American Passages: A Literary Survey
Regional Realism Regional Realism – Activities
- How do regionalist writings reflect the distinct cultures and experiences of different ethnic groups? • How do realist texts represent gender? Are women authors’ interpretations of realism different from male authors’ interpretations? How?
- What kinds of narrative conventions structure oral and visual autobiographies?
- What regional and ethnic dialects were represented in late-nineteenth-century literature? Why were dialect stories so popular in late-nineteenth-century America?
- What are the distinguishing characteristics of realism? What cultural values does realism reflect and promote?
- What is regionalist writing? What historical events and cultural anxieties fueled regionalism’s popularity in the late nineteenth century?
- In the popular imagination of the late nineteenth century, what distinguished certain regions of the country from one another?
- In what ways can regionalist texts be representative of the general “American” experience?
- How did technology bind together the United States in the late nineteenth century?
- What is dialect? How did different authors represent dialect?
- How do narrators affect the tone of a fictional text? What kinds of narrators emerge in realist writing of the late nineteenth century?
- What is a trickster figure? What cultural work do trickster figures perform?
- How do regionalist texts participate in or challenge racial stereotypes?
- How does class-consciousness inflect realist representations of American life? What classes of people are depicted in realist texts?
How do place and time shape the authors’ works and our understanding of them?
Video Comprehension Questions: What political and social problems faced the American South in the period after the Civil War known as Reconstruction?
Context Questions: What role does the Mississippi River play in Mark Twain’s depiction of Huck and Jim’s journey southward in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? What are the implications of the fact that they continue to drift further and further south over the course of their adventure? How do Twain’s depictions of the culture of the border state of Missouri compare to Chopin’s representations of life in the Deep South in Louisiana?
Exploratory Questions: Why did the accurate representation of dialect play such an important role in regional realism? How did these writers’ innovations in the creation of realistic-sounding dialogue affect later American literature?
What is an American? How does American literature create conceptions of the American experience and identity?
Video Comprehension Questions: What is the “plantation myth”? How do the featured southern regionalist writers challenge and transform ideas about life in the American South?
Context Questions: What is the difference between Chopin’s portrait of mixed-race people in “Désirée’s Baby” and Chesnutt’s representations of mixed-race people in Cincinnati in “The Wife of His Youth”? What different attitudes and assumptions about race do these writers bring to their texts?
Exploratory Questions: What made Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Chopin’s The Awakening such controversial novels, both in their own time and in ours? How did their representations of southern culture unsettle assumptions and cause discomfort in their readers? How does their work continue to challenge readers?
What characteristics of a literary work have made it influential over time?
Video Comprehension Questions: What is dialect? How did post-Civil War writers represent vernacular speech?
Context Questions: How does Twain’s characterization of African Americans compare to Chesnutt’s characterization of African Americans? How do both authors challenge and participate in racial stereotypes? How did their depictions of African American speech and culture influence later African American writers?
Exploratory Questions: Ernest Hemingway claimed that all subsequent American literature derived from Huckleberry Finn. What did Hemingway mean by this claim? Why did he see Twain’s novel as so foundational to American identity and to American literary traditions?
- Journal: Write a journal entry or short narrative in which you imagine Jim’s perspective on the final chapters of Huckleberry Finn, when Tom and Huck make a game out of Jim’s captivity and escape on the Phelps farm. How might Jim narrate these events differently than Huck does in the novel?
- Poet’s Corner: Select a passage or poem written in dialect from one of the texts featured in this unit and translate it into “standard” English. What problems did you encounter in writing your translation? How does your translation change the meaning and effect of the passage?
- Journal: Imagine you are a reporter stationed at the Sioux Pine Ridge reservation in the 1890s. Compose your own newspaper account of the Ghost Dance religion for publication in a newspaper geared to an audience of white settlers. How will you describe this spiritual movement? What aspects of the religion will you emphasize?
- Artist’s Workshop: Imagine you have won the lottery and are in the process of designing your dream house. Draw a floor plan for your ideal home. What rooms will you designate for specific activities? How large will you make the rooms? Will any of the rooms serve purposes similar to those served by the parlor in nineteenth-century homes?
- Multimedia: Thomas Eakins believed that artists should represent the world as it is, not as they would like it to be. Using the American Passages archive and slide-show software, create a multimedia presentation in which you explore the influence of this realist ideal on some of the texts and contexts featured in this unit.
Problem-Based Learning Projects
“”How can I get my students to think?” is a question asked by many faculty, regardless of their disciplines. Problem-based learning (PBL) is an instructional method that challenges students to “learn to learn,” working cooperatively in groups to seek solutions to real-world problems. These problems are used to engage students’ curiosity and initiate learning the subject matter. PBL prepares students to think critically and analytically, and to find and use appropriate learning resources.” — Barbara Duch, University of Delaware
- Imagine you and your peers serve on the curriculum committee at your high school or college. A group of parents, students, and teachers has recently circulated a petition to remove Huckleberry Finn from the school’s reading lists and library because of its racist language and offensive representations of African Americans. Other parents, students, and teachers have sent in letters insisting that the novel is a literary masterpiece and demanding that it continue to be taught at your school. Your committee is going to hold a community meeting to decide the issue. Take a side in the debate and prepare a presentation to articulate your point of view. How will you make your argument for or against Huckleberry Finn? What kind of evidence will you cite to support your claim for either the book’s educational value or its inappropriateness? How will you construct your argument so it will address the concerns of parents and teachers as well as students?
