Analyzing Realism Of 18th Century Authors

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19th May 2017 English Literature Reference this

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In this essay I will be focusing on two very interesting texts which depict realism in their own ways. I will be analysing Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders and Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko. “…realism came to be used primarily as the antonym of idealism, and this sense, which is actually a reflection of the position taken by the enemies of the French Realists, has in fact coloured much critical and historical writing about the novel” [1] . I will be examining the way in which the characters individualism is linked with the claim to truth in both texts; this will help me establish whether the attempts of realism of eighteenth century writers were complex enough to be convincing or not.

Moll Flanders on the other hand is obliged to the tradition of a novel which depicts in realistic and humorous detail. Moll’s life is conveyed in episodes within the text which makes her story seem more realistic. “When Defoe began to write…he merely allowed his narrative order to flow spontaneously from his own sense of what his protagonist might plausibly do next.” [4] The dismissal of a conforming plot is stated in both of the texts by the way in which the storylines are presented; the writers choose to write in a biography style which is a method which aims to attract the reader’s attention. Oroonoko as a character is very different as he is a prince yet at the same time a black slave. The rise of realism tries to have an effect on the readers so they can believe it; this proves to be a huge generic feature in the novel. The title ‘Oroonoko’ shows how the story claims truth right from the start; there is a claim of reliability of the narrator. The first half of the book contains long passages of descriptions of the landscape which seems to be exotic; this makes the story seem believable as it adds to the reality effect. The background of the novel is illustrated to have a lot of detail, yet at the same time the narrator’s character doesn’t seem developed. The female narrator that is un-named claims she saw Oroonoko like she ‘knew’ him; this gives the story an appearance of truth. She monitors and tells the story to her audience even though we don’t know fully what she looks like or why she is in Surinam. We know of her just as an observer and that she is quite well educated. The book is a good look at some of the contemporary issues in Britain; it focuses on the buying and selling of human beings. Behn forces up to a controversial issue which makes the book very believable and able to connect with the readers, it is a text which argues that en-slaving a prince is wrong.

The aspect of individuality in Moll Flanders is an interesting aspect to look at as she is quite one-sided due to her concerns in life of an economic nature. Moll’s character is expressed in the text through the consciousness of her thoughts and behaviour; she is shown to be completely devoted to material comfort. It is fascinating to note that Defoe’s protagonist has a very realistic name while the narrator in Behn’s text doesn’t have any name. Moll changes throughout the novel, she is shown to do everything as a necessity. She learns to survive; and is shown to give out her children trying to find them good homes. Her character is believable as she talks about herself and judges herself as a whore; she undergoes the guilt of her bigamy and sex in the text. Moll is revealed to contradict herself in the novel as she’ll say she feels guilty about something yet does it anyway. “…the novel is surely distinguished from other genres and from previous forms of fiction by the amount of attention…of its characters and to the detailed presentation of their environment.” [5] As a female narrator Moll is quite believable; her maternal instincts are shown to keep her alive. She has many children, and subverts the traditional role of a woman in the eighteenth century; the text demonstrates the believability of a woman very vividly.

Defoe’s text is a story which begins with Moll’s birth; her character is shown to be clever, quick and talented knowing how to survive in a patriarchal society. Defoe had many careers, one which was a professional spy. Moll learns about disguise in the text as she hides other characters identities allowing the concept of realism to come into light. Could she be concealing identities of real people? It could be that she did this in order to add to the believability and documentary sense of the story. We as the readers are presented with the story being told by an old Moll, it is clear to identify the difference between the old and new Moll in the story. Even though we can see this growth, Moll finds it hard to see the transformation and development she has undergone. She is shown to grow older physically yet she forgets countless parts of her life. Moll is deeply fixed in the time process and even though there is not much development in her character, she is influenced by her previous experiences. Time contributes to Oroonoko as it reveals a part of the British history. The Surinam parts in the text can be seen as more of a travel story, the narrator doesn’t respond to time yet undertakes a role to support Oroonoko throughout the novel. She claims to have power right from the beginning of the text however similar to Moll she is unable to apply her past thoughts.

One of the characteristics of realism is a realist point of view in language and text structure. Defoe was a journalist; Moll Flanders reflects this, as it is written in a reporting style. There are no literary devices used in the text so the reader can easily have familiarity with the text. Behn’s style is very practical along with Defoe’s. Her narrator tells us the readers what she observes and sees. “While we, as readers of the novel, are free to accept the author’s words simply as rhetorical verification of her reliability as a narrator…the truth of her statement dominates discussion of the work.” [6] In both books there is closeness linking the reader and the narrator. The characters which are presented by both Defoe and Behn can be seen as challenging, it is possible that both writers were aware of how difficult it would be to create a convincing character, therefore most probably claimed the truth of the stories in the preface before the stories even began. The narrator figure in Oroonoko can in many ways be seen as an illusive Aphra Behn, she becomes very vivid, and therefore the readers may assume a connection. Behn’s Oroonoko being a real travel journal shows the reliability of the narrator. If the truth was not stated then the claim to truth at the beginning of the texts would have been perceived as northing more than a literary device which is parallel to Defoe’s. Behn uses her narrator to raise awareness of the government, politics and male dominance over women as a concerning factor, whereas Moll seems to lack this complexity. It unlikely to analyze Moll as Defoe concentrated more on her actions rather than her personality.

In conclusion both Behn’s Oroonoko and Defoe’s Moll Flanders illustrate good attempts at realism of eighteenth century writers. Both Behn and Defoe have one thing in common which is the claim of truth of their narratives. Oroonoko is a text which lacks features of a novel however we can see that it has a lot of the criteria of the realistic form above all the narrator figure who reveals a new genre. Oroonoko is written in the first person narrative and by a woman therefore is quite realistic. She has good incentive and qualities, as she wants to give infinite recognition to Oroonoko’s character. All these qualities support the realism and originality of Behn’s text. Through this essay I have tackled the question whether Moll Flanders is a convincing text or not. Similar to Oroonoko, it fulfils a lot of the criteria of realism in the novel. Molls own awareness is built up as she is illustrated to be more of an individual character rather than the narrator in Oroonoko who is fictionalized. I do not agree that ‘the attempts of realism of eighteenth century writers are never complex enough to be convincing’. I feel that both texts evidently convey very convincing and realistic pieces of writing through the characters, settings and narratives which are presented.

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