English Literature


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The Essence of Realism in British Literature: Depicting Everyday Experiences in a Realistic Manner

In literature, realism is a popular style that portrays day-to-day experiences in a truthful manner. This is achieved by incorporating stylistic elements and language that accurately reflects reality. Rather than elaborate expression, realism emphasizes on depicting the familiar and accessible aspects of life. This literary movement mainly features middle and lower class individuals and settings that are relatable to a wide audience.

Realism, according to literary critics, aims to present the "typical" rather than romanticized or idealized interpretations of daily life.¹ There are various sub-genres of realism that focus on specific realities or experiences of different societal groups. These include magical realism, socialist realism, psychological realism, social realism, kitchen sink realism, and naturalism.

The importance of realism in literature lies in its ability to showcase the everyday experiences of regular people, particularly those from the middle or lower class, within society. Unlike other forms of literature that offer an escape from reality, realism provides readers with relatable stories that mirror their own experiences.

Realism emerged as a reaction against the romantic movement, which portrayed idealized characters and their experiences. Instead, realism focused on truthful storytelling and the mundane. This made the stories more relatable to the average person.

The romantic movement, which reached its peak in 19th century England, valued individual experience, intense emotion, and a connection with nature. However, the pioneers of realism, such as William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Lord Byron, were opposed to the romantic ideals of exaggeration, flights of fancy, and individualism.

Realism developed as a response to romanticism, with its use of exotic settings, supernatural elements, flowery language, and heroic characters. Realism, on the other hand, celebrated the mundane and ordinary aspects of life.

As the Industrial Revolution and rapid urbanization reshaped society, literary realists observed the impact on people's lives. With the rise of the middle class and the spread of literacy, there was a renewed interest in the ordinary and "everyday" aspects of life. Realism aimed to represent the average person in a realistic way.


To sum up, realism is a crucial literary movement that accurately portrays everyday experiences in a truthful manner. It offers a stark contrast to romanticism and highlights the ordinary and mundane aspects of life. Through relatable stories, realism provides readers with a deeper understanding of the world around them.

Works Cited:

  • ¹Realism and reality: the portrayal of characters and their experiences in literary texts. (n.d.). Retrieved September 23, 2021, from https://study.com/academy/lesson/realism-and-reality-the-portrayal-of-characters-and-their -experiences-in-literary-texts.html

Realism in literature encompasses a range of styles that strive to portray characters with complexities in their behaviors and motivations, reflecting the intricacies of everyday individuals. There are various forms of realism found in literature, each with its unique approach and purpose.

Examining the Different Types of Realism in Literature

One popular form is magical realism, which combines elements of fantasy and magic with the real world. In this style, the magical elements are seamlessly integrated into the characters' everyday lives, making them seem like a natural part of their reality. A well-known example of this is Toni Morrison's Beloved (1987), a tale of a former slave family living in post-Civil War Cincinnati, haunted by a malevolent ghost. The story seamlessly blends the supernatural with the characters' struggles and experiences.

Another type is socialist realism, originated as an art movement in the Soviet Union during Stalin's regime. It was used as a tool of propaganda to promote the positive image of the USSR and support the Communist Party's ideals. In literature, socialist realism portrays the socialist ideologies, including a classless society and the working class's struggles. Alexander Fadeyev's The Young Guard (1946) glorifies the acts of an anti-German organization in Ukraine under Communist rule, reflecting the principles of this style.

One less familiar form is psychological realism, which gained popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It delves into the internal dialogues and thoughts of characters, offering insights into their motivations and actions. Authors often use psychological realism to comment on societal and political issues of the time. An example is Henry James' A Portrait of a Lady (1881), where the protagonist's inner thoughts and convictions reveal her struggles in a society dominated by wealth and privilege.

The Power of Realism in Bringing the World to Life Through Fiction

Literary realism has the ability to capture the essence of the real world and bring it to the pages of a book. It presents the struggles of ordinary people and sheds light on societal issues, making it a valuable genre in literature. A notable example is the novel A Doll's House (1879) by Henrik Ibsen, which tells the story of Nora, a woman who defies societal expectations. Her thoughts and experiences serve as a commentary on the gender roles and expectations imposed on women at the time.

