Unit 3 Overview Sheet

American Literature
Unit 3: Reconstructing the American Dream
American Realism, Naturalism, and Modernism
Unit Essential Questions
1. How do writers of Realism and Naturalism reflect the harsh realities of a post-war society?
2. How and why do 20th century writers uphold Romantic characteristics in their writing?
3. How do Modern writers reflect the themes of alienation and experimentation found in the 20th century?
4. How has the role of the individual evolved from the Colonial to Modern period?
Unit Anchor Quotes
1. “Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead.
We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against
which they are dashed to pieces.” – Sigmund Freud
2. “If there is anybody in this land who thoroughly believes that the meek shall inherit the earth they have
not often let their presence be known.” – W.E.B. Du Bois
3. “My idea is always to reach my generation. The wise writer writes for the youth of his own generation,
the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Unit 3 Goals
Understand characteristics of Realism, Naturalism, and Modernism
Compare and contrast characteristics of the above literary periods to the Colonial and Romantic ages
Acquire new language and literary terms: irony, satire, juxtaposition, etc.
View and analyze characteristics and elements of literary periods in various mediums: art, music, film
Track universal themes of American Literature in all texts
Track the evolution of the role and importance of the individual
Analyze and compare classic texts to modern supplements
Avoid passive voice and past tense verbs in writing
Improve “active” voice in writing to further improve formal tone in writing
Vary use of evidence and quotations in writing
Conduct research and incorporate findings into writing; master understanding of MLA conventions
Write in a variety of genres: research paper, narrative, literary analysis, synthesis writing
Unit 3 Key Texts and Authors
Emily Dickinson poetry – “Success is counted sweetest,” “This is my letter to the world,” “Softened by
Time’s consummate plush,” and “I’m nobody! Who are you?”
Carl Sandburg poetry – “Grass”
Jack London texts – “He Never Tried Again” (poem) and “To Build a Fire” (short story excerpt)
Kate Chopin – “The Story of an Hour” (short story)
Judy Brady – “I Want a Wife” (essay)
Mark Twain – “Genius” (poem)
John Steinbeck – “The Chrysanthemums” (short story)
Zora Neale Hurston – “How it Feels to be Colored Me” (essay)
Langston Hughes poetry – “A Dream Deferred,” and “I, Too, Sing America”
T.S. Eliot poetry – Excerpts from “The Wasteland”
Robert Frost poetry – “The Road Not Taken,” “Birches,” “Mending Wall,” and “Stopping by Woods on
a Snowy Evening”
Theodore Roethke – “My Papa’s Waltz” (poem)
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby
Unit 3 Key Background Information
 Realism is defined as “the faithful representation of reality” or “verisimilitude.”
 Realism is a technique and signifies a particular kind of subject matter, especially that of middle-class
life. It encompasses life from the Civil War through the turn of century of 1900.
 It’s a reaction against Romanticism and is influenced by the systematizing of the study of documentary
history, and the influence of rational over the ideal.
 Whereas Romantics urged to transcend the immediate to find the ideal, realists center their attention to a
remarkable degree on the immediate, the here and now, the specific action, and the verifiable
 The term “naturalism” derives from the attempt to apply scientific principles of objectivity and
detachment to its study of human beings.
 Unlike Realism, Naturalism implies a philosophical position: naturalistic writers see humans as beasts
who can be studied through their relationships with their surroundings. Humans should be studied
impartially as “products” without moralizing about their natures.
 Naturalist writers believe that the laws behind the forces that govern human lives might be studied and
understood. Thus, these writers used a version of the scientific method to write their novels; they studied
human beings governed by their instincts and passions as well as the ways in which the characters’ lives
were governed by the forces of heredity and environment.
 Although they used the techniques of accumulating details created by Realists, it is the Naturalist’s focus
on championing a deterministic philosophy and focusing on the lower classes that separate the groups.
 Whereas Realists center on the attention to a remarkable degree on the immediate, Naturalists plumb the
actual or superficial to find the scientific laws that control its actions. Many see Naturalism’s
philosophical framework as “pessimistic materialistic determinism.”
