Test 1 Essay
Humanity in Literature
Regionalism allowed writers to focus more on what they knew – the areas in which they participated and were able to observe. It was a style that emphasized local dialects and characteristics, also called "local color." Realism combined the idea of regionalism with southwestern humor, which came from the tradition of oral story telling. Realism, as the name suggests, focused on the more rational, realistic views in stories. These stories allowed people from all over the country to get a taste of other areas. The stories also appealed to broad audiences, not only because of their cultural richness, but because of the human qualities within them.
One way to appeal to a wide audience is to utilize themes or situations which possibly occur to others, especially with the use of humor. "The Goophered Grapevine" deals more with southwestern humor than did "The Outcasts of Poker Flat." It involves a situation which is quite common even today, that of the story-teller. In the story, a couple wishing to buy a house met a man who tried to dissuade them from the purchase because it was cursed (Chesnutt, 782-789). As it turned out, that man "had occupied a cabin on the place for many years, and derived a respectable revenue from the neglected grapevines," and that was probably why he told the story. According to Mark Twain in "How to Tell a Story", such stories are more humorous and appealing (Twain, 409-410). The story itself uses local dialect, which, although hard to read, gives the reader the feeling of the experience itself and a better idea of what it would actually sound like to hear the story first-hand.
Human qualities and emotions, such as forgiveness, fear, sorrow, greed, and regret are all qualities with which most readers can associate some part of their lives. The "redemption formula," the idea that no matter what a character has done in the past, he may still redeem himself, is displayed in Bret Harte's "The Outcasts of Poker Flat". This formula shows that not every character is just good or just bad. They have many sides, just like the readers, and this allows readers to even further identify with those characters. In the story, several shady outcasts are expelled from a western town and wind up stranded in a snowstorm in the mountains (Harte, 428-435). The outcasts, minus one drunken old man, redeem themselves in small ways that show sides of their personalities that were not at all implied by their status or descriptions. Mr. Oakhurst, the gambler, "could not bring himself to disclose Uncle Billy's rascality" after Uncle Billy had stolen the mules and left them stranded, and he took on most of the night watch to relieve "The Innocent" (Harte, 432-433). He also attempted to save them by making snow-shoes and sending "The Innocent" to find help and by piling wood by the hut for the fire (Harte, 434). Mother Shipton, ill-tempered and rude, starved because she saved her rations for the rest of the group (Harte, 434). The Duchess, a "woman of ill-repute" redeemed herself by bonding with the "younger and purer" woman (Harte, 434). Although the story ultimately ended in death, it portrayed the characters in a light that simply showed that people all have the same basic qualities, even if they are not what society hoped they would be.
Human emotions that are also quite prevalent are those of oppression and helplessness. The main character of Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" transgresses into madness because of her inability to control her own life (Gilman, 832-844). The story addresses a problem that was quite common among women at that time, which probably appealed to a wider audience, although mostly women. Her transgression is a gradual one which she tries to fight and explain away, and the path to her madness can be clearly followed. In this way, the story creates reason despite its conclusion, and readers appreciate such realistic form in writing. It is easy to understand and easy to relate to.
Another story that deals with helplessness is Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." His nameless main character is dealing on a more direct and obvious level because he is being hanged. The main character of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" experiences something to which most people can not relate – the hanging – but the hope and belief that he will survive and escape is something that readers can cling to while it lasts, just as the main character did. Hope is a human characteristic that never seems to die, and the readers themselves feel with the characters in realistic settings. "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" uses, to a lesser extent, the redemption formula, as well. Although the reader does not know the extent of the crime which the character committed, he redeems himself with the hope and the reality that he has a family which he loves, an idea that plays out in many stories, although few which are listed here. "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" also shows the prominence of hope in situations where hope seems useless. Human dignity prevails in these stories. Readers are partial to those characters whose actions reflect that "human dignity" when times become hard. Those characters do not lose faith in their situation, and even if they do, they continue to conduct themselves in a becoming manner, i.e. they do not degrade themselves or completely fall apart. Just as in real life, the reader would get annoyed with an irrational character.
Through such methods, authors have successfully appealed to audiences not just in the regions where the stories originated, but all around the country. The key to their success seems to be familiarity. They utilize those emotions or ideas which all people have in common while still either bringing in new ideas, new situations, or different methods of expressing them. Giving a character a realistic form that has these ideas and emotions connects the reader to the character, no matter what situation that character is in. In this way, the realistic, regionalist style became popular.
Bierce, Ambrose. "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." The Norton Anthology
of American Literature, Volume C. Sixth Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. 452-459.
Chestnutt, Charles W. "The Goopherd Grapevine." The Norton Anthology of American
Literature, Volume C. Sixth Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. 782-789.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wallpaper." The Norton Anthology of
American Literature, Volume C. Sixth Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. 832-844.
Harte, Bret. "The Outcasts of Poker Flat." ." The Norton Anthology
of American Literature, Volume C. Sixth Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. 428-435.
Twain, Mark. "How to Tell a Story" ." The Norton Anthology of American Literature,
Volume C. Sixth Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. 408-411.