English Literature


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The Emergence and Influence of Naturalism as a Literary Movement

In the late 19th and early 20th century, a significant literary movement known as Naturalism took hold. This movement sought to analyze human nature through a scientific and objective lens, detached from subjectivity and imagination. Despite losing popularity in the 20th century, Naturalism continues to have a significant impact on literature even today.

At its core, Naturalism is defined by its focus on the objective and scientific study of human nature. Unlike other literary movements like Romanticism and Realism, which emphasize subjectivity and imagination, Naturalism applies the scientific method to its narratives and delves into the effects of environmental, social, and hereditary factors on human behavior.

A Closer Look at Naturalism

Naturalism, which existed from 1865-1914, was greatly influenced by scientific principles and explored the impact of various factors on human nature. One of the key differences between Naturalism and other movements is its emphasis on the scientific approach to storytelling. An example of a naturalistic novel is Emile Zola's "The Experimental Novel" (1880), in which Zola takes a scientific and philosophical approach to studying human behavior, treating them as subjects in a controlled experiment.

The Impact of Darwin's Theories

Charles Darwin's groundbreaking book "On the Origin of Species" (1859) had a profound influence on Naturalism. Darwin's theory of evolution, which states that all living creatures share a common ancestor and evolve through natural selection, led Naturalist writers to believe that human nature is shaped by one's environment and hereditary factors.

The Different Types of Naturalism

Naturalism can be broadly categorized into Hard/Reductive Naturalism and Soft/Liberal Naturalism, with American Naturalism being a subset of the latter.

Hard/Reductive Naturalism

Hard or Reductive Naturalism takes a strict ontological approach, believing that everything can be reduced to fundamental particles. This form of Naturalism explores the relationships between concepts to understand the essence of being.

Soft/Liberal Naturalism

Soft or Liberal Naturalism acknowledges scientific explanations of human nature but also recognizes that other factors, such as aesthetic value, morality, and personal experiences, can impact it. German philosopher Immanuel Kant is often seen as the foundation of Soft/Liberal Naturalism.

American Naturalism

American Naturalism, which differs slightly from Emile Zola's Naturalism, was introduced by American journalist Frank Norris (1870-1902). However, in the 20th and 21st centuries, his writings have faced criticism for their biased depictions of individuals, using scientific reasoning to justify prejudiced beliefs - a common problem in 19th-century scholarship.

Some notable American Naturalist authors include Stephen Crane, Henry James, Jack London, William Dean Howells, Theodore Dreiser, and Faulkner. Faulkner, for example, explored the impact of social structures, influenced by slavery and hereditary factors, on individuals.

The Influence of Slavery on American Naturalism

The rise of Naturalism in the United States coincided with the country's economic reliance on slavery and the Civil War (1861-1865). Many Slave Narratives were written during this time, showcasing the detrimental effects of slavery on human character. Frederick Douglass' "My Bondage and My Freedom" (1855) is a well-known example.

Key Characteristics of Naturalism

Naturalism is characterized by its focus on setting, objectivity and detachment, pessimism, and determinism.


Naturalist writers often use the setting as a significant character in their narratives, placing their characters in locations that heavily impact their lives.

The Impact of Setting and Environment in Naturalist Literature

Naturalism is a literary movement that delves into the complexities of human nature through a scientific lens, examining the influence of factors such as environment, societal structures, and genetics. It continues to be an influential and enduring movement in literature.

In Naturalist literature, the setting and environment play a crucial role in shaping the characters and their fate. For example, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1939) is set in Sallisaw, Oklahoma during the Great Depression and portrays the devastating effects of a drought on the lives of farmers, forcing them to leave their homes and livelihood behind.

