American Literature After Civil War


The period after the Civil War era is marked by the emergence of new streams in the American literature. The literary world witnessed considerable changes in cultural, social, and political terms in the end of the nineteenth century thus imposing a controversial vision on the status of post-war American writer. The rise of new literature movements and trends were triggered by the shift in technological progress of the United States. In particular, the after-Civil-war America saw the appearance of the newly established concept of realism being a king protest against sentimental mode of American fiction (Hook et al 7). Relying on this, American literature chose a new course of thinking under the influence of recent historic event; the literature itself has an enormous effect on social, cultural, and political life.

The status of American literature since Civil War

The American literature after the Civil War proclaimed itself as the literature of social protest and social reform where realism is the dominant approach in shaping the social views. Those considerable changes fostered the reevaluation of the American life and society since realism penetrated the literary arena. This innovated stream in the American literature influenced the peoples aesthetic vision on the future and reality. According to Hook et al. (8), “In the structuralist and post-structuralist criticism of today, realism is conventionally seen as the expressive mode most closely linked to the ideology of industrial capitalism”. The writers directed their creative work on the reflection of social and economic order of the second half of the nineteenth century.

The most influential writers of that period providing the policy of naturalism and realism considered themselves as the representatives of the conservative movement. They believed that national culture had been based on the dominated conservative views triggered by the democratic conditions. The writers and poets were like the “watchdogs” of the political and social situation in the country (Bercovitch et al. 98). Their goal was to disguise the veritable intensions of patricians and return the balance between the political and moral codes. Masters of words were reluctant to understand the public as an independent mind who does not require an excessive control. Their absolute vision of politicians as the enemies and major obstacles for members of society to enter the era of prosperity and welfare (Bercovitch et al. 98)

Rapid social and political tendencies that influenced the American literature

The affiliation to realistic tendencies was the manifestation of aesthetic withdrawal where the American writers tend to gain the appropriate reputation in society. Some writers, like Henry James, were extremely concerned with the place of literature at the market thus showing the importance of journals and magazines for the prosperity of the American literature. Considering this, in the beginning of the twentieth century, the American prose writing acquired the status of political and economic guide for humble people who lived beyond epicenter of politics. This period, hence, is marked by the rapid introduction of the periodicals and professional magazines where writers were re-qualified into the advertisers of their new conservative and realistic concept (Bercovitch and Patel 598). In general, the post-war era changed the outlook on the function of the American literature that was initially meant as the art guards of writing. After the Civil War the world witnessed the rise of commercial literature deciding to take the responsibility for the future of American society.

Realism and Naturalism streams in the Post-War era

The development of naturalism and realism in the literary realm was a method to adapt to the drastic changes occurred in the post-war society. It was the manifestation of veritable democracy where the American writers attached to meaning and the importance of commonplace. They were sure that the main purpose of both prose and poetry was “to meet in a rapidly changing society, its social and moral consequences, the political consequences it engendered” (Gray 282). The main slogan of that period was: “The art must become democratic” that is available even to the lowest lawyers of society (Gray 282). The main peculiarity of period of the American literature development lies in the fact that it parallels from the personal to the political, from emotional to the social. Literary world presented the reader with moral decline at all social layers (Gray 283). Considering the appropriateness of genres used by the writers and poets, “there is no finer piece of social comedy in the novel, in fact, and no clearer index of the shaky position of the newly rich in an older society in American literature than the description of a dinner party held at the house of one high-class family” (Gray 284). As it could viewed, the post-civil representatives of literary realism proclaimed their moral indignation thus addressing the high-classes to confess. They advocate the absolute moralism and social equality.


Based on the above, it should be stressed that the Civil War brought considerable changes to the people’s political, social, and cultural outlook on the post-war America. The American writers managed to reveal the truth about the patrician society striving to govern the country and preserving the privileges they possess earlier. In addition, this period presented the readers with great literary works that help to perceive the historical conditions of that time.

Works Cited

Bercovitch, Sacvan and Jehlen, Myra. Ideology and classic American Literature. US: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Bercovitch, Sacvan and Patel, Cyrus R. K. The Cambridge History of American Literature: Prose Writing, 1860-1920. US: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Gray, Richard. A history of American literature. US: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004.

Hook, Andrew, and Goldman, Arnold American Literature in context, US: Taylor & Francis, 1983.