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Realism. Regionalism & Local Color 1865-1920. What is realism?. Broadly defined, a literary technique devoted to "the faithful representation of reality" A reaction against romanticism

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Regionalism & Local Color


what is realism
What is realism?
  • Broadly defined, a literary technique devoted to "the faithful representation of reality"
  • A reaction against romanticism
  • Sparked by an interest in the scientific method, the systematizing of the study of documentary history, and the influence of rational philosophy
realist writers
Realist writers …
  • Endeavored to accurately represent contemporary culture and people from all walks of life
  • Addressed themes of socioeconomic conflict by contrasting the living conditions of the poor with those of the upper classes in urban as well as rural societies
  • Sought to narrate their novels from an objective, unbiased perspective that simply and clearly represented the factual elements of the story
  • Became masters at psychological characterization, detailed descriptions of everyday life in realistic settings, and dialogue that captures the idioms of natural human speech
some key influences
Some Key Influences
  • Rapid growth after the Civil War
  • Increasing rates of democracy and literacy
  • Rapid growth in industrialism and urbanization
  • An expanding population base due to immigration
  • A relative rise in middle-class affluence
  • Interest in understanding these rapid shifts in culture
  • Concern about loss of personal identity
local color regional literature
Local Color/Regional Literature
  • Local color or regional literature focuses on the characters, dialect, customs, topography, and other features particular to a specific region.
  • Between the Civil War and the end of the nineteenth century, this mode of writing became dominant in American literature.
local color
Local Color
  • According to the Oxford Companion to American Literature, "In local-color literature one finds the dual influence of romanticism and realism, since the author frequently looks away from ordinary life to distant lands, strange customs, or exotic scenes, but retains through minute detail a sense of fidelity and accuracy of description" (439).
regional literature
Regional Literature
  • Regional literature incorporates the broader concept of sectional differences within a locale.
  • For example, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain makes use of seven distinct dialects to represent the differences of various groups living in the region.
  • Contributed to the reunification of the country after the Civil War
  • Helped build a national identity
  • Contributed to the narrative of unified nationhood that late nineteenth-century America sought to construct
regionalism in art
Regionalism in Art
  • Regionalism is a realist modern American art movement wherein artists shunned the city and rapidly developing technological advances to focus on scenes of rural life.
  • Regionalist style was at its height from 1930 to 1935.
  • During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Regionalist art was widely appreciated for its reassuring images of the American heartland.
  • The emphasis is frequently on nature and the limitations it imposes; settings are frequently remote and inaccessible. The setting is integral to the story and may sometimes become a character in itself.
  • Local color stories tend to be concerned with the character of the district or region rather than with the individual: characters may become character types, sometimes quaint or stereotypical.
  • The characters are marked by their adherence to the old ways, by dialect, and by particular personality traits central to the region.
  • The narrator is typically an educated observer from the world beyond who learns something from the characters while preserving a sometimes sympathetic, sometimes ironic distance from them.
  • The narrator serves as mediator between the rural folk of the tale and the urban audience to whom the tale is directed.
  • It has been said that "nothing happens" in local color stories by women authors, and often very little does happen.
  • Stories may include lots of storytelling and revolve around the community and its rituals.
  • Many local color stories share an antipathy to change and a nostalgia for an always-past golden age. Thematic tension or conflict between urban ways and old-fashioned rural values is often symbolized by the intrusion of an outsider or interloper who seeks something from the community.
shared techniques
Shared Techniques
  • Use of dialect to establish credibility and authenticity of regional characters.
  • Use of detailed description, especially of small, seemingly insignificant details central to an understanding of the region.
  • Frequent use of a frame story in which the narrator hears some tale of the region.
famous practitioners
Mark Twain

