Realism

(1850-1914)

Important Historical Events and Impact

  • Slavery ends
  • Civil War and Reconstruction
  • More Industrialization and Expansion
  • The Transcontinental Railroad is completed in 1869.
  • Reservations are made for Indians.
  • Electricity replaces steam power.


Predominant Genres and Themes

  • Betrayal
  • Guilt
  • Changing social structures
  • Rebellion
  • War
  • Degradation of Humanity
  • Racial Prejudice
  • Women's Rights
  • Civil rights


Stylistic Approach and Devices

Authors begun to try and present "real life" in their writing after the Civil War.

Writers like Mark Twain began to introduce regional dialects into their work, such as in The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. ("A Closer Look", 561)

Paul Lawrence Dunbar switches between a regional, informal style and a formal style in his poetry. "We Wear The Mask" is written in a formal dialect.

Trying to say more with less- no more wordy prose! Realism was all about being upfront, blunt, and concise.

Idioms are used more frequently, due to introduction of common language.

"Ordinary" people are written about for the first time in literary history.("Prepare to Read", 562)

Famous Authors and Poets of the Time Period

  • Paul Lawrence Dunbar wrote several poems during his lifetime, and was the first African-American poet able to support himself from writing alone.He wrote notable poems such as "We Wear the Mask", and "Douglass" . Dunbar also wrote four novels and four volumes of short stories (Prepare to Read, 656). He used two styles of writing in his poetry- one that utilized common slang and a rural dialect, and another that was more traditional and elegant. Dunbar was born in Dayton, Ohio; and died young at the age of 34.
  • Stephen Crane wrote The Red Badge of Courage: An Episode of the American Civil War, in 1895. Crane, like Dunbar also lived a very short life, dying at the age of 28 in 1900. He wrote gritty, realistic portrayals of life during the time period he lived in, often shocking publishers and the public alike with his passionate writing. Crane was a newspaper correspondent during the Greco-Turkish and Spanish-American Wars.
  • Abraham Lincoln served as President during the Civil War. He possessed great oratory skills, and was known for his brevity as well. The Gettysburg Address was only 272 words long(Prepare to Read, 520). He knew how to say many things with few words.Lincoln was born in 1809, and was shot in the back of the head in 1865.
  • Sojourner Truth, a women's rights advocate and abolitionist, preached up and down the East Coast after the end of the Civil War in 1865. Truth was a notable public speaker and preacher, and supplied the African American regiments during the Civil War.
  • Mark Twain was born in Hannibal, Mississippi in 1835 as Samuel Clemens. Twain is notable for being one of the first authors to use language that Americans actually spoke. He wrote about ordinary people instead of high-class nobility. He was renowned for his novels Tom Sawyer(1876) and Huckleberry Finn(1884), which are still popular today. "Twain was so influential that, fifty years after his death, Ernest Hemingway said "all American literature begins" with Twain's novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."("A Closer Look", 560)
  • Kate Chopin explored the issue of infidelity in her novel The Awakening, published 1899. It was a "psychological account of a woman's search for independence and fulfillment"(Prepare to Read, 632). That was virtually unheard of in Chopin's time- especially from a woman. Her book was eventually banned, but experienced a resurgence in popularity in the 1950's.
  • Edith Wharton wrote fiction about Eastern high society and wrote The House of Mirth, and The Age of Innocence.
  • Fredrick Douglass was a great orator and writer, who dedicated his life to the abolitionist and civil rights movement. Douglass was a former slave who escaped to the free state of Massachusetts at the age of twenty. Having learned to read and write at a young age, he was incredibly well spoken, and published a a biography about his time in slavery. Afterwards, fearing re-enslavement, Douglass fled to England. When his English friends bought out his freedom, he returned to the United States to write and lecture again. (Prepare to Read, 494)Douglass fought for many causes, not just the abolitionist movement.