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Naturalism. May 4, 2012. Definition. Naturalism is a literary movement that seeks to replicate a believable everyday reality.

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May 4, 2012

  • Naturalism is a literary movement that seeks to replicate a believable everyday reality.
  • The term describes a type of literature that attempts to apply scientific principles of objectivity and detachment to its study of human beings. Naturalism is a philosophical position that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws. Unlike realism, which focuses on literary technique, naturalism implies a philosophical position, to study characters through their relationships to their surroundings.
  • Industrialism: Industrialism brought about financial prosperity, but also an industrial labor whose conditions in cities got worse as more and more people lost their land and poured into.
  • Darwinism: The concept of “the survival of the fittest” and “the human beast” helped to change the perspectives of intellectuals, and thus followed a sense of despair and disintegration of values.
major positions
Major Positions
  • Through this objective study of human beings, naturalistic writers believed that the laws behind the forces that govern human lives might be studied and understood. Naturalistic writers thus used a version of the scientific method to write their novels; they studied human beings governed by their instincts and passions as well as the ways in which the characters' lives were governed by forces of heredity and environment.
quotations from critics
Quotations from Critics
  • George Becker: “pessimistic materialistic determinism”
  • Eric Sundquist: "Revelling in the extraordinary, the excessive, and the grotesque in order to reveal the immutable bestiality of Man in Nature, naturalism dramatizes the loss of individuality at a physiological level by making a Calvinism without God its determining order and violent death its utopia“.
  • Frequently but not invariably ill-educated or lower-class characters whose lives are governed by the forces of heredity, instinct, and passion. Their attempts at exercising free will or choice are hamstrung by forces beyond their control; social Darwinism and other theories help to explain their fates to the reader.
characters continued
Characters (continued)
  • Naturalist fiction in the United States often concentrated on the non-Anglo, ethnically marked inhabitants of the growing American cities, many of them immigrants and most belonging to a class-spectrum ranging from the destitute to the lower middle-class. The fiction of Theodore Dreiser, the son of first and second generation immigrants from Central Europe, features many German and Irish figures.
techniques and plots
Techniques and plots
  • Walcutt says that the naturalistic novel offers "clinical, panoramic, slice-of-life" drama that is often a "chronicle of despair" (21). Allied to this, naturalist writers were skeptical towards, or downright hostile to, the notions of bourgeois individualism that characterized realist novels about middle-class life. Most naturalists demonstrated a concern with the animal or the irrational motivations for human behavior, sometimes manifested in connection with sexuality and violence.
major features
Major Features
  • Pessimism: Very often, one or more characters will continue to repeat one line or phrase that tends to have a pessimistic connotation, most likely about death.
  • Determinism: It is basically the opposite of the notion of free will. With determinism, the power of the characters' influence over their own lives is taken away by nature or fate. Often, the author will lead the reader to believe the character's fate has already been pre-determined, and he/she can do nothing about it.
popular themes
Popular Themes

The "brute within" each individual, composed of strong and often warring emotions: passions, such as lust, greed, or the desire for dominance or pleasure; and the fight for survival in an amoral, indifferent universe.

  • The conflict in naturalistic novels is often "man against nature" or "man against himself" as characters struggle to retain a "veneer of civilization" despite external pressures that threaten to release the "brute within."
popular themes continued
Popular Themes(continued)
  • Nature as an indifferent force acting on the lives of human beings:The romantic vision of Wordsworth--that "nature never did betray the heart that loved her"--here becomes Stephen Crane's view in "The Open Boat“.
the open boat
“The Open Boat”
  • " It (the tower) represented in a degree, to the correspondent, the serenity of nature amid the struggles of the individual--nature in the wind, and nature in the vision of men. She did not seem cruel to him then, nor beneficent, nor treacherous, nor wise. But she was indifferent, flatly indifferent."
popular themes continued1
Popular Themes(continued)
  • The forces of heredity and environment as they affect--and afflict--individual lives.
  • Naturalistic texts often describe the futile attempts of human beings to exercise free will, often ironically presented, in this universe that reveals free will as an illusion.
  • Frank Norris: The Octopus: A Story of California (1901)
  • Theodore Dreiser: Sister Carrie (1900), An American Tragedy (1925).
  • Jack London (1876 – 1916): The Call of the Wild (1903), White Fang (1904), The Sea-Wolf (1906), and Martin Eden (1907)
Stephen Crane: Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893), The Red Badge of Courage (1895)

Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth (1905), The Age of Innocence (1920, a Pulitzer Prize Winner)

Ellen Glasgow, Barren Ground (1925)

upton sinclair
Upton Sinclair

Upton Beall Sinclair (1878-1968) was an American writer who used his fiction and essays to express Socialist goals of economic and social reform.

  • The Jungle (1906) is one of the most successful muckraking books of all time. Published at his own expense, The Jungle was meant to outrage the American public against the terrible working conditions and exploitation of meat-packing workers.
The public was disgusted with the depictions of unsanitary processing plants and it brought about the passage of pure food legislation. "I aimed at the public's heart and by accident I hit it in the stomach" wrote Sinclair.
muckraking movement
Muckraking Movement
  • Muckraking was a powerful journalistic force, whose supporters, writers and critics, exposed corrupt politicians and business practices. These muckrakers worked hard to arouse sentiment in the hearts of the public.These muckraking methods were used to fight against the industrial powerhouses.