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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   



9. Social
Realism


•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Henry
Adams
- Abraham Cahan
- Theodore
Dreiser
- W. E. B. Du Bois
- Sui Sin Far
- Henry James
- Sarah Morgan
Bryan Piatt
- Booker T.
Washington
- Edith Wharton
- Anzia Yezierska
- Suggested
Author
Pairings
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Suggested Author Pairings

Henry James, Edith Wharton and Theodore Dreiser
James, Wharton, and Dreiser are all considered masters of realist fiction. The short stories in The Norton Anthology of American Literature demonstrate the authors' ability to construct psychologically complex characters as they explore the tension between old and new customs and manners. While James and Wharton focus on wealthy, aristocratic, or nouveau riche Americans at home or abroad, Dreiser attends to the immigrant and working-class experience in urban America. These authors also share an awareness of the social constraints that women faced in turn-of-the-century America, though they each had different perspectives on the nature and impact of those constraints.

Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois
Washington and Du Bois make a natural pairing since they were associates and rivals. Washington's pragmatic, somewhat accommodationist approach to race relations makes a provocative contrast to the more uncompromising position Du Bois eventually adopted. Their opposed views on black education, in particular, make for revealing comparisons. Washington's and Du Bois's texts represent different stages in the struggle for African American rights, and reading them in tandem allows students to begin to gauge the evolution of the movement.

Abraham Cahan, Anzia Yezierska and Sui Sin Far (Edith Maud Eaton)
While Cahan and Yezierska chronicled the experiences of Eastern European Jewish immigrants in New York, Sui Sin Far explored the stories of Chinese immigrants living in Chinatowns along the West Coast. Despite the enormous cultural (and geographical) differences between these immigrant groups, they both had to deal with exploitation, prejudice, and the tensions caused by the process of "Americanization." Sui Sin Far and Yezierska both offer poignant--and at times ironic--examinations of immigrant women's relationship to bourgeois domesticity.

Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt and Henry Adams
While Piatt's complex poems and Adams's elegant prose autobiography have little in common on the level of genre, these texts share a self-consciousness about--and willingness to experiment with--the formal possibilities of voice. Writing his autobiography in the third person, Adams almost seems to dissociate himself from this record of his own life in an effort to lend objectivity to its telling. Piatt adopts a different strategy, employing multiple voices and dialogue in her poetry rather than relying on a conventional single lyric voice. These writers' experiments with voice seem at some level intended to infuse their work with realism.



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