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AMERICAN LITERARY REALISM 1950-1914. ◦“Where romanticists transcend the immediate to find the ideal, and naturalists plumb the actual or superficial to.

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Presentation on theme: "AMERICAN LITERARY REALISM 1950-1914. ◦“Where romanticists transcend the immediate to find the ideal, and naturalists plumb the actual or superficial to."— Presentation transcript:


2 ◦“Where romanticists transcend the immediate to find the ideal, and naturalists plumb the actual or superficial to find the scientific laws that control its actions, realists center their attention to a remarkable degree on the immediate, the here and now, the specific action, and the verifiable consequence" (A Handbook to Literature, Harmon and Holman)

3 ◦“Realism is nothing more and nothing less than the truthful treatment of material.” --William Dean Howells, “Editor’s Study,” Harper's New Monthly Magazine (November 1889) ◦"Realism, n. The art of depicting nature as it is seen by toads. The charm suffusing a landscape painted by a mole, or a story written by a measuring-worm." --Ambrose Bierce The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

4 ◦"Realism sets itself at work to consider characters and events which are apparently the most ordinary and uninteresting, in order to extract from these their full value and true meaning. It would apprehend in all particulars the connection between the familiar and the extraordinary, and the seen and unseen of human nature. Beneath the deceptive cloak of outwardly uneventful days, it detects and endeavors to trace the outlines of the spirits that are hidden there; to measure the changes in their growth, to watch the symptoms of moral decay or regeneration, to fathom their histories of passionate or intellectual problems. In short, realism reveals. Where we thought nothing worth of notice, it shows everything to be rife with significance." -- George Parsons Lathrop, “The Novel and its Future," Atlantic Monthly 34 (September 1874)

5 Realism in General, 1850s-1900s ◦In American literature, realism encompasses the period from the Civil War to the turn of the century. ◦Realism is often broadly defined as “the faithful representation of reality” or as “verisimilitude,” and it is a literary technique practiced by many schools of writing. ◦Naturalism is a sub-movement of realism which focuses on the individual versus nature, or man’s struggle for survival in the face of nature, an independent and uncaring force. ◦Regionalism is another sub-movement of realism which utilizes setting and vernacular to depict a very specific geographic or cultural region.

6 Realism versus Romanticism ◦Realism can be seen as a reaction against romanticism. While romantic writers tend to focus on intuition and imagination rather than logic and reason, writers employing realism evince an interest in the scientific method, the systematizing of the study of documentary history, and the influence of rational philosophy. ◦Nature is no longer seen as a source of spiritual truth, but a force that is beyond human control. ◦The philosophy of Realism is "descendental" or non-transcendental.

7 General Historical Conditions ◦Industrial Revolution of the late 19 th Century ◦Movement from farming to factory, rural to urban. ◦Standardization, mass production of goods ◦Scientific Revolution of the late 19 th Century ◦Truth and knowledge should be based on empirical data ◦The American Civil War ◦North vs. South, Emancipation Proclamation, 13 th Amendment. Approximately 650,000 deaths. ◦Additional Developments ◦Westward Expansion, Manifest Destiny, exploration and settlement of the West ◦Growth of investigative journalism, muckrakers ◦Fascination with the camera ◦Increasing rates of literacy, rise in middle-class affluence.

8 Crucial History, 1850-1900 The Civil War Fugitive Slave Act, 1850. Civil War begins in Fort Sumter, South Carolina, 1861. Gettysburg Address, 1863. Confederate Surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, 1865. Abraham Lincoln Assassinated, April 15, 1865. Human Rights/ Culture Susan B. Anthony & Cady Stanton become co-leaders of U.S. women’s rights movement, 1850. Thirteenth Amendment Ratified, 1865. Sioux defeat Gen. Custer at Battle of Little Big Horn, 1876. Booker T. Washington founds Tuskegee Institute, 1881. Science and Technology Charles Darwin publishes his The Origin of Species, 1859. Alexander Graham Bell patents first telephone, 1876. Edison patents phonograph, 1878. Naturalist John Miur publishes The Mountains of California, 1894. German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen discovers x-rays, 1895.

