Essay Sample On American Literary Realism

Essay Sample On American Literary Realism
📌Category: Literature
📌Words: 1115
📌Pages: 5
📌Published: 03 April 2021

Throughout history there have been many important literary movements. One of the most significant movements was American literary Realism. This movement was shaped by the experiences Americans were going through in the late 1800s. “The Luck of Roaring Camp” by Bret Harte, “Editha” by William Dean Howells, and “Desiree’s Baby” by Kate Chopin illustrate the characteristics of Realism and the stark realities of this time period.

Realism became popular in other countries before it reached the United States of America. “A reaction against romanticism, an interest in scientific method, the systematizing of the study of documentary history, and the influence of rational philosophy” all contributed to the popularity and interest in Realism (Campbell). However, American literary Realism is unique to America and was shaped by many historical events and culture changes. America was affected by American events such as the Civil War, the Frontier, and new social ideas. These new social ideas included social equality, equality for women and women’s suffrage, class equality, and the freedom of expression (Easley, “The Shift” 7). The reality of the Civil War affected every American and changed the American social landscape. American literary figures began to blame the war and its repercussions on Romantic ideals that infatuated many Americans (Easley, “The Shift” 9). After the Civil War, an increase in literacy, democracy, industrialism, urbanization, population, and a rise in middle-class affluence all drastically affected America’s culture and social views. (Campbell) The authors of this time period sought to detail an accurate description of American lives during this time of shifts in culture as well as the “exploration of American lives in various contexts” (Campbell). As a result of all of these factors, many styles of writing became more popular such as Realism, Naturalism, and Color Writing/Regionalism. 

The characteristics of Realism include a plausible plot such as everyday events, and a sacrifice of plot for realistic details. The settings and details always exceed the plot and involves complex characters. Some other prominent elements include social class and vernacular dialogue. Realism stories usually have an objective tone and are focused more on the role psychology plays in a character’s actions and motives. Realism often has themes of slavery, war, race, or realistic events of middle-class Americans (Easley, “The Early” 3).

“The Luck of Roaring Camp” by Bret Harte meets many characteristics of Realism. These characteristics include everyday events, realistic details pertaining to the American frontier, objective tone, and vernacular dialogue. The setting in “The Luck of the Roaring Camp” is an example of the reality of American frontier life during the Gold Rush in 1850. Life in the West seldomly had children or women, which explains the excitement around the birth of a child as well as the lack of concern for the only woman in the camp, Cherokee Sal (Slatta). The mining camps were also very primitive, which account for the camps “material deficiencies” (Harte 347). Some everyday events include the flood at the end of the story, and the death of the child and Kentuck, one of the miners. The ending of the story is realistic rather than Romantic, because Romanticism focuses on the goodness of nature. The way the men of the camp speak such as “He rastled with my finger” (Harte 346) and “Hasn't more'n got the color” (Harte 346). emphasizes the vernacular dialogue used in the West. The story is written in objective tone because the narrator does not reveal his or her thoughts and options. They are simply telling a story.

The story “Editha” by William Dean Howells is a good example of the shift from Romanticism to Realism. Howells criticizes Editha, the girl being courted by George, and her Romantic views towards war. Even though Editha has romantic ideas about war, there are many characteristics that characterize “Editha” as a Realism story. The use of vernacular diction, complex characters, and realistic detail and events emphasizes the realistic tone of war. 

Editha and George are both complex characters and have conflicting views about war. While George is more serious about war and calls every war “peculiarly wanton and needless,” (Howells 355) Editha raves about “how glorious” (Howells 353) war is and how George would be perfect if he went off to war so “he could do something worthy to have won her” (Howells 354). Her fantasies about George coming back as her hero is why Editha encourages George to go off to war. However, the story becomes much more realistic when George dies in the first battle and Editha’s dreams are crushed. George’s mother, Mrs. Geason, criticizes Editha for encouraging George to go because Editha wanted him to be a hero (Howells 361). Editha did not think about the real consequences of war and is forced to realize the real consequences. The characters of “Editha” all use common language such as when George says, “I'm in for the thing now, and we've got to face our future” (Howells 359). The language and meaning emphasizes George’s realistic views and emphasizes their middle-class status. 

The story “Desiree’s Baby” by Kate Chopin is a good example of Local Color writing within Realism. Local color writing is Realism writing with additional characteristics which include: stereotypical characters, educated narrators as outside observers, and no plot. Some common themes in color writing are a desire for change, nostalgic, and the importance of community (Easley, “The Early” 4). In “Desiree’s Baby”, there are realistic themes in the story such as slavery and race and social class. Some characteristics of “Desiree’s Baby” include vernacular diction and realistic events pertaining to slavery and social class. Sadly, the way the slaves were treated, “the very spirit of Satan seemed suddenly to take hold of him in his dealings with the slaves”, is a realistic depiction of slavery in this time (Chopin 540). Social class is a prominent theme. When Armand, Desiree’s husband, fell in love with her he “was reminded that she was nameless” (Chopin 539). However, he quickly disregards her past so he could “give her one of the oldest and proudest names in Louisiana” (Chopin 539). Ironically, Armand blames Desiree and her unknown background when she gives birth to his black son. He sends them away because it affects his social status and tells Desiree that he “no longer loved her, because of the unconscious injury she had brought upon his home and his name” (Chopin 541). By sending Desiree and his own child away, it emphasizes the drastic effect and power skin color and social status has during this time period. At the end of the story, Armand discovers that he was the one who had a black mother. The vernacular diction used by Desiree, “I know it is n’t true I know he says that to please me”, emphasizes her lower-class status (Chopin 540).

Because of America’s changing society and the impact of war, the American Realism movement was created. The movement reflects an important part of history that Americans will never forget. Because of the characteristics of Realism, everyone can learn about the effects of the Civil War, the American frontier, and racial and social injustices through Bret Harte, William Dean Howells, and Kate Chopin. “The Luck of Roaring Camp”, “Editha”, and “Desiree’s Child” all represent different perspectives of American life and give accurate representations of America in the late 1800s.


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