Dialects in American Literature In the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries dialect was not common in American Literature. Writers who attempted to accurately capture American dialect and slang often failed to make it believable. In my essay, "Dialects in American Literature," I will compare and contrast three writers who used dialect in their writings and explain the difference between effective and ineffective use of dialect. The writers I will be discussing are Mark Twain, Bret Harte, and William Dean Howells. The use of dialect in American literature comes from using a combination of realism and regionalism.
According to dictionary. com "realism is an inclination toward literal truth and pragmatism and regionalism is the use of regional characteristics, as of locale, custom, or speech, in literature or art." Regionalism includes local language, which is often expressed by using dialect. Three examples of accurately capturing regionalism are: Bret Harte's "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" (1869), Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (1884-1885), and William Dean Howells "A Hazard of New Fortunes" (1890). The Biography of Bret Harte states that he was born in Albany New York on August 25, 1839. In 1854, his mother, a widow, moved him to California.
In California Harte worked as a miner, school teacher, express messenger, printer, and journalist. While Harte was in San Francisco writing for "The Californian" he worked with Mark Twain, Charles Warren Stoddard, Prentice Mulford and the editor, Henry Webb. He contributed many poems and prose pieces to the paper. Bret Harte was appointed Secretary of the United States Branch Mint at San Francisco in 1864. He held that office until 1870. Harte then became the first editor of the "Overland Monthly." 'The Luck of Roaring Camp' published in the "Overland Monthly" brought him instant and wide fame.
He was thereafter requested to contribute poems and articles to a number of publications. His stories of the American West were much in demand in the eastern United States. In 1871 he moved to New York. He later moved to Boston. "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" was first published in an issue of the Overland Monthly magazine in January, 1869. Bret Harte was also the editor of Overland Monthly magazine at the time of the stories debut.
The story was a successful follow-up to "The Luck of Roaring Camp," which was written in August, 1868. In "The Outcasts of Poker Flat," a group of inappropriate people are thrown out of a small western town. What I mean by "inappropriate," is that they were not liked by the local citizens. They were considered outcasts. The outcast characters were, 'Duchess," also known as 'Mother Shipton,' and 'Uncle Billy,' a suspected sluice-robber and confirmed drunkard. The other character in the story is Mr.
John Oakhurst, a gambler. Bret Harte establishes regionalism through description of his characters and also the dialogue that he gives his characters. For example, Uncle Billy says 'Is this yer a d -- -d picnic?' 'With inward scorn, as he surveyed the sylvan group, the glancing firelight, and the tethered animals in the foreground hurst returns to the group he speaks in a particular dialect.' This dialogue Hate uses is a great example of capturing dialect that is local to time and place. The dialect portrays the way people actually talked. The story takes original characters and places them in a typical western situation.
Harte uses regionalism through dialect to successfully portray his characters the way they actually are. I enjoyed reading "The Outcasts of Poker Flat," and truly believe that the use of dialect successfully portrayed the people of the time. According to Edward O'Brien in an essay written in 1923 about the advance of the American short story, "Harte is far from being the greatest of American story writers, but he is probably the most representative of the characteristic qualities and weaknesses, and historically he may have been our most influential man." Mark Twain uses a different approach to capture regionalism through his writing in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." The direct use of dialect throughout 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' is extremely effective. It sure kept my attention when reading the long but interesting story.
The different dialects really add color and depth to his story. The two things I liked the most about Twain's use of dialects were his ability to give the characters a personality, and his ability to carefully tell about the conditions in which the character grew up. The biography of Samuel Clemens, alias Mark Twain states, that Mark Twain is an American icon whose razor-sharp wit and inimitable genius have entertained countless readers for more than a century. His many publications include such gallant childhood essentials as "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn," 'along with many dozens of other works ranging from airy magazine columns to focused, biting anti-imperialist satire.' He was born in Hannibal, Missouri in 1835. The Clemens family consisted of two brothers, a sister, and the family-owned slave, Jenny, whose vivid storytelling was a formative influence on the young Sam.
As he was growing up, his parents explained their perspective on the nature of things in the established South, about the slave-owning tradition, and about 'rough western justice. Reflections of this pre-war southern upbringing are found in many of Twain's writings, and although his images are quite idyllic, one cannot ignore the constant historical reminders of some of America's more unacceptable social realities. Sam Clemens first discovered his literary talents through an apprenticeship at a local printing shop. He was exposed to countless books and became an avid reader. For him, a career in journalism was more than natural, but it wasn't until the marriage of his sister that Sam was inspired to real action. Bound by train, he left Hannibal for New York City.
Shortly thereafter he found himself in Philadelphia, working in the publishing and journalism fields. In "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," Twain first develops Huck's speech pattern as a ten year old boy. Huck's personality can be pictured through his choice of words. He was slightly educated, but he still had a rough manner of speech.
