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American Literature from 1865 to the Present
Transcript of American Literature from 1865 to the Present
The end of the Civil War and served as the impetus for a number of broad social, political, cultural, and economic changes. The last half of the nineteenth century in the U.S. would see the rise of industrial capitalism, territorial expansion (both on and beyond the North American continent), negotiations over the public empowerment of women and ethnic minorities, the formation of modern scientific and liberal arts disciplines, and a massive wave of scientific and cultural innovation.
But first, the enormous collective trauma of the Civil War--which claimed over half a million lives--demanded restitution.
Mourning the Dead
1880 - 1930
Realism and Naturalism
The title of this unit refers to geographical, cultural, and disciplinary boundaries. The authors in this segment of the course can all be considered "realists" in some sense, though they are not necessarily part of the realist or naturalist canon. Likewise, many of these authors speak to frontiers of experience (female, ethnic minority) that weren't often approached by white male authors.
Culture Gets Weird
The Harlem Renaissance and Beyond
White Middle Class Masculinity at Mid-Century
Postmodernism, Marginality, and the American Canon
What is the future of American Literature? Fifty years from now, which texts written in the past 10-20 years will be included on this syllabus for their stylistic ingenuity or their unique ability to capture their particular historical and cultural moment? Will that future syllabus include works that are already well known (NYT Bestsellers, Pulitzer Prize winners)? Or are there literary works presently off the radar that we will one day look back on as seminal influences for the literary voices that came afterward?
Civil War Ends
William Dean Howells
World War I
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Booker T. Washington
World War II
Zitkala-Sa (Gertrude Bonnin)
William Carlos Williams
Ursula K. LeGuin
U.S. Involvement in Vietnam Ends
David Foster Wallace
Cold War Ends
The authors, styles, and themes in this row have long constituted the consensus version of American literary history or what "counts" as American literature.
The authors in this row are representative of groups who have traditionally been excluded from the American canon, usually on the basis of race or gender.
Read a book written by a U.S. author in the past 10 years and write a brief argument (600-900 words) about why that book will or will not be included in U.S. literature anthologies and/or survey course syllabi 50 years from now.
American Canon Project
"Dirge for Two Veterans"
Poem by Walt Whitman
Music by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1936)
"Into this environment of cultural ferment, the Civil War introduced mass death. For an increasingly humanitarian age, such suffering could not help raise disturbing questions about God's benevolence and agency. But this was more than an abstract intellectual issue for the hundreds of thousands of Americans bereaved by the war. Loss demanded an explanation that satisfied hearts as well as minds." (Faust)
The Civil War as Multivalent Cultural Crisis
"American national culture had been built in substantial part by voluntary and democratic appropriation of Scripture. Yet if by following such an approach to the Bible there resulted an unbridgeable chasm of opinion about what Scripture actually taught, there were no resources within democratic or voluntary procedures to resolve the public division of opinion that was created by voluntary and democratic interpretation of the Bible. The Book that made the nation was destroying the nation; the nation that had taken to the Book was rescued not by the Book but by force of arms." (Noll, The Civil War as Theological Crisis)
Strategies for coping with the immense spiritual, epistemological, and eschatological questions posed by the Civil War:
Elevation of irony
incommensurability, and uncertainty
Doubts about the capacity of humans
to understand the world
Preoccupation with the afterlife
Reinvestment of energy into the
democratic American project
The Cult of the Lost Cause
My vision for this course
The Literature Survey as Narrative
The syllabus for any literature survey is an attempt to tell a story. In creating a reading list, the instructor is compelled to decide what matters, how stuff relates to other stuff, and how it all fits into a broader literary-historical framework. This course will inevitably tell a particular kind of story. The themes and motifs of that story will include literature as a response to loss and cultural crisis, religion and spirituality, and both enchantment and disillusionment with the very idea of "America."
If you were to tell this story, it would no doubt look rather different. And, in fact, I am giving you that opportunity.
Multimedia Narrative of American Literary History from 1865 to the Present
Using this interactive timeline/course map as a kind of model, you will, by the end of the semester, produce your own visual (and aural, if you like) representation of the course material. You should start thinking about this right away and begin selecting the texts, themes, and relationships (chronological, geographical, stylistic, etc.) you want to emphasize. More information is provided in the assignment handout.
