Perspective and Political Ideology
Realism vs. Naturalism
Carefully read the following excerpts from literary descriptions of the poor in New York City during the 1890’s. See if you can determine the writer’s political ideology from his narrative point of view. What details are selected? What diction is used? What metaphors? How do these literary techniques reveal different political stances?
From Charles Dickens, American Notes (1842)
us go on again; and passing this wilderness of an hotel with stores
about its base, like some continental theatre, or the London Opera
House shorn of its colonnade, plunge into the Five Points. But it is
needful, first, that we take as our escort these two heads of the
police, whom you would know for sharp and well-trained officers if you
met them in the Great Desert. So true it is that certain pursuits,
wherever carried on, will stamp men with the same character. These two
might have been begotten, born, and bred in Bow Street.
How the Other Half Lives
(1888) Jacob Riis in the New York
Leaving the Elevated Railroad where it dives under
the Brooklyn Bridge at Franklin Square, scarce a dozen steps will take
you where we wish to go… with its rush and roar echoing yet in our
ears we have turned the corner from prosperity to poverty. We stand upon
the domain of the tenement… enough of them everywhere. Suppose we look
into one? No? – Cherry Street. Be a little careful, please! The hall
is dark and you might stumble over the children pitching pennies there.
Not that it would hurt them; kicks and cuffs are their daily diet. They
have little else. Here where the hall turns and dives into utter
darkness is a step and another, another, a flight of stairs. You can
feel your way, if you cannot see it. Close? Yes! What would you have?
All the fresh air that ever enters these stairs comes from the hall door
that is forever slamming and from the windows of the dark bedrooms that
in turn we see from the stairs the sole supply of the elements God meant
to be free, but that man deals out with such niggardly hand.
New York Streets by William
The sidewalks swarm with children and the air rings
with clamor as they fly back and forth at play; on the thresholds the
mothers sit nursing their babes and the old women gossip together…. In
a picture it would be most pleasingly effective, for then you could be
in it and yet have the distance on it which it needs. [To be in it] is
to inhale the stenches of the neglected street and to catch that yet
fouler and dreadfuler poverty smell which breed from the open doorways.
It is to see the children quarreling in their games and beating each
other in the face and rolling each other in the gutter like the little
savage outlaws they are.
Maggie: A Girl of the Streets
by Stephen Crane
Eventually they entered into a dark region where,
from a careening building, a dozen gruesome doorways gave up loads of
babies to the street and the gutter. A wind of early autumn raised
yellow dust from cobbles and swirled it against an hundred windows. Long
streamers of garments fluttered from fire-escapes. In all unhandy places
there were buckets, brooms, rags and bottles. In the street infants
played or fought with other infants or sat stupidly in the way of
vehicles. Formidable women, with uncombed hair and disordered dress,
gossiped while leaning on railings, or screamed in frantic quarrels.
Withered persons, in curious postures of submission to something, sat
smoking pipes in obscure corners. A thousand odors of cooking food came
forth to the street. The building quivered and creaked from the weight
of humanity stamping about in its bowels.