Realism An Age of Transition1855-1870
History: Influences on Literature. • Slavery divides the nation.“A house divided against itself cannot stand”--Abraham Lincoln. • When the war ended in 1865, 618,000 men died —nearly equal to the combined death toll of all other wars that the U.S. has fought. • Lincoln is assassinated, 1865.
Literature: Rise of Realism • Americans in the postwar period embraced freedom and unity. The emphasis was on the united interests of all. • They lost their taste for romanticism after being confronted with harsh realities of war. They became a somber nation. • Writing became more honest, unsentimental, and sarcastic. • No longer were writers interested in glorifying nature, or exploring the emotions of the individual; instead they explored the reality of the world. These are tales of war and slavery. • As writing moved from romanticism to realism, a new breed of authors emerged--writers included soldiers, former slaves, groundbreaking poets, famous public figures, and everyday people.
Romantics unique/unusual non-conventional focus on individual life as it could be appreciation of nature hopeful emotional Realists ordinary/average typical focus on society life as it is nature as hostile skeptical acceptance of fate Differences in Romanticism and Realism
Realism Writing • Slave narratives revealed the true nature of slavery and made readers care. • Diaries and letters gave personal responses to historical events. • Public documents influenced a large audience. • Fiction moved toward realistic events. • "… In most of us colored folks was the great desire to [be] able to read and write. We took advantage of every opportunity to educate ourselves. The greater part of the plantation owners were very harsh if we were caught trying to learn or write. It was the law that if a white man was caught trying to educate a negro slave, he was liable to prosecution entailing a fine of 50 dollars and a jail sentence. We were never allowed to go to town and it was not until after I ran away that I knew that they sold other things to slaves beside tobacco, and whiskey. Our ignorance was the greatest hold the South had on us. We knew we could run away, but what then? An offender guilty of this crime was subjected to very harsh punishment. …"
Characteristics of Realist Fiction • Focus on complex characters • inner thoughts • personal concerns • mundane events of life • Portray ordinary settings • society and culture • Depict true-to-life dialogue • captures dialects and idioms of conversations • Detached narration • sounds unbiased and distant, recording facts of story • allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusions “A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man’s hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck.”---Ambrose Bierce, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.
Realism Defined—Writing that offers an accurate and detailed portrayal of actual life.
Authors for this Unit Stephen Crane Ambrose Bierce Harriet Jacobs Abraham Lincoln Frederick Douglass Walt Whitman