PART TWO Chapter2 The Realistic Period

By Martin Peterson,2014-06-27 17:18
6 views 0
PART TWO Chapter2 The Realistic Period

    Chapter 2 The Realistic Period


     The period ranging from 1865 to 1914 has been referred to as the Age of Realism in the literary history of the United States, which is actually a movement or tendency that dominated the spirit of American literature, especially American fiction.

     Realism was a reaction against Romanticism or a move away from the bias towards romance and self-creating fictions, and paved the way to Modernism.


     The American society after the Civil War provided rich soil for the rise and development of Realism.


     1.The fifty years between the end of the Civil War to the outbreak of the First World War is one of the periods in the American history characterized with changes, in relation to every aspect of American life, politically, economically, culturally, and religiously. The scale of the change was so vast that it indicated a fundamental redirection in the nature and ideology of the American society.

     2.First of all, the Civil War affected both the social and the value system of the country.

     3.The war also brought some noticeable changes to the American economy. It had stimulated the technological development, and new methods of organization and management were tested to adapt to industrial modernization on a large scale.

     4.Capital invested in manufacturing industries more than quadrupled; factory employment nearly doubled; industrial output grew at a geometric rate; and agricultural productivity in creased dramatically.

     5.The burgeoning economy and industry stepped up urbanization. American cities grew fast, with one half of the American population concentrated in a dozen or so cities by the end of the First World War.

     6.The industrialization and the urbanization were accompanied by the incalculable sufferings of the laboring people.

     7.Polarization of the well-being started to show up, with the poor poorer and the rich richer.

     8.As far as the ideology was concerned, people were on a shaking ground.

     9.Gone was the frontier and the spirit of the frontiersman, which is the spirit of freedom and human connection, and gone was a place to escape for the American Dream.


     1.The harsh realities of life as well as the disillusion of heroism resulting from the dark memories of the Civil War had set the nation against the romance.

     2.A new generation of writers, dissatisfied with the Romantic ideas in the older generation, came up with a new inspiration.

     3.This new attitude was characterized by a great interest in the realities of life. It aimed at the interpretation of the actualities of any aspect of life, free from subjective prejudice, idealism, or romantic color.

     4.People's attention was now directed to the interesting features of everyday existence, to what was brutal or sordid, and to the open portrayal of class struggle.

     5.Writers who could describe the integrity of human character reacting under various circumstances and authors who could picture the pioneers of the Far West, the new immigrants and the struggles of the working classes began to gain the favor of the reading public. This literary interest in the so-called "reality" of life started a new period in the American literary writings known as the Age of Realism.


     1.The realists touched upon various contemporary social and political issues. In their works, instead of writing about the polite, well-dressed, grammatically correct middle-class young people who moved in exotic places and remote times, they introduced industrial workers and farmers, ambitious businessmen and vagrants, prostitutes and unheroic soldiers as major characters in fiction.

     2.They approached the harsh realities and pressures in the post-Civil War society either by a comprehensive picture of modern life in its various occupations, class stratifications and manners, or by a psychological exploration of man's subconsciousness.


     The three dominant figures of the period are William Dean Howells, Mark Twain, and Henry James.


     ?1?Together they brought to fulfillment native trends in the realistic portrayal of the landscape and social surfaces, brought to perfection the vernacular style, and explored the literary possibilities of the interior life.

     ?2?They recorded and made permanent the essential life of the eastern third of the continent as it was lived in the last half of the nineteenth century on the vanishing frontier, in the village, the small town, or the turbulent metropolis.

     ?3?They set the example and charted the future course for the subjects, themes, techniques and styles of fiction we still call modern.


     ?1?Mark Twain and Howells seemed to have paid more attention to the "life" of the Americans; Henry James had apparently laid a greater emphasis on the "inner world" of man.

     ?2?Howells focused his discussion on the rising middle class and the way they lived, while Twain preferred to have his own region and people at the forefront of his stories. This particular concern about the local character of a region about as"local colorist," a unique variation of American literary realism.


     The other local colorists might include Sarah Orne Jewett, Joseph Kirkland and Hamlin Garland.

