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Realism and Romanticism American Literature

American literature between 1860 and 1912 demonstrated a tension between realism and romanticism that reflected profound changes occurring in the nation's industry and lifestyle. While romanticism was still popular, and romantic novels abounded, industrialization was producing new ways of working and living that were harder than before. Issues of the heart as evidenced in novels such as Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter or Whitman's Leaves of Grass were being shunted aside by harsher realities of rough wilderness living, factory work, and urban slums such as Sinclair's The Jungle and William Dean Howells' The Rise of Silas Lapham. With romantic literature expressing the yearnings of the human heart and realistic literature describing man's environment and the gritty problems of modern life, there was an inevitable tension between the two literary perspectives.

Part of this tension was due to the fact that both the romantic and the realistic perspectives were integral and vital to the important issues of life. The adultery issue brought up in The Scarlet Letter was one that many people faced as their moral and religious values conflicted with their personal desires and opportunity to do wrong. At the same time, everyone had to do what was necessary to survive, whether that be crossing the American West in a covered wagon, panning for gold in the California Gold Rush, or toiling in a hot, airless factory in an urban environment. While people had to work to survive, they were not immune from the same romantic ideals and possibilities that the romantic writers had written about. Thus, the struggle to live conflicted with the desire to live a life with meaning in it.

Another part of this tension was due to a need and a desire to know the truth about reality as a means of overcoming challenges and the opposing desire to be at least temporarily relieved of those heavy burdens. Romantic writers created a wo


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Realism and Romanticism American Literature . (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 21:08, May 27, 2020, from