The study of Realism is one of my favorite literary periods in American Literature. Students have an opportunity to understand the consequences of seismic events that took place in the late 1800s and the early 20th century.
Without question, the Civil War breached our idea of what America was all about when we practically tore ourselves apart about issues of slavery and state rights.
Some still debate the causes but agree that out of our bloodiest war, we would be, as President Lincoln described, “dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”
Abraham Lincoln’s memorable “Gettysburg Address” in 1863 still speaks to us about the importance of remembering the sacrifice and service of our fellow man.
Combine the Civil War with Darwin’s publication of “The Origin of Species” in 1859 and Sigmund Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams” in 1900, and some in our country began to take on a mindset not entirely based on the self-evident truths, equal creation and inalienable rights that our “Declaration of Independence” prescribed and fought to achieve.
The Realist mindset was to explore the thoughts, feelings and experiences of the people being written about. If you think Facebook is a revolutionary idea, I have some news for you: Except for the delivery of information, the Realists were “posting” their thoughts and feelings long before the Internet was ever conceived.
Granted, communication is easier and more saturated today, but the idea of sharing thoughts and feelings about what’s happening in our lives was a strong tradition made popular by the Realist writers.
Today, the way people are thinking and feeling is as accessible as paper and pencil were in the late 1800s. Students are much more aware of the world around them than ever before and have access to the thoughts and feelings of people who they might not even know or care about.
The Realists would tell us to find a way to wade through the muck and mire and be determined to understand our world as it exists today and make the best of it because it’s … reality!