American Literature: Realism 1865-1915

A.Historical Context

  • Civil War brings demand for a ”truer” type of literature that doesn’t idealize people or places
  • People in society are defined by ”class” and ”materialism”
  • Reflects ideas of Darwin (survival of the fittest) and Marx (how money and class structure control a nation)



  • A reaction against romanticism; the things were told as they were
  • Focus on lives of ordinary people; rejected heroic and adventurous
  • Anti-materialism; rejected the new class system
  • View of nature as a powerful and indifferent force beyond man’s control

2.NATURALISM (sub-genre of realism)

  • Like realism but with a darker view of the world
  • The universe is unpredictable; fate is determined by chance; free will is an illusion
  • Characters’ lives are shaped by forces they can’t understand or control


  • During this time were written novels and short stories
  • Their aim was to change a specific social problem
  • The dominant themes were: survival, fate, violence and nature as an indifferent force.


Mark Twain 1835-1910

  • Is widely thought to be the greatest American humorist and a great novelist
  • He used exaggeration and deadpan narrator to create humor
  • Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – one of America’s most influential novels

Henry James

Eugene O’Neill


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