The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

V. Dialect Writers.

§ 12. Dialect and the Short Story.

Why dialect should have been so sparingly used by American writers before the Civil War and why it should have become so constituent a part of American fiction immediately after the Civil War are questions not easily answered. A partial explanation would seem to lie in the increasing sectionalism from 1830 to 1860 which, culminating in 1865, gave place not only to an increasing sense of national solidarity but to a keener interest in how the other half lived. Sectionalism meant indifference and ignorance; union means reciprocal interest and understanding. There can at least be no doubt that the American short story 27  has been the chief vehicle of dialect since the Civil War, and the American short story, by its fidelity to local usages, has done more during these years to acquaint or re-acquaint the North with the South and the East with the West than any other type of literature. Bret Harte, writing in 1899, mentioned as the leading short-story writers then living Joel Chandler Harris, George W. Cable, Mark Twain, Charles Egbert Craddock (Miss Murfree), and Mary E. Wilkins (now Mrs. Freeman). These names, together with that of Bret Harte himself, indicate that excellence in dialect and excellence in the short story have been almost synonymous in American literature since the Civil War. They indicate also that dialect has been both an expression and a cause of the interstate knowledge and interstate sympathy that have linked the far separated sections of the United States into closer bonds of union and fellowship.   30

Note 27. See Book III, Chap. VI. [ back ]