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Naturalism in American Literature. Naturalism aimed at giving the primitive wishes full play but failed because these wishes are too primitive, too infantile, too inconsistent with themselves to be satisfied even by the greatest license. . NATURALISM Objective Deterministic

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naturalism in american literature

Naturalism in American Literature

Naturalism aimed at giving the primitive wishes full play but failed because these wishes are too primitive, too infantile, too inconsistent with themselves to be satisfied even by the greatest license.





Pessimistic—Emotional Coldness

Settings in the Everyday World

Ordinary Events

Everyday Characters

  • Often Subjective
  • Free Will
  • Optimistic—Emotional Intensity
  • Tends to Exotic Settings
  • Extraordinary Events
  • Unusual Protagonists
  • Objective
  • Free Will
  • Often Optimistic
  • Settings in the Everyday  World
  • Ordinary Events
  • Everyday Characters

In many ways, naturalism grew out of the foundations laid by earlier realist writers, leading some to call it an “emphasized realism.”  It also grew out of the work of French writer Emile Zola (himself influence by the earlier writings of Balzac and Flaubert), who believed in a world not governed by choice, but determined primarily by heredity and environment.  Scientific determinism became Zola’s primary means to understand human behavior.  He called this new kind of writing Le roman experimental, and here the novelist functioned as more of a scientist.  For the writer, direct observation took the place of creative imagination.


Characteristics of Naturalistic Fiction:

  • ·          Characters are motivated by sexual desire, greed, and mob psychology.  Many are stereotypes and absolutes.
  • ·          Society is divided into the have and have-nots, predator and prey.
  • ·          Life is ugly, brutal, and short.
  • ·          Men and women are not far removed from the animal world.
  • ·          Free will is an illusion.
  • ·          Nature and fate are indifferent to humans.
  • ·          Words like “courage” and “virtue” have no meaning.
  • ·          The world is made up of random events.
  • ·          Everything and everyone is shaped by blind chance and environmental determinism.

There were dramatic events that were taking place in late 19th-century America.  The 1890s were a watershed period, including such changes as:

  • ·          The closing of the frontier
  • ·          An end to the great days of railroad building, an industry that had helped propel the economy
  • ·          The late 19th-century rise of science
  • ·          The mid- to late-19th-century influences of Charles Darwin, as well as the later influences of Sigmund
  • Freud
  • ·          Technology was growing at a rapid pace
  • ·         

Benjamin Franklin Norris, Jr. (March 5, 1870 – October 25, 1902)

an American novelist, during the Progressive Era, writing predominantly in the naturalist genre.

His notable works include McTeague (1899), The Octopus: A California Story (1901), and The Pit (1903).

Although he did not openly support socialism as a political system, his work nevertheless evinces a socialist mentality and influenced socialist/progressive writers such as Upton Sinclair.

Like many of his contemporaries, he was profoundly influenced by the advent of Darwinism, and Thomas Henry Huxley's philosophical defense of it.

Through many of his novels, notably McTeague, runs a preoccupation with the notion of the civilized man overcoming the inner "brute," his animalistic tendencies.


Powerful monopolies owned by a small number of robber barons based their philosophy of business not on classical republican ideology but on social Darwinism and laissez faire practices

  • ·          A large influx of immigrants helped lead to the creation of urban slums (with bad sanitation, poor living conditions, crime gross poverty, and ward politics)
  • · Industrialization increased rapidly, leading to child labor and poor labor organization