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.