Bret Harte

Hamlin Garland

Joel Chandler Harris

William Faulkner

William Styron

Robert Frost

Sinclair Lewis

Henry James

John Steinbeck

Dashiell Hammett

Kate Chopin

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Eudora Welty

Sarah Orne Jewett

Willa Cather

Harper Lee

Famous Practitioners …
samuel langhorne clemens 1835 1910
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910)
  • Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka. Mark Twain, was a natural-born storyteller who was the first writer to recognize that art could be created out of the American language.
  • Through his use of carefully chosen words and his sharply honed humor, he dealt head-on with controversial issues that others were afraid to confront.
mark twain s writing advice
Mark Twain’s Writing Advice
  • “Whatever you have lived, you can write – & by hard work & a genuine apprenticeship, you can learn to write well; but what you have not lived you cannot write, you can only pretend to write it...”
an enormous noticer
“An Enormous Noticer”
  • Mark Twain is described as “an enormous noticer.” Much of what he noticed as a boy growing up in the small Mississippi River town of Hannibal, Missouri, found its way into his writings in books such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
  • He was always noticing whether people had their hands in their pockets or not, how they dressed, walked, spoke or presented themselves to others.
consider this passage from the first chapter of tom sawyer for example
Consider this passage from the first chapter of Tom Sawyer, for example:
  • “A stranger was before him – boy a shade larger than himself... This boy was well-dressed, too well-dressed on a week-day. This was simply astounding. His cap was a dainty thing, his close-buttoned blue cloth roundabout was new and natty, and so were his pantaloons. He had shoes on–and it was only Friday. He even wore a necktie, a bright bit of ribbon. He had a citified air about him that ate into Tom’s vitals.”
now close your eyes
Now, close your eyes …
  • What am I wearing?
  • What is currently hanging on the back bulletin board?
  • What color are the walls in this room?
  • How many book shelves are in this room?
  • Are there more boys or girls in this class?
  • What object is sitting above the white board on the left side?
twain s first success
Twain’s First Success
  • "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" (1865) was Twain’s first great success as a writer, bringing him national attention.
  • In it, the narrator retells a story he heard from a bartender at the Angels Hotel in Angels Camp, California, about the gambler Jim Smiley and his “celebrated jumping frog”.
how he got started
How he got started …
  • Twain began his career as a journalist, travel writer, and writer of light, humorous verse.
  • He evolved into a chronicler of the vanities, hypocrisies. and murderous acts of mankind, making frequent use of satire.
  • At mid-career, with Huckleberry Finn, he combined rich humor, sturdy narrative and social criticism.
what is satire
What is satire?
  • A literary genre or form in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement.
  • Although satire is usually meant to be funny, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon.
  • A common feature of satire is strong irony or sarcasm; it also makes frequent use of parody, burlesque, analogy, exaggeration, juxtaposition, and double entendre.
  • Modern Examples: Animal Farm; Fahrenheit 451; Lord of the Flies; Saturday Night Live, “Doonesbury,” John Stewart; Stephen Colbert; The Simpsons; South Park
twain on humor
Twain on Humor …

“Humor must not professedly teach, and it must not professedly preach, but it must do both if it would live forever.”

– Mark Twain

most famous books
The Innocents Abroad

Roughing It

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The Prince and the Pauper

Life on the Mississippi

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson

A Burlesque Autobiography

Most Famous Books
twain s use of dialect
Twain’s Use of Dialect
  • Twain was a master at rendering colloquial speech and helped to create and popularize a distinctive American literature built on American themes and language.
  • In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain uses seven different dialects and even provides an explanation for doing so …
twain s explanatory

“IN this book a number of dialects are used, to wit:  the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary "Pike County" dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.

