This is an important work examining the early body of American literature prior to the dawn of 20th century literature. The author has identified the major themes of 19th century writers which has since set the tone of all American literature. He finds that the early American novel was actually a romance and not a novel, in contrast with European writing of the day, and that it was specifically Gothic -- with a view to the past and a preoccupation with the supernatural. Three major writers are examined in detail: Hawthorne, Melville and Mark Twain. The major fable of the 19th century writers is one of the hero's contact with experience resulting in a rebirth or initiation into reality. The form involves the supernatural with emphasis on ritual and myth drawn from the Greek-Christian tradition as well as the American experience. One of the most illuminating perceptions found in this highly detailed study and one which informs the entire book is in regard to the specific American literary hero. His odyssey is always in terms of a metamorphosis revealing an adaptation to a constantly changing experience in America. The book will certainly be of value to the serious reader and to the student of American literature.