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Comprehension Questions





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1. What political and social problems faced the American South in the period after the Civil War known as Reconstruction?

Reconstruction is the period immediately following the Civil War during which the United States sought to rebuild the South physically, politically, socially, and economically. The South faced many social and political problems during the Revolution. One of these problems was created by the Radicals new plan itself. Actually, the fact that slaves were freed due to the ratification of the 13 Amendment caused many southern whites to discourage the reconstruction that the North had planned. Some of these problems included land distribution, military location in the south, and the prevention of black intimidation. Another problem in the South during Reconstruction was racism. Instead of the ideal (black equality), emancipation would lead to increasing violence and racism in the South. Other problems they had included; land distribution, military location (for the south), and the prevention of black intimidation.

2. What is the “plantation myth”? How do the featured southern regionalist writers challenge and transform ideas about life in the American South?

Literature has always been entwined with popular history, and much of the literature written about the Civil War served to perpetuate popular sentiments, such as the plantation myth, complete with its cavalier planters and slaves faithful to the old "masses". The plantation system describes the past of only some Southerners. “While the African-American experience was the plantation experience, the white experience was not”. Part of the plantation myth is the image of a South untouched by the industrial revolution. In the plantation myth, Southern society is defined by a clash between blacks and whites. The black and white dichotomy hides historic diversity”. Many Native American tribes populated the Southeast, and there was considerable mixing of the Native American and slave populations. Even within the slave community there was significant diversity. “Many slaves came from the Caribbean,” Noblit says. “There is more diversity in the African-American population than normally admitted.” Idealizations of the Old South’s plantation culture contributed to the development of a “moonlight and magnolias” myth that other writers at the turn of the century would perpetuate and later authors would spend decades trying to debunk.

3. What is dialect? How did post–Civil War writers represent vernacular speech?

A dialect is a regional or social variety of a language distinguished by pronunciation, grammar, or vocabulary, especially a variety differing from the standard literary language or speech pattern of the culture in which it exists. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries dialect was not common in American Literature. Writers who attempted to accurately capture American dialect and slang often failed to make it believable. The use of dialect in American literature comes from using a combination of realism and regionalism. 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).

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