Free Custom «Literature and Social Reality Paper. American Literature of 1865-1912» Essay Sample

Free Custom «Literature and Social Reality Paper. American Literature of 1865-1912» Essay Sample

During 1865-1912 American literature was influenced by different social and political forces. The most significant one was the increasing division in social and economic status. The Civil War was the most influential event that led to this partition. After the war the rich acquired more wealth while poor people lived in misery and were heavily in debts. When the war between the North and the South ended, America abolished slavery, removed obstacles on the way to the capitalism development and entered the period of economic prosperity and colonial policy.

There were millions of emigrants from Europe who settled western territories of the country. It is important to note that many people in that time continued to believe in the phenomenon of “American dream” that guaranteed blissful existence for each citizen. It seemed that the natural resources were inexhaustible, all class and religious obstacles could be overcome, social, educational, and idealistic restrictions were eliminated. Nevertheless, there were some collisions understood only by the literary men (Thiruvenkadam, 2007).


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The industrial development and a wave of immigrants represented the period in America called “The Gilded Age”. The industrialization created new ways of working life that were more difficult. People had to leave their homes in order to achieve more opportunities in urban areas. As a result, the number of population engaged in agriculture was considerably decreasing. These and some other events led to the appearance of new literary trend – Realism.

The Realism came after the Romanticism and differs from it greatly. The latter was mainly characterized by its focus on human inner state and emotions, his/her harmony with nature. It was symbolic and described exotic sites combined with unusual or even supernatural events. This literary trend prompted to social actions such as abolitionism, fights for equal women’s rights and the obtaining of higher education.

Unlike Romanticism, Realism tended to depict human’s life in a truthful manner. It portrayed plain living of ordinary people and events in everyday settings with common man characters. Everything was described in an objective manner without idealism and romantic color. Realists described the world and challenges that the readers knew they had to face. That was the world of day-to-day activities and problems connected with earning money, feeding a family and dealing with social pressure. In fact, there was nothing romantic in it. Literary realism had an aim to reflect industrialization and urbanization of the 19th century.

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Writers of that period like Mark Twain, Henry James and William Howells described those events in the realistic manner. Born in the epoch of “classical democracy”, Mark Twain imbibed a reckless belief in the better future of his country. His early stories depict such ideas. But with the revolutionary changes he started blaming the sense of Americanism, reflecting it on the pages of his works. Mark Twain got the fame of the best American humorist. In his story “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” he combined not only funny situations but the whole tenor of life. The author wanted to describe American life in many respects with irrepressible grotesque (Twain, 1867).

American writer Henry James revealed the psychology of “new” American woman who absorbed the spirit of new time with the features of feminist movement. One of such females is represented in his novella “Daisy Miller: A Study”. It was the first time when the author presented woman’s image combining everyday life and psychological aspect. He embodied famous “American dream” – the individuality that can live, think and act freely (James, 1878).

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In contrast to Realism, Naturalism was deterministic and mainly pessimistic with a feeling of emotional coldness. It perceived a person as a helpless creature who is nevertheless courageous and heroic. The main theme of the writers of this literary trend was the human life under the influence of environmental forces. One of such authors was Ambrose Bierce. In the story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” he described northern Alabama in the period of the Civil War. In order to give his story credibility and authority, he used his own experience from the war. At the end of work Bierce decided to replace reality with fantasy. Nevertheless, this fantastic description provides some realistic details (Bierce, 1890).

At the end of 19th century – at the beginning of the 20th century American literature was changing in a remarkable way. These alterations were caused by unstable situation after the Civil War, difficult life of people, and strong unwillingness of writers to put up with that injustice.

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