Critical Essays Realism


Realism, according to Mark Schorer, Lewis' most minute biographer, is "a faithful depiction of the details of ordinary life and a willingness to come to grips with all that is not genteel in experience." It is opposed to the optimism of romanticism, which paints a rosy picture of the lives and environment of people who are constantly achieving better things. Realism by contrast is photographic, revealing in fidelity the actual facts of life, usually the seamy side, with no "dressing up." Sinclair Lewis, a realist, portrayed the small, deadening American towns in terms accurate but unflattering. The surface details of America he observed through a microscope: speech, buildings, marks of social status, pressures, and idiosyncrasies, always including what Grebstein calls "a solid underlayer of fact." For example, Lewis speaks of the citizens of Gopher Prairie as

A savorless people, gulping tasteless food, and sitting afterward, coatless and thoughtless, in rocking chairs prickly with inane decorations, listening to mechanical music, saying mechanical things about the excellence of Ford automobiles, and viewing themselves the greatest race in the world.

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