Maggie: A Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane
Maggie: A Girl of the Streets
by Stephen Crane

The American Realism cultural movement began to catch on after the American Civil War and was a reaction to, and rejection of, Romanticism.  Driven by the desire to depict the enormous industrial, economic, social and cultural changes taking place in the United States during the early years of the 20th century period, artists, writers and musicians exchanged fantasy for reality.  Readers were presented with a host of literature that detailed everyday life in America, including some of its harshest aspects.

Authors influenced by this movement were still dedicated to the art of creative fiction but their writing concerned everyday situations that almost anyone could relate to.

For example, Stephen Crane’s 1893 novel Maggie: A Girl of the Streets is a prime example as it depicts the struggles of a poor, uneducated young girl with alcoholic parents and a disloyal love interest.  The stark subject matter is a far cry from the characters and scenarios of Sense and Sensibility and the other English romantic works.

Mark Twain provides another example of American Realism in the dialogue used by his characters.  Twain was one of the first popular American writers to use colloquial American speech, slang and all, in his writing rather than rely on the same flowery prose of his English counterparts.  By having characters speak the same language as the common American, Twain became the most famous American writer of his era.

The other big names who can be classified as American Realists are Upton Sinclair, Frank Norris, Horatio Alger Jr. and Theodore Dreiser. Edward Hopper is perhaps the best known of the artists whose work also fell into this cultural movement. American Realism by Edward Lucie-Smith offers an excellent perspective on the art from that period featuring more than 250 illustrations.

 

A Selection of American Realism Literature

The Rise of Silas Lapham by William Dean Howells
The Rise of Silas Lapham
by William Dean Howells
The Gilded Age, A Tale of Today by Charles Dudley Warner and Mark Twain
The Gilded Age, A Tale of Today
by Charles Dudley Warner and Mark Twain
The Octopus by Frank Norris
The Octopus
by Frank Norris
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
Sister Carrie
by Theodore Dreiser
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
The Jungle
by Upton Sinclair
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
The House of Mirth
by Edith Wharton
Looking Backward 2000-1887 by Edward Bellamy
Looking Backward 2000-1887
by Edward Bellamy
Barren Ground by Ellen Glasgow
Barren Ground
by Ellen Glasgow
The U.S.A. Trilogy by John Dos Passos
The U.S.A. Trilogy
by John Dos Passos
Native Son by Richard Wright
Native Son
by Richard Wright
Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron
Lie Down in Darkness
by William Styron
The Man with the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren
The Man with the Golden Arm
by Nelson Algren
Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
Winesburg, Ohio
by Sherwood Anderson
The Dollmaker by Harriette Arnow
The Dollmaker
by Harriette Arnow
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The Awakening
by Kate Chopin
The Damnation of Theron Ware by Harold Frederic
The Damnation of Theron Ware
by Harold Frederic
The Sport of the Gods by Paul Laurence Dunbar
The Sport of the Gods
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
The Hoosier Schoolmaster by Edward Eggleston
The Hoosier Schoolmaster
by Edward Eggleston
McTeague by Frank Norris
McTeague
by Frank Norris
A Hazard of New Fortunes by William Dean Howell
A Hazard of New Fortunes
by William Dean Howell

What's your favourite American Realism novel?


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