- The Native Americans at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota have decided to sue the government agents and missionaries who insist on taking young Indian children to mission schools and boarding schools at which they are forced to practice Euro-American customs. The Pine Ridge Indians have hired you as their legal team. How will you prepare your prosecution of the government and missionaries? What kinds of evidence will you use in the case? Whom will you call as witnesses?
The Best Seat in the House: Parlors and the Development of Gentility in Nineteenth-Century America
As Twain’s satirical description of the Grangerfords’ decorous parlor in backwoods Arkansas makes clear, the values that informed parlor culture were not limited to the wealthy or the urban in mid-nineteenth-century America. As industrialization and mass production made furniture and textiles affordable to even the lower middle classes, Americans everywhere began to create parlors to serve as visual assertions of their sophistication and good taste. Architectural plan books such as S. B. Reed’s House-Plans for Everybody (1878) offered designs for inexpensive houses that, though small, included front parlors meant to signal respectability and refinement. Plans like the “Design for $600 Cottage” featured in the archive reveal that a parlor was perceived as necessary in even the most humble home. Even Americans whose dwellings were so small that there was no room for a formal parlor made an effort to adorn their living spaces with the decorative objects that were integral to parlor culture, such as the wreath, birdcage, and rocking chair visible in a nineteenth-century photograph of a primitive cabin on the Nebraska plains.
Intended to serve as a buffer zone between the outside world and the private domestic areas of the bedroom and kitchen, the parlor was a semi-public space that both protected people’s privacy and publicized their accomplishments. Thick carpets muffled noises, while protective doilies and layers of lace curtains and heavy draperies shielded the room and its furnishings from bright light and prying eyes. The large-scale, luxuriously upholstered furniture of the ideal “parlor suite” cradled the body even as it controlled posture. But while the parlor was shrouded and protected, it was at the same time designed to open itself to display. Curio cabinets, mantles, and shelves exhibited the photographs and knick-knacks that occupants felt expressed their individuality and good taste. Parlors often contained pianos, handmade artwork, and embroidery stands intended to show off the inhabitants’ domestic accomplishments. The effect, though cluttered and oppressive by today’s standards, was meant to be simultaneously comfortable and cultured, inviting and impressive.
While some social commentators complained that most parlors went unused–Americans often felt that their parlor furniture was “too good” to actually sit on–homeowners continued to perceive them as important rooms. The parlor could be used for evening parties at which guests would listen to piano performances, sing, or play specially developed “parlor games” such as charades, puzzles, or “Twenty Questions.” At Christmas-time, the decorated tree would stand in the parlor. Because they were not in constant use, parlors offered a secluded place for young couples to court one another. In Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s short story “The Revolt of ‘Mother,’ ” Mother is particularly frustrated that her daughter, Nancy, is forced to host her fiancè in the family’s kitchen because Father is unwilling to spend money on a parlor. Among wealthy city-dwellers, parlors were the location of choice for hosting “callers.” The formal ritual of social calling, in which women paid brief visits or left specially designed “calling cards” at the homes of their female acquaintances, persisted into the early twentieth century and thus kept parlor culture alive. The ubiquity and conventionality of social calling is clear in Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening. Edna Pontellier scandalizes her husband and her community when she stops receiving callers or making social visits and instead opts to structure her time according to her own desires.
As Chopin’s novel illustrates, parlor culture could seem unappealing, suffocating, and overly regulated. It is significant that Edna’s social revolt is enacted through her decision to spend her time in successively more unconventional domestic spaces: she first retreats to her painting studio, then to Mademoiselle Reisz’s unfashionable and “dingy” apartment, and eventually takes the radical step of moving out of her husband’s formal house and into a small home she calls the “pigeon house.” While Edna’s rejection of convention is to a certain extent enabled by her wealth, leisure, and social status, less privileged women struggled in their own ways with the imposition of the values of parlor culture. In her autobiographical essays, Zitkala-Sa poignantly narrates her Sioux mother’s difficulty in making the transition from living in her traditional tipi to inhabiting a Euro-American style cottage. Never completely comfortable with the curtains and tablecloths in her cabin, Zitkala-Sa’s mother continues to cook and perform most of her domestic chores in a nearby canvas tipi. As Zitkala-Sa explains it, “My mother had never gone to school, and though she meant always to give up her own customs for such of the white man’s ways as pleased her, she made only compromises.” Such “compromises” were, for many, more meaningful acts of self-expression than strict adherence to the norms of parlor culture.
- Comprehension: What furnishings and objects characterized the ideal parlor? How did some Americans effect compromises with the requirements of parlor culture?
- Comprehension: How did most Americans use their parlors? What kinds of domestic activities might have been considered improper in a parlor?
- Comprehension:Examine the architectural plans for Euro-American houses and the diagrams of traditional Native American tipis featured in the archive. What kinds of domestic values did these different spatial arrangements promote? Do they have any features in common?
- Context: How is Mademoiselle Reisz’s apartment described in The Awakening? Does she have a traditional parlor? How does her home compare with the Ratignolles’ home? How do the two homes reflect their different inhabitants’ attitudes toward social convention? How do Mademoiselle Reisz’s and Madame Ratignolle’s attitudes toward their shared hobby of piano playing differ?
- Context: In Bret Harte’s “The Outcasts of Poker Flat,” the outcasts fix up and inhabit an abandoned cabin. How do they outfit the cabin’s interior? How do they occupy themselves? Do the outcasts in some sense replicate parlor ideals in the abandoned cabin?
- Context: Why does Mother move into the barn in Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s “The Revolt of ‘Mother’ “? What kind of reaction does her decision provoke in Father? Do her actions change the power dynamics within their marriage? If so, to what extent?