     ?1?Their writings are concerned with the life of a small, well-defined region

    or province. Local colorists were consciously nostalgic historians of a vanishing way of life, recorders of a present that faded before their eyes. They dedicated themselves to minutely accurate descriptions of the life of their region.

     ?2?They worked from personal experience; they recorded the facts of a unique environment and suggested that the native life was shaped by the curious conditions of the locale.


     The impact of Darwin's evolutionary theory on the American thought and the influence of 19th century French literature on the American men of letters gave rise to yet another school of realism: American naturalism.

     The American naturalists accepted the more negative implications of this theory and used it to account for the behavior of those characters in literary works who were conceived as more or less complex combinations of inherited attributes, their habits conditioned by social and economic forces.


     1.They chose their subjects from the lower ranks of society, and portrayed misery and poverty of the "underdogs" who were demonstrably victims of society and nature.

     2.And one of the most familiar themes in American naturalism is the theme of human "bestiality," especially as an explanation of sexual desire.


     1.Artistically naturalistic writings are usually unpolished in language, lacking in academic skills and unwieldy in structure.

     2.Philosophically, the naturalists believe that the real and true is always partially hidden from the eyes of the individual, or beyond his control. It is the very shape of a system that determines the basis of his being.

     3.Naturalism is evolved from realism when the author's tone in writings becomes less serious and less sympathetic philosophical approach to reality, or to human existence.

     一、Mark Twain?马克?吐温?


     Mark Twain is a great literary giant of America, whom H.L. Mencken considered “ the true father of our national literature.”


     ?1?In 1865, he published his frontier tale “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” which brought him recognition from a wider public.

     ?2?His full literary career began to blossom in 1869 with a travel book Innocents Abroad. All these masterworks drew upon the scenes and emotions of his boyhood and youth.

     ?3?The first among these books is Roughing It?1872?, in which Twain describes

    a journey that works its way farther and farther west through Navada to San Francisco and then to Hawaii.

     ?4?Life on the Mississippi ?密西西比河上的生活?tells a story of his boyhood

    ambition to become a riverboat pilot, this time up and down the Mississippi.

     ?5?Two of the best books during this period are The Adventures of Tom Sawyer?1876??《汤姆?索亚历险记》? and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?哈克贝里?费

    恩历险记?. The former is usually regarded as a classic book written for boys about their particular horrors and joys, while the latter, being a boy’s book specially written for the adults.

     Their episodic set of encounters presents a simple of the small-town world of America and a survey of the social world from the bank of the river that runs through the heart of the country.


     ?1?This transition can be traced long before in his social satire, The Gilded Age?1873?, came out. Written in collaboration with Charles Dudley Warner, the novel explored the scrupulous individualism in a world of fantastic speculation and unstable values, and gave its name to the get-rich-quick years of the post-Civil War era. Twain’s dark view of the society became more self-evident in the works

    published later in his life.

     ?2?In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court?1889??《亚瑟王朝廷上

    的康涅狄格州美国人》?, a parable of colonialization, Twain follows the journey of a representative of modern technology and ideas into a historically backward, feudal society.

     ?3?A similar mood of despair permeates The Tragedy of Pudd’nHead Wilson?1894?, which shows the disastrous effects of slavery on the victimizer and the victim alike and reveals to us a Mark Twain whose conscience as a white Southerner was tormented by fear and remorse.

     ?4?With the publication of The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg?1900? and The

    Mysterious Stranger?1916?, the change in Mark Twain form an optimist to an almost despairing pessimist could be felt and his cynicism and disillusionment with what Twain referred to regularly as the “damned human race” became obvious.


     ?1?The Adventures of Tom Sawyer ?《汤姆?索亚历险记》?and, especially, its

    sequence Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ?哈克贝里?费恩历险记? proved themselves

    to be the milestone in American literature, and thus firmly established Twain’s position in the literary world.

     ?2?The childhood of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in the Mississippi is a record of a vanished way of life in the pre-Civil War Mississippi valley and it has moved millions of people of different ages and conditions all over the world.

