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



9. Social
Realism


•  Unit Overview
- Instructor
Overview
- Bibliography
& Resources
- Glossary
- Learning
Objectives
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Unit Overview: Glossary

Bintl Briv - A Yiddish, "Dear Abby"-style advice column introduced by Abraham Cahan in the Yiddish newspaper the Jewish Daily Forward. The Bintl Briv (or "Bundle of Letters") printed questions from readers and offered authoritative advice on romantic, family, and social issues. (A selection of Bintl Briv columns can be found in Jewish American Literature: A Norton Anthology.)

limited third-person narration - A mode of narration that relies on narrators who are not omniscient but instead render descriptions and observations through the limitations of the central character. Henry James's interest in psychology led him to develop the use of limited third-person narration, which is often regarded as one of his major contributions to American fiction. Readers must do more work - and involve themselves more in the process of meaning-making - to understand the relationship of the stories to their narration.

monopoly - monopoly Businesses that have exclusive control of a commodity or service and are thus able to manipulate the prices and availability of those commodities and services as well as to restrict potential competitors from entering the market.

"new woman" - A turn-of-the-century term for women who resisted the ideals of domesticity and "true womanhood" that had dominated women's lives in the first part of the nineteenth century. Such women challenged traditional social conventions by acquiring an education, working in the business world, asserting some degree of sexual freedom, and living independently of men. "New women" were also associated with such radical behaviors as wearing trousers and smoking.

realism - The literary commitment to the truthful, accurate representation of American life as it was experienced by ordinary Americans. A "realist" aesthetic infused literature in the last half of the nineteenth century. Realism was characterized by its uncompromising, literal representations of the particularities of the material world and the human condition. This passion for finding and presenting the truth led many American practitioners of realism to explore characters, places, and events that had previously seemed inappropriate subject matter for literature.

robber baron - A derisive term for the handful of enormously wealthy men who enjoyed virtually exclusive control over such important industries as steel, oil, banking, and railroads in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Robber barons were criticized for their ruthless and often unscrupulous business practices.

"The Talented Tenth" - An elite group of gifted and polished individuals who, according to W. E. B. du Bois's theory, could benefit from a rigorous classical education and then lead African Americans forward. Du Bois believed that the African American community should focus its resources on cultivating this group.

trust - A combination of companies held in common by a board of trustees, which controls most or all of the stock of the constituent companies. This kind of organization allows large corporations to centralize their concerns and thus economize on expenses, regulate production, and discourage competition. For all practical purposes, the formation of steel, oil, bank, and railroad trusts made competition virtually impossible, since the monopolies enjoyed such tight control of their markets .

woman suffrage - The movement for female enfranchisement. It took almost seventy-five years of activism before American women finally gained the right to vote in 1920.

Yiddish - A language spoken mainly by European Jews. Based on German, Yiddish was also inflected by Hebrew, Slavic, and eventually American vocabularies. Abraham Cahan frequently wrote in Yiddish, and Anzia Yezierska incorporated Yiddish phrases and captured the cadence and rhythm of Yiddish speech in her characters' dialogue.




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