Social realism is another subgenre that focuses on the struggles of the working class and critiques the power structures that keep them oppressed. A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens is a notable example of this style, where the protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge, undergoes a transformation and learns the error of his ways as he witnesses the poverty and suffering of the working class represented by the Cratchit family.

Kitchen sink realism, a subgenre of social realism, highlights the lives of young, working-class British men in industrial northern England. It showcases their cramped living conditions and low quality of life, often incorporating everyday objects like beer bottles. The novel Love on the Dole: A Tale of Two Cities (1933) by Walter Greenwood is an example of kitchen sink realism, shedding light on the struggles of the Hardcastle family during the Great Depression.

Naturalism, which emerged as a reaction to romanticism in the late 19th century, explores how one's family, environment, and social conditions shape their character. It often delves into the struggle for survival in harsh environments, influenced by Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. A noteworthy example is Jack London's The Call of the Wild (1903), which follows a dog's journey from a comfortable domestic life to a harsh life in the wild, highlighting the theme of survival in a naturalistic setting.

The Difference Between Realism and Naturalism in Literature

Realism and naturalism are two distinct literary movements that emerged in the late 19th century and are often confused with one another. While they do share some similarities, there are key differences in their beliefs and approaches to storytelling.

Understanding Naturalism in Literature

Unlike realism, naturalism suggests that external forces completely control a character's actions and decisions. This belief is evident in works such as The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, which follows the Joad family as they struggle to survive during the Great Depression in the United States.

The Great Depression, which lasted from 1929 to 1939, was a devastating economic crisis that affected millions of Americans. It not only resulted in widespread poverty and hunger but also had a ripple effect on other countries, such as Germany, which had relied on American financial support. This period serves as a crucial backdrop to many works of realism, including naturalism literature, from this time period.

The Rise of Modern Realism Literature

In contrast to naturalism, contemporary realism, also known as modern realism, refers to literature that is set in the present day and features events that could realistically happen. This genre does not involve elements of magic or science fiction and often explores themes such as social and political issues, romance, coming of age, and illness.

An example of modern realism is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, which tells the heart-wrenching story of two terminally ill teenagers and their journey to find meaning in their lives.

Well-Known Examples of Realism in Literature

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is another notable example of realism literature. Set during the Great Depression, the novel follows the journey of George Milton and Lennie Small, two migrant ranch workers searching for employment in California. This powerful novel explores themes of poverty, struggle, and the human condition, which are common in realism literature.

Another notable work in this genre is A Summer Bird-Cage by Margaret Drabble, which tells the story of two sisters trying to survive during the economic decline of the Great Depression. Similarly, Hard Times by Charles Dickens is a satirical critique of social and economic conditions in Victorian England during the same time period.

What Makes Realism Literature Unique?

Realism is a literary genre that aims to portray the ordinary experiences of everyday people in a truthful and relatable manner. It focuses on the lives of middle and lower class individuals and is set in familiar places, making it more accessible to readers.

The Impact of Realism on Society

Realism literature has had a significant impact on society by portraying honest and accurate depictions of the human experience without romanticizing or dramatizing them. In contrast to romanticism, which focuses on idealized and symbolic storytelling, realism emerged as a genre that prioritizes truthful storytelling and has gained popularity among the masses.

The Characteristics of Realism Literature

Realism can be further classified into sub-genres, including social realism, psychological realism, socialist realism, naturalism, and kitchen sink realism. Each sub-genre has its own unique characteristics, but they all share the common goal of presenting truthful and relatable stories that reflect the realities of everyday life.

The Significance of Realism in British Literature

The genre of realism emerged in British literature during the Victorian era of the 19th century. This movement focused on portraying realistic and authentic stories set in familiar locations and featuring ordinary people.

  • Detailed descriptions of everyday events
  • A believable and compelling plot
  • An accurate depiction of societal norms and settings
  • A emphasis on the lives of regular individuals
  • Exploration of characters' moral dilemmas
  • Complex and multi-faceted characters

Realism captures the essence of life and provides readers with relatable and truthful stories. It has had a profound impact on literature and society, offering a more genuine representation of the world we live in. Next time you pick up a book, consider whether it falls under the genre of realism and how it reflects the realities of our world.

Sources cited:

Collins English Dictionary (13th ed.) (2018).

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