ENGL 3170 Micro-lecture: American Literary Realism

ENGL 3170 Micro-lecture: American Literary Realism



all right and welcome to the first micro lecture for the second part of American literature survey again as I said in class and for those of you've had the earlier version of this class last semester now the idea behind these very short little videos is to provide you all with factual historical information about the literary movement and also the historical period in which that movement takes place to help provide you with some context for our class discussions and for your own analysis so listen up pay attention and be thinking about how some of this stuff fits in with what we're reading and talking about in class so we're starting off the semester obviously really here with realism we've spent a little bit of time this semester so far talking about the local color movement and again real quickly the little code movement was an idea about presenting the uniqueness of these small little societies cultures around the country to readers in different parts of the country we're never gonna interact with or experience them for themselves and the real idea there was to just simply accurately represent that unique spot of the country and realism really grows out of that and just basically moves into a much larger more expansive scope so that instead of worrying about the specificity of the specific region it's much more interested in accurately presenting the reality of whatever world it's describing all this is going on at a fairly unique time in America starting about 1875 or so or coming out of the Reconstruction we're about 10 years out from the American the end of the Civil War and by about 1875 most people have accepted the absolute failure of reconstruction the South was devastated by the war both economically and physically reconstruction was supposedly an attempt to address that but for a variety of reasons it was pretty much a complete disaster this is also taking place though at a time of great technological change so we've got a variety of new advances that are really changing the way we understand and think about the world you can see just a few of them right here these are all advances that would ultimately shape the 21st century the 20th century excuse me as we've come to know it and so it's a time of great change in the United States but not only technological change but also social and political change one of the greatest social changes that takes place at this point in time is the passage of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution which was an attempt to finally rectify the false notion that African Americans were not fully essentially human as was dictated by the southern states in order to justify slavery interestingly though the 14th amendment was passed in order to help human beings specifically in terms of race but it ultimately became a tool of the corporation's I think by about 1890 or so there had been something like 20 cases dealing with African Americans trying to justify their position in society through the Fourteenth Amendment while there had been something like over 200 cases of corporations trying to justify their place within society as individuals based on the same amendment and this is something we still see today with things like citizens united that was in has been in the news so much recently and the idea of corporate personhood giving human rights essentially American civil rights to corporations other great changes that are taking place or situations a lot of labor unrest this is a time when the working class is becoming more and more aware of the disparities in society and so you start to see a lot of labor disputes some people would call them riots other peoples would call them massacres with people trying to figure out the balance between what some people are paying what other people are paid and again this is something we still absolutely see today with the growing disparity between the working class in the middle class and the 1% refer to them these days a lot of this comes about as a result of the publication and distribution of the Communist Manifesto in 1886 by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels which lays the foundation for the socialist movement as we see it develop and grow throughout the late 19th and the entirety of the 20th century but it's also the time of what we now talk about as the robber barons or the titans of industry depending on which way you want to think about them these are people whose names today are still synonymous with extreme wealth today we think about these names often in terms of philanthropy but back then they were the men who were making massive fortunes through often rather dubious and questionable practices so we move into this American society around 1875 or so really up through about 1900 about the turn of the century with this idea of artistic realism not just literary realism but we see it in the arts as well and at core realism whether it's about art or painting or drawing is an attempt once again simply to honestly and accurately someone's even objectively represent reality as we see it at its core is an idea of verisimilitude just one of those fancy literary terms which just essentially deals with the accuracy of reality capturing something as really as possible one thing to think about it's the fact that photography is rapidly developing at this time and so painting is being compared to and matched up with this new technology which actually does capture reality and so those ideas become mixed and art attempts to do the same thing that the camera does in terms of literary realism we've seen a lot of these already through local color and they become slightly more expansive through the literary realist movement a greater emphasis on daily life what some would call the experienced commonplace things are drawn from our own unique daily experiences not from fancy not from some otherworldly sense of things plots are often fairly simple and emphasize again the norms of daily existence diction and dialect are also natural they're not poetic they're not fantastic they are attempts to accurately represent the way people speak character becomes significantly more important in pot we saw with local color the character ultimately wasn't too terribly important the character of the place was more important than the character of the individuals realism shifts that focus in places the greatest emphasis on the character of the individual what they do is is not so important is how they think about those things realism is also a very anti romantic idea almost to the point of being non transcendental writing is an attempt to instruct and entertain but never to enlighten realism also focuses on morality is something that is self realized and ultimately the realists much like the romantics before them saw themselves as a demonstration over an expression of democracy but you can imagine the kind of the two different ways they come to that decision the realists place great emphasis spawned the presentation of the physical and limitation on authorial commentary and ultimately you can think about that as a limitation on Authority itself which again something that is central to democracy let's place great value on complete authorial objectivity their reporters much more so than commentators so that's where we're really at with literary realism we're taking a look at some of the work of Mark Twain with his most famous writing Huck Finn that was just one of many books of his as well these are a few of the other well-known realists although it's only a very small sampling of a very large and assorted collection of authors as well so I'll be thinking about these things as you're working your way through Huck Finn and as we're starting to talk about these things in class and just to kind of close things off here today here's kind of a final question I'd like you to be thinking a little bit about and if you'd like a little extra credit you can go on to blackboard afterwards and post a response to this question not something that has a right or wrong answer but simply something I'd like you to think a little bit about in terms of realism an attempt to accurately represent the reality in which the story is taking place what significance might we find when we consider that Twain a southerner wrote Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a story set before the Civil War after the failure of the post war weakens

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