American Realism Copy



  • The aftermath of the Civil War  –  the violence and the casualties leave deep marks on the collective consciousness;
  • Increased immigration after the Civil War;
  • Segregation between black and white people;
  • Industrial Revolution in the North;
  • The South continues to rely on agriculture.


  • Massive immigration from Europe and China;
  • Business expands;
  • A transport network develops to stimulate trade. Roads, railways, and steamboats are built;
  • Technological inventions: mass production of motorcars (Henry Ford); the invention of the telephone (Alexander Graham Bell -1876);
  • By the end of the 19th century, the USA had become a huge, modern, industrialized nation.


Literary trend: REALISM

Principles of Realism:

  • normal situations and ordinary characters are described in familiar settings;
  • attention to detail;
  • description based on experience, not imagination;
  • lower strata of society are emphasized;
  • very little use of metaphors.

Realistic novel traits (the novel is the best form of expression for realism, as it describes the world faithfully and doesn’t idealize it):

  • Major theme: the place of the individual in society;
  • Long, dense, with complicated plots;
  • Physical descriptions of characters are realistic;
  • Lots of characters, most of them belong to the middle and lower classes;
  • A new type of character: the one who transcends social barriers through marriage, hard work, or legacies. Characters are motivated by greed, lust, and confusion.

Literary trend: NATURALISM

Principles of Naturalism:

  • It is an intensified form of realism that depicts a grim reality;
  • Nature is an indifferent force that acts on the lives of human beings;
  • Heredity and environment are the forces that affect and afflict individual lives;
  • The universe is indifferent and deterministic.

The Naturalist character:

  • Characters reveal the “brute” within; they often combine strong and warring emotions;
  • The characters are inspired by the evolution theory; they are presented as human beings governed by instincts and passions;
  • The characters’ lives are governed by the forces of heredity and environment;
  • As they are “products” of nature, characters in Naturalism should be observed without moralizing about their nature.



  • Realism and Naturalism are only represented in fiction;
  • Mark Twain  ̶  Realist fiction; travel books, evocative details, memorable characters;
  • Henry James  ̶  stems from Naturalist and Realist fiction and evolves into Modernist fiction; depiction of the psychological processes of the characters and their limited insights and emotions.