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Focus on the Everyday

After the trauma of the Civil War, patriotic myths rang hollow. Instead, American writers and artists began depicting the realities of everyday people, particularly in the nation's rapidly growing cities. This approach, termed "realism," empathetically portrayed the working class and poor.

Realism embraced hope, but naturalism-realism's darker cousin-represented American life as an inescapable struggle. Influenced by the new theory of evolution, which posited that outside forces determine species development, naturalism suggested that family background, social conditions, and environment shape human character. Descent into vice, poverty, or violence is a predetermined tragedy.