American Protest Literature
At various points in this nation’s history, protest literature has marked American culture and society. Generally speaking, American protest literature challenges the status quo, calls society out on their questionable behaviors, or promotes social change in some way. Protest literature can cover a wide variety of topics and encompass countless political perspectives and opinions. Literature can be motivated by religious teachings, ideas of social injustice, or political philosophies. Protest literature can take on a variety of forms, from editorials in newspapers to pamphlets to works of art including such diverse materials as poems, drama, and song lyrics.
As one traces American history, one can trace the path of protest literature. The works of Thomas Paine and John Dickinson – “Common Sense” and “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania,” respectively – each demonstrate critical moments in American protest literature. Challenges to the institution of slavery, from Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” to David Walker’s “Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World,” would forever shape who were are as a nation. The women’s rights movement – including Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s The Solitude of Self – and the Progressive era – evident in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle – would also demonstrate the connection between protest literature and social change. Quintessential works such as “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan combine with those pieces not readily seen as pieces of literature, such as song lyrics of individuals like Tupac or Eminem, to form the breadth of American protest literature and chronicle the various struggles that have taken place in this nation throughout its history.