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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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8. Regional Realism   



8. Regional
Realism


•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Charles W.
Chesnutt
- Kate Chopin
- Charles
Alexander
Eastman
- Mary E. Wilkins
Freeman
- Joel Chandler
Harris
- Bret Harte
- Sarah Orne
Jewett
- Alexander Posey
- Mark Twain
- Zitkala-Sa
- Suggested
Author
Pairings
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Suggested Author Pairings

Joel Chandler Harris, Charles W. Chesnutt, and Alexander Posey
Authors of stories and sketches written in racialized dialect, Harris, Chesnutt, and Posey attempted to capture the rhythms and idioms of African American and Native American English speech. Harris and Chesnutt shared an interest in recording traditional African American folktales, but they created very different characters through which to narrate their stories. While Chesnutt's Uncle Julius on the surface resembles Harris's Uncle Remus--a stereotype of a contented slave anxious to serve and entertain white people--Uncle Julius is actually much more crafty and subversive, and much more skilled in looking out for his own best interest. Race is an important distinction between these authors. Critics sometimes argue that, as a white writer, Harris was not always sensitive to or aware of the cultural implications of the African American stories he recorded. Posey and Chesnutt, on the other hand, were of Native American and African American ancestry, respectively, though they sometimes found that their positions as writers and recorders of the culture distanced them from those communities.

Mark Twain and Bret Harte
Twain and Harte were humorists and journalists who got their start in the American West and ended up creating archetypal characters in American literature. While Harte's stories have shaped the genre of the Western, Twain created the naive country boy narrator in Huckleberry Finn. Harte's work can be much more sentimental than Twain's, perhaps explaining why he fell out of popular favor as realism gained strength over the course of the century. Twain, on the other hand, remained a best-selling author, a celebrity, and an icon of American literature until his death and long after.

Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, and Kate Chopin
Authors whose stories and novels participate in the regionalist tradition, Jewett, Freeman, and Chopin all focus on the position of women within the regional settings they so evocatively describe. Jewett and Freeman chronicle the impact of economic depression and lingering Puritan values on communities in rural New England, while Chopin records the French Catholic flavor of life in New Orleans and rural Louisiana. Chopin depicts Louisiana as in some ways less severe and repressed than Jewett and Freeman's New England, and her frank portrayal of women's sexual desire made her work more controversial than theirs. Still, she shares with Jewett and Freeman an interest in the effects of rigid social conventions on both downtrodden and rebellious women.

Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa) and Zitkala-Sa (Gertrude Simmons Bonnin)
The fact that these authors are listed under both an Anglicized name and a traditional Native American name is significant, for they are characterized by the tensions created by their attempts to mediate between white and traditional Indian culture. Both Sioux Indians, they attended white boarding schools and colleges and found value in their Euro-American educations even though they were never completely at home in white culture. At the same time, they found that their acculturation into white ways separated them from other Native Americans. Eastman found himself in the awkward position of being a "'white doctor' who was also an Indian," while Zitkala-Sa felt out of place as "neither a wild Indian nor a tame one."



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