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Realism In Life On The Mississippi

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1457 words Published: 10th May 2017

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After reading a literary piece from both Realism and Naturalism, You can tell there are many differences in the two. “Life on the Mississippi”, written by Mark Twain, is an excellent piece that reflects characteristics of Realism.

The beginning of the second paragraph in chapter four shows how Realistic authors wrote about incidents of everyday life. It reads, “Once a day a cheap, gaudy packet arrived upward from St. Louis, and another downward from Keokuk. Before these events, the day was glorious with expectancy; after them, the day was a dead and empty thing.” These sentences are very self explanatory showing the simplicity of every day and it’s excitement or lack thereof. An important part of realism is portraying realistic and truthful descriptions while making the reader feel as if they were sitting right there watching and experiencing it all. In the same paragraph Twain describes in great detail the characteristics of the town: “the white town drowsing in the sunshine of a summer’s morning; the streets empty, or pretty nearly so; one or two clerks sitting in front of the Water Street stores, with their splint-bottomed chairs tilted back against the walls, chins on breasts, hats slouched over their faces, asleep-with shingle-shavings enough around to show what broke them down; a sow and a litter of pigs loafing along the sidewalk.” Also the way he spoke about the town’s people and their jobs showed revealed another Realism characteristic. This characteristic is putting the primary focus towards the urban middle class. The author uses more detail when describing the steamboat as it coasts down the river. Also by the way Twain described the steam boat, it shows the materialistic side of Realism. He writes, “She is long and sharp and trim and pretty; she has two tall, fancy-topped chimneys, with a gilded device of some kind swung between them; a fanciful pilot-house”. He shows more materialism and competitiveness through the envy that all the young boys showed towards the deck hand of the boat. The boy showed great interest in working on the steamboat so everyone would envy him. He was realistic though in thinking that his desire to work on a steamboat was only a dream because the chance of him actually working on one was not likely.

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One of the other boys he knew hadn’t been heard from since quite some time and then showed up one day as an apprentice engineer. The boy was shocked to see him as an apprentice engineer. He said, “This shook the bottom out of all my Sunday-school teachings. That boy had been notoriously worldly, and I just the reverse; yet he was exalted to this eminence, and I left in obscurity and misery.” This really showed the criticism of social environment and morality the author was trying to portray. Soon after he displayed even more materialism by making comments on the apprentice engineer’s appearance. He mentioned things like his silver watch, gold chain, hair oil, leather belt and his money. Not only were people very competitive and materialistic, they were always scrambling around to get what they want. So as true as it is in Realism, this story as well shows characters scrambling for what they want. Twain writes, “Boy after boy managed to get on the river. The minister’s son became an engineer. The doctor’s and the postmaster’s son became “mud clerks”; the wholesale liquor dealer’s sons of the county judge, became pilots.” Then he mentioned, “Now some of us were left disconsolate. We could not get on the river-at least our parents wouldn’t let us.” This scrambling for the dream of working on a steamboat caused another common characteristic of Realism, detachment. The boy ran away from home and said he wouldn’t come back until he was a pilot and could return in all his splendor.

Chapter five starts out by reading, “Months afterward the hope within me struggled to a reluctant death, and I found myself without an ambition.” Later on in the story, the boy also mentioned the wide and gloomy sea and that he was likely to suffocate from the peril that seemed so imminent. These both are good examples that show the common characteristic of a darker vision of life that Realists tend to have. Another common trait of Realism is how each character in the story use their own natural everyday slang. Once the boy took passage on the Paul Jones, Twain described some of the people that crossed his path. One was a mate that worked on the boat. “When he gave even the simplest order, he discharged it like a blast of lightning, and sent a long, reverberating peal of profanity thundering after it.” Another mate would say things like, “Here, now, start that gangplank for’ard! Lively, now! What’re you about! Snatch it! Snatch it! There! There! Aft again! Aft again! Don’t you hear me? Dash it to dash! Are you going to sleep over it! ‘Vast heaving. ‘Vast heaving, I tell you! Going to heave it clear astern? Where ‘re you going with that barrel! For’ard with it’fore I make you swallow it, you dash-dash-dash-dashed split between a tired mud-turtle and a crippled hearse-horse!” This way of speaking definitely showed the everyday slang. It is hard to understand some of it unless you work on the steamboat, but the boy wished he could talk like that. Another characteristic of Realism is to have no tensions or climaxes. I disagree with that concept in this story. This excerpt from “Life on the Mississippi”, shows some tension and a bit of climax when their steamboat could’ve crashed. The people were panicking because not only could their boat be destroyed but the cargo and the people on board would be lost as well. The writer uses the words, “upon the apex of disaster a single tremendous instant.” Even if I didn’t know what the story entailed, It would peak my curiosity because of the tension it displays.

“Chickamauga” written by Ambrose Bierce is one of the stories featured for the Naturalism period. One of the differences between Realism and Naturalism is that Realism is not supposed to have climaxes and the story, “Chickamauga”, has a great climax at the end. Although “Life on the Mississippi” shows a climax to the story, there is a big difference in the climax of “Chickamauga”, because it is much bigger. The end of the story unfolds a climax of the burning building being the child’s home, his mother being dead. The writer also gives the reader a climax on top of that by telling us that the child is deaf. Another component of Naturalism is how the characters are motivated by heredity. In the first paragraph Bierce conveys, “from the cradle of its race it had conquered its way through two continents and passing a great sea had penetrated a third, there to be born to war and dominion as a heritage.” This really explains why the child had the thought process of fighting and war that he did. Also the little boy made a wooden sword because his father had been a soldier. This also was motivated by heredity. Naturalism typically shows characters in lower ranks of life and the little boy was a son of a poor planter. In Naturalism there is a focus on the environment and circumstances. Because of his controlled environment, he gained freedom by explaining and adventuring away from his home in the field to a nearby forest. Another characteristic is determination. Bierce showed that determination in the persistence of family and friends trying to find the lost boy. Characters in Naturalism were motivated by chemistry, their heredity and their environment or circumstances. He writes, “In despair he flung in his sword—surrender to the superior forces of nature. His military career was at an end.” That helps show the motivation from the environment. He let the environment control his actions. Because the environment was so powerful, he gave up his sword.

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Realism has its characteristics of being very ordinary, natural and realistic. It makes everything seem as if you were experiencing it for yourself. Also the way it is generated for middle class readers and shows no climaxes are very different than Naturalism. Naturalism characters were more from the lower ranks of life and these characters were deterministic and mechanistic which is the complete opposite from Realism. Both literary movements display many characteristics, but as you can see, both Realism and Naturalism are very different.


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