- Exploration: Do contemporary American homes contain rooms similar to the nineteenth-century parlor? What kinds of rooms currently fulfill the roles that parlors used to fill?
- Exploration: In contemporary American culture, consumers are inundated with decorating and homemaking advice: a “Home and Garden” channel on cable television dispenses round the clock insights on homemaking, while dozens of magazines suggest innumerable projects for improving one’s domestic space. Why do you think these television shows and magazines are so popular? What kind of audience are they trying to reach? How do they promote particular cultural values by celebrating particular domestic arrangements and pursuits?
- Exploration: How do contemporary films convey information about characters through their home decor?
 William S. Soule, Arapaho camp with buffalo meat drying near Fort Dodge, Kansas (1870),
courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Still Picture Branch.
Parlor culture was not limited to white, upper-class women; less privileged women also struggled with the imposition of these values. In her essays, Zitkala-Sa narrates her Sioux mother’s difficulty in moving from her traditional dwelling to a Euro-American style cottage.
 George Harper Houghton, Family of slaves at the Gaines’ house (1861),
courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZC4-4575].
For many slaves, merely having a large enough home on the plantation where they worked proved problematic.
 Anonymous, Design for $600 Cottage (1883),
courtesy of Cornell University Library.
Sketch and floor plan of modest four-room cottage with high, narrow windows and a chimney.
 Unknown, Writing at the Quarry farm [Mark Twain] (c. 1871-75),
courtesy of the Mark Twain House, Hartford, CT.
Photograph of Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) in a white suit, writing at a small round table in front of a modest fireplace at Quarry Farm. Though Clemens satirized the corruption and genteel conventions of high society, he aspired to higher social status himself.
 Anonymous, The First Step [Godey’s Lady’s Book] (June 1858),
courtesy of Hope Greenberg, University of Vermont.
These homespun Americans might be the characters in Royall Tyler’s The Contrast. The parlor was felt to be necessary in even the most humble homes. Even when there was no room for a formal parlor, Americans adorned their living spaces with decorative objects.
 John C. Grabill, Home of Mrs. American Horse (1891),
courtesy of the Library of Congress, American Memory, Grabill Collection [LOT 3076-2, no. 3638].
Uncovered tipi frame with Oglala women and children inside, most likely near the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota. In contrast to typical Euro-American dwellings, canvas tipis were where Native American women performed most of their domestic chores.
 Anonymous, Ladies S.J.A. Glee Club 1897-1900 Breckenridge, Colo. (c. 1897),
courtesy of the Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library.
Breckenridge, Colorado, was first settled in 1859 when gold was discovered in the Blue River. Glee clubs–or choral societies–were an important way of socializing in and domesticating the frontier town.
 Anonymous, One of the Many Parlors in a New York Apartment-Hotel (1904),
courtesy of Cosmopolitan [no. 38, Dec. 1904].
While most Americans, from the very rich to the humblest frontier family, had some parlor or leisure space in their homes, rooms such as this one in a Manhattan apartment exemplify the vast divide between the rich and the poor and the urban and the rural that existed in this country at the turn of the twentieth century.
Moving Pictures: Native American Self-Narration
Of the more than five hundred languages that were spoken by indigenous peoples in North America prior to contact with Europeans, not one of them had a written alphabet. Instead, sophisticated forms of visual and oral notation and recording allowed authors to represent their stories to listeners, viewers, and participants. Pictographic narratives consisting of symbols, totems, and emblems conveyed expressions of personal and group identity as well as spiritual or military experiences. In Meso America in particular these systems were phonetic and quite complex. In some tribes this symbolic language was so highly evolved that individuals could “read” about one another by examining the pictures on robes, tipis, and shields without needing any accompanying oral explanation. An animal skin tipi belonging to Kiowa chief Little Bluff, for example, was emblazoned with symbolic records of the Kiowas’ military successes that would have been legible to any Plains Indian viewer. Images of American soldiers felled by braves’ arrows and lances attest to the tribe’s martial prowess, while vertical rows of tomahawks and decorated lances might have served as records of especially important exploits or as “coup” counts. A common Native American practice, coup counting was a historical record of an individual warrior’s feats of bravery. Each time he touched an enemy in battle, either with his hand or with a special “coup stick,” a Native American warrior acquired prestige and power–and the right to brag about his military successes. Rows of pictographic images could serve as a kind of account book or mnemonic device to enable a warrior to recite his triumphs. Clothing could serve a similar autobiographical function: painter and ethnographer George Catlin noted that Mandan chief Mah-to-toh-pa, or Four Bears, was famous for his pictographic buffalo skin robe. Drawing on the robe’s visual “chart of his military life,” Mah-to-toh-pa would point at the paintings on the back of the garment and dramatically re-enact the incidents depicted. As Wong has pointed out in her study of the robe, by combining the visual, oral, and performative, Mah-to-toh-pa constructed a vivid autobiographical narrative that did not rely on writing.
Native American naming practices could also serve as oral expressions of identity and personal development. Unlike Euro-Americans, Indians could acquire multiple names over a lifetime, taking one at birth, gaining others as a result of significant life events, and even keeping some secret. A new name would not necessarily replace earlier names but instead could exist in dynamic relation to them. Charles Alexander Eastman, for example, was assigned the name of “Hakadah,” or “The Pitiful Last,” because his mother died shortly after his birth. Later, when he performed admirably in a lacrosse game, he acquired the new name “Ohiyesa,” or “The Winner.” Eventually, he adopted the Anglicized name “Charles Alexander Eastman” at the request of his father, and then changed his title again when he received the degree of “Doctor.” Kiowa warrior Ohettoint had several Indian names and was known variously as “High Forehead,” “Charley Buffalo,” “Padai,” and “Twin.” Such naming practices were understandably confusing to white authorities who wanted to compile accurate lists of tribal members. To help resolve this cultural misunderstanding, Eastman worked for several years to assign Anglicized surnames to Sioux individuals, hoping that more “American” names would help them register with the U.S. government and thus claim property rights guaranteed to them by law. Unfortunately, this kind of enforced assimilation left little room for the important autobiographical work performed by traditional Indian names.
