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Brief Outlook on American Vistas
Naturalism – Theoretical Origins
• France: Claude Bernard. Introduction à l’étude de la médicine expérimentale (1865) • Literary application: Emile Zola. Le roman expérimental (1880)– literature governed by science, use of experimental method
Zola and Naturalism
“En somme, toute l’opération consiste à prendre les faits dans la nature, puis à étudier le mécanisme des faits, en agissant sur eux par les modifications des circonstances et des milieux, sans jamais s’écarter des lois de la nature. Au bout, il y a la conaissance de l’homme, la connaissance scientifique, dans son action individuelle et sociale.” (Zola 60-61) Study of heredity and milieu as shapers of human destinies
Zola’s naturalism based on Taine’s De L’intelligence: nature (the inherent impulse of human evolution) = a succession of events in the parallel development of the psychological (moral) and physical elements in man
Darwinism and Naturalism
• Charles Darwin. On the Origins of Species (1859) – theories of biological evolution and natural selection “struggle for life” – “modification” – “natural selection” - The Descent of Man (1871) application on humans Material causes of phenomena over providential design / emphasis on natural over supernatural Key terms: biology, struggle, competition, natural law
Input from Post-Darwinian Theories
Social Darwinism – “survival of the fittest” (Herbert Spencer – Social Statistics 1850) – competition – social evolution (prosperity); deterministic / fatalistic / progressive – economic realm – laissez-faire (competition and selfinterest) / political conservatism / imperialism Heredity studies – Francis Galton. Hereditary Genius (1869) – biological inheritance dominant Struggle school – Walter Bagehot. Physics and Politics (1872) – “nations evolve principally by succeeding in conflicts with other groups” Reform Darwinism (1890s) – governmental role for social policies for adapting to changing conditions E.g. extreme eugenics movement (Galton, 1883) – superiority of one group over others
Defining Naturalism in the U.S.
• • • • • Realism infused with pessimistic determinism Realism with a “necessitarian ideology” (Chase) The philosophical position of pessimistic materialistic determinism 2 tensions of naturalist novel (Donald Pizer): tension between subject matter and the concept of man emerging from here (low class) – dull life but also the heroic and adventurous (violence and passion) i.e. the extraordinary and excessive in human nature out of the common local / everyday Tension between naturalist’s desire to represent the new discomforting truths of life and his desire to find meaning in experience that validates the human enterprise – need of a new sense of man’s dignity and importance
Naturalism and Realism
Common point: mimetic approach, fidelity to truth
Realism Focus on the comfortable and wellto-do Out of touch with life’s raw passions Having effeminate manners (Shi) Characters: responsible for their lives; autonomous selves capable of independent actions, rational judgment, moral responsibility Naturalism Focus on social extremes Importance of causal forces like heredity and environment in determining behavior Importance of economic forces / non-rational impulses Characters: no more than events in the world (Darwin-based); with choices determined by forces beyond their rational control (Zola’s character’s “completely dominated by their nerves and blood, without free will” (Shi 221)
Frank Norris. The Responsibilities of the Novelist (1903) or Naturalism = Realism and Romance
Starting point: challenge Howells’ idea that realism and romanticism are contending forces (also Dreiser – Howells’ lack of experience with the misery and passions of the poor and the suffering): “Why should it be that so soon as the novelist addresses himself – seriously – to the consideration of contemporary life he must abandon Romance and take up that harsh, loveless, colorless, blunt tool called Realism?” (Norris 214) Place of naturalism: transcending synthesis [Savage realism cf. Garland, 1903 / Ultra realism – exploring sordid facts, primitive passions, social conflict, carnal pleasures – Frank Norris, Stephen Crane, Jack London]
Realism and Romance
“Realism is the kind of fiction that confines itself to the type of normal life” (…) It “stultifies itself. It notes only the surface of things”, “minutely” (215) – limited / surface Romance = “the kind of fiction that takes cognizance of variations from the type of normal life” (215) leading to a “revelation of my neighbor’s secretest life” (217) implying feelings like hope, despair– its themes: the sordid, the unlovely (e.g. Zola)
Time and Place of Romance
“Romance does very well in the castles of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance chateaux, and she has the entrée there and is very well received. (…) But let us protest against limiting her to such places and such times (…); you will find her equally at home in the brownstone house on the corner and in the office building downtown. And this very day, in this very hour, she is sitting among the rags and wretchedness, the dirt and despair of the tenements of East Side New York.” (218) Contemporary life / High, middle and low classes
Input of Realism and Romance in Naturalism [the extraordinary out of the ordinary]
“Let Realism do the entertaining with its meticulous presentation of teacups, rag carpets, wall-paper and haircloth sofas, stopping with these; going no deeper than it sees, choosing the ordinary, the untroubled, the commonplace. But to Romance belongs the wide world for rage, and the unplumbed depth of the human heart, and the mystery of sex, and the problems of life, and the black, unsearched penetralia of the soul of man.” (Norris 220)
Characteristics of Naturalism
• Lower class life vs. realists’ bourgeoisie • Survival orientation – elemental drives (hunger, fear) vs. middle class concern with status and social behavior • Sordid language, settings and events – animalistic environment • Deterministic philosophy – heredity and environment as controlling forces • Pessimistic, tragic view of life – exterior forces • Move toward irrational man (prey to passions and appetites beyond control) vs. realists’ man of reason
Naturalism as Social Darwinism
Protagonist’s fall and elimination through suicide at different social levels Original pattern: Zola’s L’assommoir – protagonist Gervaise Macquart decaying from low middle-class to vice (promiscuity, alcohol) and squalid death American examples: Maggie in Crane’s Maggie, a Girl of the Streets [NY slums] Hurstwood in Dreiser’s Sister Carrie – Chicago business middle class to NY beggar dying for not adapting to a more complex urban community Dominant theme: the drama of desire (Shi 247) – relentless aspiration for unattainable ideas often becoming a selfdestructive dream [romance input]
Crane’s Naturalism – Maggie (1893)
• Stress on circumstantial forces rather than deterministic ones (people somehow responsible for what they do) • Social environmental determinism • NY slums, sweatshops, prostitution, brutality; immorality of slums (mock at middle class ethics)
Dreiser’s Naturalism – Sister Carrie (1900)
• Social determinism –urbanization and industrialism – effects of mechanizing culture (“rocking chair” – Ferris wheel) • Impact and entrapment of self by money (Drouet, Hurstwood), by the city (Chicago, New York), by work conditions (Carrie’s sister and brother-inlaw), by middle class values • “drifting” character – transition – context of impersonal force / individuals less characterized by their relation to one another than by their relation to power forces (Nature, the City, Society)
Jack London’s Naturalism – Call of the Wild (1903)
• Importance of environment – 2 dimensions: symbolical and historical (1890s gold rush) • Atavism as key of Buck’s survival in the wild. Implication: instincts don’t die in the civilized world but go in hibernation. • Nietzsche’s “blonde beast” = the animal in man “avidly in search of spoil and victory” and “sheep” / “herd animals” = victims (Thus Spake Zarathustra) serving his view of society as divided between those who were naturally masters and those who were naturally slaves / life – a constant struggle to rule or be ruled / “will to power” replacing morality and ethics • “The Ghost Dog” (romance) at the side of the raw and bloody brutality of nature (Darwin) – becoming one’s own master
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