Realism and Naturalism

While being two separate literarymovements, Realism and Naturalism have at times found themselves to be interchangeable, sharing some
deep running similarities:
1) They both are "basic" views of life and humanity, stripping away the layers of romanticism to present a "natural" or "real" outloo of the
") #oth of these pessimistic views came to be in a time around the 1$th century, a period nown for its trials and turmoil!
%)&od is absent from most of the writing in either category, with writers opting for a focus on the real world!
#ut despite these similarities, these two literary movements are separate for a reason!
1) Realism sought to be a faithful representation of life, while Naturalism was more lie a "chronicle of despair! 'n a way, Naturalism can see
as a e(aggerated form of Realism!
") While in Realism the main focus was on the middle class and its problems, Naturalism dives head first into the ma)or drama, favoring the
ill educated or low class for its characters and violence and taboo for its themes!
%) While in Realism, faithful representation of reality is important, in Naturalism, Nature itself is an indifferent force!
Dr. doCarmo's Notes on REALISM and NATURALISM
The first unit of *'TR"%" is devoted to two artistic styles that dominate +merican literature between the
end of the ,ivil War -1./0) and about 1$11: naturalism and realism. ' want to loo first at realism, since
it comes first chronologically! Then, after we loo at naturalism, which happens later, '2ll tell you -in a
section down below called "The ,ulture") a little about why each of these movements gets big in
+merica when they do!
3ven though there are rumblings of it in earlier decades -4awthorne2s The Scarlet Letter, for instance,
published in 1.01), realism doesn2t become the dominant literary style in the 5!6! till the 1.71s! +nd it2s
the influence of one hugely important novelist and literary critic, a guy named William 8ean 4owells -his
most famous novel is The Rise of Silas Lapham, 1..0), that really makes it dominant! 4owells, 4enry
9ames, and :ar Twain are the movement2s most famous practitioners!
6o how can you tell "realist" literature when you see it; There are a few ways!
• Realism tries hard -)ust lie its name suggests) to present the world as it really is << the way, for
instance, a photograph might capture it! 4owells writes that "realism is nothing more and nothing
less than the truthful treatment of material!" 6ince it tries so hard to be truthful, realist literature,
unlie much of the "romantic" writing that preceded it, never feels overblown, the way a fairy tale
or a parable or a dream might! +nd it2s rarely sentimental or emotional! 't )ust reads lie a plain
and sensible account of whatever action it2s describing!
• This concern with delivering plain and simple truth leads realists to fill their wors with details
drawn from everyday life, or "facts," we might as well call them! They can be facts about
domestic life, about families and genealogies, about history, about politics, about business and
finance, about geographical places!!!! Whatever! #ut to mae us believe in the reality of the
worlds they show us, realists fill their literature withfacts to bolster the reader2s feeling that, yes,
this place '2m reading about is )ust lie the everyday world ' live in!
• +nd the "everyday" is probably another important concept in realist wors! Realists, generally
speaing, don2t write about e(traordinary people in fantastic situations! They write about plain,
normal, everyday fols dealing with the trials and tribulations of plain, normal, everyday life!
:elville2s Moby Dick -1.01), which pretty much defines the romantic literary period that preceded
realism, is about a cra=ed sea captain -+hab) obsessed with illing the biggest, fiercest whale in
the world << not an everyday person in an everyday situation! Realist literature, on the other
hand, might often leave you saying, "That one character totally reminds me of my aunt!" +gain,
everyday fols doing everyday things!
• 6ince writers are most liely to be factual and convey a sense of the "everyday" when dealing
with things they now intimately, many realists write specifically about places where they lived or
grew up! There2s a whole subcategory of +merican realism, in fact, called "local color," which
tries hard to convey the reality of particular places in the 5!6! 't2s interesting to note, too, that a
whole lot of this local<color realism is set in different parts of the :idwest! 5p until the realists2
time, most +merican literature is about the 3ast -New 3ngland especially)! #ut the fact that the
+merican West is becoming increasingly settled late in the 1$th century << and that +mericans at
this time are fascinated with the notion of "manifest destiny" << leads to a boom in literature about
the nation2s newer territories!
• 6etting their wors in specific places leads realist writers to mae use of specific dialects, or
speech patterns that are particular to certain locales! #efore the realists2 time, most characters in
+merican literature are simply e(pected to spea the >ueen2s 3nglish, lie good gentlemen and
ladies! 'n the realist period, though, writers mae a conscious effort to let +merican characters
spea various types of +merican 3nglish! + white man in rural :issouri doesn2t, of course, spea
lie an 3nglish gentleman, so it wouldn2t be factual and "truthful" to mae him sound that way!
6imilarly, a blac man in rural :issouri may not spea the same way a white man from the same
place does, so it wouldn2t be factual and truthful to mae him spea in anything other
than his dialect! Realists have to have an e(cellent ear to mae their characters sound lie real
+mericans! +nd by representing different +merican dialects, these writers help create a
genuinely +merican body of literature << that is, a set of wors distinguishable from the 3uropean
lit most +mericans of that time have grown up reading!