As Native American cultures came into contact with Euro-Americans, their autobiographical practices changed significantly. Materials such as commercial paint, paper, and colored pencils acquired by trade, gift, or capture provided new media for recording pictographs. In response to these new materials and the shortage of old materials such as buffalo hides, Indians began to record pictographic tribal histories (sometimes called “Winter Counts”) in partly used ledger books, army rosters, and daybooks acquired from whites. One unknown Cheyenne artist somehow acquired an envelope addressed in European script to “Commanding Officer, Company G, 2nd Cavalry” and used it as a canvas for his moving depiction of a courtship scene. In the pictograph, two lovers meet and then join each other in front of a tipi. Thus, the artist used the materials of the enemy’s army to construct his own expression of romantic connection. White Bull, a Teton Dakota chief, created a hybrid pictographic autobiography in a business ledger, using traditional visual symbols as well as printed words to tell his life story. Commissioned by a white collector who paid White Bull fifty dollars for his work, the ledger graphically presents the author’s genealogy and hunting and war record. White Bull portrays himself counting coup on an enemy warrior and interprets the image in script written in the Dakota language using the Dakota syllabary. By the nineteenth century, some tribes had developed scripts called syllabaries that included characters for their vowel and consonant sounds and thus enabled them to write in their own languages. First developed by Sequoyah for the Cherokee language, the syllabaries enabled the creation of hybrid Native American expressions. No longer visual or oral, texts written in syllabary adapted the Western technologies of writing to traditional Native American languages.
- Comprehension: What is “counting coup”?
- Comprehension: What is a syllabary? How did syllabaries transform Native American autobiographical expression?
- Comprehension: Why might a Native American have had multiple names?
- Context: After publishing their autobiographical pieces, both Zitkala-Sa and Charles Alexander Eastman put together collections of translations of the traditional folktales they had heard as children. Why do you think these two acculturated Sioux people might have felt compelled to translate their culture’s stories into English and into print? What effect might this translation have on the stories?
- Context: In his poetry and prose, Alexander Posey frequently celebrated the achievements of Sequoyah, the Cherokee who had invented the first syllabary for a Native American language. Why do you think Posey was so interested in the syllabary? What role did literacy play in his own work? How did Posey mediate between conventions of the English language and his desire to express authentic Native American speech patterns?
- Exploration: What kinds of non-written expressions are important in American culture today? How do contemporary Americans engage in self-expression and self-narration through the use of non-written signs?
- Exploration: How do Native American oral or pictorial autobiographical expressions compare to traditional Euro-American autobiography (Benjamin Franklin, or Henry Adams, for example)? How do they compare with early Native American autobiographical writings in English (Samson Occom or William Apess, for example)?
- Exploration: To what extent are Storyteller by Leslie Marmon Silko and The Way to Rainy Mountain by N. Scott Momaday communo-bio-oratory (or, community-life-speaking) rather than autobiographical? How do these very experimental works relate to the works of Charles Eastman and Zitkala-Sa?
 N. C. Wyeth, The Last of the Mohicans (1919),
courtesy of Reed College Library.
Wyeth’s image of Chingachgook, father of Uncas, and friend of Hawkeye. Chingachgook’s knowledge of white culture allows him to better understand the Europeans and mirrors Natty’s understanding of Native American culture.
 George Catlin, Wi-Jun-Jon–The Pigeon’s Egg Head Going to and Returning from Washington,
courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Wi-Jun-Jon’s tales about the wonders of the white man’s world were met with skepticism and distrust by members of his tribe. The Assiniboine chief was eventually murdered by one of his own tribesmen.
 F. W. Greenough, Se-Quo-Yah [Sequoiah] (c. 1836),
courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USZC4-4815].
Half-length portrait of Sequoyah, dressed in a blue robe, holding a tablet that shows the Cherokee alphabet.
 Shirt of the Blackfeet Tribe (c. 1890),
courtesy of the Portland Art Museum, gift of Elizabeth Cole Butler [86.126.32].
Shirts such as this one were worn during the Ghost Dance Movement. Clothing varied from tribe to tribe, but many felt that the shirts would protect wearers from bullets and attack.
 Anonymous, Girl’s dress (c. 1890),
courtesy of the Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon.
This hoestùtse, or Cheyenne dress, incorporates beadwork as a means of expression. This style was developed by the Kiowa in the mid-1800s and copied by other Plains tribes.
 Anonymous, Rawhide soled boots (c. 1900),
courtesy of the Portland Art Museum, gift of Elizabeth Cole Butler.
Fringes and beadwork on moccasins and clothing displayed the skill of the maker, as well as the status and social location of the wearer.
 Anonymous, Facsimile of an Indian Painting (n.d.),
courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-28805].
Paintings such as this one represent one of the ways that Native Americans recorded their perspectives on historical events even after contact and the introduction of written history by European Americans.