     ?3? Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn marks the climax of Twain’s literary creativity. Hemingway once described the novel the one book from which “all modern American literature comes.”

     ?4?First of all, the novel is written in a language that is totally different. It is not grand, pompous, but simple, direct, lucid, and faithful to the colloquial speech. Speaking in vernacular, a wild and uneducated Huck, running away from civilization for his freedom, is vividly brought to life.

     ?5?The great strength of the book also comes from the shape given to it by the course of the raft’s journey down the Mississippi as Huck and Jim seek their

different kinds of freedom.


     ?1?Twain is also known as a local colorist, who preferred to present social life through portraits of the local characters of his regions, including people living in that area, the landscape, and other peculiarities like the customs, dialects, costumes and so on.

     ?2?Mark Twain wrote about the lower-class people, because they were the people he knew so well and their life was the one he himself had lived. Moreover he successfully used local color and historical settings to illustrate and shed light on the contemporary society.


     ?1?His use of vernacular, His words are colloquial, concrete and direct in effect, and his sentence structures are simple, even ungrammatical, which is typical of the spoken language.

     ?2?And Twain skillfully used the colloquialism to cast his protagonists in their everyday life. His characters, confined to a particular region and to a particular historical moment, speak with a strong accent, which is true of his local colorism.

     ?3?Twain has made colloquial speech an accepted, respectable literary medium in the literary history of the country.


     ?1?It is fun to read Twain to begin with, for most of his works tend to be funny, containing some practical jokes, comic details, witty remarks, etc., and some of them are actually tall tales.

     ?2?Mark Twain shared the popular image of the American funny man whose punning, facetious, irreverent articles filled the newspapers, and a great deal of his humor is characterized by puns, straight-faced exaggeration, repetition, and anti-climax, let alone tricks of travesty and invective.

     ?3?However, his humor is not only of witty remarks mocking at small things or of farcical elements making people laugh, but a kind of artistic style used to criticize the social injustice and satirize the decayed romanticism.

     8.Selected Reading

     Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

     二、Henry James?亨利?詹姆斯?


     Henry James ?1843-1916? was the first American writer to conceive his career in international terms.



     In the first period, James took great interest in international themes.

     ?1?In almost all the stories and novels he wrote during this period, James treated with great care the clashes between two different cultures and the emotional and moral problems of Americans in Europe, or Europeans in America.

     ?2?Nearly every work is important in its own way in terms of James’s cultivation

of the theme. The American?1877??《一个美国人》?tells a story about a young and

    innocent American confronting the complexity of the European life;

     ?3?Daisy Miller?1878??《黛西?米勒》?, a novella about a young American

    girl who gets “killed” by the writer in Rome, brought James international fame for the first time. In The Europeans?1878??《欧洲人》?, the scene is shifted

    back to America, where some Europeans, who are actually expatriated Americans, learn with difficulty to adapt themselves to the American life.

     ?4?The Portrait of A Lady ?1881??《贵妇人的画像》? is generally considered

    to be his masterpiece, which incarnates the clash between the Old World and the New in the life journey of an American girl in a European cultural environment.


     ?1?The Bostonians?1886??《波士顿人》?, which satirized the women liberation

    movement that took place in Boston.

     ?2?The Princess Casamassima?1886?, which exposed the anarchist conspiracy

    in the slum of London, were written in a naturalistic mode and proved to be unsuccessful.

     ?3?The Private Life?1893?, The Death of a Lion?1894? and The Middle Years

    ?posthumously 1917? succeed in exploring the relationship of the artist to the society only to prove that the artist would not sacrifice the truth for the passion no matter how troubled and isolated he feels.

     ?4?The Turn of the Screw?1898??《螺丝在拧紧》?, a story about the troubled

    and abnormal psychology of oppressed children, in which a whole household is terrorized by “ghosts,” and The Beast in the Jungle?1903??《从林猛兽》?, which

    focuses on the imaginative obsession of some haunted men and women with their personal disaster in future.