• Realism generally celebrates the individual! :ost realist wors feature a central character who
has to deal with some moral struggle, hopefully to arrive at an important moral victory or
reali=ation before the story2s over! +nd this, relatedly, often means much of the "action" in realist
lit is internal action: we hear lots about what2s going on in the central character2s head? we learn a
lot about his or her psychology! 6ince realist characters live in the "everyday" world, interesting
e(ternal things aren2t always happening << so the "internal" stuff has to tae up the slac! @ne
way or the other, though, realist writers are fascinated by individuals: they love the idea that
single human beings must learn, grow, and change their worlds << or be held responsible
for not doing these things!
• @ne last thing: realist wors are generally plot driven, even if only subtly! This means they pivot
around conflicts we as readers want to see resolved! + realist wor, then, will typically have at
least one protagonist -a main character << not necessarily a lieable person or a "hero") and one
antagonist -another character or a force that will try to prevent the protagonist from getting what
sAhe wants), and readers will wait to see, as they watch a seBuence of increasingly dramatic
events, which of them prevails! This is how any standard story wors, but it2s important to note
that realism does these things, too, because the modernist stuff we2ll loo at later often refuses
plot, going in for more fragmented or "stream of consciousness" modes of storytelling instead!
Naturalism starts getting big around 1.$1 and remains huge in +merican lit for twenty years or so! 'ts
most famous practitioners are 6tephen ,rane -who published The Red Badge of Courage in 1.$0),
Theodore 8reiser -whose published Sister Carrie in 1$11), and 5pton 6inclair -who published The
ungle in 1$1/)!
Naturalism is an outgrowth of realism! *ie realism, it wants to present an almost photographically
accurate version of "real" life! 't2s full of facts and details about an everyday world ordinary people may
well recogni=e! 'ts characters spea the same dialects real +mericans spea! +nd it2s generally plot
6o how is naturalism distinguishable from the realism that comes before it; Well!!!!
• Naturalist writers aren2t interested in individuality the way the realists are! They don2t thin it2s the
individual2s place to change the world, and whatever moral struggle sAhe goes through may very
well add up to little or nothing! Naturalism2s central belief, in fact, is that individual human beings
are at the mercy of uncontrollable larger forces that originate both inside and outside them!
These forces might include some of our more "animal" drives, such as the need for food, se(,
shelter, social dominance, etc! @r, in a more "e(ternal" vein, these forces might include the
natural environment, the man<made environment, or finance, industry, and the economy!
6omething, though, is always beating down and controlling the lives of lowly individual humans in
naturalist wors! The whole point of this literary movement, in fact, is that this is inevitable! +nd
yes, it2s often pretty grim!
• Naturalist wors are more liely to be political than traditional realist wors! + great many
naturalists -5pton 6inclair, for instance, whose The ungle describes the plight of the woring
poor in ,hicago2s meat<pacing industry) want to e(pose the cruelty of such "larger forces" as the
5!6!2s voracious capitalist economy! 't may, on one level, be inevitable that money will crush poor
people, but it might also be true, these writers suggest, that we shouldn2t turn a blind eye to it <<
that we should, maybe, start thining about bigger<than<the<individual political movements -lie
socialism) that can counter capitalism2s e(ploitation of the poor!
• Naturalist wors are more liely than realist wors to deal with e(traordinary -that is, beyond<the<
ordinary) sub)ect matter! 'n their desire to show how larger forces control and manipulate people,
naturalist wors often deal with sub)ects most comfortable middle<class readers wouldn2t consider
part of their ordinary lives: war, violence, crime, natural disaster, urban sBualor, poverty!!!! Those
more politically charged naturalist wors ' mentioned above are especially liely to depict things
that would shoc or )ar readers, unlie the more "polite" realist wors of, say, William 8ean
4owells or 4enry 9ames!
Difference Between Realism and Naturalism
Realism and Naturalism are two words that are confused in terms of their real meanings and connotations! There are two different words with different
concepts and meanings! 'n fact, both of them are said to be two different artistic styles that showed considerable differences between them!
These two styles dominated +merican literature between 1./0 and 1$11! Realism aims at interpreting the reality of the world! The wors that were
produced by the writers that supported realism tried to e(plain the world as really it is! @n the other hand, naturalism is considered as an off<shoot of
realism! Naturalist writers did not show interest in establishing the real nature of the world! 'n fact, they did not support the individuality aspect in their
Realists did not write or portray the lives of e(traordinary people under special conditions! 'n fact, they concentrated on the lives and practices of the
common man! They wrote and painted more on the lives of the normal fols! This is one of the main differences between realism and naturalism!
@n the other hand, naturalist writers wrote more political in content than traditional! +t the same time, they gave more importance to the e(traordinary
feats of man unlie the realists! This is another important difference between the two!
+nother difference between Realism and Naturalism is that realism paid more importance to anything that is factual! They did not believe in individual
opinions! @n the other hand, naturalist writers and painters believed in individual opinions! They did not give much importance to anything factual!
The wors produced by realist writers had a central character around which the story developed! @n the other hand, the wors produced by naturalist
writers did not have a central character around which the story developed! These are the important differences between realism and naturalism!