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Realism in History of American Literature

First, one must know the terms were used interchangeably in the history of American Literature. Realism depicted contemporary social realities in the lives and everyday activities of ordinary people to emphasize the reality and morality of the individual as well as the society as a whole. Naturalism refers to a type of literature that “attempts to apply scientific principles of objectivity and detachment to its study of human beings.” Stories written in this manner were based on the idea that environment determines and governs human character.


In Desiree’s Baby the husband & father, Armand, insinuated she was not white after giving birth to a child’s whose color was darkening by the day. In those times where class and racial prejudice pervaded the Antebellum south Desiree became so distraught at the thought of not being white, delivering a mulatto child, walked off with child into the swamps. This was not an uncommon problem, but such a drastic decision was made based on how others would behave toward her, especially the coldness of her beloved husband, her everything.

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Armand believed she’d brought shame on his name and his family.

In Battle Royal on his deathbed the grandfather calls out to his son, “Son, after I’m gone I want you to keep up the good fight. I never told you, but our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy’s country ever since I give up my gun back in the Reconstruction.

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Live with your head in the lion’s mouth. I want you to overcome ’em with yeses, undermine ’em with grins, agree ’em to death and destruction, let ’em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open.” They thought the old man had gone out of his mind. He had been the meekest of men. The younger children were rushed from the room, the shades drawn and the flame of the lamp turned so low that it sputtered on the wick like the old man’s breathing. “Learn it to the younguns,” he whispered fiercely; then he died. But my folks were more alarmed over his last words than over his dying. It was as though he had not died at all, his words caused so much anxiety. I was warned emphatically to forget what he had said· In a time where racial prejudice permeated throughout society this declaration absolutely horrified the adults that overheard him and the implications of his words. He wasn’t telling his child to be agreeable. He was telling him to kill them with kindness, stay right in their face and use those that would use you until they’ve served their purpose. The idea of not going along to get along, but going along to get ahead was foreign to the ears of those who still had the boot of The South on their neck. Battle Royal is a clear look into the reality of entertainment at a time in history where equality was not given, and black people were used to poke fun at and even injure in this case. This is pure realism in raw form·


“If I am going to lose my life to the sea if I am going to lose my life to the sea why was I allowed to come this far and see sand and trees?” In The Open Boat the captain repeats this phrase many times. He was so overtaken by the idea that he’d survived all he had to see land and not be able to reach it. He struggled with the idea that perseverance didn’t matter because the sea was in control. They all maintained their good spirits until the environment seemed drain their last vestiges with the sight of land and people. So close, but very far·

In A Rose for Emily a woman killed her lover. Emily was mentally ill and forced to lead an isolated life. Isolation leads to insanity. The environment in which she lived had the modality to conform to class structures based on slavery and social inequality. Mental illness being hereditary not environmental made Emily’s stories a great example of naturalism.

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Realism in History of American Literature. (2019, Nov 24). Retrieved from

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