Romanticism vs Realism Unit


Romanticismvs Realism


Thefield of humanities which comprises of music, visual art,architecture and literature has undergone various eras characterizedby unique styles and concepts. These eras are hierarchical in naturewith one being based on a predecessor but under different influencesthat lead to new unique style and concepts. Some of two common erasor movements are Romanticism and Realism. These styles are defined bytheir unique fundamental concepts, methods and their modes as thispaper seeks to portray using support from relevant literature.

Romanticismbegan towards the end of the 18thcentury and continued to the mid 19thcentury. However, the term Romanticism was not in use at the onset ofthe era but later came to be applied in the 1940s. This era precededRealism which makes the two eras closely related with the earlierstyle influencing the nest one. Romanticism’s style of art andcultural thought focuses on the heroic powers of individuals and theintrinsic value of everything as opposed to pure reason. It was thuslargely in response to the earlier enlightenment movement whichheavily relied on rationality (Thakar 2012). To capture a newdirection in thoughts and concepts, Romanticists highlighted thedeeper and subconscious appeal of everything including France’s warhero Napoleon. The era offered artists an opportunity to push beyondthe rigid social structures through their work and engage imaginationand supernatural aspects (The romantic impulse n.d.). This is evidentin gothic architecture of the 1830’s common in Germany and severalEuropean nations. Romantic philosophy also flourished in this erapioneered by W. Hegel whose concept of the dialect placed emphasis onthe importance of history. In France, major Romanticists were VictorHugo in literature, Delacroix in art and Jean Jacques Rousseau inphilosophy. In Britain, key romanticists were Wordsworth, Byron,Keats and Mary Shelley (Kitson 2001). Their works served well for thetransition into the next era of Realism.

TheRealism movement marked the decline of Romanticism and introduced anew approach in humanities that was based on reality or facts. Itpresented a more pragmatic view of the world occasioned by socialchanges brought about by industrialization and urbanization. Themovement sought to capture the struggles and opportunities caused bythese social and economic changes. Artists such as Gustave Courbet,Jean-François Millet, and Honoré Daumier in France led themovement. In Britain, literature experienced one of the biggestchanges with authors such as Mark Twain embracing Realism by tellingstories of ordinary people such as Finn which ordinary people couldidentify (Kitson 2001). Therefore, while Romanticism thrived oncreating mystery and larger than life characters, Realism sought tocover the ordinary and contemporary issues. Romantic literature dealtwith superhumans depicted as superior to ordinary people such asthrough good traits while Realists artists and authors depictedcharacters human as possible characterized with ordinaryimperfections, strengths and weaknesses.

Theharsh realities of an industrialized and working society brought toan end Romanticism which according to Thakar (2012) sought to appealto emotions and unnatural ideas. Realism on the other hand enabledartists, scholars and authors to portray and narrate stories as theywere in reality hence the term Realism. The Romanticists largelyemployed metaphors and symbolism to drive home their messages.However, with time artists and authors felt an increasing need toexpress themselves in a more immediate and easily understandable way.Romanticism did not provide for this hence it was overtaken byRealism which fulfilled the desire to express ideas in a more directway. Through the use of metaphors and symbolism, some messages werelikely to be misinterpreted or interpreted differently by differentaudiences.

Forexample, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarletletter,audiences are exposed to intense symbolism akin to Romanticism. Thisstyle allows the audience to be more engaged through imagination.Additional the book has a deep sense of history and highlights theneed to delve deeper into analyzing situations and people to showthat nothing is what it appears to be. Hawthorne also engages in thesupernatural for instance through the character of Pearl, Hester’sdaughter. Such an approach differs greatly with the one employed byMark Twain as a Realist in his book Adventuresof Huckleberry Finn. MarkTwain used a Realist approach to narrate Finn’s ordinary lifetogether with the lives of other ordinary characters andenvironments. He provided vivid descriptions of landscapes and peoplealong the Mississippi River without engaging in the unnatural. Thisallows audiences to readily identify with the characters who depictedas human as possible in line with Realism (Twain 2006).

Theinfluence of Romanticism on other eras in art and even in today’smodern world is evident. Forward (2005) indicates that Romanticism isthe pioneer of fiction in art and humanities at large where thesupernatural world dominates. The same can be observed in the moderntelevision and gaming industry where producers and directors exploretheir imaginative sides to present desirable stories, scenes and evencharacters with superhuman capabilities such as Spiderman, Ironmanand Captain America. Similarly, the legacy of Realism is also evidentin modern times. The Realist style has been used to cover relevantissues such as social, political and technological change around theworld and presenting the opportunities and challenges that suchchange brings to the common people. For instance, biographies,autobiographies and documentaries thrive on this element of Realismwhere no celebrities or actors but real people in their naturalenvironment are used to tell a story. For many scholars, naturalismis a detailed version of Realism which continues to thrive in moderntimes through literature, arts, music and other forms (Thakar 2012).


Forward,S. (2005). Legacy of the Romantics. Retrieved from

Hawthorne,N. (2012). Scarletletter.New York: EMC corporation.

Kitson,P. (2001). Placingand Displacing Romanticism.New York: Ashgate.

Thakar,S. (2012). A Current Study and Comparison of Realism and Romanticism.Retrieved


Theromantic impulse: 18th – 20th century. Retrieved from

Twain,M. (2006). Adventuresof Huckleberry Finn. NewYork: CourierCorporation,