Black, White, and Yellow: Coloring the News in Late-Nineteenth-Century America
Many of the writers featured in this unit began their careers as printers’ apprentices and journalists. Bret Harte and Mark Twain met when they were writing for newspapers in California; Alexander Posey founded and edited the first newspaper owned by a Native American; Joel Chandler Harris published his first Uncle Remus stories while working for the Atlanta Constitution and had them syndicated in newspapers throughout the North. Other important nineteenth-century writers got their start or in some cases published the majority of their work in magazines and monthly periodicals. Charles W. Chesnutt, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Sarah Orne Jewett, Kate Chopin, and Zitkala-Sa all published in the Atlantic Monthly and a variety of other literary journals. Undoubtedly, the close affiliation between journalists and fiction writers in the nineteenth century influenced the development of realism as a literary style. Borrowing ideals of truth, objectivity, and accuracy from journalistic techniques, these writers helped formulate the dominant aesthetic in American letters in this period.
William Dean Howells, a pre-eminent practitioner of literary realism and the editor of Harper’s Monthly magazine, pronounced that realism “is nothing more and nothing less than the truthful treatment of material.” For realists, this commitment to “truthfulness” often led them to explore characters, places, and events that had never before seemed appropriate subject matter for literature. Just as nineteenth-century newspapers democratized the news, realism democratized the scope of literature. The enfranchisement of “common” or “everyday” subject matter extended literary representation to ordinary people whom authors had previously ignored or romanticized. Perhaps influenced by their consumption of newspapers, American audiences evinced a new willingness to read about unrefined and even tragic or ugly subjects in the interest of gaining access to authentic accounts of the world around them. Journalistic coverage of the carnage and horror of the Civil War–an event that dramatically touched the lives of almost all Americans who lived through it–had exposed readers to realistic, if horrifying, depictions of actual events. As the stark photographs of the aftermath of Civil War battles featured in the archive make clear, these depictions could hardly fail to make a profound impression on readers and viewers. By the end of the century, journalism’s aesthetic of truth and accuracy had found its way from the newspapers into the fiction of the country.
Unfortunately, the journalistic ideals that had such a powerful impact on American fiction did not always shape newspapers themselves. As the newspaper industry became big business–and as men like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer amassed enormous fortunes through their creation of publishing empires–journalistic integrity sometimes took a back seat to a desire to boost circulation and please readers. New techniques designed to sell papers rather than to provide accurate coverage of events started to shape the look and feel of American newspapers. Novelties like giant banner headlines, color inserts, provocative cartoons, and large engravings put a focus on visual appeal rather than substance. The content of stories, too, privileged sensational impact over objectivity or thoroughness, focusing on scandal and human-interest stories to the exclusion of important events. The term yellow journalism was coined in the 1890s to characterize this new trend in news reporting. Named for R. F. Outcault’s popular comic strip, which featured a yellow-robed character named the “yellow kid,” the term refers to the circulation war that arose between Hearst’s New York Journal and Pulitzer’s New York World. The competition began when Hearst, determined to lure readers from Pulitzer’s paper, hired Outcault away from the World to draw for the Journal. Pulitzer responded by commissioning a new cartoonist to draw a second “yellow kid” comic. Soon, the war between the two largest New York newspapers became a competition between two “yellow kids,” and the term “yellow journalism” was coined to describe the sensationalist, irresponsible journalistic tactics the papers adopted in their attempts to outsell one another.
The Sioux writer Charles Alexander Eastman learned first-hand the potentially devastating impact yellow journalism could have on already tense situations. When the Ghost Dance movement was gaining momentum on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Eastman hoped to diffuse the anxiety the spiritual movement caused in white reservation authorities by assuring them of the non-threatening nature of the dancers’ activities. Instead, rumors of a possible Indian attack–rumors started mainly by irresponsible journalists–increased the white authorities’ fears. Eastman lamented, “of course, the press seized upon the opportunity to enlarge upon the strained situation and predict an ‘Indian uprising.’ The reporters were among us, and managed to secure much ‘news’ that no one else ever heard of.” The reporters’ specious news stories fueled an already fraught situation that eventually culminated in the tragic massacre of 150 Sioux men, women, and children at Wounded Knee in December 1890.
Yellow journalism also played a key role in the Spanish-American war, a conflict that has gone down in history as the first “media war.” As the conflict between rebel Cubans and Spanish colonists escalated in Cuba in 1896, newspapers seized on the event as a chance to attract readers and increase their circulation. Dispatching the first “foreign war correspondents” to Cuba, the papers began printing inflammatory stories (often based on little or no evidence) about Spanish brutality and noble Cuban resistance. The papers commissioned some of the country’s most popular artists to provide graphic illustrations of Spanish atrocities designed to whip the American public into a frenzy of outrage and warmongering. As New York Journal editor Hearst told artist Frederic Remington, “You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war.” The newspapers’ strategy worked: circulation increased dramatically and the American public demanded armed intervention. By 1898, President McKinley had become convinced that his political party would suffer if he did not engage in war with Spain, however unjustified. While it may not be fair to hold the newspapers responsible for the war, it is accurate to say that the press fueled pro-war sentiment and that the outcome of American involvement in nineteenth-century Cuba might have been very different without the sensational headlines and distorted reporting provided by the yellow journalists.
As newspapers began to shape the values and style of American culture in the late nineteenth century, artist William Harnett began to produce canvases that served as visual essays on the new role of newspapers in American life. Between 1875 and 1890, he painted over sixty still-life representations of newspapers. Never painting readers, Harnett instead offered tableaux of newspapers on tables surrounded by glasses, books, and other reading accoutrements. Often featuring matches, candles, pipes, and even smoldering embers next to the papers, he highlighted their potential to catch fire–that is, their tendency to inflame delicate situations. The papers in Harnett’s paintings are not readable–he represented news copy as illegible marks–perhaps commenting on the fact that the content of the stories had become secondary to the circulation of the paper. Despite the blurred print, Harnett’s representations consistently tricked his viewers: guards had to be posted at his exhibitions to restrain viewers from trying to touch the canvases. His paintings, then, are a visual corollary to the realist aesthetic that shaped American fiction, even as they subtly hint at the problems with the journalistic techniques that spurred the realist movement.
