Why did Twain use realism?

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price7781 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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When Twain wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a book Ernest Hemingway would later call the "grandfather" of American literature, Twain was writing about the American experience.  One of Twain's first jobs as a writer was to travel out West to record the experiences and events of the huge migration there.  He wrote articles for newspapers in the East and for Americans who wanted to know about the excitement of settling untamed wilderness.  These stories often included a look at the miners during the Gold Rush, small towns that sprang up out of nowhere, and the humorous, often uneducated settlers who held frog jumping contests.

Let's remember some of the elements of Realism:

  • First person narrator; the narrator often controls his own destiny although elements like laws and society get in his way.  The development of the character is more important than plot.
  • Language (vernacular), slang of the everyday person; regional dialects
  • Truthfulness of events; reality of what's going on
  • Satiric criticism; poking fun at people, government, and institutions.

Mark Twain was a master of Realism during The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  He used an impressionable 13-year-old to make the trip down the Mississippi River with Jim, a runaway slave.  Huck was his own person (for a while the reader would wonder if Huck would make it to that point) and would "light out" when society became too restrictive.  Twain also painstakingly used the regional dialect of Missouri and Arkansas as Huck floated into new territories. Twain was also able to effectively recreate the black dialect of Jim and other slaves.  Huck was a true American character, and Twain used Huck as an example of the "rugged individualist" who created his own destiny and values.  In the end, Huck is not influenced by society but strikes off on his own even if he will "go to hell" to get away from the pressures society places on him.  Finally, Twain used the novel to express his views about people and institutions.  Twain used satire to ridicule the ignorant hillbillies or the South, the institution of slavery, tradition (Shepherdsons and Grangerfords), and religion (King and Duke).  Using satire, he was able to express his opinions on issues of the time and reach more readers.

The examples of how the novel is an example of Realism are endless.  Twain expressed realistically the American experience of the 1840s.

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