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

8. Regional

•  Unit Overview
- Instructor
- Bibliography
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- Glossary
- Learning
•  Using the Video
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Unit Overview: Glossary

Boston marriage - The nineteenth-century term used to describe two women who shared a household in a marriagelike arrangement. Women involved in "Boston marriages" lived independently of men and drew emotional and material support from one another. It is not clear whether all or most "Boston marriages" involved sexual relationships--some probably did and others probably did not. In any case, couples like Sarah Orne Jewett and Annie Fields certainly found important companionship and support in their intense bond with one another.

coup counting - A common Native American practice of making 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.

dialect - A unique, regional variant of a language in which pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary diverge from standard conventions. Many regionalist writers became accomplished at transcribing the authentic rhythms and idioms of local dialect in their efforts to make their characters' dialogue mimic as closely as possible the way people really talked. Literalized, phonetic spellings forced readers to pronounce words as speakers of a regional dialect would pronounce them.

Ghost Dance - A Native American response to Euro-American encroachments on their land and way of life. A powerful apocalyptic vision of the overthrow of white domination and a return to traditional Native American ways, the Ghost Dance sparked a pan-Indian, intertribal movement that frightened white authorities with its intensity. Started by the Paiute prophet Wovoka, who believed himself to be a Messianic figure, the Ghost Dance involved adopting traditional clothing and customs, singing and chanting traditional songs, and participating in a trance-inducing round dance designed to inspire dead Indian ancestors to return and reclaim their land. The movement ended tragically when white authorities killed 150 Sioux men, women, and children at Wounded Knee for their involvement in the Ghost Dance religion.

parlor - In nineteenth-century homes, parlors were formal rooms set aside for social ceremonies such as receiving guests or hosting tea parties. Many Americans believed that parlors enabled them to enjoy the refinement and comfort of respectable family living. Designed for display, the parlor was generally the "best room" in the house and usually contained furnishings and knick-knacks that cost more than the objects in the house that were intended for everyday use.

pictographic narrative - Symbols, totems, and emblems which can convey expressions of personal and group identity as well as spiritual or military experiences. In some Native American 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.

realism - A new commitment to the truthful, accurate representation of American life as it was experienced by ordinary Americans infused literature with a "realist" aesthetic 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 never before seemed appropriate subject matter for literature.

regionalism - An expression of the realist aesthetic, regionalism emphasized the particularities of geographic settings, evoking the distinctive customs, speech, and culture of specific regions of the United States. This attention to the peculiarities of place flourished after the Civil War, perhaps as a celebration of the new unification of a country long divided by political, racial, and religious differences. Regional realism may also have developed in response to the rapid post war industrialization and homogenization that was destroying older, traditional ways of life. By chronicling the specific details of regional culture, regional realism preserved a record of ways of life and habits of speech that were suddenly in danger of disappearing as a result of the newspapers, railroads, and mass-produced consumer goods that were standardizing American culture and taste.

syllabary - First developed by Sequoyah for the Cherokee language, syllabaries were written scripts that included characters for the vowel and consonant sounds of individual Native American languages. Syllabaries enabled some Native Americans to write in their own languages.

trickster - Usually depicted as an animal, the "trickster" is a recurring figure in human cultures. Characterized by paradox, duality, cleverness, shape-shifting, duplicity, and a knack for survival, trickster figures seem to be universally appealing in their ability to assert their individuality and shatter boundaries and taboos. From traditional African American folktales about Brer Rabbit, Brer Tortoise, and the Signifying Monkey to Native American fables about Coyote, Raven, and Iktomi the Spider, trickster tales have served as powerful cultural expressions of ethnic identity.

yellow journalism - A term coined in the 1890s to describe the sensationalist, irresponsible journalistic tactics the papers adopted in their attempts to outsell one another. Such tactics included reporting false or embellished stories, reporting only one side of a controversy, and using visual novelties such as banner headlines and color inserts to attract readers.

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