 American Modernism is noted for its sudden and unexpected breaks with the traditional ways of viewing
and interacting with the world. Experimentation and innovation became virtues, where in the past they
were disregarded.
 This literary period was set in motion by a number of cultural shocks – WWI caused people to question
what ghastly horror the word may be plunging to in the very present future. The machinery of modern
society is perceived as impersonal, capitalist, and antagonistic to the artistic impulse.
 A central focus of Modernism is the preoccupation with the inner self and consciousness.
 In contrast with the Romantic view, the Modernist cares little to nothing about nature, “being,” or the
overarching structures of history. Instead of progress and growth, the Modernist sees decay and a
growing alienation of the individual.
 The 20th century witnessed the beginnings of a new paradigm first between the sexes, and later between
different cultural groups. Gone were the 19th century dominant ways of the white male and oppressed
females and minorities. Thanks to this, a new diverse voice was able to rise from American writing that
spanned gender, race, and cultures.
 In Modernist literature, poets took the fullest advantage of the new spirit of the times and stretched the
possibilities of their craft to new, unexplored lengths. Fresh looks at symbolism, rhythm, and word
usage arose. “The Lost Generation” is a group of Modernist writers and thinkers who chose to live
abroad during WWI to pursue their creative impulses. The term comes from the spiritual and existential
hangover left by four years of war as these artists struggled to find some meaning in a world full of
chaos. To achieve this – like other Modernist literature – they turned their mind’s eye inward to record
the workings of consciousness.
Characteristics of Unit 3’s Key Literary Periods
American Realism
American Naturalism
American Modernism
Renders reality closely and in
comprehensive detail.
Characters are frequently lowerclass and/or uneducated.
New kind of narration as the narrator is
unreliable which forces the readers to question
even the most basic assumptions of the text
Character is more important than
action or plot; complex ethical
choices are often the subject.
Characters’ lives are governed
by the forces of heredity,
instinct, and passion.
Characters have a sense of alienation from
society and a sense of loneliness
Characters appear in their real
complexity of temperament and
motive; they are in explicable
relation to nature, to each other, to
their social classes, and to their
own pasts.
Class is important
The attempts of exercising free
will or choice are hamstrung by
forces out of their control.
Procrastination and an inability to act appears in
many protagonists/characters
Social Darwinism and other
theories help to explain
characters’ fates to the readers.
Characters agonize over their recollection of the
past that is meant to reflect the gloom and doom
of two world wars and holistic chaos; this is seen
in texts with frequent flashbacks to the past
Events will usually be plausible.
Realistic novels avoid the
sensational, dramatic elements of
naturalistic novels and romances.
Nature acts as an indifferent
force acting on the lives of
Fear of death and acceptance of death makes its
way into many Modern texts as does the
inability to feel love or express love in the
conflicts of characters
Diction is natural vernacular, not
heightened or poetic; tone may be
comical, satirical, or matter-offact
The Naturalistic novel offers
“clinical, slice-of-life” drama
that is often a “chronicle of
despair”; urbanized settings
Writers often depict man as creating his own
myths in his mind that he can fall back upon
Objectivity is presentation
becomes increasingly important;
overt authorial comments or
intrusions diminish as the century
Writing focuses on “the brute
within” characters – strong and
warring emotions, passions such
as lust and greed dictate a
character fighting against an
indifferent universe.
Modernist writers portray the environment as a
KEY THEMES: unidealized and
unsentimental depictions,
importance of place, ordinary
speech and ordinary people,
KEY THEMES: survival,
determinism, violence, and
KEY THEMES: violence and alienation,
historical discontinuity, decadence and decay,
loss and despair, rejection of history, race
relations, unavoidable change, sense of
place/local color
KEY AUTHORS: Mark Twain,
Henry James
Wright, Jack London, Edith
Wharton, Kate Chopin, William
Faulkner, Upton Sinclair, Ernest
KEY AUTHORS: T.S. Eliot, F. Scott
Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, Zora
Neale Hurston