Follow TV Tropes



Go To

"Realism is what we expect to be the basis of any fiction... Art must replicate life in some form."

This trope describes the aesthetic school known as Realism.

The idea is extremely simple: Art should replicate real life as closely as possible, and within real life, those things are the common, routine, and ordinary rather than the unusual and outstanding. It should be a "Slice of Life" if you will, and consistent with our expectations of reality outside the text. Realism has had various movements in different media over the centuries, and not necessarily coincident: Theatrical realism became manifest much later than realism in painting. It also appears in other forms in certain genres, such as the seeding idea of hard Science Fiction - the material reality of the fictional world should correspond as closely as possible to that of ours. It informs such concerns as Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic.

Realism can also have different forms within a given medium. A painting could, for example, be photorealistic but depict Greco-Roman gods battling on a field. Similarly, a painting could be very abstract but depict something understood as realistic, such as two people having a conversation over coffee. The "Kitchen-Sink" dramas of the 1950s are an example of one form of realism in the television medium.

A number of other aesthetic movements have sprung from - and in some cases, in opposition to - realism, such as cubism. The expectation of realism from fiction is actually relatively recent and culturally bound. In literary terms, realism is the distinguishing feature of the novel, specifically psychological realism, where the characters act, or are supposed to act, like real people instead of just acting in certain ways to serve the needs of the plot. (Compare how people act in novels with how people act in fairy tales.)

Evidently, opinions vary on the topic of realism. It shares a thread of origin with Romanticism.

See also Reality Is Unrealistic, Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic, Real Is Brown, Art Imitates Life. Realism is not synonymous with cynicism, but the two are often confused in ways which cause tropes such as edginess, explicitness and goriness to be associated with a work becoming "more realistic".

In fiction, there are many Acceptable Breaks from Reality, though many works are Like Reality, Unless Noted.

Compare with Socialist Realism. Not to Be Confused with Real Life.

Examples in this page will relate to the ways in which some creators have played with realism or mentioned it directly.


  • Edward Hopper was known for painting ordinary scenes and ordinary people in a photographic style.


  • Travolta's opening monologue for Swordfish mentions realism and asserts that True Art is Realistic, which is ironic considering how unrealistic the movie itself is.
  • Realism was reacted against rather violently by the autors in Soviet states. In Stalinist films straightforward narratives that emphasized the economics conditions of the working class were violently enforced. Anything else was derided as decadent. Emphasis was also placed on the "objective" rather than the "personal".
    • Tarkovsky rebelled against this by emphasizing that nature was more important than human life and that, in human life, we rarely get answers to our questions.
    • Parajanov rebelled against this by emphasizing symbolism drawn from native Ukrainian culture to tell stories that seem rather small or trivial such as the life of a single poet or a musician trying to get a wife.
  • Italian Neorealism was, at one point, one of the great cinematic forces in the world. It grew out of Italian nationalist cinema after the war and focused on the problems of overlooked people rather than powerful heroes.
    • Fellini was reacting to this by emphasizing the personal and incorporating psychological imagery influenced by Jung. In 8 1/2, a neorealist repeatedly derides the Fellini stand-in for talking about women rather than social problems.


  • Gustave Flaubert's realism emerged as a reaction against the Romantics, who he viewed as suicidally melodramatic. His work is about toning down and checking that emotion. For example, in Felicite, the main character's love relationships with her parent and her motherly relationship to her employer's daughter are much more important than her love her affair. However, Flaubert himself had doubts about the "realist" label feeling that his condemnations of superficial romanticism was easily mistaken for superficial realism.
  • Guy de Maupassant, Flaubert's protege, had a similar style. When he depicts people at war, he focuses on their fears, anxieties and sacrifices. His work also incorporates the developing scientific method. In "L'Horla", when the character encounters an unknown being, he tries to study it. This was a good 40 years before Lovecraft emerged on the scene.
  • Machado de Assis is primarily known for his unique realist style.
  • Henrik Ibsen is known as the father of realism.

Live-Action Television


  • Hamlet: "The purpose of playing... is to hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature."
  • The Realist movement in 19th Century Theatre was profoundly influential on acting techniques, paving the way for Method Acting and further establishing the role of the Director in the performing arts.

Tabletop Games

  • GURPS is meant to be relatively realistic by default. Optional rules and supplements either further the realism or scale it back.