What is realism in fiction? 

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Realism in fiction was a response to Romanticism, which generally presented a romanticized or idealized version of the world, humanity, and nature itself. Realist literature aims to present a truer version of the world, one that is more true-to-life rather than idealized. Quite literally, the goal of Realist literature is to depict the world as it really is. Characters in Realist works are flawed and often morally ambiguous; perfect, flawless people are not realistic, after all. In addition, characters are often portrayed doing everyday, commonplace things like cooking, bathing, snoring or working. Likewise, settings are often depicted in the same way, with some nods to beauty but mainly featuring acknowledgement of anything ugly, sad, or difficult. Realist works typically emphasize how reality can look different for different groups and how morality is relative.

We might consider a text like Arthur Miller's The Crucible. It presents a fictionalized version of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. However, there are several elements that help to classify the text as a work of Realism. First, the protagonist, John Proctor, is certainly flawed, having cheated on his wife with their seventeen-year-old servant, and he clearly wrestles with continued feelings for her. Second, his community descends into hysteria and we see how personal animosities and grudges overwhelm various characters' integrity, resulting in the deaths of innocent people. Third, we see, in the end, how some characters respond with bravery and courage in the face of unjust persecution. Humanity, in essence, is realistically depicted with its flaws as well as its strengths.

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