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Regionalism and Naturalism 1870-1910
What’s going on right now? • Reconstruction • Transcontinental railroad • The Have-Nots • Jim Crow laws • Immigration • Labor unions • Independent farmers
Regionalism and Local Color The attempt to capture the customs, character, and landscapes of the nations distinct regions through writing • With the railroad, the frontier was being closed • Aware of the speed with which the nation was changing, regional writers sought to record for the future the unique character of their areas • Bret Harte and Mark Twain appreciated America’s diversity and wanted to celebrate it
From Realism to Regionalism • Regionalism grew from Realism • The realist goal of showing ordinary lives as they were, without romance or sentimentality. • However, some writers tended to exaggerate a bit, either for comic effect (Mark Twain) or to make their stories livelier.
Mark Twain • Best known for Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. • Regionalism and local color reached its zenith • First novel written entirely in “American” • Colloquial, colorful, ungrammatical voice of young narrator • Known for gift of humor to make a serious point • Used biting satire in Huck Finn to comment on racism • Was called vulgar and immoral; libraries banned it • Considered best book ever written by an American author • Huge influence on later writers • “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. There was nothing before. There has been nothing since.” -Ernest Hemingway
Naturalism Concerned with the impact of social and natural forces on the individual, naturalist writers tended to portray characters victimized by brutal forces and unable to control their lives • Have-nots influence • More and more, the individual seemed helpless, at the mercy of forces beyond his/her control. • Life became a constant struggle, and the world appeared to be a harsh, uncaring place Dreiser, Frank Norris, Jack London, Stephen Crane
Survival of the Fittest • Socially speaking… • Those who rose to the top of society were “fit,” while those who suffered at the bottom were best left to die out. • Final decades of century were a time of rapid change and sharp contrasts • A time when “captains of industry” amassed vast fortunes by exploiting the cheap labor of immigrants and other works
Some Naturalists were popular • Norris • Gave ordinary people and portrayed the rich and influential in an unflattering light • London • Captured readers with his tales of an artic world entirely outside their everyday experience
New Role for Women Writers tended to be realist, but dabbled in naturalism • Right to vote and university education • 1896 New York Journal headline • “Are We Destroying Woman’s Beauty? The Startling Warning of a Great English Physician Against Higher Education of Women. How Intellectual Work Destroys Beauty.” Charlotte Perkins Gillman, Edith Wharton, Mary Wilkins Freeman
Tragic endings • Works often ended tragically • In madness, ruin, scandal, and death • A reflection of their naturalist learnings • At the same time, though, it grew out of there own experiences in a culture that did not encourage women’s artistic goals Kate Chopin • 1899 The Awakening • Stepped over the line in its portrayal of a woman’s hidden passion, arousing a public protest so vigorous that Chopin ceased writing • Little female weapons • When the weapon was a pen, the impact could be revolutionary • Mary Wilkins Freeman (local color)
Legacy Regionalism/Local Color • Wild, Wild West • Current day local color writers Naturalism • Unions increased their membership and power