What is realism in literature? 

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In American literature, realism reached its height in the second half of the nineteenth century. Realist works, as the name suggests, aimed to replicate real, everyday life. This sometimes meant that the authors would go into painstaking detail about the minutiae of normal, daily life. Realist works are not like Romantic works—their plots are not centered around dramatic, climactic points. Rather, the action in a realist work is often more muted and subtle. There tends to be more focus on setting and character than on plot in realist works.

Realism is sometimes connected with social critique, as well. In depicting everyday life of the lower classes, for example, an author could draw attention to problems with labor laws, poverty, and social inequality. Two other movements of the late nineteenth century are considered subgenres or offshoots of realism: naturalism and regionalism. Naturalism is a bit darker than realism in the sense that it is influenced by Social Darwinism. Often, naturalist works (like those of Dreiser or Crane) depict how the conditions we are born into determine our life trajectories. Regionalism is similar to realism but focuses on a particular area of the country and accurately depicts everyday life in that region. For instance, Sarah Orne Jewett wrote fiction set in Maine, while Kate Chopin captured life in the Deep South in her writing.

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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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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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