Objective and Detached Approach in Naturalist Writing

Naturalist authors, like Emile Zola, Frank Norris, and Theodore Dreiser, are known for their objective and detached writing style. They approach their subject matter with a scientific, unbiased perspective. This is often achieved through the use of a third-person point of view, serving as an impartial observer. Emotions are portrayed in a clinical manner rather than being explored deeply. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle (1906) is a prime example of this, as the narrator describes a man playing the violin passionately, but with no personal opinions or thoughts influencing the description.

Pessimism in Naturalist Literature

Naturalism is often characterized by its pessimistic outlook, epitomized by the phrase "the glass is half empty". Influenced by deterministic philosophy, Naturalist writers believe that life is governed by factors outside of our control, leading to the worst possible outcome. An example can be seen in Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Ubervilles (1891), where the protagonist is faced with numerous challenges that ultimately result in a tragic and fatalistic ending.

Determinism in Naturalist Literature

The concept of determinism, the idea that external factors such as nature, genetics, and fate shape our lives, is a prevalent theme in Naturalist literature. In William Faulkner's A Rose for Emily (1930), the protagonist's descent into madness is attributed to her oppressive relationship with her father, highlighting the power of external forces in determining our fates.

Naturalist Authors and Philosophers

  • Emile Zola (1840-1902)
  • Frank Norris (1870-1902)
  • Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945)
  • Stephen Crane (1871-1900)
  • William Faulkner (1897-1962)
  • Henry James (1843-1916)
  • Upton Sinclair (1878-1968)
  • Edward Bellamy (1850-1898)
  • Edwin Markham (1852-1940)
  • Henry Adams (1838-1918)
  • Sidney Hook (1902-1989)
  • Ernest Nagel (1901-1985)
  • John Dewey (1859-1952)

Notable Works of Naturalist Literature

Naturalism has produced numerous novels, essays, and journalistic pieces, with authors using a scientific approach to explore various themes. Some notable works include:

  • The Grapes of Wrath (1939) by John Steinbeck
  • The Jungle (1906) by Upton Sinclair
  • Tess of the D'Ubervilles (1891) by Thomas Hardy
  • A Rose for Emily (1930) by William Faulkner

The Origins and Impact of Naturalism in Literature

Naturalism emerged in English literature from 1865 to 1914, focusing on the objective observation of human nature through a scientific lens. This movement has produced hundreds of works, including Nana (1880) by Emile Zola, Sister Carrie (1900) by Thomas Dreiser, McTeague (1899) by Frank Norris, The Call of the Wild (1903) by Jack London, Of Mice and Men (1937) by John Steinbeck, Madame Bovary (1856) by Gustave Flaubert, and The Age of Innocence (1920) by Edith Wharton.

Naturalist literature explores themes such as the struggle for survival, determinism, violence, greed, the desire for power, and the concept of an indifferent universe or higher being. Writers of this genre aim to portray the harsh realities of life in an objective and scientific manner, providing a unique and thought-provoking perspective on human nature and our place in the world.

The Distinct Features of Naturalism Literature

  • Emphasis on Depicting Environment
  • Objectivity and Detachment in Writing
  • Negative Outlook
  • Belief in Determinism

Naturalism literature is characterized by its focus on portraying the physical environment and its effects on human beings. It also reflects the authors' detachment and objectivity in presenting their observations of society and human behavior. These characteristics offer a unique perspective on the human experience in the natural world.

Notable Authors of Naturalism

Some of the most renowned writers of Naturalism include Emile Zola, Henry James, William Faulkner, and John Steinbeck. Emile Zola is considered a pioneer of this literary movement due to his incorporation of scientific methods in his writing. American Naturalism emerged thanks to Frank Norris, who is credited for introducing this style in the United States.

Exemplary Works of Naturalism

The Call of the Wild (1903) by Jack London is a prime example of Naturalism literature. It tells the story of a dog's struggle for survival in a harsh and unforgiving natural environment.

Overall, Naturalism is a significant literary genre that provides a distinct perspective on human nature and society. Its notable characteristics and esteemed authors make it a vital part of English literature.

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