The Highlights of American Literature


(1835 – 1910)

His real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Samuel ´s father died when he was only twelve, that is why he never finished elementary school. He learned from his observation of people and events, from the school of experience, and by reading books. At sixteen he began to publish some of his own writings. He moved away to New York but he came back because he could not live without the Mississippi River, which had always fascinated him – he was brought up on the banks of this river.

Mark Twain is considered a famous humorist and a novelist who revealed the hypocricy (pokrytectví) of people and fought for everybody ´s freedom. He is called the true father of modern American literature.

Novels: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper

He is also author of many tales and sketches

The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin

Is a novel where the background was that of Twain ´s own boyhood. It is set in the time before the American Civil War of 1861 – 1865. It tells the story of Huckeberry Finn, a boy in his early teens, and the series of adventures he has while traveling down the Mississippi on a raft. On the water, he discovers a wonderful natural peace. Soon he meets Jim, a slave who has run away to avoid being sold, and they become companions together on their journey. This rather idyllic life is interrupted, when they become involved in the dishonesty and cruelty of the „civilization“ on the banks of the river: a man shot in the back, a gang of murderers trapped on a broken- down steamboat (parník), where they intend to shoot a man they have tied up, the mafia-like violence of two feuding, but outwardly religious families. The culminating moral test for Huck comes,  when he is faced with deciding whether to inform on his friend Jim and surrender him to the authorities, or else to help him escape. Huck is the product of a society that saw Negroes merely as slaves, yet he finally follows the moral course set by his own instinctive human sympathy and friendship and helps Jim.


(1899 – 1961)

Ernest Hemingway is one of the most widely read of modern American novelists. He was one of the American writers, who became known as the „lost generation“. This name was used for the postwar American writers, who were expressing their spiritual solitude: after coming back from the first world war they realized that they did not understand their former friends; they had lost all their illusions and hope. The main topics of his fiction are hunting, fishing, bullfighting and war.

After he graduated, he worked as a reporter. In World War I he went to Europe, during the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) and the Second World War (1939 – 45) he was a war correspondent in Spain and London. Hemingway travelled widely all his life (he loved Spain, trips to Africa for hunting, skiing, deep – sea fishing).

The world of Ernest Hemingway is a very masculine one. His fiction is often about people, who have to face hardships or challenges with bravery and endurance.

The Old Man and the Sea

It tells the story about an old fisherman, who catches an excessively large marlin. He battles with the creature for days to the point of total exhaustion and sheer pain, but finally he brings it ashore. Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for this book in 1954.

A Farewell to Arms

This novel it is set in Italy in the First World War. The war and the way it affects people´s lives.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

It is considered Hemingway ´s best novel. Its hero Robert Jordan is a young American, who joins a band of guerillas fighting the forces of fascism in the Spanish Civil War. He dies after a successfully accomplished mission – the destruction of a strategically important bridge. He fell in love with a girl from the group. Robert believes in the value of sacrifice. He believes that each individual is a part of a whole: mankind.


(1902 – 1968)

He went through many different professions before he established his literary fame as a novelist. He was a war correspondent during World War II and also in the Vietnam War. In 1962 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Novels: Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath

The Red Pony, The Pearl, East of Eden

Of Mice and Men

The essential theme in this novel is the loneliness. The story, set in his native Salinas Valley in California, takes us into the world of the migrant worker. Such men, who were unable to fit comfortably into society, lived unstable lives, drifting from farm to farm in order to undertake what casual work they could find. But they would often keep their hopes for a better life alive by building up a set of dreams. If only they could save up the money to buy a small ranch or plot of land, they would be free of their uncertain existence. This dream is entertained by the two main characters – George Milton and his friend Lennie Small.

Lennie is in the greater danger of being rejected by society because he has the simple mind and emotional immaturity of a young child so George takes the responsibility upon himself. One day Lennie murdered a wife of an rancher and when George discovered it, he understands there is no real chance for Lennie to get away after carrying out what will be seen as murder. The greatest kindness he can do his friend is to shoot him, thereby making sure he will avoid all the blind suffering waiting for him in courtrooms(soudní síň) and prison.

Travels with Charley

It is a Steinbeck ´s  autobiographical notebook published in 1963. it is a book about United States based on a three- month journey he made around America in a truck with a cabin he himself had built. His only companion was his dog named Charley. He took notes on the people he met, on the landscape, and on his impressions of America, which were not always positive.



Miller was an outstanding dramatist. His main themes were a person ´s responsibility and guilt, self- knowledge and self – realization, the conflict between generations, and anti – semitism (Miller ´s father was a Jewish).

He began to write plays at univesity. During the Cold War era of McCarthyism, Miller´s left – wing politics brought him before the Un-American Activities Committee. When he refused to give names of Communist supporters, he was convicted of contempt (opovržení) . But he appealed and won. This experience inspired him to write the play The Crucible.

The Misfits – he wrote this work for his second wife – Marilyn Monroe

After the Fall – Marilyn was also identified with Maggie, a character of this semi- autobiographical play

Death of a Salesman – the most impressive work, for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. It is a tragedy about an ordinary man, who has failed both at work and in his personal life (especially with his teenage sons). It is a play of great emotional power.



Books of the contemporary authors focus on modern relationships, social change and the absurdities of life. They do not avoid any problem, any negative things (drugs, alcoholism, promiscuity, moral and political corruption, violence, cynism).

Novelists: Ray BRADBURRY, Kurt VONNEGUT, William STYRON, Toni MORRISON, John UPDIKE, Philip ROTH, Joyce Carol OATES, John IRVING




Lie Down in Darkness – his first novel written in 1951 which launched his literary career

The Long March

The Confessions of Nat Turner (Pulitzer Prize)- a highly controversial and commercially successful novel about a white southern man who attempted to understand the working of the mind of a black slave

Sophie ´s Choice – published in 1979

The story of a Polish woman who lost her children in Auschwitz, depicts the Nazi ´s crimes against humanity. Sophie Zawistowska was a mother of two children. When World War II started and the Nazis occupied Poland, her husband and father were murdered and she and her children were sent to the concentration camp in Auschwitz. She survived the horrors of the Holocaust but she can never forgive herself for the choice she was forced to make: to send either her 10-year- old son, Jan or her little daughter, Eva to a gas chamber.

After the war, in 1946, she moves to New York, where she meets Nathan Landau. Nathan is a Jewish intellectual, who has nursed Sophie back to health and has become her lover. He is an irresistible, loving man, yet his schizophrenic, mercurial moods cause his cruel and seemingly unjustified outbursts. But in spite of the fact that he sometimes treats Sophie in quite a brutal way, she loves him and does not want to leave him because she believes it is all she deserves.

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness – another of his great works that address questions of depression, suicide, and alcoholism.



Was born in 1931 to a black working- class family. She is considered a leading authority on African – American literature.

The Bluest Eye – first novel is about a black girl who prays for the blue- eyed beauty of Shirley Temple

Song of Solomon – gained her an international reputation

Beloved –inspired by a true story, impressive stories, theme of slavery, family and freedom; Pulitzer Prize

1993- Nobel Prize for Literature