Realism is a literary and art movement that began in the mid-nineteenth-century. It began in French and Russian literature and continued through the late nineteenth-century all the way until the early twentieth-century. Realism, defined as simply as possible is an accurate depiction of everyday real life in film, art, or literature. Realism has a focus on authenticity and truth. While realism is the main literary movement, there are subsections of realism such as Italian Neo-Realism which will be explored in detail. While the following works of realism are different types of realism, they all share qualities such as a view of the life of everyday people, detailed characters, accurate diction, and plausible events. These aspects of realism can be seen in, Bicycle Thieves directed by Vittorio De Sica, Germany Year Zero directed by Roberto Rossellini, Madame Bovary written by Gustave Flaubert, and The Real Thing written by Henry James.    Italian Neo-Realism is a style of film that has a focus on the economic crisis in Italy that followed the end of World War II. These films mainly focused on the lower and working class, but occasionally would touch upon the middle-class. In Bicycle Thieves De Sica was able to accurately portray the utter desperation and crippling poverty that enveloped Italy after the war. He chose to film off set, and on site. By filming on site the audience gets a first-person view of exactly how destroyed these places were in real life after the war. By doing this, not only does the audience see real locations that were destroyed by a real war, but they also are more likely to have a stronger reaction to the film if they can see the desolation and squalor that envelopes everyone. By filming on site De Sica also decided to try to use as much natural light as possible in order to avoid harsh artificial lights. He also tried his best to avoid extravagant camera shots such as crane shots because he wanted there to be little to no difference between what is being seen on the site and what would later be seen on the film. By removing sets and stage lighting, De Sica created this film in a way that removed anything that was artificial which added to the realisticness of the film. Even his actors weren’t trained professionals. Many of his actors, even lead roles, were people off the street. By doing this, De Sica created characters that would elicit sympathy from viewers do to relatability. Untrained actors also did not come with any pretentiousness so it was easy to create them into the characters he needed. Italian Neo-Realism films oftentimes are less about the plotline and more about the ethical obligation to make aware the struggles that the working class went through post WW2.  As mentioned above, one big aspect of Italian Neo-Realism is the focus on lower and working-class people and their struggles going through day to day life. This is seen very clearly in Bicycle Thieves. At the preface of the film, Antonio receives a job putting up posters around town. He needs to get around faster than on foot so he needs his bicycle. When his bicycle was stolen his son and wife do everything they can to help him get it back. The wife sells all the sheets they owned to get money to get the bike back in the first place and the film shows this warehouse packed to the rafters with sheets. It becomes clear that everyone else is struggling just as much. Without his bike, Antonio’s job could easily be taken by someone else so he searches everywhere for his bike. His young son, Bruno helps out as well. They visited a gypsy and she told him that if he doesn’t find his bike soon that he is not going to find it at all. That becomes true. By the end of the film, he does not get his bike back. When you are living in poverty and your only way to get a source of income is lost, that becomes the most important thing in your life. The bicycle was so vital to Antonio that he was so absorbed in finding it that he lost sight of the fact that his family is what was truly important to him. De Sica’s decision to have the film be black and white also gave it a somber and bleak emotion to it. While real life is not black and white, this color choice does highlight the gloomy post-war conditions.  In many realism films, the characters are more important than the plot. The plot of this movie is very simple. It seems that it is just a search for a bicycle but underneath the simple plot, there is a bigger meaning. It is clear that throughout the film the relationship between Antonio and Bruno is becoming stronger. At the last scene of the movie after Antonio still cannot find his bicycle, Bruno grabs his hand and they walk side by side into the distance. This seems to be a turning point in their relationship where Bruno realizes that, while his father may not be the superhero he thought he was being by providing for the family, that he is still someone to look up to and love. Ending the film that way speaks volumes to the reality of Antonio’s situation. Even without his bike, he still has his family’s love. Another film that is an Italian Neo-Realism creation is Germany Year Zero. Similar to Bicycle Thieves, Germany Year Zero was based off of the destruction and