until a distinct U.S. identity developed in the 18th century that works classified as U.S. literature began. The U.S. identity as a nation was reflected alongside the development of its literature.[citation needed]

The term Great American Novel comes directly from the title of an 1868 essay[1] by American Civil War novelist John William De Forest. He defined the Great American novel as "the picture of the ordinary emotions and manners of American existence".[2] Although early Great American Novel candidates were typically chosen by academics and scholars, the concept has opened up in recent years. Lawrence Buell, Professor of American Literature Emeritus at Harvard University, said that in the 21st century "the dream of the GAN is less in the hands of credentialed critics and scholars to determine than the result of a complex, messy interaction among them, readers at large, the literary entrepreneurialism of the writers themselves, the publishing and education industries, and self-accredited freelance journalists and bloggers."[3]

In modern usage, the meaning of the term is often figurative and represents a canonical piece of literature, making it a literary benchmark emblematic of what defines U.S. literature in a given era.

Great American Novel claimantsEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ DeForest, John (January 9, 1868), "The Great American Novel", The Nation, New York, retrieved October 11, 2010
  2. ^ DeForest, John (January 9, 1868), "The Great American Novel", The Nation, New York, retrieved October 11, 2010
  3. ^ Buell, Lawrence (2014). The Dream of the Great American Novel. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 9. ISBN 9780674726321. OCLC 871257583.
  4. ^ Italie, Hillel. "'Last of the Mohicans' was first great American novel". Retrieved October 14, 2015.
  5. ^ Buell, Lawrence. "The Dream of the Great American Novel". Retrieved October 14, 2015. There are, Buell says, four main types of potential Great American Novels. Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter epitomises the first – a cultural 'master narrative', identified as such by the number of reinterpretations and imitations that follow in its wake.
  6. ^ Buell, Lawrence. "The Unkillable Dream of the Great American Novel: Moby-Dick as Test Case". American Literary History. 20 (1–2): 132–155. Retrieved October 26, 2010.
  7. ^ Fuller, Randall. "The First Great American Novel". Retrieved October 14, 2015.
  8. ^ Department of State, United States. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer". Retrieved October 14, 2015. Considered one of the great American novels ...
  9. ^ Brown, Robert B. (June–July 1984). "One Hundred Years of Huck Finn". American Heritage Publishing. Retrieved December 10, 2011. It was called the 'great American novel' as early as 1891 by the English writer Andrew Lang ...
  10. ^ Emory Elliott et al. (eds.) (1991). The Columbia History of the American Novel. Columbia University Press. p. 323. "The Great Gatsby (1925), a work still frequently nominated as 'the great American novel' ..."
  11. ^ Buell, Lawrence (2014). The Dream of the Great American Novel. Belknap.
  12. ^ C. E. Morgan (August 6, 2012). "'Light in August' is Faulkner's Great American Novel". The Daily Beast. Retrieved October 5, 2016.
  13. ^ Miller, Henry. Tropic of Cancer. Grove Atlantic.
  14. ^ Morrison, Ewan. "Book Of A Lifetime: Tropic of Cancer, By Henry Miller". The Independent. Retrieved December 2, 2018.
  15. ^ Hirsch, Arthur (November 16, 1997). "The real great American Novel: 'Absalom, Absalom!' Faulkner: His ninth novel, for its span, its revelation, its American essence, stands above all others in reaching for this literary absolute". The Baltimore Sun. Baltimore, Maryland. Retrieved September 21, 2010.
  16. ^ Hammond, Margo (February 6, 2004). "Norman Mailer on the Media and the Message". Book Babes. The Poynter Institute. Archived from the original on October 16, 2010. Retrieved September 21, 2010. The Great American Novel is no longer writable. We can't do what John Dos Passos did. His trilogy on America came as close to the Great American Novel as anyone. You can't cover all of America now. It's too detailed.
  17. ^ Dana, Gioia. "The Grapes of Wrath Radio Show (interview with Richard Rodriguez) – Transcript". The Big Read. The National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved September 22, 2010. There hasn't been anything like this novel since it was written. And this is the great American novel that everyone keeps waiting for but it has been written now.
  18. ^ Nixon, Rob. "The Grapes of Wrath". This Month Spotlight. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved September 22, 2010. Nixon quotes John Springer, author of The Fondas (Citadel, 1973), a book about Henry Fonda and his role in film version of The Grapes of Wrath: "The Great American Novel made one of the few enduring Great American Motion Pictures."
  19. ^ McGrath, Charles (January 28, 2010). "J. D. Salinger, Literary Recluse, Dies at 91". New York Times.
  20. ^ Giles, Patrick (September 15, 2002). "The Great American Novel". Los Angeles Times.
  21. ^ Amis, Martin. "Review". The Atlantic Monthly. The Adventures of Augie March is the Great American Novel. Search no further. All the trails went cold 42 years ago. The quest did what quests very rarely do; it ended.
  22. ^ Williams, Mary Elizabeth. "Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov". Personal Best. Salon. Retrieved January 26, 2013. Some say the Great American Novel is Huckleberry Finn, some say it's The Jungle, some say it's The Great Gatsby. – Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita.
  23. ^ Jameson, Frederick (1996). The Seeds of Time. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 146–147. These are familiar features of daily life in the super state from which, it should be noted, high modernism in the United States – in theory and in practice alike, fifties aestheticism organized around Pound and Henry James and Wallace Stevens and the New Criticism – was in desperate flight; of our great modern writers, only Nabokov handled this kind of material, in Lolita, which thereby at once became The Great American Novel,– but of course he was a foreigner to begin with.
  24. ^ Nabakov is generally regarded as a Russian writer, even when he used the English language: Rampton, David (1984). Vladimir Nabokov: a critical study of the novels (1. publ. ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521257107.
  25. ^ Puente, Maria (July 8, 2010). "'To Kill a Mockingbird': Endearing, enduring at 50 years". USA Today. It is Lee's only book and one of the handful that could earn the title of Great American Novel. (Lee has since published a sequel, Go Set a Watchman.)
  26. ^ Ruch, Alan (April 1, 1997). "Introduction to GR". The Modern World. Archived from the original on September 15, 2010. Retrieved September 22, 2010. It is the Great American Novel come at last, a postmodern masterpiece.
  27. ^ Weisenburger, Steven (2006). A Gravity's Rainbow Companion. University of Georgia Press. p. 412. Thomas Pynchon's big book quickly confirmed him as one of the few novelists of unprecedented genius to emerge in the postwar era. Here was the Great American Novel at last. The reviewers' favorite comparisons were to Moby Dick and Ulysses.

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