The impact of industrialization on the development of realist theory and literature is the subject of The Fabric of American Realism, a new book by Babak Elahi, associate professor of English at Rochester Institute of Technology.
The book looks at how changes in the American fashion industry and the move to mass production of clothing influenced realist thinkers’ views on materialism, cultural assimilation and loss of individuality in American society. The work is one of the first to analyze the impact of the textile industry on realist development.
“The massive change in how clothes were made in America, from a home-based industry to mass production in factories, and the rise of fashion as a symbol of wealth and worth in society exerted a strong influence on realist thinkers,” notes Elahi. “Numerous writers used changes in fashion as an example of reduced individuality and cultural identity, and it was particularly important in discussions surrounding the immigrant experience and the drive to look and sound American.”
Elahi hopes the book will shed new light on the influences that promoted the growth of realism in American politics, literature and academia, and further understanding of industrialization’s effect on all aspects of American life. He also feels an examination of fashion’s past influences on society will assist in better addressing current issues related to materialism.
“The present focus on having the best shoes and the best purse, particularly among young people, is simply an expansion of the material based influence fashion has had in American culture since the late 1800s,” Elahi adds. “Providing a better understanding of how this view of fashion influence’s society may reduce the impact of materialism in our culture.”