poverty that followed World War II. This film was released a mere three years after the war tore through Germany. At the preface of this film, we are given a monologue assumed to be by director Roberto Rossellini in which he says, The very foundation of human life, they become criminal folly. Even childhood innocence is tainted and drawn from a horrible crime to a lesser one in which through its own ingenuity, it believes to find freedom from guilt. This movie, shot in Berlin in the summer of 1947, aims only to be an objective and true portrait of this large, almost totally destroyed city where 3.5 million people live a terrible, desperate life, almost without realizing it. They live as if tragedy were natural, not because of strength or faith, but because they are tired. This is not an accusation or even a defense of the German people. It is an objective assessment. Yet if anyone, after watching Edmund Koeler’s story, feels that something needs to be done–that German children need to relearn to love life–then the efforts of those who made this movie will be greatly rewarded. (Rossellini)So, even before the movie really begins, the audience is not only shown the war-torn city with buildings crumbling to the ground, but they are also told what the purpose of the movie was in Rossellini’s mind. Directors usually start a movie with a certain outcome in mind or at least the kinds of emotions they want to make their audience feel. In this case, Rossellini was very clear in saying that he wants the audience to feel sorrow for the German children and that they feel the need to do something to help change the state that Germany was in during the time the film was made. Similar to De Sica, Rossellini also favored filming on site and avoiding artificial stage lighting. By filming on site and not using lights, Rossellini was able to remove most of the artificiality of the filming process which makes the film closer to real life than it would have been if it was on a set. He also used many untrained actors in his films. Germany Year Zero was the third movie in a war trilogy that Rossellini was creating. Previous to Germany Year Zero was Open City followed by Paisà. The destruction and poverty that comes with post-war economies are shown clearly in this film. Rossellini focused on the life of ordinary people as realism tends to do. The main character, twelve-year-old Edmund lives with his bedridden father and his sister Eva and brother Karl-Heinz. Eva is too busy taking care of her father to work and Karl-Heinz will not go to the police to get a ration card because he is an ex-nazi and is afraid of what would happen if the police found out. Being left to his own devices Edmund gets a job digging graves until it is found out that he is not old enough to be working. The financial struggle is very clear in this specific scene in which many people are digging graves because one guy exclaimed that they are already digging the graves, they might as well jump in them. People could not afford to live so they were getting food where they could even if that included cutting up a horse that had fallen in the street. After losing his job digging graves, Edmund runs into his old teacher, Mr. Enning who tells him, Times are hard for everybody. Worse for old and weak people. You’ve done what you could. You can’t change destiny… If he dies, he dies. We all die sooner or later. Would you rather die yourself or let an old man live? Did I make myself clear? Enough of this sentimentality. Life is what it is. We’ve been shaped by different conditions. You’re afraid of your father dying. Learn from the natural world. The strong eliminate the weak. You need the courage to sacrifice the weak. It’s a natural law, for humans as well. What counts in a situation like ours is to survive. Edmund, don’t be foolish. Know your responsibilities. Goodbye. (Germany Year Zero). Unfortunately, Edmund misunderstood what exactly his old teacher was suggesting. Edmund knew that there were too many mouths to feed in his house and he knew that his father was very ill and likely going to die soon so he assumed that Mr.Enning meet to sacrifice the weak, meaning his father. It became clear that if his father was dead that while his brother still would likely not go to the police to get a ration card, that his sister would no longer be busy taking care of her father to work. Edmund ends up poisoning his father and he dies in his sleep. Shortly after he dies, the police raid the home and take Karl-Heinz into custody. This shows the realistic struggles one may very likely go through in a post-war society with the economy that is left. Edmund knew his family was desperate enough to get money that he took what he thought was the logical next step. While feeding one less mouth was helpful, the grief became too much for Edmund to handle. He begins to wander the street feeling quite distraught. He runs into Mr.Enning and told him that he murdered his father as he had suggested and Mr. Enning refused that he suggested anything of the kind. Feeling guilty, Edmund climbs up the ruins of a bombed building and watched his family from below. He sees his father’s coffin carried out of the house as  he hears his sister calling his name, he is overcome with the pain he has caused his family and he jumps to his death. This dismal ending just goes to show the struggle and chaos that most living in a post-war society would be going through. The strong eliminate the weak. Madame Bovary, published in 1856, is considered to be one of the finest realism novels of its time. This is due to the fact that French author, Gustave Flaubert was able to successfully portray realistic, unembellished everyday life of everyday common people. The most artistry was perhaps Flaubert’s ability to represent the dull, mundane life of these middle-class people without having his novel emanate the same dull characteristic.  