     3. 晚期

     ?1?James returned to his “international theme.” From 1895 to 1900, he wrote some novellas and stories dealing with childhood and adolescence, the most famous of which is What Maisie Knows?1897?. After that, he successively created the

    following great books: The Wings of the Dove?1902??鸽翼?, The Ambassadors?1903?

    ?专使? and The Golden Bowl?1904??金碗?. These demanding novels are widely

    considered to be James’s most influential contribution to literature.


     James’s fame generally rests upon his novels and stories with the international theme. These novels are always set against a larger international background, usually between Europe and America, and centered on the confrontation of the two different cultures with two different groups of people representing two different value systems.

     ?四?James’s 文学评论

     ?1?Henry James’s literary criticism is an indispensable part of his contribution to literature.

     ?2?It is both concerned with form and devoted to human values.

     ?3?The theme of his essay “The Art of Fiction”?《小说的艺术》? clearly

    indicates that the aim of the novel is to present life, so it is not surprising to

    find in his writings human experiences explored in every possible form: illusion, despair, reward, torment, inspiration, delight, etc. He also advocates the freedom of the artist to write about anything that concerns him, even the disagreeable, the ugly and the commonplace.

     ?4?The artist should be able to “feel” the life, to understand human nature, and then to record them in his own art form.


     ?1?James’s realism is characterized by his psychological approach to his subject matter.

     ?2?His fictional world is concerned more with the inner life of human beings than with overt human actions.

     ?3?His best and most mature works will render the drama of individual consciousness and convey the moment-to-moment sense of human experience as bewilderment and discovery.

     ?4?And we as readers observe people and events filtering through the individual consciousness and participate in his experience.

    th ?5?That is why James is generally regarded as the forerunner of the 20 century

    “stream-of-consciousness”?意识流? novels and the founder of psychological



     ?1?One of James’s literary techniques innovated to cater for this psychological emphasis is his narrative “point of view.” This narrative method proves to be successful in bringing out his themes.

     ?2?As to his language, James is not so easy to understand. He is often highly refined and insightful. With a large vocabulary, he is always accurate in word selection, trying to find the best expression for his literary imagination.

     Therefore Henry James is not only one of the most important realists of the period before the First World War, but also the most expert stylist of his time.

     ?七?Selected reading: Daisy Miler

     三、Emily Dickinson?艾米莉?狄金森?


     Dickinson’s poetry writing began in the early 1850s. Altogether, she wrote 1,775 poems, of which only seven had appeared during her lifetime.

     ?二?Dickinson’s 诗歌范围


     ?1?Dickinson’s poems are usually based on her own experiences, her sorrows and joys.

     ?2?But within her little lyrics Dickinson addresses those issues that concern the whole human beings, which include religion, death, immortality, love, and nature.

     ?3?In some of her poems she wrote about her doubt and belief about religious subjects. While she desired salvation and immortality, she denied the orthodox view of paradise.

     ?4?Closely related to Dickinson’s religious poetry are her poems concerning

    death and immortality, ranging over the physical as well as the psychological and

emotional aspects of death.


     Love is another subject Dickinson dwelt on. One group of her love poems treats the suffering and frustration love can cause. These poems are clearly the reflection of her own unhappy experience, closely related to her deepest and most private feelings.


     ?1?More than five hundred poems Dickinson wrote are about nature, in which her general skepticism about the relationship between man and nature is well expressed.

     ?2?On the one hand, she shared with her romantic and transcendental predecessors who believed that a mythical bond between man and nature existed, that nature revealed to man things about mankind and universe.

     ?3?On the other hand, she felt strongly about nature’s inscrutability and indifference to the life and interests of human beings.

     ?4?Her acute observations, her concern for precise details and her interest in nature are pervasive, from sketches of flower, inspects, birds, to the sunset, the fully detailed summer storms, the change of seasons; from keen perception to witty analysis.


     1.Dickinson’s poetry is unique and unconventional in its own way.

     2.Her poems have no titles, hence are always quoted by their first lines. In her poetry there is a particular stress pattern, in which dashes are used as a musical device to create cadence and capital letters as a means of emphasis.