In other words, there is no final exam for this class.
The Rejection of Romanticism and Sentimentality
William Dean Howells and Henry James
Then comes Sir Walter Scott with his enchantments, and by his single might checks this wave of progress, and even turns it back; sets the world in love with dreams and phantoms; with decayed and swinish forms of religion; with decayed and degraded systems of government; with the sillinesses and emptinesses, sham grandeurs, sham gauds, and sham chivalries of a brainless and worthless long-vanished society. He did measureless harm; more real and lasting harm, perhaps, than any other individual that ever wrote. Most of the world has now outlived good part of these harms, though by no means all of them; but in our South they flourish pretty forcefully still. Not so forcefully as half a generation ago, perhaps, but still forcefully. There, the genuine and wholesome civilization of the nineteenth century is curiously confused and commingled with the Walter Scott Middle-Age sham civilization; and so you have practical, common-sense, progressive ideas, and progressive works; mixed up with the duel, the inflated speech, and the jejune romanticism of an absurd past that is dead, and out of charity ought to be buried. But for the Sir Walter disease, the character of the Southerner-- or Southron, according to Sir Walter`s starchier way of phrasing it-- would be wholly modern, in place of modern and medieval mixed, and the South would be fully a generation further advanced than it is. It was Sir Walter that made every gentleman in the South a Major or a Colonel, or a General or a Judge, before the war; and it was he, also, that made these gentlemen value these bogus decorations. For it was he that created rank and caste down there, and also reverence for rank and caste, and pride and pleasure in them. Enough is laid on slavery, without fathering upon it these creations and contributions of Sir Walter.
~Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi
The power to guess the unseen from the seen, to trace the implications of things, to judge the whole piece by the pattern, the condition of feeling life in general so completely that you are well on your way to knowing any particular corner of it - this cluster of gifts may almost be said to constitute experience, and they occur in country and in town and in the most differing stages of education. If experience consists of impressions, it may be said that impressions are experience, just as (have we not seen it?) they are the very air we breathe.
~James, "The Art of Fiction"`
Defining American Realism
A literary style or genre used by major American authors between 1880 - 1930
A lot harder than it sounds
Problem: there was no "school" of American realism that we can discuss in any unified or coherent way. The authors identified with the movement (Howells, Twain, James) interpreted realism in their own, often contradictory ways.
A "vogue" term borrowed from European literature to describe what some American authors were attempting.
Problem: American "realism" is very different from continental or British realism, and though some authors took some cues from those movements, not all of them did.
An attempt to represent things "realistically"
Problem: any attempt at writing "realistically" is merely the reconstruction of reality from subjective experience, and many of these authors knew that.
Opening up the array of subject matter available to the artist or writer
Problem: is some subject matter more "real" than other subject matter?
Norris and Dreiser
This is the real Realism. It is the smaller details of everyday life, things that are likely to happen between lunch and supper, small passions, restricted emotions, dramas of the reception-room, tragedies of an afternoon call, crises involving cups of tea.
~Norris, Zola as Romantic Writer
The naturalist takes no note of common people, common in so far as their interests, their lives, and the things that occur in them are common, are ordinary. Terrible things must happen to the characters of the naturalistic tale. They must be twisted from the ordinary, wrenched out from the quiet, uneventful round of every-day life, and flung into the throes of a vast and terrible drama that works itself out in unleashed passions, in blood, and in sudden death.
These great, terrible dramas no longer happen among the personnel of a feudal and Renaissance nobility, those who are in the fore-front of the marching world, but among the lower--almost the lowest classes; those who have been thrust or wrenched from the ranks, who are falling by the roadway. This is not romanticism--this drama of the people, working itself out in blood and ordure. It is not realism. It is a school by itself, unique, somber, powerful beyond words. It is naturalism.
- Frank Norris
It is true that the rallying cry of the critics against so-called immoral literature is that the mental virtue of the reader must be preserved; but this has become a house of refuge to which every form of social injustice hurries for protection. The influence of intellectual ignorance and physical and moral greed upon personal virtue produces the chief tragedies of the age, and yet the objection to the discussion of the sex question is so great as to almost prevent the handling of the theme entirely.
