How might one define the literary movements in American literature of the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Some main “movements” in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American literature (and their typical traits) include the following:



  • accurate depiction of life as it really is
  • rejection of idealization and/or romanticism
  • rejection of heavy emphasis on the imagination
  • focus on the mundane, the ordinary
  • unemotional depiction of everyday events
  • rejection of artificiality
  • focus on the lives of the lower and middle classes
  • emphasis on objectivity rather than subjectivity
  • emphasis on language and dialogue close to that of everyday speech
  • WRITERS OFTEN ASSOCIATED WITH REALISM: Ambrose Bierce, Hamlin Garland, Edith Wharton, et al.



  • focus on external appearances of objects depicted
  • even more detailed, less selective presentation of facts than in realism
  • absence of moral evaluation of characters
  • emphasis on the physical traits of characters as helping determine their fates
  • emphasis on determination rather than free will
  • emphasis on heredity, environment, instincts, and social and economic pressures
  • emphasis on fairly simple, even simplistic characters
  • WRITERS OFTEN ASSOCIATED WITH NATURALISM:  Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Jack London, et al.



  • emphasis on the particular traits, of behavior and speech, of specific regions, such as the South, New England, or the Far West
  • WRITERS OFTEN ASSOCIATED WITH THE LOCAL COLOR MOVEMENT: Bret Harte, Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary Wilkins Freeman, George Washington Cable, Kate Chopin, et al.



  • rejection of romanticism
  • rejection of sentimentality
  • emphasis on experimentation in style and form
  • emphasis on individualism
  • break with traditional and popular forms of literature
  • disillusionment with traditional society and middle-class values
  • WRITERS OFTEN ASSOCIATED WITH MODERNISM: T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Hart Crane, et al.


for more information, see, for instance, Mirriam Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature


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