Realism is the literary term applied to compositions that aim at a faithful representation of reality, interpretations of the actualities of any aspect of life. As an reaction against romanticism it is free of subjective prejudice, idealism or romance and often deals with representing the middle class. Unlike naturalism, however, it does not focus on the scientific laws that control life, but the specific actions and their consequences.
Realists writers were influenced by British and Foreign writers, but to a great extent the transition from romance to realism was indigenous. The beginnings of realism started with the realistic and detailed frontier literature that eventually merged into the mainstream through such authors as Clemens. Walt Whitman’s descriptive poetry is also another source of modern realism. However, American realism encompasses the time period from the Civil War to the turn of the century during which William Dean Howells, Rebecca Harding Davis, Henry James and Mark Twain wrote literature devoted to accurate representations of life and criticisms of social conditions.
CHARACTERISTICS of REALISM
- Describes reality in comprehensive detail
- Characters are more important than the plot and action
- Complex ethical choices are often the subject of the literature
- Characters are related to nature, to each other, to their social class and to their own past. This relation makes up the complexity of their temperament and motive.
- Class is important (usually describes the middle class)
- Events are usually plausible
- Diction is natural, not heightened or poetic
- Mark Twain
- William Dean Howells
- Rebecca Harding Davis
- John W. DeForest
- Henry James