-Dreiser, "True Art Speaks Plainly"
Naturalism's Critique of Realism
Man vs. Nature
Crane and London
"Naturalism of this period is not a monolithic effort to deny human agency ... but rather consists of a variety of strains of roughly similar expression, with considerable variation in theme from strain to strain. And the way to understand this characteristic of the movement as a whole is not to seek to find a universal element in significantly different works but to read each work for what it expresses and then to build synthetic constructions from that realization."
"Each of [the writers in the naturalist canon] depicts the range of human activity as it determined, not free. Each one as well supposedly offers a Darwinian version of literary realism that elaborates the ever fuller, ever more oppressive constraints of heredity and environment."
~Lee Clark Mitchell, Determined Fictions
Local Color/Domestic Realism/Regionalism
"Howells, we recall, sought to dissociate realism from 'preening and prettifying, after the fashion of literary men'--to associate it, instead, with 'the world of men's activities.' In this respect, American local color fiction produced by such women as Jewett, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Rose Terry Cooke, and others--is the very antithesis of Howellsian realism. For if realism sought to ally itself with 'the world of men's activities,' the characteristic world of New England local color fiction is distinguished above all by the absence of men and masculine activity. The young and fit have fled this world for a reality which is always elsewhere, in the West or in the city, while those who remain, mostly women, maintain old proprieties and rituals whose function, like the men, seems long since to have vanished."
~Michael Davitt Bell
Confronting Racism at the Nadir of American Race Relations
African American Writers
Sarah Orne Jewett
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The Reconstruction of the American South following the Civil War was abandoned in 1877. Federal troops were withdrawn from Southern states, and white supremicists gained control of most state governments. Jim Crow laws were instituted to roll back the rights of freedmen, and most blacks and many poor whites lost their right to vote as a result of poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and other electoral laws. Violence toward freedmen and whites who supported Reconstruction was widespread.
Reimagining the Plantation Tale
Booker T. Washington
Accommodationist view of racial progress
Focused on technical education and business as the path to enfranchisement (founded the Tuskeegee Institute in 1881)
Predominantly concerned with personal over institutional racism
Radical view of racial progress
Philosopher, insisted that freedmen needed access to high culture and intellectual pursuits in addition to technical expertise and business acumen
Thought institutional racism needed to be eradicated regardless of how white people felt about it
Chesnutt's short stories about plantation life were a direct response to Joel Chandler Harris, the white author responsible for the infamous "Uncle Remus" tales. Harris's stories appealed to certain white Northern audiences who were comforted by the notion that the pre-Civil War South wasn't actually all that bad, that the plantation lifestyle was romantic and idyllic and slaves happy and carefree. Chesnutt's stories take a giant hammer to that illusion, portraying the horrors of slavery while also centering black protagonists who manage to work a barbarous system to their own advantage.
The Problem of Assimilation
Native American Literature
"The existence of an expanse of 'free land' set the United States apart from other nations, Turner and his followers maintained, and provided the context within which democracy and individualism emerged as predominant American traits and cultural values. ... Turnerians viewed American Indians as 'disappearing' people, historically unimportant except as a foil to glorify American militaristic and technological supremacy."
-Leckie and Parezo, Their Own Frontier
1830 - Indian Removal Act
1838 - Forcible removal of Cherokees from Georgia, Trail of Tears (4,000 dead)
1879 - Carlisle Boarding School established
1883 - Code of Indian Offenses (outlawed participation in many traditional practices that were seen as a barrier to assimilation)
1887 - Dawes Act (authorized the federal government to convert tribal lands from communal to individual ownership)
Gertrude Simmons Bonnin
"Total assimilation was a goal that combined concern for native suffering with faith in the promise of America. Once the tribes were brought into 'civilized' society, there would be no reason for them to 'usurp' vast tracts of 'underdeveloped' land. And membership in a booming nation would be ample compensation for the dispossession they had suffered. But most important, the extension of citizenship and other symbols of membership in American society would reaffirm the power of the nation's institutions to mold all people to a common standard. Success in assimilating Indians would reaffirm the dominance of the white Protestant majority, for sucha n achievement would extend the reach of the majority's cultural norms."