Emma Bovary, our story’s protagonist, craves wealth, beauty, passion, and romanticism. Her longing for an upper class live drives most of the novel. In order to escape her ordinary, perhaps even banal life, she lives well beyond her means which causes everything from affairs, debt, and even death. Flaubert’s focus on even the smallest details gives the audience an in-depth view of what he sculpted these characters to be. The audience is able to vividly picture what each character looked like along with their surroundings. Flaubert had an immense focus on detail so the book would ring true to real life. This can be seen in many sections throughout the book starting in the very first chapter with a detailed description of Charles Bovary as a young student. He writes, The ‘new fellow,’ standing in the corner behind the door so that he could hardly be seen, was a country lad of about fifteen, and taller than any of us. His hair was cut square on his forehead like a village chorister’s; he looked reliable, but very ill at ease. Although he was not broad-shouldered, his short school jacket of green cloth with black buttons must have been tight about the arm-holes, and showed at the opening of the cuffs red wrists accustomed to being bare. His legs, in blue stockings, looked out from beneath yellow trousers, drawn tight by braces, He wore stout, ill-cleaned, hob-nailed boots (3). Flaubert could have left this character description of Charles way less detailed, but he chose to give his audience an in-depth view of exactly what Charles looked like so it would feel as if you were there with him. Flaubert does something similar for Emma Bovary. Here, instead of seeing Emma’s appearance, one sees the appearance of the room around her and her reactions to the room. Flaubert writes, But it was above all at mealtimes that she could bear it no longer, in that little room on the ground floor, with the smoking stove, the creaking door, the oozing walls, the damp floor-tiles; all the bitterness of life seemed to be served to her on her plate, and, with the steam from the boiled beef, there rose from the depths of her soul other exhalations as it were of disgust. Charles was a slow eater; she would nibble a few hazel-nuts, or else, leaning on her elbow, would amuse herself making marks on the oilcloth with the point of her table-knife (56). This quote shows aspects of realism because it focuses on all of the little details, even the ones that are not so pleasant such as the “oozing walls”. These details may seem mundane, but they place the reader into the story and makes it feel like real life. Here not only do we see realism, but we are given an interesting description of Emma’s emotions. The details in the writing allow the audience to almost feel Emma’s disgust. While Emma wants to escape from her everyday life, one can see in this scene that she is surrounded by many of the things she despises the most. This quote almost gives a feeling of claustrophobia. One can feel the stuffy room full of smoke from the stove and hear the creaking door and see the oozing walls. These descriptions are not pretty or desirable, they show how trivial Emma’s day to day life is and immerses the reader into her world. Realist novels often delve into their character’s minds and show how they interact with the society they are living in. Emma Bovary herself is realism in terms of her character. Emma represents the situation that many people in that time of history were in. At the time the book takes place, feminism in France was beginning to develop to be stronger but there still hadn’t been many changes, so Emma still felt quite constrained by society’s rules. Many women of that time were also in Emma’s circumstances. Showing Emma’s dissatisfaction and restlessness was an accurate depiction of the time. Restlessness and dissatisfaction can be relatable even to the modern day reader. Emma’s perception of reality is also skewed because she idealizes the characters in the romantic novels she reads. Emma eventually delves into living an upper-class life to the best of her abilities by having affairs with wealthier men. However, with small towns being how they are in real life, the news of her affairs traveled fast. Emma’s debt piles up quickly and she eventually has to have an auction in order to pay her taxes. Realizing how desperate her situation is, Emma gets arsenic from the apothecary shop and takes a bunch of it and dies slowly as Charles weeps by her side. She realized that there was no way to hide