by R.W.B. Lewis
Intellectual history is viewed in this book as a series of "great conversations"--dramatic dialogues in which a culture's spokesmen wrestle with the leading questions of their times. In nineteenth-century America the great argument centered about De Crevecoeur's "new man," the American, an innocent Adam in a bright new world dissociating himself from the historic past. Mr. Lewis reveals this vital preoccupation as a pervasive, transforming ingredient of the American mind, illuminating history and theology as well as art, shaping the consciousness of lesser thinkers as fully as it shaped the giants of the age. He traces the Adamic theme in the writings of Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Henry James, and others, and in an Epilogue he exposes their continuing spirit in the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Ralph Ellison, J. D. Salinger, and Saul Bellow.