- Comprehension: What does the term “yellow journalism” mean and how did it get its name?
- Comprehension: What kinds of strategies did “yellow” newspapers use to boost their circulation and appeal to readers?
- Comprehension: What are the ideals of “realism” as a literary style? How are they related to journalistic ideals?
- Context: Both Joel Chandler Harris and Alexander Posey reached their broadest audiences by publishing their dialect stories in newspapers. Why do you think newspaper readers were so interested in stories written in ethnic or regional dialect?
- Context: Examine the headlines, banners, and color supplements featured in the archive. How are these images different from traditional newspaper presentations? To what kinds of readers are these images trying to appeal?
- Context: In The Awakening, Mr. Pontellier uses the public newspaper as a device for communicating with his wife and for avoiding scandal. How does he manipulate news of his family and domestic circumstances in the newspaper? Why does he feel it is necessary to offer public explanations of the family’s domestic circumstances in the newspaper?
- Exploration: Do you think “yellow journalism” is still a force in media coverage of the news in contemporary America? To what extent are the dual forces of realism and sentimentality still central to the art of journalism?
- Exploration: How have twentieth- and twenty-first-century American military conflicts been shaped by media coverage? How do you think media coverage has shaped popular opinion either in favor of or in opposition to particular wars or military engagements?
- Exploration: Today, many Americans get their news from sources other than printed newspapers. What other media have taken the place of newspapers in this country? How do these new media either lend themselves to or resist yellow journalism?
 Timothy H. O’Sullivan, Unfinished Confederate grave near the center of the battlefield of Gettysburg [stereograph] (1863),
courtesy of the Library of Congress, American Memory Collection [PR-065-793-22].
Photograph of dead Confederate soldiers in a shallow grave at Gettysburg. Journalistic coverage of the Civil War exposed readers to realistic depictions of actual events, paving the way for the aesthetic of truth and accuracy in American fiction.
 Anonymous, Refugees leaving the Old Homestead (c. 1863),
courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration [NWDNS-LC-CC-306].
This photograph shows a family of Civil War refugees ready to leave the homestead. To escape the Rebels, Union families would gather as much of their belongings as would fit on a wagon and head north.
 Timothy O’Sullivan, Incidents of the War. A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, July, 1863,
courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-B8184-7964-A DLC].
Federal soldiers dead on the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Graphic, bleak war photographs inspired postwar literary realism.
 Western Photograph Company, Gathering up the dead at the battlefield of Wounded Knee, South Dakota (1891),
courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.
U.S. soldiers standing in front of a wagon full of dead Sioux. A blizzard delayed the burial of the dead. Eventually the Sioux were buried in a mass grave, with little effort made to identify the bodies.
 Kurz and Allison, The Storming of Ft. Wagner (1890),
courtesy of the National Park Service, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.
This illustration shows soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment leading the Union charge against the Confederate stronghold of Fort Wagner, South Carolina. The 54th Massachussetts was the first black regiment recruited in the North during the Civil War.
 Barthelmess, Buffalo soldiers of the 25th Infantry, Ft. Keogh, Montana (1890),
courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZC4-6161 DLC].
In 1866, Congress approved six new cavalry and infantry regiments comprised solely of African American enlisted troops. Called Buffalo Soldiers by the Native Americans, these units performed the same frontier duties as their white counterparts and later served with distinction in the Spanish-American War.
 Archibald Gunn and Richard Felton Outcault, New York Journal‘s colored comic supplement (1896),
courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USZC4-2553].
This color poster from the comic pages of William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal features a woman in dancing costume with a rope around the popular comic character “Yellow Kid,” developed by artist Richard Felton Outcault.
 Kenyon Cox, Columbia & Cuba-Magazine Cover-Nude Study (1898),
courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USZ62-68463].
An allegorical cover of an 1898 magazine, exemplifying the openness toward the human body of the late-nineteenth-century realists. The women’s names, “Columbia” and “Cuba,” refer to an imagined relationship between the nations during the Spanish American War.
Monkeying Around: Trickster Figures and American Culture
The trickster, by his very nature, is almost impossible to define. Because he is a master of dissolving boundaries, confounding certainties, and exploiting ambiguity, it is difficult to pin a clear description on him. As cultural critic Henry Louis Gates Jr. puts it in his influential study The Signifying Monkey:
A partial list of [the trickster’s] qualities might include individuality, satire, parody, irony, magic, indeterminacy, open-endedness, ambiguity, sexuality, chance, uncertainty, disruption and reconciliation, betrayal and loyalty, closure and disclosure, encasement and rupture. But it is a mistake to focus on one of these qualities as predominant. Esu [the trickster] possesses all of these characteristics, plus a plethora of others which, taken together, only begin to present an idea of the complexity of this classic figure of mediation and of the unity of opposed forces.
Perhaps one of the most useful evocations of the trickster’s complex identity is the African carving of Esu which presents him as having two faces–one at the front of his head and one at the back–thus highlighting his duality and ambiguity.
