American Realism, Naturalism, and Local Color

Realism, Naturalism, and Local Color: A Unit of American Literature (1865 -1914)
Unit Essential Questions:
What does it mean to be an American after the American Civil War?
Can American literature all fit into one house?
America at 100: Have we lived up to our ideals?
Other voices: How is our society, and therefore our literature pluralistic, or not?
When does dialect writing cross the line and become stereotyping?
Unit Texts:
Huckleberry Finn, Pudd’nhead Wilson (Twain)
"A True Story As I Heard It Word for Word" (Twain)
“The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” (Twain)*
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (Bierce)*
“The Real Thing” (James)*
“A White Heron” (Jewett)*
"Desiree's Baby" (Chopin)*
"The Wife of His Youth" (Chestnutt)*
"A Sweatshop Romance" (Cahan)*
“The Yellow Wallpaper” (Gilman)*
The Souls of Black Folk (excerpts) (Du Bois)*
Poetry of Paul Lawrence Dunbar:*
“When Malindy Sings”*
“We Wear the Mask”*
“Frederick Douglass”*
Poetry of James Edwin Campbell
“De Cunjah Man”
“’Sciplinin’ Sister Brown”
“Ol’ Doc’ Hyar”
Poetry of Emma Lazarus*
“The New Colossus”
“In the Jewish Synogogue @ Newport”
From What Life Means to Me (London)* (non-fiction)
"The Open Boat" (Crane)*
“The Blue Hotel” (Crane)*
"To Build a Fire" (London)*
* Found in the Norton Anthology of American Literature, 11th Edition
Unit Themes and Concepts:
American Realism and Naturalism
- Realism is opposed to romanticism.
- Where romantic literature presents life as we wish it to be, realism presents life as it is.
- The commonplace and the everyday as subject matter
- Minute detail
- Reportorial or almost journalistic style prose
- Circumstantial, matter-of-fact, or seemingly unselective style
- Use of dialect
- Individuals are capable of acting with autonomous motivation
- A kind of photographic record of surface phenomena, and reveals the essential structure of reality in a manner that is
aesthetically pleasing and consistent
- Normal rather than heightened perception of reality
- Plausible rather than imaginative
- Industrial fiction
Naturalism (a literary movement)
- More selective form of realism of subject matter
- A product of post-Darwinism
- Presentation of subject matter with scientific objectivity, elaborate documentation, medical frankness.
- Characters tend to exhibit strong animal desires yet are average people with modest experiences, simple emotions.
- Not as symbolic or metaphoric
- Verisimilitude
- Lacking image-making, rhetorical embellishment, and metaphoric allusiveness
Thematic Concerns of Naturalism
- Humans exist entirely in an order of nature.
- There is no soul.
- There is no spiritual world beyond the natural world.
- Atavism
- We are products of nature and nurture; of heredity and environment.
- Humans inherit compulsive instincts and are then subject to social and economic forces.
Local Color
- Detailed representations of setting, dialect, clothes, customs, dress, ways of thinking and feeling distinctive to a particular
- Often dwell on sentimental or comic representation of superficial particularities of a region.
Skills and Assessments:
Personal writing
Responses to non-fictional writing
Critical passage analysis
Identification of key themes, writing styles, and current cultural parallels
Literary forms: short story, poetry, non-fiction, essay, novel, film