-Hoxie, A Final Promise
"At times in her life, Bonnin had her closest relationships with those who advocated that American Indians turn their backs on their cultural heritage and adopt mainstream culture as the only means of survival in a white-dominated society. At other times she appeared to ally herself with those who counseled that Indians should honor and maintain their own lifestyles and religion with only minor concessions to the white world. Bonnin's seemingly contradictory viewpoints can only be understood in the context of the problems that Indian intellectuals - of which she was an outstanding example - faced during her lifetime."
-Franci Washburn, from Their Own Frontier
Central Ideas, Motifs, Themes
The history of the frontier, history as storytelling
The relationship of the individual to the past and to tradition
Violence and survival
The experiences of women on the frontier
The dialectical relationship between the migrant and the settler
Some Preliminary Definitions
Whatever is of the moment. Though the term has a specific origin (coming sometime after the medieval period), it is essentially a trans-historical term. Essentially everyone post-Renaissance has thought of their moment and their culture as "modern."
A post-traditional, post-medieval period of history characterized by industrialization, secularization, and the rationalization of politics, economics, and culture. Modernity also refers to a particular intellectual and epistemological orientation characterized by optimism about the ability of empiricism and rationalism to make the world better. More specifically, modernity can be associated with the intellectual tradition that originates with the Enlightenment.
A set of aesthetic practices and cultural concerns associated with art, architecture, literature, dance, and music during the period from roughly 1910 to 1945. Modernism is typically characterized by the widespread rejection of artistic traditions, particularly representationalism in visual art, tonalism in music, and realism in literature. Those traditions were replaced by experimentation with form.
The social and political upheaval of the late nineteenth century (imperialism and militarism, once-a-decade economic collapses, industrialization, unprecedented levels of immigration and cultural cross-pollination) precipitated another kind of epistemological crisis that, much like the American Civil War and the failure of the French Revolution required a radical reorientation of Western cultural priorities. Two World Wars and the Great Depression only exacerbated the feelings of modernist disillusionment and alienation from the values of the nineteenth century.
Scientists like Einstein and Freud were demonstrating the potential of science to rationalize and explain almost every aspect of the universe and of human experience while simultaneously casting uncertainty on the nature of human perception and the extent of what is knowable.
In some ways, high modernism is both a rejection of mimetic realism (Stein often said her goal was to "kill the nineteenth century) and a heightened form of it. The goal of realism merely shifted from the objects being represented to the form of that representation:
"It was not solely the realism of the characters but the realism of the composition which was the important thing, the realism of the composition of my thoughts." Stein, "A Transatlantic Interview 1946"
"I believe in reality as Cezanne or Caliban believe in it." -Stein, 1909 working notebook
Hyper-awareness of the status of art as art, as a representation of perception of a thing rather than the thing itself or even the representation of a thing -- recall that the goals of Howells, Norris, and the like was to make literature less "literary"
"Cezanne was always aware that seeing was 'reading,' through a grid determined by by the concrete resources of his medium, and that the colored patches he arranged on his canvases were signs, not replicas, of the objects of perception."
-Walker, The Making of a Modernist
The artists, intellectuals, and visionaries who made up the movement known as the "Harlem Renaissance" share many of the aesthetic concerns of canonical High Modernists. Widespread experimentation with form was taking place in everything from jazz music (arguably the most influential and enduring legacy of modernist innovation) to poetry and prose. But as Langston Hughes's essay "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" indicates, the standards of "high culture" worked against black artists in complex ways.
The 1950s and early 60s are often thought of as the zenith of the white middle class male privilege that was challenged by counter-cultural movements, postmodernism, and multiculturalism. Yet while white men essentially constituted "default" humans in American culture, the authors we will read in this unit suggest the ways in which white middle class masculinity was nevertheless something that was structured by the conditions of consumer capitalism and had to be anxiously policed and performed.
Three ways of looking at Willy Loman
Death of a Salesman
"Willy, dear, I got a new kind of American-type cheese today. It's whipped" (6).
Critique of Consumer Capitalism
"Well, there's nine-sixty for the washing machine. And for the vacuum cleaner there's three and a half due on the fifteenth. Then the roof, you got twenty-one dollars remaining" (23).