While his speech was improper he tried to think about the words to use, he was sincere, and he really spoke what he thought. His honesty and openness would have been impossible to reveal if he had spoken in a clear and concise language. Twain uses dialect to show the distinction between different social classes. Judge Thatcher's speech pattern is one of superior language with no grammatical errors, which makes him seem more respected and well educated. On the other hand pap Finn's speech with his disregard for grammar and a disliking to the thought of any kind of 'education' causes him to sink deeper and deeper in the ranks of society. Another example of showing difference in social status through dialect is that of Huck and Pap.
Although Huck was raised by Pap and adopted some of his father's morals, he attended formal schooling and began to speak properly. This in turn gave Huck a higher speech level, which elevated his social status as compared to Pap's. Twain's dialect was also used to portray the two main characters in a remarkable fashion. We have a poor black slave "Jim" who sometimes seems to be speaking an entirely different language and we have a poor white boy "Huck" whose abusive father and recent poverty has resulted in the lack of being able to attend school to receive a better education.
Twain also uses dialect to contribute to the underlying themes in the story. The main themes that are constantly battling are freedom and constraint. Twain uses Huck's dialect and his easy openness with the reader to portray freedom. By telling the entire story in Huck's dialect, Twain is able to make the reader feel the freedom of being on the raft in the river.
I could really tell when Huck was feeling constrained or held down, his speech and spellings changed, such as the word '' which is used many times by Huck in reference to things he doesn't like. If Twain had written the entire book in proper grammatical form, it just wouldn't have been the same reading experience for me. The use of dialect in 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,' is very effective in accomplishing what Twain intended. It also provides an overall pleasant tone in the story and makes the reader better able to comprehend what Huck, as a young boy, was going through and dealing with at the time. In William Dean Howells, "A Hazard of New Fortunes," he uses dialect to capture the American way of life.
According to Rachel G. Wall, in an abstract writing about Dialect and Subtle Characterization in "A Hazard of New Fortunes" ' Dialect plays a major large role in William Dean Howell's 'A Hazard of New Fortunes,' but that should be no surprise since Howells believed that dialect was essential for making literature a slice of life.' The biography of William Dean Howells, states that William Dean Howells, author, editor, and critic, was born on March 1, 1837 in Martinsville, now Martin's Ferry, Ohio, the second son of eight children born to Mary Dean Howells and William Cooper Howells, a printer and publisher. As the family moved from town to town, including a year-long residence at a utopian commune in Eureka Mills, later described in his New Leaf Mills (1913), Howells worked as a typesetter and a printer's apprentice, educating himself through intensive reading and the study of Spanish, French, Latin, and German. After a term as city editor of the Ohio State Journal in 1858, Howells published poems, stories, and reviews in the Atlantic Monthly and other magazines. A longer work, his campaign biography for Abraham Lincoln, earned him enough money to travel to New England and meet the great literary figures of the day-Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, James Russell Lowell, and Walt Whitman among them. He was awarded the post of U.
S. Consul to Venice in 1861 for his service to the Lincoln campaign. Howells lived in Italy for nearly four years. During his residence there, he married Elinor Mead Howells in 1862, and by 1872 the couple had three children.
"A Hazard of New Fortunes includes characters who speak a thick Southern accent, a very pronounced slang, and a Northern accent. Most importantly, Howells includes the German, Lindau, who speaks broken English. The sections of Lindau's speech best illustrate Howells' theme that people are equal, no matter how they speak. Furthermore, Lindau's speech and actions for the good of society clearly exceed those of other characters in the novel, through dialect Howells makes his most progressive statements in the novel." In this paper I have discussed three works of literature and their author's use of dialect to capture their audience by portraying characters the way they would really talk through the eyes and ears of the writer. The three authors I discussed effectively used dialect in such a manner to make it believable to readers around the world. Although, many writers today ineffectively use dialect due to the lack of accurately capturing human culture through language, Bret Harte, Mark Twain, and William Dean Howells are in my opinion the best at using dialect to portray different situations and culture throughout America.
Works Sited Campbell Donna M. "Biography of William Dean Howells." The William Dean Howells Society 22 Nov. 2004 < web dot com. "Dictionary." Lexico Publishing Group 28 Nov 2004 < web Margaret "Harte's influence on the writings of Mark Twain," Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism 25 (1964): 209.
Harte Bret. "Outcasts of Poker flat." Page by Page books 25 Nov 2004 Lewis Andrew G. "Biography of Samuel Clemens alias Mark Twain." Biography of Mark Twain 22 Nov. 2004 McMurray William. A Hazard of New fortunes," Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism 7 (1967): 390.
McMichael George, Leonard James S, Lyne Bill, Mallon Anne-Marie, Mitchell Verner D. Anthology of American Literature. Volume II ed 8. New Jersey: Person Education, 2004 O'Brien Edward J. "The Advance of the American Short Story." Short Story Criticism 8 (1923): 230-231. Reuben Paul P.
'Biography of Francis Bret Harte." The History of San Francisco. 24 Nov. 2004 Wall Rachel G. "Dialect and Subtle Characterization in William Dean Howells A Hazard of New Fortunes," Issues in Languages and Linguistics 24 Nov. 2004.