Realism Literature and Mark Twain

by Harrison Pennybaker

The realist literary tradition in the United States started in the 19th century and lasted for about one hundred years, with other realist traditions emerging throughout the world at different periods. Realist authors explored some of the everyday aspects of life, presenting the world "as it was." Mark Twain wrote during the period in which realist literature flourished, and is considered to be a realist author.

Realism in Art

As a broader movement in the arts, realism referred to an attempt to depict the world in a natural and representative manner, rather than in a romanticized or abstract way. Realism brings the world to the forefront in its work -- whether in literature, architecture or fine arts. Realists believed that the world could be discovered and understood through use of the senses, and that true reality, itself, could be presented in this way.

Realism in Literature

In literature, the realist movement sought to depict and explore the mundane world in a direct way. In the United States, the realist period flourished from the time of the beginning of the Civil War until just after the turn of the century. Several key authors led the realist movement in the United States, including Mark Twain, William Dean Howells and Henry James. These authors demonstrated what American life was like during the period, although they did so from different perspectives and in different contexts.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain was born with the name Samuel Langhorne Clemens in November 1835 and lived until April of 1910. As a writer in the United States, Twain was best known for both his humorism and his serious depiction of American life in the 19th century. Twain was raised in the American South, growing up in Missouri. His life in the South had a major impact on his writing, both in the geographical locations he depicted and the social contexts he explored in his work.

Twain's Realist Works

Twain is best known for two of his works: "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," which he wrote in 1876, and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," from 1885. These works explored life in the American South of the late-19th century, and especially focused on race relations between white and black Americans. Twain's use of language and his depiction of the social context of the time are raw -- and he does not shy away in his work from depicting the social state as he saw it.