Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes

Local Color /


thanks to

Local color or Regionalism = sub-genre or movement of the larger American literary movement of Realism, flourishing in the late 1800s yet surviving even now.

Local Color or Regionalism as a literary movement, late 1800s-early 1900s

Major American authors: Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909), Mark Twain (1835-1910), Mary E. Wilkins Freeman (1852-1930), Kate Chopin (1851-1904), Bret Harte (1836-1902), George Washington Cable (1844-1925), Charles W. Chesnutt (1858-1932), Willa Cather (1873-1947)

European antecedents: possibly Ivan Turgenev (Russia and France, 1818-83) (The Hunting Sketches, 1847-1851), but, as a "local" tradition, the movement's influences are open to question.

Later writers in this tradition: Zona Gale (1874-1938), William Faulkner (1897-1962), Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964), Eudora Welty (1909-2001), Marjorie Rawlings (1896-1953), Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980)

Stylistic tendencies:

  • short story or sketch is dominant genre

  • legends or folk tales

  • stories often "framed" by a cosmopolitan narrator who gives over to a local-dialect narrator

Realistic elements:

  • accurate rendering of local dialects

  • detailed descriptions of local landscapes and social mores

  • depiction of historical change often via modernization and industrialization

Romantic survivals:

Broadly, style may be Realistic, but with Romantic content.

Because Local Color works in such tight spaces, Romantic and Realistic distinctions blur and overlap, raising many questions about such categories.

This confused outcome may not falsify our terminology but only expose its limits.

Terms like Romanticism and Realism are convenient tools for answering other questions, shorthand for assumed or accepted knowledge that allow us to ask more questions.

For instance, do classification problems undermine Local Color's currency and popularity in curricula and scholarship?

Discussion question: Local Color writing is often attractive and appealing to readers but overlooked as a major movement. Why is it attractive but critically neglected?

Short story as dominant genre less prestigious than novel, poetry, drama? (Critical prestige given to "big books" may create prejudice against short-story writers. Contemporary publishing still produces novels, but decreasing popular outlets for short stories > academic presses.)

Too many styles or genres competing for attention > muddle of Romanticism, Realism, sentimental and domestic literature?

Local color "localized" in appeal—If you're from Texas, how much Local Color do you want from New England, or vice versa?

Characters as briefly-developed folk types, average people stuck in local lifestyle—can students identify?

Since Local Color concentrates on a particular time and place, can it be dismissed as irrelevant nostalgia that no one misses anymore?

Overshadowed by subsequent Modernism, whose literature pretends to grander scales and heroic experimentation.


Problem of dialect:

dialect ages rapidly—creative writers today are advised not to use it but to indicate class or background through content, references, etc.

politically incorrect?


Upsides to Local Color:

easy-to-teach genre and period styles; short story as manageable length for single-class meeting

dialect may represent and conserve vanishing styles of speech--anthropological or linguistic uses?

wholesomeness of rural domesticity? Nostalgia for lost America?