Traditional African American folktales celebrate the way the trickster’s duplicity allows him to escape unscathed from even the most seemingly hopeless situations. Brer Rabbit’s ability to outwit the more powerful animals Brer Fox and Brer Bear makes him an appealing hero. While literary critics disagree about the extent to which Joel Chandler Harris understood the deep ironies of the African American stories he transcribed in his Uncle Remus tales, Harris was able to see the cultural usefulness of Brer Rabbit’s trickster qualities to enslaved African Americans. In the introduction to one of his Uncle Remus collections, he explains, “It needs no scientific investigation to show why he [the black] selects as his hero the weakest and the most harmless of all animals, and brings him out victorious in contests with the bear, the wolf, and the fox.” The manner in which these tales invert the roles of the powerful and the weak, so that the supposedly submissive figure cunningly outwits his powerful oppressor, offers a subversive moral that must have provided hope to oppressed slaves.
Native American trickster tales are similarly interested in the inversion of social norms and the breaking of boundaries; their tales of Coyote and other supernatural characters celebrate the trickster as simultaneously vulgar and sacred, wise and foolish, but always surviving. In Charles Alexander Eastman’s transcription of the traditional Sioux tale of the trickster turtle, Turtle’s strategies exactly parallel Brer Rabbit’s. Just as Brer Rabbit uses reverse psychology to convince Brer Fox to throw him into a briar patch–the environment in which he is most comfortable–so does Turtle convince his captors to confine him in water, a fluid medium which of course allows him to escape. The identity of the trickster continues to resonate in Native American culture today. Harry Fonseca’s playful paintings about Coyote testify to the figure’s enduring cultural importance. Fonseca’s representations of Coyote show him skillfully mediating between the “old ways” and the new: in Coyote in Front of Studio, Coyote pairs a modern leather jacket and high-top sneakers with a traditional Plains Indian war bonnet and pipe bag. With two eyes on one side of his head, this Coyote embodies the duality and flexibility of contemporary Indian culture, figuring both resistance and strategic accommodation to Euro-American culture.
- Comprehension: What are some of the animals commonly chosen to represent trickster figures in African American and Native American traditional trickster tales? What qualities do these animals have in common?
- Context: While Adventures of Huckleberry Finn does not contain any traditional animal trickster figures, many of Huck’s adventures resonate with trickster traditions. How does Twain draw on traditional trickster schemes and qualities in his narrative of Jim and Huck’s journey down the river? Which characters in the novel seem most trickster-like?
- Exploration: How do characters such as the Joker in Batman, or the Road Runner or Bugs Bunny in Looney Tunes draw on trickster traditions? How are they similar to figures like Brer Rabbit or Iktomi? How are they different? What kinds of cultural values do they seem to espouse?
 Joel Chandler Harris, Uncle Remus cover (c. 1880),
courtesy of the University of Virginia.
Joel Chandler Harris’s trickster tales that Uncle Remus narrates–with their subversive focus on the triumph of seemingly weak characters over their aggressors–are characterized by poetic irony and a subtle critique of oppression and prejudice.
 James Brown, Dancing for Eels (1848),
courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USZC4-4542].
This lithograph with watercolor features a scene from a mid-nineteenth-century play intended to depict New York “as it is.” A dancing black man in tattered clothes maintains the interest of observers of all types–the young, old, white, black, poor, and wealthy.
 A. B. Frost, Brer B’ar Tied Hard en Fas (1892),
courtesy of Houghton Mifflin.
Illustration of Brer Rabbit tying Brer B’ar to a tree, taken from Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus and His Friends: Old Plantation Stories, Songs, and Ballads with Sketches of Negro Character. As trickster tales, the African American fables published by Harris contain a subtle critique of oppression.
 Greg Sarris, Interview: “Coyote” (2002),
courtesy of Annenberg/CBP and American Passages.
Greg Sarris, author, professor of English, and Pomo Indian, discusses the trickster Coyote.
 Charles Eastman, “Turtle Story” (1909),
courtesy of Wigwam Evenings, Sioux Folk Tales.
This collection of Sioux tales by Eastman and his wife, Elaine Goodale Eastman, contains twenty-seven Sioux narratives, including creation stories and animal legends.
The Human Framed: Anatomy, Photography, and Realism in Nineteenth-Century America
Eakins was fascinated by the muscles and mechanisms of the human body. He became interested in anatomy in high school and went on to study the subject extensively at both the Pennsylvania Academy and the Jefferson Medical College, where he regularly dissected corpses. He eventually supplemented his income as an artist by teaching anatomy and dissection. While Eakins admitted that he felt a natural aversion to dissecting human bodies, he saw the task as necessary to his art. As he put it, “One dissects simply to increase his knowledge of how beautiful objects are put together to the end that one might imitate them.” Eakins put his extensive knowledge of the workings of the human body to use in all of his paintings, and especially in his series of representations of wrestlers, swimmers, boxers, and rowers in action.
Eakins and other realist painters found the new medium of photography enormously interesting, both because it enabled them to capture split-second moments of human movement and because it could allow them to try out various tableaux for their paintings. In 1885, photographer Eadweard Muybridge revolutionized both photography and the study of human and animal movement with his sequential pictures using stop-action shutters to capture details of motion too quick for the human eye. Originally hired by Leland Stanford, the governor of California, to settle a bet about the nature of a racehorse’s gait, Muybridge developed a technique for photographing successive stages of the animal’s motion, revealing that at top speed the horse had all four feet off the ground mid-stride. Muybridge continued his photographic investigations at the University of Pennsylvania, where he collaborated with Eakins, who was also interested in photographing motion. He soon published Animal Locomotion, an eleven-volume collection of over 100,000 photographs of humans and animals running, climbing, and jumping which he intended to function as a kind of dictionary of bodily movement.
