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Published: 03-12-2019

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The Realistic and Romantic Literary Traditions in the Novel

“Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth is not.” This witty aphorism, despite the fact that intended as a commentary on society, also reveals some of Mark Twain’s beliefs about literature. By asserting that fiction must remain in the realm of possibility, Twain establishes his preference of Realism over Romanticism. Realism, a literary style which presents ordinary life in an objective and factual way, is the antithesis of Romanticism, a style which stresses imagination, emotion, and the awesome energy of nature. Nonetheless, despite this proclamation, aspects of Romanticism are clearly present in Twain’s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which seamlessly blends each Realism and Romanticism. These contrasting literary types are identified in the setting, characterization, and plot of the novel.



The use of vivid detail enables Twain to establish an absorbing visual setting. Despite the fact that the setting is inspired by actual rivers and towns, Twain utilizes a quantity of Romantic strategies to convey certain elements of the characters’ surroundings. To establish Huck’s familiarity and comfort with nature, Twain clearly personifies nature, a typical aspect of Romantic literature:

The stars were shining, and the leaves rustled in the woods ever so mournful and I heard an owl, away off, who-whooing about somebody that was dead…and the wind was attempting to whisper anything to me, and I couldn’t make out what it was , and so it made the cold shivers run more than me. (5)

By embellishing the organic surroundings, Twain establishes Huck’s point of view and personality. Even so, Twain also uses Realism to add authenticity to the setting, forcing the reader to recognize the truth behind his words. By presenting towns and rivers as they in fact exist, Twain creates a plausible setting for his story:

We judged that three nights far more would fetch us to Cairo, at the bottom of Illinois exactly where the Ohio River comes in, and that was what we was following. We would sell the raft and get on a steamboat and go way up the Ohio amongst the cost-free states, and then be out of problems. (78)

It is required to point out that Twain often romanticized even those elements of the setting that are based on real landmarks. This is especially evident by way of Twain’s illustration of the Mississippi River. The river, which could very easily be described as simply a massive waterway that serves as a mode of transportation for Huck and Jim , rather becomes a very symbolic element that inspires their imagination. Nonetheless, even inside this idealized setting, Twain adds specific, nearly pedestrian particulars:

Then the nice breeze springs up, and comes fanning you from more than there, so cool and fresh and sweet to smell on account of the woods and the flowers but at times not that way, simply because they’ve let dead fish laying around, gars and such, and they do get fairly rank and next you have got the complete day, and every thing smiling in the sun, and the song-birds just going it! (114)

Twain’s masterful mixture of Realism and Romanticism creates a diverse setting that reflects actual rivers and towns in an idealized way.



Twain’s use of each Romanticism and Realism to create his characters is evident in the dissimilarity between Tom and Huck. While Tom’s flamboyant imagination compels him to make decisions that support him fulfill his fantasies, Huck’s down-to-earth mentality enables him to take the most logical course of action. In this way, Tom serves as a symbol of Romanticism, although Huck is the epitome of Realism. Tom’s romantic tendencies are speedily established in the novel:

Kill the females? No nobody ever saw anything in the books like that. You fetch them to the cave, and you are usually as polite as pie to them and by and by they fall in adore with you, and never ever want to go property and a lot more. (11)

Tom dreams of living out the romantic fantasies he has been exposed to through reading. Huck, on the other hand, believes that these tips are pointless and illogical. Whilst Tom utilizes his imagination to liven up ordinary occurrences, Huck refuses to see previous the truth:

But there warn’t no Spaniards and A-rabs, and there warn’t no camels nor no elephants. It warn’t something but a Sunday-college picnic, and only a primer class at that. (14)

Despite the fact that both boys feel strongly about their views, Huck lacks Tom’s self-confidence, and as a result keeps his opinions to himself. Since of this, Tom’s Romanticism triumphs over Huck’s Realism. This triumph is brief-lived in the eyes of the reader, nonetheless, due to the fact Twain brings Tom’s Romantic views into conflict with Jim’s freedom. As an alternative of easily escaping, Tom tends to make a production out Jim’s stint in captivity, claiming that it would not be correct to escape very easily:

Blame it, this entire thing is just as easy and awkward as it can be. And so it tends to make it so rotten difficult to get up a difficult plan…why, all you got to do is to lift up the bedstead and slip off the chain….It’s the stupidest arrangement I ever see. You got to invent all the difficulties. (229)

While Tom’s Romanticism is acceptable as childish play, his wish to fulfill his personal fantasies at the expense of another’s freedom is virtually sickening. Twain utilizes each Romanticism and Realism within his characterization of Huck and Tom, but he clearly favors Huck’s realistic outlook on life.



Twain creates conflict between the Romanticism of Tom and the Realism of Huck, however this conflict is not repeated in the development of the plot. Realism and Romanticism function together to further the events of the story. At several points, Twain makes use of a distinctly realistic tone to advance the plot, such as when Huck and Jim turn into separated on the river:

The second night a god began to come on…I passed the line around one particular of [the saplings] right on the edge of the reduce bank, but there was a stiff present and the raft came booming down so lively she tore it out by the roots and away she went…There warn’t no raft in sight and you couldn’t see twenty yards. (78)

This twist in the plot illustrates an occasion that would be commonly skilled when traveling along the river. By advancing the plot by means of the use of realistic conditions, Twain reinforces the authenticity of his novel. Nevertheless, Twain also employs rather outlandish plot devices that are representative of Romanticism, such as Tom’s particularly miraculous look close to the finish of the book.

“It’s Tom Sawyer!” By jings, I most slumped by means of the floor! But there warn’t no time to swap knives the old man grabbed me by the hand and shook, and kept on shaking. (215)

It is basically illogical for Huck to randomly show up at the precise same property where Tom is expected. This really preposterous occasion is an example of Twain’s use of Romanticism.

A fusion in between the two types is evident in the actions of the duke and the king. Both characters use outlandish, but efficient, ploys to extort massive sums of money from their victims. However, Twain meshes these romantic, outrageous schemes with typical-spot, realistic events from his time period. This is apparent in the camp-meeting scene:

He told them he was a pirate…and, poor as he was…put in the rest of his life trying to turn the pirates into the true path…Then somebody sings out, “Take up a collection for him take up a collection!” (128).

By using each Realism and Romanticism to formulate events in the novel, Twain increases the effectiveness and fluidity of the plot.



Mark Twain utilizes each Realism and Romanticism, often simultaneously, to develop the setting, characterization, and plot of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Although Twain states that “fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities,” his use of each Romanticism and Realism is evident throughout the novel, and this added richness advantages the reader.
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