October 21, 2005

What Is Realism?

As an educational writer, it often falls to my lot to write lessons and test questions on the fundamental concepts of literature, such as plot and character, conflict and setting and theme, fiction versus nonfiction, realism versus fantasy. This morning at the breakfast table I was startled to hear Agents 95 and 97, over their raisin bread and cashew butter sandwiches, spontaneously discuss some of these very issues. It began when Agent 97 asked his older brother where to find the nonfiction in the school library. Agent 95 gave physical directions – go left at the front desk – but 97 stopped him:

“You mean the number sections?”

Exactly! I helpfully reinforced the knowledge that the Dewey decimal numbers are for nonfiction, while fiction is arranged by blah blah blah…

“Fiction is basically fantasy,” Agent 97, “and nonfiction is stuff that could really happen.”

“No, Agent 95,” the elder brother patiently instructed. “There’s lots of fiction that could really happen.” And as I was nodding approvingly, and thinking that his exact words could have come from lessons I had written which were stacked up in books in my study, he added, “Like science fiction. Science fiction shows stuff that could happen in the future.”

“Or ghost stories,” Agent 97 said. “There could be ghosts. No one knows if there are or not.”

“So science fiction and ghost stories are realistic?” I asked.

“Yes!” they both said enthusiastically.

Another lesson well learned!