Influences on Literary Realism in America
The realist literary movement in America began in 1865 and continued to gain momentum until about 1914, when the Great War began. It was a reaction to the idealized world of romanticism, in which the values of heroism, imagination, and emotion were highly treasured. Romantic literature emphasized the ideal by describing characters rising out of their situations to overcome ills of society or personal struggles, and these stories often had happy endings or strong moral messages. While romanticism exalted the individual, and the common man in particular, it always portrayed the protagonists as innately good; any flaws or defects in the character were overcome in the end. Romanticism focused on morally good people and their ability to triumph over their challenges, and often dealt with themes of love or war. Realism, however, shifted toward a focus on the real, concrete details of life, and in particular discussed the harshness life could hold. Writers wanted to emphasize the common man, but not in his ability to be a hero; rather, they endeavored to paint the common man as he actually was, and social injustices as systems that cannot always be conquered. This shift toward a realist literary style was affected by the events preceding the time period, and resulted in three major branches of literature: local color and regionalism, feminist literature, and naturalism. Historical Influences on Realism
The Civil War changed the lives of many Americans, especially those who had been involved in or affected by slavery, and the events succeeding the Civil War drastically impacted American literature and allowed it to become much more diverse. After the war ended, the lives of African-Americans were so powerfully changed that in turn, the entire culture of America was forever altered. Prior to the Civil War, few African-Americans were given the privilege to receive proper education. Many of their stories were spread only by word of mouth, because their inability to become literate didn't allow for their history to be recorded in writing. This also hindered their chances of being credited with great discoveries and important findings. Slowly, after the Civil War ended, the rise of literature being produced grew exponentially, along with the way literature was written. The race of the authors during this time also became widespread.
Before the Civil War, slavery was in full force, especially in the South. The rules given by the masters to the slaves were strict and binding, and due to these enforcements, many African-Americans were not allowed to be educated. This is a large reason why there are so few documents about the personal lives of African-Americans during this period. Most southern slaveholders viewed education and literacy as a privilege that the slaves were not allowed. The slaveholders understood that if the slaves became literate, they would have the power to think for themselves and even revolt. After the Stono Rebellion in 1739, the slaveholders feared more uprising, and South Carolina enacted the Slave Code of 1740. In section XLV of the code it states:
And whereas, the having of slaves taught to write, or suffering them to be
employed in writing, may be attended with great inconveniences; Be it therefore
enacted by the authority aforesaid, That all and every person and persons
whatsoever, who shall hereinafter teach or cause any slave or slaves to be taught,
to write, or shall use or employ any slave as a scribe in any manner of writing
whatsoever, hereafter taught to write, every such person and persons, shall, for
every such offense, forfeit the sum of one hundred pounds current money. (17) This section of the code states that it is not only unlawful for slaves to learn to read or write, but that the person found responsible for teaching them would be fined a large sum of money. Although this code clearly forbade the teachings of reading and...
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