Dirty realism characteristics and works in detail

Dirty realism

The dirty realism was a literary style that emerged in the US during the early years of the twentieth century, although its rise was experienced in the 70s and 80s This artistic movement aimed to reduce the number of items that were used in the narrations. Dirty realism characteristics and works

It is a style that stems from minimalism and both movements are often confused for that. One of the characteristics of dirty realism is that it is a style that bets on simplicity, such as moderation in the number of words that should be used, especially when describing situations.

Adverbs and adjectives can be used as literary resources , but they usually appear as little as possible. It is a genre also determined by its characters, since the protagonists of the stories are shown as normal individuals, without extraordinary characteristics.

William Sydney Porter, better known simply as O. Henry, is one of the greatest exponents of this style, although other authors such as Jerome David Salinger or some more current ones such as Charles Michael Palahniuk should also be highlighted. Dirty realism characteristics and works


The first works of dirty realism date from 1930, with the works of John Fante or Henry Miller as Ask the dust  (1939),  Wait for the spring Bandini (1938) or Tropic of Capricorn (1938). But its true consolidation as a literary movement occurred in the 70s and 80s.

Today it is a style that is still used by some writers, although to a lesser extent.

Most of the most important authors of dirty realism are from the United States, since it was a movement that hardly had a major impact on the European continent. There were only specific cases such as Michel Houellebecq or Frédéric Beigbeder.

Literary critic Bill Buford is considered one of the culprits that the movement was known as dirty realism. He gave this definition of style in an article he wrote for Granta magazine .


Dirty Realism is a movement that is based on simplicity. Using adjectives to complement nouns is not common. The situations that arise in these stories, as their name suggests, are real. The focus is more towards the everyday.

The language used to narrate the events is direct and natural. The idea is that it is a story that is familiar to the reader. Dirty realism characteristics and works

The characters, especially the protagonists of the stories, move away from the heroic figure of many narratives. They are shown as figures that are imperfect, with defects like ordinary people and with some behaviors that are considered rather unethical.

For dirty realism the characters are more inclined to represent situations of failure. They are often lost or frustrated with the lifestyle and the environment that surrounds them.

The environment in which the story takes place is modest, but not because it has a moral purpose. Context is given a lot of importance in the story. In turn, the plots do not resolve major conflicts when it comes to an end. It is a resource that is used to demonstrate that the development of life continues in a normal way.

Followers of dirty realism consider the role of the reader to be of great importance in this literary movement. It is believed that the reader is in charge of discovering the motivations, problems and annoyances that the characters will continue to have at the end of the story.

The topics covered in dirty realism are totally diverse, as long as they stay away from fictional situations. Stories about drugs, sex, violence or abuse can be dealt with.


Literature scholars consider that dirty realism was experienced at different levels. Although they all followed similar lines and fulfilled the basic characteristics of dirty realism, each author told a more or less intense story.

The most important authors are undoubtedly those born in the United States. However, there were also representatives – to a lesser extent – of dirty realism throughout Europe and Latin America.

In the United States, John Fante, Charles Bukowski, Palahniuk, Tobias Wolff, Raymond Carver and Richard Ford, among others, stood out.

The best known Spanish-speaking authors were the Cubans Pedro Gutiérrez, Fernando Velázquez and Zoé Valdés; the Bolivian  Victor Vizcarro, even compared to Charles Bukowski; the Venezuelan Argenis Rodríguez; the Mexican Adolfo Vergara; and the Chilean Marcelo Lillo.

In Spain the movement was divided in two. There were the authors of dirty realism whose works were written in Spanish, but Basque was also a language widely used by this movement.

In Spanish, Karmelo Iribarren and Juan Velázquez were relevant. While in Basque the greatest exponents of the literary movement were Mar Escribano and Iban Zaldua. Dirty realism characteristics and works


Fight club

One of the best known works of dirty realism is Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club . The book was published in 1996, but Palahniuk’s story became world famous thanks to the film starring Brad Pitt three years later.

The writer completed the work in just three months. It has two important characters: a narrator and Tyler Durden, who have in common their hatred of everything around them.

Rape, rape!

Charles Bukowski was the author of this story, which was part of his book Tales of an ordinary madness that was published in 1983. It is a story that tells how a woman is chased down a street to the entrance of her house and then is raped .


Raymond Carver wrote this short story in 1971, but it was first published in a magazine and later became part of other works by the author. Carver, considered one of the first exponents of dirty realism, demonstrated a rather impertinent language.

In Neighbors the story of a couple made up of Bill and Arlene was told, who were left in charge of the house of some neighbors for whom they felt deep envy. The story touches on topics such as voyeurism, materialism, envy, and how this feeling can make people miserable.

Bullet in the brain

This short story was first published in 1995 in The New Yorker magazine It was one of the most important and recognized works of the author. In the story, a robbery is told in which one of the victims mocks his thieves and is therefore shot.

Rock spring

This is a book by Richard Ford that featured 10 different stories. It was published in 1987 and touches on various topics such as bad luck, hopelessness and the feeling of failure.

Wait for spring, Bandini

This story was written by John Fante and published in 1938. The main character is a teenager whose life takes place during the Great Depression (economic crisis in the United States between 1929 and 1939). Fante dealt with machismo, poverty, and even got into religious matters. Dirty realism characteristics and works

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