Realism: One way to begin to understand Realism is to think of the opposite mindset of a Romantic. Where as the author of a romantic work will emphasize imagination and metaphor, the realist tries to portray things as they really are. No longer do we have a king or the ruling class as protagonist; realist authors strive to present everyday people in extraordinary circumstances to show that high tragedy can exist in any region of the United States. Watch how Twain invokes Shakespeare along the muddy Mississippi. What other romantic elements can be stretched inside out to form an element of realism?
Some basic elements of Realism, which was in some ways a reaction to Romanticism;
  • Turns from an emphasis on the strange toward a faithful rendering of the ordinary, a slice of life as it is really lived.
  • Avoid improbabilities of such Romantic tales as Washington Irving's Devil and Tom Walker, Edgar Allen Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher, and Nathaniel Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown and The Scarlet Letter.
  • Finds the drama and the tension beneath the surface of life. A Realist writer may be more objective than subjective, more descriptive than symbolic. A Realist writer gets to the heart of human experience without ever swerving too far from verisimilitude (real appearance) or lifelikeness.
  • Realism frequently provided an outlet for a writer's democratic sympathies. Middle and working class people were often its subject; this movement focused on class conflicts as well as struggles dealing with race and gender in order illuminate their democratic sympathies.
  • The novelist Frank Norris said: "Realism is the kind of fiction that confines itself to the type of normal life." William Dean Howells, one of the earliest exponents of Realism, put it: "Let fiction cease to lie about life; let it portray men and women as they are."
  • Authors of Realism deliberately use the ordinary speech or dialect to represent the character authentically. For a clear example, notice how the children of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter talk compared to Huck: "Come, therefore, let us fling mud at her" (Pearl). Did little Puritans talk that way? Not likely. Did children speak the same dialect that Huck uses in Huck Finn? You bet!