"Work a lifetime to pay off a house. You finally own it, and there's nobody to live in it" (4).
"I don't know what the hell I'm workin' for. Sometimes I sit in my apartment--all alone. And I think the rent I'm paying. And it's crazy. But then, it's what I always wanted. My own apartment, a car, and plenty of omen. And still, goddamit, I'm lonely" (12).
Arthur Miller's Biography
Miller's family (Polish-Jewish immigrants) accrued great wealth in the years leading up to the Great Depression and lost nearly everything in 1929
Elia Kazan, the first director of Death of a Salesman was called before the House Unamerican Activities Committee in 1952
HUAC targeted Miller in 1954 after he wrote The Crucible, a play about the Salem Witch Trials based on Kazan's experience
The Culture of Personality
"Bernard can get the best marks in school, y'understand, but when he gets out in the business world, y'understand, you are going to be five times ahead of him. That's why I thank Almighty God you're both built like Adonises. Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be like and you will never want" (21).
"In the Culture of Character, the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private. The word personality didn't exist in English until the eighteenth century, and the idea of 'having a good personality' was not widespread until the twentieth.
But when they embraced the Culture of Personality, Americans started to focus on how others perceived them. They became capitvated by people who were bold and entertaining. 'The social role demanded of all in the new Culture of Personality was that of a performer,' Susman famously wrote. 'Every American was to become a performing self.'" ~Susan Cain, Quiet
Examination of Masculinity
"William, when I walked into the jungle, I was seventeen. When I walked out I was twenty-one. And, by God, I was rich!" (36-7).
"And when spring comes to where I am, I suddenly get the feeling, my God, I'm not gettin' anywhere! What the hell am I doing, playing around with horses, twenty-eight dollars a week! I'm thirty-four years old, I oughta be makin' my future. That's when I come running home. And now, I get here, and I don't know what to do with myself. I've always made a point of not wasting my life, and every time I come back here I know that all I've done is waste my life" (11).
What is Postmodernism?
Review: what is modernism?
Whatever comes after modernism
The rejection and re-incorporation of tradition.
The elevation of the avant-garde and experimental
Rejection of consumerism and mass culture
"Modernity comes in as many version as there are thinkers or journalists, yet all its definitions point, in one way or another, to the passage of time. The adjective 'modern' designates a new regime, an acceleration, a rupture, a revolution in time. When the word 'modern,' 'modernization,' or 'modernity' appears, we are defining, by contrast, an archaic and stable past. Furthermore, the word is alays being thrown into the middle of a fight, in a quarrel where there are winners and losers, Ancients and Moderns. 'Modern' is thus doubly asymmetrical: it designates a break in the regular passage of time, and it designates a combat in which there are victors and vanquished."
Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern
Is modernism really over?
Is postmodernity even a thing?
In some formulations, postmodernity takes over for modernity when intellectuals becomes suspicious of the "grand narratives" supplied by the Enlightenment, of which modernity is an extension. These grand narratives include the notion that science is in the process of making human beings better and better, a narrative that was called seriously into question after the advent of nuclear weapons but was being questioned all the way back in the 1890s.
Latour: "If so many of our contemporaries are reluctant to use this adjective [modern] today, if we qualify it with prepositions, it is because we feel less confident in our ability to maintain that double asymmetry: we can no longer point to time's irreversible arrow, nor can we award a prize to the winners. In the countless quarrels between Ancients and Moderns, the former come out winners as often as the latter now, and nothing allows us to say whether revolutions finish off the old regimes or bring them to fruition. Hence the skepticism that is oddly called 'post'modern even though it does not know whether or not it is capable of taking over from the Moderns."
So what does postmodernism look like?
Brecht, Violin Solo
Andy Warhol (1968)
Sony Building, NYC
So it's like modernism except even more so?
"The problem is that every attempt to define postmodern fiction in stylistic terms--as a form of writing that defeats readers' expectations of coherence, as experimental narrative that plays with generic conventions, as fiction that dwells on ambiguity and uncertainty--winds up being a definition of modernist fiction as well."
Michael Berube, What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts
Postmodernism is still characterized by a skepticism about the emancipatory capacity of modernity, whether that is expressed through irony, deconstruction, or an attitude of openness to particularity and heterogeneity.