The realists’ passion for uncompromising analyses and representations of the human body did not always meet with public approval. Photographs and paintings that struck viewers as too “graphic”–like Eakins’s Gross Clinic–came in for harsh criticism. Eakins eventually lost his position at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts because he insisted that his students, both male and female, view nude human models in order to better understand the human body. The realists’ unconventional openness toward the body and all of its features may have flown in the face of traditional American beliefs about propriety and respectability, but it succeeded in transforming the face of American art and culture. These late-nineteenth-century photographers and painters created the technology that soon led to the development of the motion picture camera, and they pioneered an aesthetic of truth and realism that had a profound and lasting effect on American art.
Unfortunately, nineteenth-century Americans’ interest in the scientific study of the human form could also lead in dangerous directions when it was used to justify racism and prejudice. The late part of the century saw a new vogue for “phrenology,” the pseudo-scientific study of facial features based on the premise that external appearance is a reliable indicator of internal character. Phrenology, which had been popular in the eighteenth century, was resurrected in the last decades of the nineteenth century when immigration was changing the complexion and features of the American face. Proponents of “racial purity” worried that the hundreds of thousands of non-Northern European immigrants who were arriving yearly (Italians, Greeks, Eastern European Jews, Chinese, and others) would contaminate or weaken the American body. Commentators like Joseph Simms devised racist charts and diagrams designed to “scientifically” classify racial facial characteristics on the basis of intelligence, sensitivity, creativity, and morality. Simms’s book, Physiognomy Illustrated; or, Nature’s Revelations of Character: A Description of the Mental, Moral, and Volitive Dispositions of Mankind, as Manifested in the Human Form and Countenance, predictably argued for the superiority of Caucasian facial features. Such distortions of the spirit and integrity of scientific inquiry were a tragic corollary to the nineteenth-century commitment to studying the human form.
- Comprehension: What kinds of subjects did realist painters like Thomas Eakins favor? What did they want their paintings to accomplish? What kinds of values are reflected in their work?
- Context: What is happening in the operating theater in Eakins’s painting The Agnew Clinic? How does Eakins portray Dr. Agnew? What actions do his assistants perform? What parts of the patient are visible? Who do you think the woman is seated on the right? What is her role in the picture?
- Context: Some Native American participants in the Ghost Dance religion came to believe that their spiritual practices would render their clothing impermeable to bullets. What kinds of views about the human body inform their beliefs? How does the Ghost Dancers’understanding of the relationship between the spirit and the body compare to Euro-American realists’ understanding of physicality?
- Exploration: If Eakins and Muybridge were alive today, what kinds of modern technology do you think would most interest them? Why?
 Thomas Eakins, The Agnew Clinic (1889),
courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Library, Schoenberg Center.
In this masterpiece of realist art, professor of surgery David Agnew lectures to a group of medical students while operating. As the Enlightenment overshadowed Calvinism in the nineteenth century, Americans put more faith in science. However, the seminars and clinics of higher education were reserved for male elites.
 Timothy O’Sullivan, Incidents of the War. A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, July 1863,
courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-B8184-7964-A DLC].
Federal soldiers lie dead on the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Lincoln’s speech commemorating the dead confirms that ending slavery was a northern war aim. Graphic, bleak war photographs such as this one inspired postwar literary realism.
 Anonymous, Confederate and Union dead side by side in trenches at Fort Mahone (1865),
courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-B8171-3181].
Civil War photograph of the aftermath of the siege of Petersburg, depicting the body of a Confederate soldier lying a few feet away from the body of a Union soldier.
 Thomas Eakins, The Swimming Hole (1884),
courtesy of the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.
The homosocial nature of nineteenth-century male relations is reflected in this painting, which shows a group of students swimming while their headmaster (Eakins) swims nearby.
 Thomas Eakins’s “Naked series”–old man, seven photographs (c. 1880),
courtesy of the Getty Museum.
The model in these photographs looks strikingly like Walt Whitman. Debate continues as to whether or not the image is indeed that of the poet “undisguised and naked.”
 Kenyon Cox, Columbia & Cuba–Magazine Cover–Nude Study (1898),
courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USZ62-68463].
An allegorical cover of an 1898 magazine, exemplifying the openness toward the human body of the late-nineteenth-century realists. The names of the women, “Columbia” and “Cuba,” refer to an imagined relationship between the nations during the Spanish American War.
 Eadweard Muybridge, Animal Locomotion (c. 1887),
courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-103037].
Muybridge’s innovative photographic techniques revolutionized the study of animal and human movement.
 Eadweard Muybridge, The Zoopraxiscope–A Couple Waltzing (c. 1893),
courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZC4-7690].
Known as “the father of the motion picture,” Muybridge invented the zoopraxiscope, which projected a moving image from still sequences, such as this couple dancing.
 Pendelton’s Lithography, Dr. Spurzheim–Divisions of the Organs of Phrenology Marked Externally (1834),
courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZC4-4556].
The pseudo-science of phrenology was revived in the late nineteenth century and was often used to provide a “factual” basis for racism.
 Anonymous, The Symbolical Head, Illustrating all the Phrenological Developments of the Human Head (1842),
courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-100747].
The late nineteenth century saw a renewed interest in phrenology, the study of facial features as indicators of qualities such as intelligence, creativity, and morality. Most late-nineteenth-century phrenological studies purported to prove that Caucasian features were superior.
Unit 3 Utopian Promise
Instructor Overview, Bibliography & Resources, Glossary and Learning Objectives for this Unit.