Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Romanticism, Meet Realism. Realis....Oh My! Romanticism seems to have been shot!

Moving into the second week of stories, I found myself departing from the world of Romanticism and entering the strange and unwelcoming world of Realism. Realism focuses on the relationship of a character to the world around them and on the harshness of the real world. Romanticism focuses on the main character and the world that he has created, but realism is not afraid to bring the real world into focus and show just how small the characters are in the scheme of things. Realism focuses on a reality of things, that the world is harsh and difficult.

Georg Lukács was a Hungarian Marxist philosopher and a literary critic who strongly implored the use of realism. He believed that literature improves human progress and suggested that Shakespeare's literature has become a "picture of a time" and suggestions to the future. He believed that the ideas used in literature should both allow society to remain privy to the past and to learn from those lessons and mistakes. Art, to Lukács, was meant to mirror reality in order to provide this enlightenment. Because of this outlook, Lukács disliked romantic literature. He thought it to be too far from reality because it was so strongly based on feelings as opposed to the truth. Rather, he felt that realist literature was a key to improving humanity and allowing man to understand his power and strength; this lead to his dislike in Naturalism.

Although Naturalism is a form of realism, it focuses on the idea that man is powerless to the larger forces in the world, such as nature. This idea angered Lukács because it gave the impression that man could not progress and learn from his mistakes.

Many realist authors focus on this idea of being powerless, that our choices affect us, and simply wishing to do well, does not mean we can. In the story "The Sheriff's Children" by Charles Chesnutt, the Sheriff must choose between the life of his son or his own. The sheriff is protecting a prisoner from a lynch mob when the prisoner catches him off guard and puts him to gun point. In a tense conversation between the sheriff and the prisoner, he discovers that the prisoner is actually his son, born from a slave that the sheriff had sold. The son asks his father to give his life for him so that he might live, but because of the sheriffs daughter, the son is wounded and the sheriff lives. Wanting to help his son the sheriff tries to find a way to save his son from his false sentence, but he finds his son dead in the morning. This jarring ending is a statement to the reader that there sometimes is not a middle ground; when the son had said that in order for him to live, the father needed to die, there was a double meaning there. First is the idea that the son was doomed to the sentence because they would never be able to find the evidence to prove his evidence in time. Secondly was the metaphorical idea that the son could not live in a white mans world without the death of the old.

This idea of forcing the truth of a situation into the reader is at the heart of realism. There is no masking of reality, no idea that everything can be magically fixed, but rather things might be fixed, or they might fall apart.