Habermas vs. Lyotard
Modernism vs. Postmodernism
"Modernity - An Incomplete Project"
The rational, scientific attitude that informed modernity's break with the past is still worth preserving and, in fact, has not completed its work.
"The project of modernity has not yet been fulfilled ... The project aims at a differentiated relinking of modern culture with an everyday praxis that still depends on vital heritages, but would be impoverished through mere traditionalism."
Embraces the idea that the human species can arrive at universal agreements about the way the world works and how we ought to treat one another through the process of rational discovery.
The Postmodern Condition
The totalizing impulses of modernity's "grand narratives" do violence to local expressions of aesthetic and moral value. Rather than seeking the "universal" through rational discovery, we must preserve particularity.
"Postmodern knowledge ... refines our sensitivity to differences and reinforces our ability to tolerate the incommensurable."
Incommensurability - when two values cannot be compared to one another because they lack a common system of measurement.
"So I make truth the prime test of a novel. If I do not find that it is like life, then it does not exist for me as art; it is ugly, it is ludicrous, it is impossible. I do not expect a novel to be wholly true. I have never read one that seemed to me so except Tolstoy's novels: but I expect it to be a constant endeavor for the truth, and I perceive beauty in it so far as it fulfills this endeavor." -Howells, Novel Writing and Novel Reading
Art in the service of "Truth"
Representation of everyday people and events
Devaluation of literary "style"
Fiction in the service of morality and social justice
Masculinization of literature
Careful observation of human behavior from the social margins
Did not believe that "literature" and "life" were incompatible with one another
The Problem of Howellsian Realism
Horace Scudder: "There is . . . in Mr. Howells's creed an assumption that literary art is of necessity false; that art is a foe to the best fiction.It is true that he understands by art something that is derivative and not in itself original, but there is throughout his book a latent distrust of any art of fiction." (The Atlantic)
Sinclair Lewis: "Victorian and Howellsian timidity and gentility in American fiction" vs. "honesty and boldness and passion of life" (Nobel speech)
Henry James: "The style of the novel is part of the execution of a work of art; the execution of a work of art is part of its very essence, and that, it seems to me, must have mattered in all ages in exactly the same degree, and be destined always to do so."
Frank Norris: "[Howellsian] Realism is minute, it is the drama of a broken teacup, the tragedy of a walk down the block, the excitement of an afternoon call, the adventure of an invitation to dinner."
"James came to cast Howells into something like the role he would always assign to his brother William: the necessary foil to his own supposedly single-minded pursuit of 'the aesthetic dream." ~Michael Davitt Bell, The Problem of American Realism
Realism as Response to Cultural Change
"[Ambrose] Bierce crafted unromanticized depictions of battle that reflected his fundamental approach to both writing and life: 'Cultivate a taste for distasteful truths. And ... most important of all, endeavor to see thing as they are, not as they ought to be."
-Drew Gilpin Faust (2008)
"The war has never fully panned out in fiction yet," observes the managing editor of a literary magazine in William Dean Howells's novel A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890). The editor's judgment was Howells's own, and it has since been reiterated by generations of critics who have noted the nearly thirty-year gap between the first important novel about the Civil War, John de Forest's Miss Ravenal's Conversion from Secession to Loyalty (1867), and the second, Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage (1895). As a result of this thirty-year gap, the great postbellum texts about the war tend not to be novels, and the great postbellum novels tend not to deal with the war: the project of memorializing the war was taken up by lyrics, memoirs, and diaries, while the novel took on instead the project of national reconstruction.
- Amanda Claybaugh, "The Autobiography of a Substitute"
Rise of the middle class
Growth of technology, telecommunications, and railways (flow of information and goods)
Population growth and immigration
Concentration of political and economic power in cities rather than rural areas
Rising concerns about social justice, economic inequality, and labor conditions
The Industrial Revolution made available a new set of objects for literary representation. Many practitioners of realism and naturalism saw their literature as a social responsibility to represent aspects of human experience that weren't conventionally considered "literary."
