Four Genre Outlines

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Romantic Literature is characterized by a propensity for nature, imagination, and intuition. It discards the importance of reason and conventions of society. Characteristics of Romanticism are evident throughout Rip Van Winkle. Rip Van Winkle, the title character, lives by a higher principle which is a notable characteristic of romantic heroes. He is altruistic, and helps his neighbors without questions. Another characteristic displayed is Van Winkle's dislike of town life. He has a difficult time fulfilling his wife's expectations, and this leads to her nagging him. He tries to escape his home life and society by entering the woods. The characters connection to nature is another key aspect of Romanticism that is apparent in the story. But perhaps the most obvious romantic trait is the use of imagination, and the discarding of reason. After encountering the stranger in the woods, becoming entranced, and following him to a gathering of more strangers, Rip Van Winkle drinks from a flask and then falls asleep. When he awakens and returns to the town, he realizes that everything has changed and that he has slept for 20 years.

Transcendentalism was a philosophical and literary movement that celebrated individualism, believed that fundamental truths existed outside of the human experience, and promoted self-examination. It also endorsed an awareness of beauty and truth, and opposed materialistic views of life. One of its main focuses was the exploration of nature.

In The American Scholar Emerson writes about what a scholar must do to gain insight and knowledge. The main characteristic of transcendentalism in this story is the self-examination and search for truth that Emerson writes about. He states that a scholar must gather information from society and use it to then make up his own mind. He believes that a scholar should try different jobs and professions, and fill up every minute of his day. Emerson also believes that a scholar must gather information from all sides for every opinion he encounters, and must never yield to popular opinion. In To a Waterfowl Bryant expresses doubt, uncertainty and faith describing the flight of a bird. Bryant questions how the bird can fly, and acknowledges that the bird allows him to believe in a divine power. The bird and its place in nature are able to impart knowledge. This learning a lesson from nature is very characteristic of transcendentalism.

Realism in literature emphasizes the limits that real life places on people. It also demonstrates how those limitations affect people's lives.
In At the ‘Cadian Ball Chopin reflects on the limitations society put on women in her day. The character Calixta is bound by the conventions of society, and is afraid to pursue Alcee, the man she loves. It is unacceptable in the society of her day for a woman to pursue a man, and so Calixta loses Alcee to Clarisse who behaves unconventionally and declares her love to Alcee. Calixta must settle for Bobinot who is in love with her. Besides showing how the reality of society's conventions affects the lives of the characters, the story also explores another reality. At the end Chopin writes that Alcee has forgotten Calixta whom he whispered words of love to at the ball. She is like a myth, and Clarisse who is in front of him becomes the only one who is real to him. This is a reflection on the impact of actual reality, physical presence, as opposed to memory, or fantasy. Alcee ends up with Clarisse, not because he does not love Calixta, but because Clarisse is real, in front of him and declaring her love.

Naturalism is similar to Realism, but uses a fatalistic perspective. Naturalists believe that environment is a major aspect of life, and that character is predetermined. Naturalism in literature usually views characters as insignificant and for the most part helpless against the world, their environment and their circumstances....
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