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Examples of Realism in Literature with Explanation and Lesson Plans

Realism in American Literature, 1860-1890

❶Whether urban or provincial, the locale almost becomes a character of its own.

Examples of Realism in Literature

Definition of Realism
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In a Nutshell

His most famous work, which was left unfinished, was The Human Comedy , an assortment of interwoven tales and novels which depict life in early nineteenth century France.

The effect of the narrative buildup in The Human Comedy is the realization of an epic that is more than the sum of its parts.

Like the realists who would follow in his footsteps, Balzac did not rely on profound or spectacular events to move his stories along. Instead, he paid attention to the small things, the nuances that made up the experience of typical French life.

In America, Samuel Clemens was the early pioneer of Realism. Writing under the pen name Mark Twain, he was noteworthy for his faithful reproduction of vernacular speech patterns and vocabulary. Replicating natural speech required not just great listening skills, but a sense of how the written version sounds to the imagination.

In addition to the use of vernacular, Twain was an innovator in focusing on middle and lower class characters. Previously, novels had concentrated on the experiences of the elite. Presumably, the upper crust enjoyed seeing their lives of privilege reflected back to them in art, while salt of the earth readers had something to aspire to and fantasize about.

It was a revolutionary concept to incorporate unremarkable characters into an art form as serious as the novel. In a development that continues to bewilder, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the most frequently banned books in the public school system.

One imagines that certain language is indeed offensive; however Twain was doing nothing other than representing honest speech. Huck Finn was in all reality an astonishing leap forward in racial awareness — Jim, the freed slave, is as fully realized a character as Tom or Huck. A great friend of Mark Twain, and an eminent American realist in his own right, was the magazine editor William Dean Howells. In charge of the Atlantic Monthly for several years, Howells exercised a lot of authority over the currents of taste on his side of the ocean.

In his role as editor, he was instrumental in promoting the fame of literary rising stars, such as Frank Norris, Stephen Crane, and Sarah Orne Jewett. Howells wrote copious volumes of fiction of his own, and was an unqualified success in that regard.

For a time, he was widely considered the most accomplished of all American Realists. That being said, several of his novels are in the first rank of American Realism. Published in , the ironically titled The Rise of Silas Lapham tells the story of an ambitious businessman who tumbles out of fortune through his own mistakes and poor judgment. It is an anti-success story, and illustrates one of the central ideas of Realism, that of crafting honest narratives rather than feel-good sentimental fantasies.

In short, there is a kind of grimness to Realism that many readers have found unappealing. A Modern Instance highlights this same principle in detailing the steady disintegration of a seemingly happy marriage.

Without a doubt, American expatriate Henry James represents the most skilled and accomplished practitioner of Realism in fiction. He was fascinated by encounters between representatives of the New World, America, with members of the Old World, or Europe. He observed a distinct set of traits that permeated each of these groups. With Americans, he witnessed vigor, innocence, and strict moral righteousness. Europeans, on the other hand, represented decadence, lax morality, and deviousness.

With such seeming prejudices built into his aesthetics, one is surprised to learn that James renounced his American citizenship and became a British subject.

Nevertheless, James made a cottage industry out of examining what happened when these two worlds collided. Arguably his most famous work was the novella Daisy Miller , which relates how a young and rich American girl touring Europe is victimized by sophisticated schemers, with no compunctions about right or wrong.

At the height of his powers, Henry James crafted intricate novels that featured completely realized characters. He was remarkable for his ability to dispense with commentary or subjectivity within his narratives. The reader sees the events through the eyes of the characters; James the author makes himself as invisible as possible.

In terms of prose style, he was admired for the simplicity and directness of his language, a quality not generally noted during the Victorian Period. His most successful novel was The Portrait of a Lady , published as one volume in With Portrait he expands upon many of the themes one finds in Daisy Miller — greed, power, and the exploitation of the New World by the Old.

Revealingly, film adaptations of the novel have generally not made good impressions. As with the bulk of fiction that earns the title of Realist, the narrative simply does not lend itself to visual reproduction. Realism came under attack largely because it represented such a bold departure from what readers had come to expect from the novel. The fascination with things falling apart was unpleasant to many, and critics sometimes accused the practitioners of Realism of focusing only on the negative aspects of life.

Additionally, the intense focus on the minutiae of character was seen as unwillingness to actually tell a story. Readers complained that very little happened in realistic fiction, that they were all talk and little payoff.

Henry James in particular was criticized for his verbosity, especially in his later years. By the end of the nineteenth century, Realism in the pure sense had given way to another form called Naturalism. With Naturalism, authors looked to heredity and history to define character. Ironically, many of the qualities that people found distasteful in realism — the obsession with character, the superficially mundane plots — were all intensified in Naturalism.

Realist writers, unlike the Romantics, like to focus on groups of people. They give us the big picture: And because Realism is about giving us the big picture, it tends to be associated with the novel genre, which is huge and flexible. Most of the famous Realists—like Tolstoy and Dickens—were novelists, who wrote pretty gigantic works.

Realism as a movement with a capital R ended sometime around the turn of the century, but the techniques of Realism have lived on. Lots of novels written today are written in straightforward language about contemporary issues, for example. Hey, who can resist the soap operas of daily life, all packaged up as a page slice-of-life novel?

Ever get curious about the lives of people you don't know? Like, what's up with those neighbors of yours who scream at each other all the time?

And what about that cute boy in biology class, who never says a word to anyone? Does he have friends? And what about that woman you see laughing to herself every day on the subway platform? Or just crazy happy? We know that they're like us, but we also know that they're different from us. They've got their own little dramas, dilemmas, crises, hang-ups.

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Broadly defined as "the faithful representation of reality" or "verisimilitude," realism is a literary technique practiced by many schools of writing. Although strictly speaking, realism is a technique, it also denotes a particular kind of subject matter, especially the representation of middle-class life.

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Realism is a literary movement that developed in the middle of the 19th century in France and then spread like wildfire throughout the rest of Europe, all the way to Russia, and then overseas to the US.

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Realism The dominant paradigm in novel writing during the second half of the nineteenth century was no longer the Romantic idealism of the earlier part of the century. What took hold among the great novelists in Europe and America was a new approach to character and subject matter, a school of thought which later came to be known as Realism. Give your students practice bringing their stories to life as they write realistic fiction! Use this creative writing worksheet to help students break a realistic story down into its narrative elements.

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Teaching Realism in Literature and instructing students to find aspects of Realism in the literature as they read cover the following ELA Common Core Standards. You can also knock out some Writing Common Core Standards as well with the lesson plans below. But realism as a distinct style and literary movement dates back to France in the early 's. That was when authors began writing works that possessed several unique characteristics: The stories, or plots, were simple and were secondary to the characters; the characters tended to be from the lower or middle class and spoke as people really.