In the midst of a conflict between the North and the South during the end of the nineteenth century, a new genre of writing emerged, called local colour fiction. This specific genre focused on portraying a particular territory in the United States and its inhabitants along with their scenery, history, customs as well as the form of speech. Even though, the expression local colour fiction could be used in any type of writings, in American literature it was common for writings that depict the period around the late 1860s. Among the authors who have helped in the progress of this genre were writers such as Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Kate Chopin, Thomas Nelson and many more.
An American born local colour writer Thomas Nelson in his works described the antebellum era in great details. In fact, in the fragment from “Red Rock’s” first three chapters we can easily identify the genre of the book, in addition to around what time does the action takes place. The mention of life on a plantation along with a description of its habitats alludes to the antebellum times. Like many local colourist writers, Nelson focused on a specific region of the Old South, which in this case was the Red Rock plantation that he vividly illustrated. Apart from this, when he wrote about the locals he introduces not only their family values, political stance but also how educated they were at that time. A particular incident portrayed by Nelson in the story, showcase the mindset of the Red Rock community very well, as they all shared strong confederate beliefs. Nelson also depicted a peculiar relationship that could be condemned nowadays, between Tarquin – the black slave and Mr. Gray – white owner by exaggerating a loyalty the slave had towards his owners. The intention behind it was to lift the image of African-Americans to make them less frightening but also reinforce the racial stereotype that white people were more superior.
What is more, Kate Chopin who is also considered a local colourist, in her short story “Désirée’s Baby” focuses on depicting the south as well as the life of a child of a mixed race. Chopin explores the realities of a family living on a plantation in Lousiana, women’s issues and struggles with motherhood. In short, the story is about a married couple who were born mixed raced yet were unaware of it until they saw the resemblance between their child and their young slave servant. Désirée and Armand are the main characters of the story; as a matter of fact, both of them were raised by white parents, so when their child is born with a darker complexion, Armand starts to question Désirée’s background. Besides this, the story is about racism and how it touches the motherhood. The racial hierarchy reveals to have a psychological impact on mothers with a black background, in Désirée’s case she loses her identity and in Armand’s mother case she loses her son. Furthermore, Chopin’s story implies that everyone could be treated the same and have equal rights if being different racial ethnicity was not an issue.
While two previous stories concentrated on describing south, Bret Harte, who is considered to be one of the first local colour writers, characterize the different region of the United States. What sets apart his story “A Yellow Dog” from two previous one is the depiction of the west and not south. The protagonist of the story is very unique, as he is a yellow dog called Bones. The idea of having an animal as the main character was to develop a story with a sense of humour. The narrator humanizes Bones and gives him human features. However, Bones is still discriminated by settlers and look down on for being of a yellow colour that is considerate to be the “acme of degradation and incompetence”. Being of a different colour other than one that is more appealing, like white seems to tie all the stories together. Another element that characterizes local colour fiction in this story is Harte’s use of miner’s dialect, for instance, they allude to Bones as a “yaller dog”. The application of the local dialect with mentioning specific cities makes this style of writing more realistic. Bret Harte’s short story appear to sympathize with those that are thought to be different or less superior.
Taking everything into consideration, what connect all the stories is the point of having characters that’s integrity is sacrificed in order to develop the feeling of their particular local area. Many of theses works portrayed the racial hierachy that was distinctive to that era. Moreover, the detailed description of the scenery unique to the region as well as the usage of the typical vocabulary proves them to be a part of local colour fiction. In fact, this style of writing is not about reporting facts but feelings to preserve culture and past.