Open main menu

Great American Novel

The Great American Novel is the concept of a novel that perfectly represents the spirit of the age in the United States. It is 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 a U.S. author who is knowledgeable about the state, culture, and perspective of the common U.S. citizen. The author uses the literary work to identify and exhibit the language used by the U.S. people of the time and to capture the unique U.S. experience, especially as it is perceived for the time. In historical terms, it is sometimes equated as being the U.S. response to the national epic.

While there is no official definition or canon for "Great American Novels," those most often chosen for this exclusive club convey two key features: (1) The novel is a true and honest reflection of the age (e.g. how On the Road was the Beat Generation, Gatsby was the Jazz Age, and the Catcher in the Rye was the counter culture of the Post World War II era), (2) The novel made mass cultural impact, changing the generation in a profound way. While many books are mirrors for an age, very few transform the world. Without both features, a novel can be great but should not be listed in this unofficial canon.



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" derives directly from the title of an 1868 essay[1] by American Civil War novelist John William De Forest.

In modern usage, the term is often figurative and represents a canonical writing, making it a literary benchmark emblematic of what defines U.S. 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, "Great American Novel" has become 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.[citation needed]

List of candidatesEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ DeForest, John (9 January 1868), "The Great American Novel", The Nation, New York, retrieved October 11, 2010
  2. ^ Italie, Hillel. ""Last of the Mohicans" was first great American novel". Retrieved October 14, 2015.
  3. ^ 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."
  4. ^ Buell, Lawrence. "The Unkillable Dream of the Great American Novel: Moby-Dick as Test Case". American Literary History Volume 20, Issue 1-2 Pp. 132-155. Retrieved October 26, 2010.
  5. ^ Fuller, Randall. "The First Great American Novel". Retrieved October 14, 2015.
  6. ^ Department of State, United States. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer". Retrieved October 14, 2015. "Considered one of the great American novels..."
  7. ^ 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... ”
  8. ^ The Columbia History of the American Novel By Emory Elliott, Cathy N. Davidson p. 323 "The Great Gatsby (1925), a work still frequently nominated as 'the great American novel.'"
  9. ^ Buell, Lawrence (2014). The Dream of the Great American Novel. Belknap.
  10. ^ C.E. Morgan, ["'Light in August' is Faulkner's Great American Novel" The Daily Beast Aug. 16, 2012]. Retrieved October 5, 2016.
  11. ^ 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, MD. Retrieved September 21, 2010.
  12. ^ 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. Norman Mailer is a Pulitzer Prize winning literary critic, and it is his opinion that: "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."
  13. ^ Dana, Gioia. "The Grapes of Wrath Radio Show - Transcript". The Big Read. The National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved September 22, 2010. Richard Rodriguez is a famous American writer. In this interview he referred to the Grapes of Wrath as The Great American Novel: "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."
  14. ^ 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."
  15. ^ Warnes, Andrew. "A Bigger Vision: Richard Wright's Native Son and the Great American Novel". Retrieved October 14, 2015.
  16. ^ McGrath, Charles (January 28, 2010), J. D. Salinger, Literary Recluse, Dies at 91, New York Times
  17. ^ Giles, Patrick (September 15, 2002), The Great American Novel, Los Angeles Times
  18. ^ Amis, Martin, Review, The Atlantic Monthly (quoted by Powell's Books) Martin Amis is a well-known British novelist and professor of creative writing at the University of Manchester. It is his opinion that "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."
  19. ^ Williams, Mary Elizabeth. "Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov". Personal Best. Salon. Retrieved January 26, 2013. Mary Elizabeth Williams is Salon's Table Talk host. She opens her review with these lines: "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".
  20. ^ Jameson, Frederick (1996). The Seeds of Time. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. pp. 214 pages. "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." (Page 146-147).
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Bausells, Marta (2015-07-31). "On the road: mapping the great road trips of American literature". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-12-02.
  23. ^ 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."
  24. ^ 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."
  25. ^ 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."
  26. ^ "San Francisco Review of Books". Archived from the original on November 29, 2011. "Gaddis has written the long-awaited great American novel... A beautiful book and a brilliant author."
  27. ^ "Transcript".[dead link]
  28. ^,285599
  29. ^ "white noise great american novel - Google Search". Retrieved 2018-12-02.
  30. ^ "What Is the Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years?". The New York Times. May 21, 2006.
  31. ^ Gates, David (2014). "Levity's Rainbow". Retrieved August 11, 2014.
  32. ^ Wallace, David Foster (2009). "Cambridge Book Review". Retrieved August 11, 2014.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit