The Influence of Naturalism on American Literature

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Naturalism was first proposed and formulated by French novelist Emile Zola, and it was introduced to America by American novelist Frank Norris. It is a new and harsher realism. It is a theory in literature emphasizing scientific observation of life without idealism or avoidance of the ugly. American literature naturalists dismissedthe validity of comforting moral truths. They attempted to achieve extreme objectivity and frankness, presenting characters of low social and economic classes who were dominated by their environment and heredity. The pessimism and deterministic ideas of naturalism pervaded the works of such writers as Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Jack London, Henry Adams, Theodore Dreiser, and Hemingway etc. This essay intends to deal with the application of naturalism in American literature and thereby seeks a broader understanding of naturalist literature

in general.

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Webster's Dictionary gives naturalism a concise definition: A made of thought glorifying nature and excluding supernatural and spiritual elements close adherence to nature in art or literature, esp. the technique, chiefly associated with Zola, used to present a naturalistic philosophy, esp. by

emphasizing the effect of heredity and environment on human nature and action. Naturalism was first proposed and formulated by Emile Zola, the French writer and theorist, who is universally labeled as the founder of literary naturalism. Naturalism was a literary movement taking place from 1865 to 1900 that used detailed realism to suggest that social conditions, heredity, and environment had inescapable force in shaping human character. Naturalistic writers were influenced by the evolution theory of Charles Darwin. They believed that one's heredity and social environment determine one's character and influence the actions of its subjects.

Naturalism is a new and harsher of realism, The term naturalism itself came from Emile Zola. It is believed that he sought a new idea to convince the reading public of something new and more modern in his fiction. He argued that his innovation in fiction-writing was the creation of characters and plots based on the scientific method. Skinnerian principles of learning through conditioning and the Darwinian hierarchy of the survival of the fittest are the underlying themes involved in shaping the human character. There are many defining characteristics of literary naturalism.

Determinism is basically the opposite of the notion of free will. For determinism, the idea that individual characters have a direct influence on the course of their lives is supplanted by a focus on nature or fate. Human beings are living in a natural environment like animals. They can react toward the exterior and interior forces but they are helpless before these forces. Often, a naturalist author will lead the reader to believe that a character's fate has been pre-determined, usually by heredity and environmental factors, that the destiny of humanity is misery in life and oblivion in death and that he/she can do nothing about it.

The author often tries to maintain a tone that will be experienced as 'objective.' The author presents himself or herself as an objective observer, similar to a scientist taking note of what he or she sees. Of course, no human being can ever be truly objective, but by detaching the narrator from the story he or she tells, an author can achieve objectivity. Also, an author will sometimes achieve detachment by creating nameless characters. This puts the focus more on the plot and what happens to the character, rather than the characters themselves. Very often, one or more characters will continue to repeat one line or phrase that tends to have a pessimistic connotation, sometimes emphasizing the inevitability of death. Naturalistic works often include uncouth or sordid subject matter, for example, Emile Zola’s works had a frankness about sexuality along with a pervasive pessimism. Naturalistic works exposed the dark harshness of life, including poverty, racism, sex, prejudice, disease, prostitution, and filth.

Equally, there tends to be in naturalist novels and stories a strong sense that nature is indifferent to human struggle.

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The Influence of Naturalism on American Literature. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 16, 2024, from
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