Hideous Rites and Questionable Shapes: Non-Realist Elements in American Literary Realism


Josh MarrFollow

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Student Presentation

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Tara Penry


American Literary Realism (1860-1910), in addition to being a widely-influential genre, is also a form of discourse that attempts to 1) posit the existence of a stable, coherent reality, 2) suggest a proper or appropriate way of “reading” or interpreting this reality, and 3) dismiss other forms of interpreting the Real, i.e. sentimentalism, romanticism, etc. In this way Realism constructs a hierarchical binary: The Real vs. The Non-Real. However, within several realist texts, there are a number of points of departure from this insistence on the real and nothing but the real: mentions of hauntings and demonic possession in The Rise of Silas Lapham, the character of the pagan Christ-child in “The Luck of Roaring Camp”, the dead as plot-device in “Rodman the Keeper”, etc. Why, in texts so committed to the ideology of Realism, do some authors allow these intrusions? What is the meaning of the use of nonrealistic metaphors to describe the real in these narratives? This paper argues that non-real elements in realist narratives represents an anxiety on behalf of the author(s) that results from the sheer impossibility of the realist technique, an anxiety that arises from concerns over class, gender, and religion.

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