Naturalism May 21, 2013 SDU
'Naturalism in literature was a literary movement, that began in the late nineteenth century (1865-1900) in film, art, literature and theater that portrays common values of an ordinary individual.' a literary movement that suggested the involvement of environment, heredity and social conditions in shaping the human character. Definition
Definition • Naturalism is a literary movement that seeks to replicate a believable everyday reality. • Naturalism is a philosophical position that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws. In thise sense, the term describes a type of literature that attempts to apply scientific principles of objectivity and detachment to its study of human beings. • Unlike realism, which focuses on literary technique, naturalism implies a philosophical position, to study characters through their relationships to their surroundings.
Origin • The term 'naturalism' was coined by Emile Zola, an influential French writer. He was also an important contributor towards the development of theatrical naturalism. • Some other famous writers associated with naturalism in literature are Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Jack London and Theodore Dreiser. • Naturalistic writers wrote stories that adopted the perspective that a person's character is determined by one's lineage and environment.
Background • 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. • Naturalism in literature or literary naturalism, originated as a French movement, where the naturalistic writers were influenced by the theory of evolution of Charles Darwin. • 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 • 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. • Human beings are studied to be governed by their instincts and passions, or by forces of heredity and environment in terms of their fate.
Themes Walcutt identifieskey themesas: • survival • determinism • violence • taboo.
Theme: Survival • The "brute within" each individual, composed of strong and often warring emotions: passions, such as lust, greed, or the desire for dominance or pleasure • 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."
Theme: Determinism (I) • 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. • An indifferent, deterministic universe: Nature therefore becomes an indifferent force acting on the lives of human beings. • the futile attempts of human beings to exercise free will:Often ironically presented, free will is depicted as an illusion, and the author often leads the reader to believe the character's fate has already been pre-determined, and he/she can do nothing about it.
Theme: Determinism(II) 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“ "This tower was a giant, standing with its back to the plight of the ants. It 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." (from “The Open Boat”)
Theme: Determinism (III) • Pessimism as prevalent: 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.
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“.
Characters • frequently but not invariably ill-educated or lower-class characters belonging to a class-spectrum ranging from the destitute to the lower middle-class • their lives being governed by the forces of heredity, instinct, and passion • non-Anglo, ethnically distinguishable inhabitants, or immigrants of the growing American cities. • P.S.: The fiction of Theodore Dreiser, the son of first and second generation immigrants from Central Europe, features many German and Irish figures.
Characters • Their attempts at exercising free will or choice are hamstrung by forces beyond their control; • a person's character as represented to be determined by one's lineage and environment. • Social Darwinism and other theories help to explain their fates to the reader.
Motif • 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.
Representatives • 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 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 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.
Realism v.s. Naturalism • The history of naturalism in literature can be traced back to the nineteenth century and naturalism was supposed to be the extreme form of realism. As compared to romanticism and realism, naturalism is a more recent movement in the literary cycle. • The focus of realism is on literary technique, whereas naturalism connotes a philosophical pessimism, where writers apply scientific method to their writings and depict human beings as an objective and impartial character.
Realism portrays things the way they might appear to be, while naturalism shows a deterministic view of a person's life and actions. This can be seen in Stephen Crane's The Open Boat and The Blue Hotel. Realism shows that a person's decision is based upon his response to the situation, whereas naturalism concludes that a person's decision is predetermined by natural forces that make him act in a certain way.
Frank Norris Theodore Dreiser Jack London Stephen Crane Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth (1905) Ellen Glasgow, Barren Ground (1925) John Dos Passos (1896-1970), U.S.A. trilogy (1938): The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), andThe Big Money (1936) James T. Farrell (1904-1979), Studs Lonigan (1934) • John Steinbeck (1902-1968), The Grapes of Wrath (1939) Richard Wright, Native Son (1940), Black Boy (1945) Norman Mailer (1923-2007), The Naked and the Dead (1948) William Styron, Lie Down in Darkness (1951) Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March (1953)
Other writers sometimes identified as naturalists (I) Nelson Algren, The Man with the Golden Arm • Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio (1919) • Harriet Arnow, The Dollmaker (1954) • Ambrose Bierce • Abraham Cahan, The Making of an American Citizen • Kate Chopin, The Awakening • Rebecca Harding Davis • Don DeLillo • Paul Laurence Dunbar, The Sport of the Gods • Edward Eggleston, The Hoosier School-Master • William Faulkner
Other writers sometimes identified as naturalists (II) • Harold Frederic, The Damnation of Theron Ware (1896) • Henry Blake Fuller, The Cliff-Dwellers • Hamlin Garland, Rose of Dutcher's Coolly • Robert Herrick, The Memoirs of an American Citizen (1905) • Ernest Hemingway • E. W. Howe, The Story of a Country Town • Joseph Kirkland, • Joyce Carol Oates • David Graham Phillips • Hubert Selby, Jr. • Upton Sinclair, The Jungle