"Howellsian realism, we have seen, is less a theoretical idea than an ideological construct. At its center stands two fundamental, and fundamentally related ideas. First of all, the task of literature is defined almost wholly in moral terms; the proper role of the writer (which is what, most basically, Howellsian realism is about) is understood almost entirely in terms of his responsibility to society. ... The second essential component of Howellsian realism grows directly out of the first: the realist exercises social responsibility, first of all, by discrediting what is irresponsible--the "romantic," the "literary," the "artificial," the merely "artistic." -Michael Davitt Bell
To what degree is Twain a Howellsian Realist?
Use of the vernacular and hostility to romantic or sentimental literature
If Cooper had been an observer, his inventive faculty would have worked better, not more interestingly, but more rationally, more plausibly. Cooper's proudest creations in the way of "situations" suffer noticeably from the absence of the observer's protecting gift. Cooper's eye was splendidly inaccurate. Cooper seldom saw anything correctly. He saw nearly all things as through a glass eye, darkly. Of course a man who cannot see the commonest little everyday matters accurately is working at a disadvantage when he is constructing a "situation." -"James Fennimore Cooper's Literary Offences
Twain's work, particularly Connecticut Yankee, is often as openly hostile to the realist perspective and its presumed moral superiority as it is to sentimentalism and its presumed moral failings.
Features of Naturalism
Human beings subject to inescapable biological forces
Influenced by evolutionary science, particularly the writings of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer
More concerned with the working class (Howells and James tended to write about the middle and upper classes)
Set in places where human beings must confront the elements, hunger, privation, human depravity, and mortality - the battlefield, city slums, the frontier
Mitchell vs. Pizer - Is naturalism deterministic?
"The return to nature, the naturalistic evolution which marks the century, drives little by little all the manifestation of human intelligence into the same scientific path" -Emile Zola, "The Experimental Novel
"a literary genre typically seen as the most hypermasculine in American literary history, and part and parcel of a broader cultural moment considered wholly its equal in clamorous 'virility.'"
- Jennifer Fleissner
"Naturalism is seen as either fatalistic or nostalgic in the face of modern life. If fatalistic, it depicts modern individuals bereft of agency or vitality, dwarfed by a cityscape of soulless mechanical dynamos, spiraling steadily downward in 'plots of decline'; to the extent that 'nature' survives here, it does so in the distorted form of traits linked to decadence or atavism. If nostalgic, the reverse is true: naturalism goes along with a renewal of what Roosevelt called 'the strenuous life,' returning masculine power and adventure to a vitiated modernity by rediscovering the freedoms and struggles associated with a still wide-open, untarnished natural landscape."
Along with the work of the Main-born Sarah Orne Jewett, Freeman's regionalist short stories have more recently formed a major site for feminist recoveries of a view of domestic life that honors its seriousness and relation to artistic strivings. Such arguments have very specifically targeted a sense that these female regionalists' small, daily concerns were rendered obsolete, in the 1890s, by the red-blooded adventure writing of the up-and-coming male naturalists, which left regionalism's stifling drawing rooms behind for the wide-open wilderness and the urban street. Seen in retrospect through this modernizing lens, figures such as Freeman's Louisa Ellis, heroine of her story "A New England Nun," appeared to evince an attachment to the genteel, domestic virtues of order and cleanliness seen as bordering on the obsessional. It was this pathologizing view of regionalism's housebound women to which feminism, unsurprisingly, took strong objection. - Jennifer Fleissner
Born in Winchester, VA in 1873
Moved to Red Cloud, Nebraska in 1883
Cather historical site in Red Cloud
Attended the University of Nebraska in Lincoln
Originally intended to study medicine
Graduated with a B.A. in English in 1894
Took a job with McClure's Magazine in Boston in 1906, eventually became Managing Editor
Wound up in Washington Square, Lower Manhattan
Birthplace of Henry James (among others)
Published first novel, Alexander's Bridge in 1912
Won the Pulitzer for One of Ours in 1922
My Antonia published in 1918
Stein, Loy, Eliot
Rejection and often a re-incorporation of literary tradition (frequently ironic and/or critical)
Rejection of the idea that literature/art ought to be commercial, accessible, coherent, or aesthetically pleasing
Return to a quasi-Romantic idea of the artist as solitary genius
Frost, Stevens, Williams
Fitzgerald, Anderson, Faulkner
While these poets shared transatlantic influences like Eliot, Pound, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Stein, they retain a certain rootedness in the United States, either through self-conscious choice or in cultural memory.