her affairs and deal with the consequences of her debt so she decides she would rather die. What is also important to note is the fact that Flaubert switches from past tense which he uses for most of the novel, to present tense which he only uses for the last few pages of the novel. Using the present tense almost makes the story feel even more real. The Real Thing by Henry James, published in 1892, gives the reader a view of an unnamed narrator who is a painter and his interaction between some of his models. A previously aristocratic couple named Major and Mrs.Monarch enter the picture. They are “the real thing” in the fact that they can accurately depict the aristocratic type in paintings, but they prove to be able to only do that. Miss Churm who is the painters usual model is considerably more flexible than the Monarch’s and she is able to become anyone the painter desires. The painter is confused as to why the Monarch’s would come to him to model as it is such a low paying job and they seemed to be the aristocratic type. After long enough it becomes apparent that the Monarch’s don’t actually have any money to their name. He takes pity on them and allows them to give modeling a shot. The painter soon realized that he was going to have issues with the Monarch’s. He did everything he could but to no avail, she looked the same. James writes, ” I placed her in every conceivable position, but she managed to obliterate their differences. She was always a lady certainly, and into the bargain was always the same lady. She was the real thing, but always the same thing. There were moments when I was oppressed by the serenity of her confidence that she was the real thing” (21). The plan went much smoother with Miss Churm. Miss Churm came through the door and the painter told her she was going to be a Russian Princess and Major Monarch’s response was charged. James writes, “‘Do you think she looks like a Russian princess?’ Major Monarch asked, with lurking alarm. ‘When I make her, yes.’ ‘Oh, if you have to make her!’ he reasoned, acutely. ‘That’s the most you can ask. There are so many that are not makeable.’ ‘Well now, here’s a lady’- and with a persuasive smile he passed his arm into his wife’s- ‘who’s already made!’ (James 17-18). The painter tried his hardest but no matter how he positioned or dressed Mrs.Monarch, she could only look like herself and nothing more. He could not work successfully under those constraints.     The Monarch’s were desperate for money so they tried to convince the painter to let them stay, however, when it came to trying to create realistic characters for his paintings, the Monarch’s were not suitable models due to the fact that they could only portray rich aristocrats. Miss Churm however, was much more suited to become different characters. Not only did Miss Churm transform herself to look like different characters, but she almost embodied their spirit and attitude as well. James writes, “She was a meagre little Miss Churm, but she was an ample heroine of romance. She was only a freckled cockney, but she could represent everything, from a fine lady to a shepherdess; she had the faculty, as she might have had a fine voice or long hair” (15). While Miss Churm may have been your average, everyday woman, she was able to encompass so much. Averageness is common in works of realism. Realism movies focus on the lives of everyday people who are mostly lower class. Similarly, James focused on Miss Churm who was a plain, commonplace lower-class English woman. She was good at, “being so little in herself, she should yet be so much in others” (James 15). Jame’s unique fascination between what is real and what is merely an artificial representation of what is real makes his view on realism interesting. In The Real Thing, the narrator views art as a glorified representation or reality. With this view art possess great qualities of realism than reality itself. Miss Churm was malleable and able to be molded into whatever was needed that day. She could transform from the richest of women, to the poorest of the poor. Mrs. Monarch was only able to be herself so, she was not useful to the artist. James seems to be trying to say that artificiality, to an extent, will provide a stronger example of realism than that which occurs naturally. This view is different than many realists who try to remove anything artificial from their films or works of fiction. While his point of view is unique, James was coined a key author in the realist movement. Realism broadly defined is the faithful representation of reality. Reality, as many know can be skewed for some. For example, Emma Bovary’s view of reality was lead astray by her romantic ideals. While what was represented in all of these works of realism varied, each plot rang true to the realism definition in its own way. Bicycle Thieves, Germany Year Zero, Madame Bovary, and The Real Thing are all works of the realism movement and while they have many differences, they all have a focus on the middle or lower class and the banality of life that comes with it. While realism may not represent everyone’s reality, it does represent the reality of many.


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