Sunday, April 12, 2015

American Realism, Naturalism, and Regionalism

Realism in America was a response to Romanticism, favoring a more realistic and cynical view of the world. Politically, realism came at a time between the Civil War and WWI, when America expanded to California, became an industrial superpower, and accepted a new flood of immigrants that changed its demographics. It was a time of change and upheaval. Realist authors kept many of the same goals as Romantics, exposing injustices such as poverty and abuse. It's important to note that Romantic writers such as Irving and Dickens continued to become more and more popular during this time. The main difference was in the realist approach to forming a story. Realist fiction, like in Victorian England, was set in modern day America, not in the distant past, and, rather than rely on intuition and emotion, realists preferred to tell their story in a journalistic, factual manner, idealizing nothing. Their characters weren't always heroic, even when they did good things. Realists saw idealization as immoral and false - the greatest failing of the romantic movement. They also removed any spiritual and supernatural elements from their stories - no more ghosts or magic.

Naturalists, like Stephen Crane and Jack London, felt that free will was an illusion. In reality, we're all controlled by the world we live in, by nature, society, and heredity. Nature has the biggest influence, dictating illnesses, our biological instincts and emotions, and even the weather when traveling across seas and wilderness. The most we can hope for is to survive as long as possible. Naturalist writers often wrote of the darker side of society, for example, Upton Sinclair's book The Jungle, which talked of the brutal lives of immigrant workers in Chicago meat packaging factories. It led to the Meat Inspection Act of 1906. And Stephen Crane wrote about life in slums, about crime, homelessness, and prostitution.
Regionalism was a movement led by the curiosity of readers to know what was happening in different parts of America, and to learn what different places looked like, how people acted, their manners, and what regional dialect they used. Writers focused on places like Maine, Massachusetts, Georgia, Louisiana, Indiana, and California. Regionalist authors focused on slang and accents, changing the spelling of many words in dialogue.

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