Realism in Patricia MacLachlan’s Sarah, Plain and Tall

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Realism in Patricia MacLachlan’s Sarah, Plain and Tall

A book that has a clear understanding of what is “real” is often thought to be a quality book. Although what is thought to be “real” is different for everyone, for me it is how easily I am able to relate to the characters in the book. If I can sympathize and understand what they are going through on an emotional level and can put myself in their shoes, I am more apt to enjoy the story. Narrative style and structure play a very important role here; because it is through these that we get a sense of what type of realism is being portrayed. For example, in Sarah, Plain and Tall, the realism displayed is emotional realism.

In Patricia MacLachlan’s Sarah, Plain and Tall the narrative style is apparent. We know that it is the character Anna whose point of view this story is from. It is essential that it is told from her point of view, because the arrival of Sarah will ultimately affect her the most. We get a sense of the pain that she has undergone, as well as the over-whelming sense of love and pride she has for her family. As Anna explains, “…I didn’t tell him what I really thought. He was homely and plain, and he had a terrible holler and a horrid smell. But these were not the worst of him. Mama died the next morning. That was the worst thing about Caleb” (MacLachlan 4). It also reveals to us the tremendous amount of responsibility that is resting on her young shoulders.

In addition to the point of view, in what realm it was written is also important. Is it written as a fantasy, as a truth, or as a fable? Sarah, Plain and Tall was written as realism, meaning it has a feeling that it actually happened. Although we aren't directly told when and where this story takes place, we get at good sense of it by the descriptions of their everyday life. It is these descriptions that give the book its sense of realism. For example, in chapter seven Caleb describes plowing to Sarah: Papa needs five horses for the big gang plow,’ Caleb told Sarah. ‘Prairie grass is hard’” (MacLachlan 39). Despite the lack of an in-depth depiction, we still gain a feeling of what kind of life these characters led, as well as in what time period the story takes place.

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