What is realism in literature? 

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Realism is a movement in film, art, drama and literature that strives for an objective and accurate representation of life. The word verisimilitude, perhaps, best captures the objectives of the Realists.

Realist writers sought to narrate their novels from an objective, unbiased perspective that simply and clearly represented the factual elements of the story. They became masters at psychological characterization, detailed descriptions of everyday life in realistic settings, and dialogue that captures the idioms of natural human speech. The realists endeavored to accurately represent contemporary culture and people from all walks of life. [Enotes]

American playwright Eugene O'Neill epitomizes the realistic dramatist as he introduced true-to-life characters marginalized by society to what was formerly a melodramatic theater. He also introduced the American vernacular and realistic plots that deal with such things as drug addiction, drunkenness, prostitution, repressed sexual desires, and revenge. Following in O'Neill's lead were Tennessee Williams, whose plays are like O'Neill's in that they are autobiographical in nature, and Arthur Miller, whose Death of a Salesman certainly depicts ordinary and realistic people.

In literature, writers such as Charles Dickens portrayed accurately social ills and the plight of the poor. Raw realism exists in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, a book that depicts the horrific conditions under which meat packers worked in the stockyards of Chicago. African-American writers such as Paul Laurence Dunbar and Richard Wright depicted the harsh realities of life for their people.

In many ways, Realism is informative to those who read it as it deals with problems and solutions applicable to real life and contemporary culture. For instance, there is much internalization with Tom of Williams' The Glass Menagerie. Further, the Russian Realist Fyodor Dostovesky included much psychological characterization through internal dialogues. One of his characters from The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan, out of guilt engages in a debate with a devil that he thinks he sees. Of course, Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment engages in many psychological and philosophical debates with others and himself. 

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middleschool-teacher | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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Realism in literature takes into account and describes real and everyday life.  There are many authors that write their books with realism.  For example, authors such as Oscar Wilde, Kate Chopin, and Mark Twain wrote about the landscape and the social behaviors that occurred during their time.  In realism, moral and ethical issues are discussed.

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