Essential Question: Where do we look to find truth?


During the time of Realism, roughly between 1860 - 1910, authors focused more on the characters in the story.

The population in America was rapidly growing due to advancements in science, industry, and transportation. The hardships of the Civil War caused many Americans to shift their focus on the hard realities of life; people were less optimistic about the future.

There was an emphasis on believable characters instead of dark heroes. Authors tried to use the characters' natural vernacular, or dialect, because the characters in the story were more important than the plot of the story. This was a true representation of reality in literature from people who opposed Romanticism.

What do the terms Realism and Naturalism mean?

What's Realism?

Realism was a literary movement that began around the time of the American Civil War.

The war and its aftermath profoundly affected American writers. Over 618,000 Americans died from combat or sickness. Many others lost their homes, families, and livelihoods. Much of this devastation was captured with startling realism by photographers using the newly invented camera.

Unlike earlier Romantic authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman, writers were no longer interested in exploring the depths of human emotions or celebrating the mystery of nature.

What did they want to write about?

They wanted to write about ordinary Americans--to show how they looked, how they spoke, and how they lived their lives.

Tremendous changes were occurring in America, offering writers compelling real-world characters and settings. The economy shifted from agriculture to manufacturing. Workers--many of whom were European immigrants--poured into cities seeking factory jobs.

With this population explosion came social pressures. Women's rights, exploitation of natural resources and labor, racial and ethnic inequity, and political corruption--these were just a few of the issues that writers addressed in novels, stories, and newspapers.

What authors were Realists?

The best-known author of American Realism is Samuel Langhorne Clemens, whose pen name was Mark Twain. He wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), two of the most popular novels in American literature.

In these books, Twain depicted the realities of the pre-War South by drawing on his childhood experiences in the Mississippi River town of Hannibal, Missouri. Huck Finn is a young, white orphan who befriends Jim, an escaped slave.

Other notable Realists include William Dean Howells and the poets Emily Dickinson and Edwin Arlington Robinson.

How did poets use Realism?

Realism is typically associated with writers of fiction. But Emily Dickinson and other poets used elements of Realism to convey precise images and emotions.

For example, one of her poems is about her strong physical reaction to seeing a snake, which she calls a "narrow fellow in the grass." In vivid images, she describes her sudden glimpse of the "spotted shaft." When the snake moves, the "grass divides as with a comb," causing in her a "tighter breathing, / And zero at the bone."

Few knew of Dickinson's poetry during her lifetime. Her works reached the public when writing and publishing began to flourish in the late 1800s.

Were the works of Realists popular? Generally speaking, yes. Readers developed a taste for realistic fiction about specific regions-- especially the new frontier territories. Writers like Bret Harte and Kate Chopin wrote what came to be called local color literature.

Realism eventually led to Naturalism, a closely related movement that produced some classic American novels and short stories.

What's Naturalism?

Naturalism, like Realism, portrays believable characters in a realistic world. But for Naturalists, like Stephen Crane and Jack London, the world is cold and uncaring.

In Crane's short story "The Open Boat," four men escape a shipwreck by boarding a small boat. They row frantically against the tide to reach the shore, but they make little progress and begin to feel helpless: "When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important... he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples."

Jack London used the harsh Alaskan and Yukon wilderness as the settings for his novel The Call of the Wild and the short story "To Build a Fire."

In the works of both authors, characters inevitably become victims of an indifferent universe.

Why did Crane and London want to write stories about people who are victims?

Naturalists believed that humans have little or no free will. They were convinced that the actions and fate of human beings are determined by forces beyond their control and understanding--by the environment, by heredity, by chance.

However, Naturalists affirm the value of human life even though the stories may be tragic. Characters often reveal a strength and dignity in even the most trying circumstances.

This naturalistic philosophy would continue to influence late 19th-century writing, until a great war in the early 20th century shook the world and reshaped the course of American literature.

Be sure you complete the Unit 6 Notes as you go through the unit.


Who is considered an outcastrefused acceptance of society? Are there outcasts in today's society? Would you consider the people in these pictures outcasts?

homeless man girl with measles students shunning another student

rocker person in wheelchair man in jail boy sitting alone

Do you agree with this statement? Some people choose to be outcasts of society while others are forced.

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Consider the title of the next story you will be reading, "The Outcasts of Poker Flat." What do you think will happen in the town of Poker Flat?

Bret HarteBret Harte (1836-1902) is the author of "The Outcasts of Poker Flat." He wrote short stories about life in Gold Rush-era California. Harte's invention of the ideal "western" characters like the shady prospector, the cynical gambler, the tough cowboy, and the prostitute with a heart of gold created the legends through which Americans learned to understand the culture of the "Old West."

Harte is one of the first authors to use local color in a story. Using local color allows authors to portray accurate dialect and mannerisms used in a specific region. Characters are livelier and more dynamic when this happens.

"It's agin justice," said Jim Wheeler, "to let this yer young man from Roaring Camp - an entire stranger - carry away our money."





Lesson Objectives

Following successful completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Recognize notable characteristics of local color writing.
  • Identify and analyze stylistic devices and literary themes through close reading.
  • Apply learning by analyzing a literary selection.
  • Describe character types in a short story.

The above objectives correspond with the Alabama Course of Study: English Language Arts, Grade 10 objectives: 1, 3, 22, 22a, 23, 24, 30, 31, 31c, and 31d.



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