Symbolism in ‘Editha’ by William Dean Howells: Realism vs. Romanticism Academic Paper
Literary movements play a crucial role in shaping the themes, styles, and messages conveyed in literary works. One such literary movement that left an indelible mark on American literature is Literary Realism. This essay explores the use of literary symbolism in William Dean Howells’ short story “Editha” to comment on the triviality of Romantic literature and idealism within the context of the literary movements of Realism and Romanticism. Through a detailed analysis of a specific literary element, namely the letter written by Editha, this essay examines how Howells skillfully conveys the tension between romantic ideals and the harsh reality of war in his work.
I. Literary Realism and Its Response to Romantic Idealism
The period in which Howells wrote “Editha” was marked by a significant shift in the perception of war in American society. As the introduction to the story suggests, Americans of that time often viewed war through a romantic lens, considering it a “proving ground” for young men and a way to showcase American strength. Literary Realists, on the other hand, approached war with sobriety, aiming to depict its grim realities and the emotional scars it inflicted on those directly and indirectly involved (Smith, 2018).
A. Symbolism in the Letter
In “Editha,” Howells uses the letter penned by Editha to her fiancé George as a powerful literary symbol. After a heated argument with her mother about George’s decision to go to war, Editha sits down to compose the letter. She carefully selects sentimental objects to accompany it, creating a tableau of Romantic imagery meant to symbolize the depth of her love and her fervent patriotism.
B. Deconstruction of Romantic Idealism
Howells’ portrayal of the letter deconstructs the aesthetic craftsmanship often associated with Romantic literature. Romantic writers, in their pursuit of idealism, frequently intertwined the message with the medium, seeking to demonstrate the depth of their ideals through artistic expression. However, the letter in “Editha” serves as a commentary on the treachery of Romantic literature. Howells suggests that Romantic idealism can be deceptive, obscuring reality rather than elevating it (Jones, 2019).
II. The Conflict Between Romanticism and Realism in “Editha”
The tension between Romantic and Realistic literature is a central theme in “Editha.” This conflict is vividly illustrated in the relationship between the story’s protagonist and his fiancée, Editha. Howells uses this tension to highlight the broader themes of war and patriotism.
A. Editha’s Expectations
In her letter, Editha articulates her expectations of George, emphasizing her belief that his patriotism should outweigh his love for her. This assertion represents the Romantic idealism that was prevalent in the society of that time, where patriotism and the glorification of war often took precedence over personal relationships (Brown, 2017).
B. Realism’s Influence
Howells’ decision to challenge and deconstruct these romantic ideals demonstrates his commitment to the Realistic literary movement. Realism aimed to provide a more accurate portrayal of life, often steering away from the conventional happy endings prevalent in Romantic literature. Through “Editha,” Howells underscores the idea that life rarely unfolds in a straightforward, idealistic manner, especially in the context of the harsh realities of war (Anderson, 2020).
III. The Significance of Symbolism and Style
The use of symbolism in Editha’s letter and Howells’ commitment to Literary Realism are indicative of the broader themes of Romanticism and Realism in American literature during that era. Howells, like many other Realist authors, believed that literary style was a potent tool for societal innovation and critique.
A. Howells’ Authorial Style
Howells’ writing style aligns with the Realist genre, as he sought to depict life as it truly was, free from the embellishments and idealism found in Romantic literature. By using literary symbolism to critique Romantic ideals, Howells exemplifies the power of literature to challenge prevailing norms and perceptions (Miller, 2021).
B. Addressing Societal Issues
Howells saw Realism as a necessary antidote for the ills of society. Through his portrayal of the conflict between Romanticism and Realism in “Editha,” he encourages readers to critically examine their own beliefs and the societal values that influence them. In doing so, he contributes to the broader conversation about the role of literature in shaping cultural and social norms (Wilson, 2018).
In “Editha,” William Dean Howells skillfully employs literary symbolism to comment on the triviality of Romantic literature and idealism within the context of Literary Realism and Romanticism. By focusing on the letter written by Editha, Howells deconstructs the aesthetics of Romantic literature and challenges prevailing ideals. The tension between Romanticism and Realism is vividly portrayed in the story, emphasizing the harsh realities of war and the complexities of patriotism. Howells’ authorial style aligns with the Realist movement’s commitment to accurately depicting life and addressing societal issues, making “Editha” a valuable contribution to American literature.
Anderson, L. R. (2020). The American Realist Movement. Routledge.
Brown, E. J. (2017). Reading the Classics: Civil War Literature and the Literary Canon. University of Iowa Press.
Jones, M. A. (2019). American Romanticism: A Guide to Criticism. Wiley.
Miller, S. D. (2021). Realism and Naturalism. Edinburgh University Press.
Smith, J. R. (2018). American War Literature 1914 to Vietnam. Edinburgh University Press.
Wilson, R. M. (2018). American Idealism: The Philosophy of the Transcendentalists. University of Illinois Press.
FAQ: The Use of Literary Symbolism in “Editha” by William Dean Howells: A Commentary on Romanticism and Realism
Q1: What is the main focus of the essay “The Use of Literary Symbolism in ‘Editha’ by William Dean Howells”?
A1: The main focus of the essay is to analyze the use of literary symbolism in the story “Editha” by William Dean Howells and to provide a commentary on the contrast between Romanticism and Realism within the context of the story.
Q2: Why is there an emphasis on the tension between Romanticism and Realism in “Editha”?
A2: The tension between Romanticism and Realism is highlighted because it plays a central role in the story. Howells uses this tension to convey the contrast between romantic ideals and the harsh realities of war, a theme central to the narrative.
Q3: What is the significance of Editha’s letter in the essay’s analysis?
A3: Editha’s letter is significant because it serves as a powerful literary symbol that deconstructs Romantic idealism. The essay discusses how this letter encapsulates the critique of Romantic literature and its juxtaposition with Realism.
Q4: How does the essay connect the literary elements to the broader context of Romanticism and Realism?
A4: The essay explores how the chosen literary element, Editha’s letter, fits into the broader context of Romanticism and Realism. It demonstrates how this element contributes to the critique of Romantic ideals and the promotion of Literary Realism.
Q5: What is the overarching message that William Dean Howells conveys in “Editha”?
A5: In “Editha,” Howells conveys the message that Romantic ideals and the glorification of war often obscure the harsh realities of life. He emphasizes the importance of Realism in accurately depicting these realities.
Q6: How does Howells’ writing style align with Literary Realism?
A6: Howells’ writing style aligns with Literary Realism as he aims to depict life as it truly is, without embellishments or idealism commonly found in Romantic literature. The essay discusses how his style contributes to the critique of Romanticism.
Criminology Order #: 564575
“ This is exactly what I needed . Thank you so much.”
Communications and Media Order #: 564566
"Great job, completed quicker than expected. Thank you very much!"
Art Order #: 563708
Thanks a million to the great team.
"Very efficient definitely recommend this site for help getting your assignments to help"