Concept

Great American Novel

Summary
The Great American Novel (sometimes abbreviated as GAN) is the term for a canonical novel that generally embodies and examines the essence and character of the United States. The term was coined by John William De Forest in an 1868 essay and later shortened to GAN. De Forest noted that the Great American Novel had most likely not been written yet. Practically, the term refers to a small number of books that have historically been the nexus of discussion, including Moby-Dick (1851), Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), The Great Gatsby (1925), and Gone With The Wind (1936). Exactly what novel or novels warrant the title is without consensus and an assortment have been contended as the idea has evolved and continued into the modern age, with fluctuations in popular and critical regard. William Carlos Williams, Clyde Brion Davis and Philip Roth have written novels about the Great American Novel—titled as such—the latter in the 1970s, a time of prosperity for the concept. Equivalents to and interpretations of the Great American Novel have arisen. Writers and academics have commented upon the term's pragmatics, the different types of novels befitting of title and the idea's relation to race and gender. The development of American literature coincided with the nation's development, especially of its identity. Calls for an "autonomous national literature" first appeared during the American Revolution, and, by the mid-18th century, the possibility of American literature exceeding its European counterparts began to take shape, as did that of the Great American Novel, this time being the genesis of novels that would later be considered the Great American Novel. The term "Great American Novel" originated in an 1868 essay by American Civil War novelist John William De Forest. De Forest saw it serving as a "tableau" of American society, and said that the novel would "paint the American soul" and capture "the ordinary emotions and manners of American existence". Similarly, Daniel Pierce Thompson said it had to be distinctly American.
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