The Vicarious Experience of Realism and Romanticism The two concepts of realism and romanticism are essentially complete opposites. Realism looks at the facts and gives the reader a vicarious experience through its story, making them feel the pain, sorrow, or happiness. Romanticism sugar coats everything and makes something that in real life is tragic and painful into something beautiful.
Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn gives the reader the experience of death in its true tragic form through realism making the reader feel the pain of life in its first person narration, while Edgar Allen Poe’s poem Annabel Lee gives the reader an experience of romanticizing death, allowing the reader to feel pain in a less tragic and less painful way through its detachment. The differences in the writing styles of Poe and Twain are vast. Poe’s romanticism finds the beauty in anything, including death.
In Annabel Lee the death of Annabel is not openly admitted but hidden behind Poe’s usage of words when he says “A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling My beautiful Annabel Lee; So that her highborn kinsman came And bore her away from me, To shut her up in a sepulcher In this kingdom by the sea” (Poe 13-20). By the words that he uses, he expresses the beauty that he saw in her death and the love that he had for her even after death. Twain on the other hand did not hide the ugliness of anything in the world and rather showed it blatantly, although sometimes using humor to do so.
Twain uses the characters of his book to do this for him. The Duke and the King are characters that show the ugliness of all men. Twain shows their true greediness and stupidity when they pretend to be Peter Wilks’ Brothers just to get the money in his will. Huck’s realization of this is shown when he says “Then he turns around, blubbering, and makes a lot of idiotic signs to the duke on his hands, and blamed if he didn’t drop a carpet-bag and bust out a-cryinging. If they warn’t the beatenest lot, them two frauds, that ever I struck” (Twain 159). Through them he shows the fakeness of mankind and how greedy they truly are.
Unlike Poe sugar coating everything and making something extremely horrible into a beautiful thing, Twain exposed it for what it is attacking what he believes needs to be attacked without sugar coating anything. In both of these works of literature love is presented in a completely different way. Poe makes it something that is always there, everlasting even. After Annabel’s death he talks about how much he truly loves her and how their love will last forever. He describes how he can feel the love but he can never see the love. This would be very hard for Twain’s character Huck to understand.
Huck is a realist, like Twain, and does not believe in the things that cannot be seen. The reason behind him not being able to grasp the concept of love is because of the people that he has in his life. Jim loves his family very much and would do anything for them including giving up his own life. Huck does not understand why Jim is risking his life for his family in this way. The part of the love that confuses Huck the most is when he talks about his daughter and how she got sick and became deaf. The reason why this confused Huck was because he is used to Pap and how Pap would treat him.
Pap doesn’t really care about Huck’s wellbeing and was even willing to kill his own son to get what he wanted. Twain was showing love in two completely different ways that are evident in life today while Poe was showing the fairytale of love and how people wish it would be allowing you to feel what you wanted to feel all of your life vicariously through the love he has for Annabel. How death is treated in both pieces is completely different. Poe makes it hard to see. He makes it a beautiful thing and does not make it evident that there was a death until the end.
The reason it was hard to be seen was because he did not show any signs of being sad or even mourn the loss of the Annabel Lee but instead talked about their undying love which distracted him from the fact that she was dead. Twain on the other hand showed death in its true tragic form almost making it hard for the reader to read and the characters to deal with. When Jim discovers the dead person in the house, he does not want Huck to see it because he knows that Huck could not deal with it and in return Jim is protecting Huck. Later in the novel the death of Huck’s friend Buck shakes up Huck.
Twain shows the reality of death when Huck says “… then I covered up their faces, and got away as quick as I could. I cried a little when I was covering up Buck’s face, for he was mighty good to me” (Twain 116-117). This was a extremely tragic part of the novel because of the death. Twain did not cover up the death but showed it in its true form making it hard for the characters to handle and allowing the reader see the true tragedy. The characters in the two pieces were affected very differently by the death of the loved one. Poe saw it as extremely beautiful and as a way to further their love.
In the end he says “And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride, In the sepulchre there by the sea, In her tomb by the sounding sea” (Poe 38-41). This is a weird almost disgusting way to show his love for her by lying down next to her. The reader is thinking about how nasty it would be to lay down next to a corpse, but to him it was not a corpse it was just a symbol of their love and its undying qualities. When Buck dies in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck is traumatized. For the first time in the book he cries which is very out of character for Huck.
He almost went into this state of shock and he felt very bad. Unlike Poe, Twain signified this as the end of Buck’s life and shows that through the reaction of his characters. Although both Twain’s and Poe’s writing styles are good, Poe seems to have the upper hand. The reason behind this is people have the ability to experience everything that Twain talks about and know where he is coming from but we could never truly live what Poe writes making it a better vicarious experience. In our world we do not see death as beautiful, we see it as tragic and it really can scar us.
In real life love isn’t undying and all powerful but instead it is faulty and can sometimes be very hurtful. This truly gives Poe the upper hand by creating a better vicarious experience for all of his readers. This allows for once in the readers life for them to be able to not feel the pain behind death and to feel the undying love. Twain made all of his readers feel what they might feel on an everyday basis, making for a realistic story but a typical experience for the readers. When one reads a piece of literature he is looking for a new experience not one he already wakes up every day and lives.