It has been suggested that one is either an idealist or a realist (a variation on “one is either a Platonist or an Aristotelian”); but of course the complex situations we encounter in daily life makes that adage seem a bit simplistic. There are times when we’re wildly idealistic and times when we see the world in an unrelentingly pragmatic, rational way, even though our temperament may orient us toward one or the other. In any case, it’s useful for writers to think about the effect that each attitude has on personality and behavior. Optimists tend to be adventurous, willing to try new things, to take risks, to put a lot of hope in potential; realists tend to settle for what is tried and true, always weighing the odds and making the safest bets. Most realists do not gamble. The odds of picking the winning numbers, they argue, are so great that there is virtually no difference between betting and not betting.
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
Idealism (or optimism) and realism alike can suggest characters that exhibit one or the other personalities or world views. Jay Gatsby is the perennial romantic idealist and optimist, for example: even though Daisy had long ago rejected him and married another, he still believed he could have her. In Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, the hero’s love for a woman he cannot attain lasts for fifty years. Love, paradoxically, is rooted in both ideal and realistic universes.
1. Are you an idealist or a realist? Write a journal entry in which you answer that question.
2. Outline a short story in which a realist, through some fascinating series of circumstances, becomes an optimist—or vice versa.