     3.The form of her poetry is more or less like that of the hymns in community churches, familiar, communal, and sometimes, irregular. Her poetic idiom is noted for its laconic brevity, directness and plainness. Her poems are usually short; rarely more than twenty lines, and many of them are centered on a single image or symbol and focused on one subject matter.

     4.She frequently uses personae to render the tone more familiar to the reader, and personification to vivify some abstract ideas.

     5.Dickinson’s poetry, despite its ostensible formal simplicity, is remarkable

    for its variety, subtlety and richness; and her limited private world has never confined the limitless power of her creativity and imagination.

     ?四?Selected reading

     1.this is my letter to the world

     This is my letter to the World

     That never wrote to Me-

     The simple news that Nature told-

     With tender Majesty

     Her message is committed

     To hands I can not see-

     For love of Her- Sweet- countrymen-

     Judge tenderly- of Me

     2.I heard a fly buzzwhen I died

     I heard a fly buzz- when I died

     The stillness in the room

     Was like the stillness in the air-

     Between the heaves of storm-

     3.I like to see it lap the miles

     ? omit ?

     4.because I could not stop for death--


     四、Theodore Dreiser?西奥多?德莱塞?


     ?1?Theodore Dreiser ?1871-1945? is generally acknowledged as one of America’s literary naturalists. His literary influences were from Balzac?巴尔扎克?, Charles

    Darwin and Herbert Spencer.

     ?2?Sister Carrie ?1900??《嘉丽妹妹》? is the best-known, tracing the material rise of Carrie Member and the tragic decline of G. W. Hurstwood.

     ?3?In his early period some of his best short fictions were written, among which are Nigger Jeff and Old Rogaum and His Theresa.

     ?4?In 1911, Jennie Gerhardt?《珍妮姑娘》? came out, followed by two volumes

    of his “Trilogy of Desire, ”?“欲望”三部曲?The Financier ?1912??《金融家》?

    and The Titan ?1914??《巨头》?, the third, The Stoic?《斯多葛》?, being published

    posthumously in 1947.

     ?5?The Genius ?1915?, a classic story of a “misunderstood artist,” was once condemned for “obscenity and blasphemy.”

     ?6?In 1925 Dreiser’s greatest work An American Tragedy?《美国的悲剧》? appeared.

     ?7?In 1927 he accepted an invitation to visit Russia and wrote Dreiser Looks at Russia the following year.


     ?1?With the publication of Sister Carrie?《嘉丽妹妹》?, Dreiser was launching

    himself upon a long career that would ultimately make him one of the most significant American writers of the school later known as literary naturalism.

     ?2?As a genre, naturalism emphasized heredity and environment as important deterministic forces shaping individualized characters who were presented in special and detailed circumstances.

     ?3?The effect of Darwinist idea of “survival of the fittest” was shattering.

     ?4?It is not surprising to find in Dreiser’s fiction a world of jungle, where “kill or to be killed” was the law.

     ?5?Dreiser’s naturalism found expression in almost every book he wrote. In Sister Carrie Dreiser expressed his naturalistic pursuit by expounding the purposelessness of life and attacking the conventional moral standards.

     ?6?In his “Trilogy of Desire, “ Dreiser’s focus shifted from the pathos of the helpless protagonists at the bottom of the society to the power of the American

    thfinancial tycoons in the late 19 century.

     ?7?An American Tragedy proves to be his greatest work and by entitling this

    book with such a name, Dreiser intended to tell us that it is the social pressure that makes Clyde’s downfall inevitable.

     ?8?Sex is another human desire that Dreiser explored to considerable lengths in his novels to reveal the dark side of human nature. In Sister Carrie, Carrie climbs up the social ladder by means of her sexual appeal.


     ?1?Dreiser’s contribution to the American literary history cannot be ignored.

     ?2?He broke away from the genteel tradition of literature and dramatized the life in a very realistic way.

     ?3?There is no comment, no judgment but facts of life in the stories.

     ?4?His style is not published but very serious and well calculated to achieve the thematic ends he sought.

     5.4 Selected reading: Sister Carrie

Report this document

For any questions or suggestions please email