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Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary Explicatory Essay

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Updated: Jun 24th, 2019

Literary realism refers to a style that faithfully portrays life and interprets the actualities of all the aspects of reality. The literary style emerged as a reaction to the clouded literary conventions, misplaced esthetic glorification, and excessive beautification of the universe presented by romanticism.

As a literary technique, realism stands out from the other styles due to its four major defining characteristics. One of these characteristics is that realism is more concerned with characters than the plot.

The second defining feature of realism is that its portrayal of reality is in comprehensive and vivid details.

Thirdly, the language used by realists is not overly heightened or poetic.

Finally, literary realism stands out as a result of its emphasis on the moral conflicts in the middle class. Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary are outstanding texts that uniquely exhibit the defining aspects of realism.

Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary is widely acclaimed for its realistic portrayal of normal life scenarios. It presents an unadorned description of people in their daily life activities. The reality as experienced through the author’s eyes is completely unaffected by any subjectivities of the author.

As such, the text features carefully selected and planned events and incidents. As a result of this, the novel avoids the redundancy and boredom that many associate with literary realism.

For example, the author’s calculated selection of real life events in Madame Bovary is depicted in the context where Emma Bovary is fantasizing about a midnight wedding under the light of torches, an idea that her father dismisses as nonsensical (56).

This part contrasts sentimental romanticism with the unsympathetic realities of life. The reality emerges triumphant following the downfall of Emma, who represents romanticism and her father who represents the real world.

As a result of lacking the realistic appreciation of life, Emma Bovary lacks the true picture of what life should be.

In a similar manner, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is considered by many critics as a vivid reconstruction of the Russian experience. Literary, the text betrays its association with the realistic school of thought.

This is due to its emphasis on sincerity, simplicity, the deliberate avoidance of style to elaborate on minute life details, and the use of a normal tone that lacks the artificiality of poetic language. By contrasting the main characters in the story (Anna and Levin), the author, manages to reveal the weaknesses of both.

As such, Levin is presented as an all-round character and not a simplified hero, and Anna is portrayed not as a simplified villain but as a normal human. Her humanness is revealed by depicting the various aspects of her life such as her social life (Tolstoy 245).

The writers depict the dullness of people’s lives without making the texts boring to the readers. The astuteness of the writers makes the explication of ordinary situations rather intriguing without any exaggerations. The readers get a three-dimensional effect of the characters as a result of the detailed descriptions.

In this regard, the characters are perceived as tangible by the audience. Even the metaphors that the authors use are directly picked from the real life. For instance, in describing some houses, Flaubert states that they are “like fur caps pulled down over the eyes” (86).

The titles of literary texts play a very significant role in selling the contents. Through the titles of the two texts, the authors manage to hints about the contents of the texts to the readers. As such, the audience is prepared in advance for what they should expect in the respective texts.

The fact that literary realism gives more emphasis to characters than the plot is depicted in the selection of the respective titles.

The title Anna Karenina is derived from the name of the central character in the novel. The author makes it known to the audience that the character is essential to the story, and that arouses a sense of curiosity in the readers.

The readers want to explore why the author has chosen the particular character’s name as the title of his article. This prompts a critical reading of the text. On a similar note, Gustave Flaubert uses the name of the main character in the novel as the title of his text.

The other effect realized by the choice of character names in literary texts such as Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary is that the audience is prepared to expect a real life story involving the real life experiences of the characters.

This is entirely different from when the title of the story is a description of a place or a symbolic name. Both texts manage to suggest realism even before readers engage the text.

The texts focus on the moral dilemmas that are rampant in the middle classes. This is achieved through the characters whose names constitute the titles of the texts.

Both Flaubert’s and Tolstoy’s texts are considered as successful depictions of reality in their different contexts.

Through the careful selection of real life events, the use of a natural language, the emphasis on the characters rather than the plot, and the vivid description of scenarios and characters, the novels explicate the magical sensation that realistic texts are capable of presenting to their readers.

The titles of the texts are also derived from character names adding to the realism effect of the novels.

Works Cited

Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. Trans. Francis Steegmuller. New York: Random House, 1957. Print.

Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karenina: A Novel in Eight Parts. Trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York, NY: Penguin, 2002. Print.

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