I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.”

missouri negro jim
Missouri Negro: Jim

“Goodness gracious, is dat you, Huck? En you ain’ dead-you ain’t drownded-you’s back ag’in? It’s too good for true, honey, it’s too good for true. Lemme look at you chile, lemme feel o’ you. No, you ain’ dead! you’s back ag’in, ‘live en soun’, jis de same ole Huck-de same ole Huck, thanks to goodness!”

extremist form of the backwoods southwestern dialect arkansas gossips sister hotchkiss
Extremist form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect: Arkansas Gossips (Sister Hotchkiss)
  • “Look at that-air grindstone, s’I; want to tell me’t any cretur ‘t’s in his right mind’s a-goin’ to scrabble all them crazy things onto a grindstone? s’I.”
ordinary pike county huck
Ordinary “Pike County”: Huck
  • “My folks was living in Pike County, in Missouri, where I was born, and they all died off but me and pa and my brother Ike.”
modified pike county king
Modified “Pike County”: King

“Well, I’d ben a-runnin’ a little temperence revival thar ‘bout a week . . . and business a-growin’ all the time, when somehow or another a little report got around last night that I had a way of puttin’ in my time with a private jug on the sly.”

huck as narrator
Huck as Narrator
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was a breakthrough in American literature for its presentation of Huck Finn, an adolescent boy who tells the story in his own language. The novel was one of the first in America to employ the child's perspective and employ the vernacular — a language specific to a region or group of people—throughout the book.
unique perspective
Unique Perspective
  • Huck's unique perspective is that of a lower-class, southern white child, who has been viewed as an outcast by society.
  • From this position, Huck narrates the story of his encounters with various southern types, sometimes revealing his naivete and, at other times, his acute ability to see through the hypocrisy of his elders.
Realist and Regionalist techniques are exemplified in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by the specific and richly detailed setting …
… and the novel's insistence on dialect which attempts to reproduce the natural speech of a variety of characters unique to the Mississippi Valley region.
In addition, Huck's momentous decision to free Jim, even if it means going to hell, is seen as a classic episode of Realist fiction because it demonstrates the individual's struggle to make choices based on inner motivations, rather than outside forces.
Many wonder if he really meant that since Huck goes through a major metamorphosis in his thinking about Jim …
on race
On Race …

“ I have no race prejudices, and I think I have no color prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. Indeed I know it... All that I care to know is that a man is a human being – that is enough for me.”

– Mark Twain

early experiences
Early Experiences
  • Black people and black voices were part of Twain’s life from the beginning. Every summer as a child Sam spent several weeks on his uncle’s farm, where an old slave called “Uncle Daniel” thrilled the youngsters with ghost stories.
  • One of his most lasting childhood memories was not so pleasant. It was of a dozen men and women, chained together, waiting to be shipped down-river to the slave market. “They had,” he said, “the saddest faces I ever saw.”
controversy book banning
Controversy/Book Banning
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, first published in 1884, was controversial from the start. In 1885, Concord Public Library banned the book.
  • Mark Twain wrote to Charles Webster on March 18, 1885: "The Committee of the Public Library of Concord, Mass., have given us a rattling tip-top puff which will go into every paper in the country. They have expelled Huck from their library as 'trash and suitable only for the slums.' That will sell 25,000 copies for us sure."
In 1902, the Brooklyn Public Library banned The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with the statement that "Huck not only itched but he scratched," and that he said "sweat" when he should have said "perspiration."
modern day issues
Modern Day Issues
  • In general, the debate over Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has centered around the language of the book, which has been objected to on social grounds, specifically for its repeated use of the “N” word, which was in common usage in the pre-Civil War period in which the novel was set.
  • Yielding to public pressure, some textbook publishers have substituted "slave" or "servant" for the term that Mark Twain uses in the book, which has been considered derogatory to African Americans.
the n word
The “N” Word
  • Comes from the Latin adjective meaning “black” (niger) and the Spanish/Portuguese word for black (negro)
  • “Used rightly or wrongly, ironically or seriously, of necessity for the sake of realism, or impishly for the sake of comedy, it doesn't matter. Negroes do not like it in any book or play whatsoever, be the book or play ever so sympathetic in its treatment of the basic problems of the race. Even though the book or play is written by a Negro, they still do not like it. The word nigger, you see, sums up for us who are colored all the bitter years of insult and struggle in America.”

- Langston Hughes

others see it as the greatest and most important american novel
Others see it as the greatest and most important American novel …

"All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn."

- Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa