Naturalism (study guide) Question Answer / Explanation What is the philosophical origin of Idealistic influences: the philosophy? Sir Isaac Newton: Newton’s Second Law of Motion (force = mass x acceleration) implies that this formula represents an inevitability in nature; that is, he this rule will ALWAYS work. This regularity, or this sense of mechanistic determination, suggests that perhaps human life and behavior adheres to similar “laws.” Charles Darwin: Publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species and Descent of Man suggests that human beings are essentially bestial in their development and struggle for survival. Mankind no longer seems more akin to the angels than to mere beasts. The term biological determinism suggests this idea that humans must struggle for survival and superiority over one another (as beasts would struggle in a jungle). Karl Marx: Marx’s Communist Manifesto contends that human Beings are traditionally caught in the middle of economic and social struggles that favor the wealthy and subjugate the poor. We might call this dynamic economic or social determinism. Sigmund Freud: This legendary psychologist claimed that human beings are motivated by sexual drives that are beyond their control. If these motivations are not strictly sexual, then they are certainly subconscious drives that “live” in the psyche. This involuntary motivation, then, helps to determine various outcomes in the lives of men and women; therefore, we might call this psychological determinism. Another term meaning “naturalism” scientific determinism (see above) Major tenets of Naturalist literature 1.) Human beings are at the mercy of forces beyond their control. See (central beliefs governing the philosophy) above for breakdown of those forces. 2.) Human beings are essentially powerless, and their best struggles are ineffectual. 3.) Brutally (and often disturbingly) realistic in portrayal of details. ***PLEASE DO NOT CONFUSE NATURALISM AND REALISM. THE FORMER IS AN OUTGROWTH OF THE LATTER—NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. 4.) Naturalist literature seeks to find philosophical truths in the natural environment—that is, seeks to derive truths by considering the world itself as a science laboratory. Realist literature simply seeks to describe that world with absolutely truthfulness and accuracy. 5.) The controlling forces of the universe (termed Immutable Will by English novelist Thomas Hardy) never intervene on behalf of human beings. An individual’s best hope is the this/these force(s) refrain from intervening against him or her. 6.) Fate reigns supreme in the lives of human beings. This message is particularly strong in Hardy’s novels. 7.) This literature tends to be despondent and pessimistic about human capabilities. Who are the key literary figures? Emile Zola: This writer is considered the most influential Naturalist. His Le roman experimental claims that the writer’s most important obligation is to treat of “truthful instances subjected to laboratory conditions in a novel, where the hypotheses of the author about the nature and operation of the forces that work on human beings can be put to the test.”1 1 quoted from Holman’s A Handbook to Literature (1986) Thomas Hardy: This writer is the most prolific English Naturalist. His masterpiece is entitled Return of the Native.2 Stephen Crane: AMERICAN writer whose masterpiece is the Civil-War novel The Red Badge of Courage. This novel demonstrates Crane’s infusion of impressionism3 into the philosophy of naturalism. Perhaps more demonstrative of the major tenets of the movement, however, is his earlier novel entitled Maggie, a Girl of the Streets.4 Theodore Dreiser: AMERICAN writer whose masterpiece is An American Tragedy.5 His Sister Carrie6 is also a key text in the movement. 2 A novel about the struggles of two characters attempting to rise above their stations in life—Clym Yeobright seeks to leave rural Wessex and become a professor, but he goes blind as is forced to remain in Wessex after all; Eustacia Vye marries Clym (before he goes blind) in hopes of finding a way to leave Wessex but ends up instead being swept off a foot bridge and drowning in storm-tossed waters. Fate, it would seem, prevents their social and geographical movement. 3 Impressionism: According to Holman, “a highly personal manner of writing in which the author presents characters, scenes, or moods as they appear to an individual . . . at a precise moment.” In other words, an impressionist writer will provide information as it is “filtered through” the consciousness of one characters. Henry Fielding, for example, notices the maggots crawling on the decaying corpse he encounters by a tree. He sees them as if in “close-up.” Therefore, so does the reader. 4 The title character is “driven” into a life of degradation as a result of her socio-economic environment. 5 A novel about an ambitious man who ends up being the victim of both his own libidinous drives and cruel circumstance; this young man appeals to a wealthy uncle to help him achieve social and economic advancement. The uncle gives his nephew a lowly position at the family factory, the promise being that if he works hard, he will ascend to high-level management. The only rule he must obey, however, is that he must not fraternize with the young women who work at the factory. Tragically, he breaks this rule and fathers a child out of wedlock. Just after this “unfortunate” turn of events, his uncle decides that he has indeed earned a major promotion, and he meets the beautiful and cultured socialite of his dreams. The only solution, it seems to him, is the murder of his “unfortunate” paramour before anyone finds out that she is expecting a child and that he is the father. Not wishing to give away the ending, I will just say that you must know that this story cannot have a happy ending!! 6 This one is about a young girl who leaves her rural life for the “big city” of Chicago. Once there, she decides that she wants fame and fortune, so she becomes romantically involved with several men in hopes that they can advance her case. In the end, she has attained fame in the theater and fortune as a result of her career. Yet she is utterly alone, and her “unfortunate” helpmates are completely ruined. A controlling motif in the novel has Carrie sit alone in her rocking chair, peering through a window at the real life teeming on the streets below.
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