what are the characteristics of early american literature?
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This question is quite broad. The characteristics of American Literature tend to follow movements in American History.
A few broad details of American Literature movements are that they often followed characteristic English Literary movements, but tended to be a few years behind (ie: Romanticism). Additionally, American Literature often reflects American ideals and themes: from the escape from English rule and religious oppression, to becoming our own nation and people, our literature reflects the early religious questions (Who is God and what does He want? How can I find knowledge without the church? Where is the balance of religion and nature and the human experience?), the exploration of new frontiers, slavery and then freedom writings, and equality and individuality writing (which includes the voice of many minorities, not just women and Black Americans).