Frost House, Derry, New Hampshire
"I felt at once that [The Waste Land] had set me back twenty years and I'm sure it did. Critically, Eliot returned us to the classroom just at the moment when I felt we were on a point to escape to matters much closer to the essence of a new art form itself--rooted in the locality which should give it fruit." -WCW, Autobiography
This Prezi and the timeline template were created by Ashley Squires and made available for educational use in 2012. The background photograph is the property of Sherry Peters. Used with permission.
Experimentation in Prose
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Less acclaimed as an innovator than as the voice of the "Jazz Age" and disenchantment with its excesses. He was a star of the expatriate circle that included Stein and Hemingway.
Heavily influenced by Hemingway with his short, terse descriptive sentences and heavy use of symbolism.
"Charlie directed his taxi to the Avenue de l'Opera, which was out of his way. But he wanted to see the blue hour spread over the magnificent façade, and imagine that the cab horns, playing endlessly the first few bars of La Plus que Lent, were the trumpets of the Second Empire. They were closing the iron grill in front of Brentano's Book-store, and people were already at dinner behind the trim little bourgeois hedge of Duval's. He had never eaten at a really cheap restaurant in Paris. Five-course dinner, four francs fifty, eighteen cents, wine included. For some odd reason he wished that he had.
"Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him." -Faulkner, The Paris Review
Forerunner of the Southern Gothic, but otherwise all over the place stylistically, from the stream-of-consciousness experimentation of The Sound and the Fury to the straightforward use of free indirect discourse in "Barn Burning."
Created the fully fleshed out fictional world of Yoknapotawpha County, Alabama.
Representation of consciousness, though in a plainspoken style. Combines the emphasis on psychological insights of Henry James with the prose stylings of Hemingway or Fitzgerald.
Also deeply concerned with disenchantment with small-town American life. Winesburg, Ohio is anti-nostalgic, perhaps even anti-regionalist. Each story explores the repressed emotions of a particular character, culminating in a moment of catharsis.
The Great Migration: the movement of some 6 million African Americans from the rural South to the urban North between the 1910s and the 1970s
Creation of African American enclaves in major U.S. cities (New York, Detroit, Atlanta, Chicago) that led to an explosion of creative activity
Redefined the place of African American artists in U.S. culture
Opened up new possibilities for black solidarity and identity based on urbanism and activism.
One of the most promising of the young Negro poets said to me once, "I want to be a poet--not a Negro poet," meaning, I believe, "I want to write like a white poet"; meaning subconsciously, "I would like to be a white poet"; meaning behind that, "I would like to be white." And I was sorry the young man said that, for no great poet has ever been afraid of being himself. And I doubted then that, with his desire to run away spiritually from his race, this boy would ever be a great poet. But this is the mountain standing in the way of any true Negro art in America--this urge within the race toward whiteness, the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization, and to be as little Negro and as much American as possible.
~Langston Hughes, The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain
Richard Wright, Native Son (1940)
First best-seller by an African American author, included in the Book-of-the-Month Club
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
National Book Award for Fiction
All Bigger's life is controlled, defined by his hatred and his fear. And later, his fear drives him to murder and his hatred to rape; he dies, having come, through this violence, we are told, for the first time, to a kind of life, having for the first time redeemed his manhood. Below the surface of this novel there lies, as it seems to me, a continuation, a complement of that monstrous legend it was written to destroy. Bigger is Uncle Tom's descendent, flesh of his flesh, so exactly opposite a portrait that, when the books are placed together, it seems that the contemporary Negro novelist and the dead New England woman are locked together in a deadly, timeless battle; the one uttering merciless exhortations, the other shouting curses. And indeed, within this web of lust and fury, black and white can only thrust and counter-thrust, long for each other's slow, exquisite death ... For Bigger's tragedy is not that he is cold or black or hungry, not even that he is American, black; but that he has accepted a theology that denies him life, that he admits the possibility of his being sub-human and feels constrained, therefore, to battle for his humanity according to those brutal criteria bequeathed him at birth.
~Everybody's Protest Novel