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American Realism


What is Realism?
Response to the Civil War
Rejection of Romanticism
Portrays “real life” as ordinary people lived
Attempted to show characters and events in an

honest, objective and factual way
Psychological stories: focus on character


Historical Background
American North
 Northern Industrial Revolution- advances in education,
banking and science
 Immigration- influx of Irish and German immigrants
 Agriculture- slow pace plantations
 Slavery- economy highly dependant on slave labor
1850 Fugitive Slave Act passed (mandated the return

of fugitive slaves)
1854 Kansas- Nebraska Act
1859 Harpers Ferry West Virginia- slave revolt led by
John Brown (later hanged for treason)

Literary Connection
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Became a powerful antislavery weapon
More than 300,000 copies sold
Vividly depicted the cruelty of slavery

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Historical Timeline
1860- Abraham Lincoln elected as President of the

United States
1861- Civil War begins

April 12- Confederate fired on Union troops holding fort
Sumter- started the Civil War

1865- Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders

Just days later, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated (April 14,


Historical Timeline
1862- Homestead Act which encouraged westward


Promised land (160 acres) to Americans willing to move
westward to inhabit and develop land on the Great Plains

1869- Transcontinental Railroad opened
By 1890, virtually all Native Americans in the West

had been forced from their land

Industrial Revolution
Began in the 1880’s after electricity was introduced
 Population just over 50 million
 By the turn of the century the population is about 76 million

A significant portion was due to more than 9 million immigrants
who came during this period

Electricity replaced steam power
Inventions: electric lights, telephone, automobiles,

motion picture, and phonographs
Led to a boost in consumer goods, advertising,
skyscrapers, department stores
Also led to pollution, crimes, slums, traffic jams

Wealth and Poverty
The industrial boom of the late nineteenth century

created new extremes in wealth and poverty

Wages of industrial workers were so low that a single worker,
or even two, often could not support one family
Child labor became the norm among the poor and working
Immigrant families often lived in small, dark, unventilated
apartments without toilets
In these conditions, disease was rampant!

Literary Connections
How the Other Half Lives
Jacob Riis
First expose documentary
Powerful photography
Exposed the living conditions of the poor working

class citizens

How the Other Half Lives

How the Other Half Lives

How the Other Half Lives

Emergence of African American Literature
 Sojourner Truth- “An Account of and Experience with

 Fredrick Douglass- My Bondage and My Freedom

 Charles Chestnutt- Marrow of Tradition

Stories were told through slave quilts and slave spirituals

Focus on specific geographical setting, dialects,

landscapes, mannerisms, and cultural customs of a
Also called Local Color Fiction
Mark Twain
How’r y’all doin’ down yonder?

Naturalist writers also depicted real people in real

situations, but they believed in forces larger than the
individual- nature, fate, heredity- shaped individual
If the reality these writers depicted seemed to be a harsh
one, it was because hardship influenced their artistic
vision. It was a vision rooted in war, in the frontier, and
increasingly, in America’s growing cities
Also called Determinism
Kate Chopin
Jack London