9 Realism and Naturalism ◦Naturalism was an extension of realism, a reaction against the restrictions inherent in the realistic emphasis on the ordinary, as naturalists insisted that the extraordinary is real, too. In place of the middle-class realities of a George Eliot, or a William Dean Howells, the naturalists wrote about the fringes of society, the criminal, the fallen, the down-and-out, earning as one definition of their work the phrase sordid realism. Naturalism came largely from scientific Determinism. Darwinism was especially important to the genre, as the naturalists perceived a person's fate as the product of blind external or biological forces (chiefly heredity and environment). But in the typical naturalistic novel, change played a large part as well. (The Harper Handbook of Literature)

10 Characteristics of Realism ◦Character ◦Character is more important than action and plot; complex ethical choices are often the subject. Characters also appear in the real complexity of temperament and motive; they are in explicable relation to nature, to each other, to their social class, to their own past. ◦Class is important; the novel has traditionally served the interests and aspirations of an insurgent middle class. Realism exposed the balancing act between work and society that the upwardly mobile middle class had to perform in order to rise and retain status. ◦Round character- has a complex personality; often portrayed as a conflicted and contradictory person. ◦Dynamic character- changes over time in the face of conflicts resolved or experiences gained.

11 Characteristics of Realism ◦Plot ◦Renders reality closely and in comprehensive detail. Selective presentation of reality with an emphasis on verisimilitude, even at the expense of a well-made plot. ◦Events will usually be plausible. Realistic novels avoid the sensational, dramatic elements of naturalistic novels and romances. ◦Plot will not necessarily feature typical plot structure in traditional order, such as exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Events will unfold as an individual may encounter them in real life.

12 Characteristics of Realism  Language and Devices  Diction is the natural vernacular, not heightened or poetic; tone may be comic, satiric, or matter-of-fact.  Satire-the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.  The use of symbolism is controlled and limited; the realists depend more on the use of images.

13 Tenets of Realism 1.Human Destiny and Human Will 2.Objectivity 3.Complexity and Multiplicity 4.Interpretation and Analysis 5.Verisimilitude

14 Tenets of Realism 1.Human Destiny and Human Will American realists believed that humanity's freedom of choice was limited by the power of outside forces. Naturalists supported the determinism movement. Naturalists argued that individuals have no choice because a person's life is dictated by heredity and the external environment. Literary Movement Perceived the Individual as… RomanticsA god RealistsSimply a person NaturalistsA helpless object

15 Tenets of Realism 2.Objectivity  Objectivity in presentation becomes increasingly important: overt authorial comments or intrusions diminish. Realist theory maintains the novel’s/artwork’s function is simply to report what happens, without comment or judgment.  Third person objective narrator- only relates to the reader what is seen or heard. A good writer can tell a completely objective story in such a way that the reader is able to determine the feelings and sometimes even the thoughts of the characters through what those characters say and do, even though the thoughts and feelings are never described.  Third person limited narrator- able to see into the mind of a single character. Sometimes the point of view may zoom in so close to that character that the narrator begins to use that character's manner of speech and thought, and sometimes the narrator may step back to take a more objective view. Can also be used to switch from character to character in retelling the same story.

16 Tenets of Realism 3.Complexity and Multiplicity  Complexity refers to the interwoven, entangled density of experience. Characters are psychologically complicated, multifaceted, and with conflicting impulses and motivations that very nearly replicate the daily tribulations of being human.  Multiplicity indicates the simultaneous existence of different levels of reality or of many truths, equally "true" from some point of view. For instance, Realism embraced the concept that people were neither completely good or completely bad, but somewhere on a spectrum.

17 Tenets of Realism 4.Interpretation and Analysis  Realism is viewed as a realization of democracy. ◦Freedom of expression and opinion ◦Free, independent and pluralistic media ◦Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms ultimately shown through writing about and analyzing different mistreatments of human beings and basic rights.  The morality of Realism is intrinsic, integral, relativistic – relations between people and society are explored.  Realists were pragmatic, relativistic, democratic and experimental. The purpose of writing is to instruct and to entertain.

18 Tenets of Realism 5.Verisimilitude  The “faithful representation of reality”  American realists built their plots and characters around people's ordinary, everyday lives.  Authors pay close attention to detail and endeavor to replicate the true nature of reality in a way that romanticists had never attempted. This detail and replication of true reality could only come from an author’s experience in the world.

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