American Literature Literary Realism

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Steeped in the intellectual environment of the period and drawing upon many of the same sources as the new or revitalized disciplines, realists brought to literature the same concern for the mapping of society and its behavioral rules and the same method of observing the concrete rather than replicating the abstract. American realists argued that the truthful treatment of material meant picturing men and women as they were, not as the writer wished they were (Harmon and Holman 68). Unlike sociology, philosophy, or political science, the realist novel had no need to compartmentalize knowledge along disciplinary lines. The novel was a popular form and not the province of specialists. Its practitioners were not striving to establish their scientific credentials or attach themselves to the academy, and its consumers did not require extraordinary or special training (Bressler 55).
American authors undertook a series of new fictions that declared a departure from the literature that they believed had become so rarefied and study-bound that it simply trotted out archetypes and caricatures for inspection and acclaim. Honing its representational techniques and developing its theoretical justifications, realism matured during the 1880s. Although the simultaneous appearance of Howells, Twain, and James may be reckoned as the literary high point of classical American realism, the movement possessed both vitality and diversity. Realist narrators were generally disembodied, coherent sources of the novel that traversed the entire range of activities they related (McMichael 71). Occupying a privileged position by virtue of this omniscience, only some of which was revealed to the reader, the realist narrator was able to present the narrative as a fluid, proportioned whole. Descending into the consciousness of characters and withdrawing to a vantage point without, realist narration aspired to as much coverage as possible while preserving the fundamental goal of naturalness.