Depicting the Local in American Literature 1865–1900
Authors and Works
Featured in the Video: Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (novel), “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses” (satire, literary criticism) Charles W. Chesnutt, “The Goophered Grapevine” and “The Wife of His Youth” (stories) Kate Chopin, The Awakening (novel), “At the ’Cadian Ball” and “The Storm” (stories) Discussed in This Unit: Bret Harte, “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” (story) Joel Chandler Harris, “The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story,” “Mr. Rabbit Grossly Deceives Mr. Fox” (stories) Sarah Orne Jewett, “The White Heron,” “The Foreigner” (stories) Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, “A New England Nun,” “The Revolt of ‘Mother’ ” (stories) Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa), excerpts from From the Deep Woods to Civilization (autobiography) Alexander Posey, letters of Fus Fixico (stories, political satire), poems ˇ Zitkala-Sa (Gertrude Simmons Bonnin), “Impressions of an Indian Childhood,” “The School Days of an Indian Girl,” “An Indian Teacher among Indians” (autobiographical essays)
I What kinds of narrative conventions structure oral and visual autobiographies? I What regional and ethnic dialects were represented in late-nineteenth-century literature? Why were dialect stories so popular in late-nineteenthcentury America? I What are the distinguishing characteristics of realism? What cultural values does realism reflect and promote? I What is regionalist writing? What historical events and cultural anxieties fueled regionalism’s popularity in the late nineteenth century? I In the popular imagination of the late nineteenth century, what distinguished certain regions of the country from one another? I In what ways can regionalist texts be representative of the general “American” experience? I How did technology bind together the United States in the late nineteenth century? I What is dialect? How did different authors represent dialect? I How do narrators affect the tone of a fictional text? What kinds of narrators emerge in realist writing of the late nineteenth century? I What is a trickster figure? What cultural work do trickster figures perform? I How do regionalist texts participate in or challenge racial stereotypes? I How does class-consciousness inflect realist representations of American life? What classes of people are depicted in realist texts?
Overview Questions Learning Objectives
How do regionalist writings reflect the distinct cultures and experiences of different ethnic groups? I How do realist texts represent gender? Are women authors’ interpretations of realism different from male authors’ interpretations? How? I
After students have viewed the video, read the headnotes and literary selections in The Norton Anthology of American Literature, and explored related archival materials on the American Passages Web site, they should be able to
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1. understand the basic tenets of realism; 2. discuss the impact on American literature and culture of regionalist writers’ emphasis on geographical settings and distinctive customs; 3. discuss the impact of race and gender on representations of regional cultures; 4. discuss the cultural values and assumptions that inform phonetic representations of racial and regional dialects in late-nineteenth-century American literature.
Midway through his adventures, Huck Finn comes to the “strange and unregular” conclusion that telling the truth might be the best way both to narrate his experiences and to accomplish his own ends. In a speech that is characteristically simultaneously humorous and profound, Mark Twain has Huck meditate on the nature of truth: I says to myself, I reckon a body that ups and tells the truth when he is in a tight place, is taking considerable many resks, though I ain’t had no experience, and can’t say for certain; but it looks so to me, anyway; and yet here’s a...