In this paper I’m going to explore the difference between realism and Naturalism in the American literature using specific textual examples. My decision was to concentrate my attentions on the following works: W. E. B. Du Bois, “ The Souls of Black Folk”, Stephen Crane, “ The Open Boat”, Kate Chopin, “ Desiree’s Baby”, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “ The Yellow Wall-Paper. ” Sometimes it appears to be a complex task to separate realistic features from naturalistic in the writer’s literary heritage. Both trends developed in the same epoch and historical conditions; as a consequence, realism and Naturalism are interrelated and interconnected.
Realism may be defined as an artistic trend that insists on faithful representation and reflection of reality. As the Norton Anthology of American Literature states, realism became a predominant aspect of the American literature aesthetics from 1830’s to the end of the century. Many important writers of the period started their careers as journalists and therefore portrayed the life they witnessed in their books, too. The intensification of realism and Naturalism was caused by the new developments in Europe and North America.
The ultimate goal of a realistic writer is to depict life honestly and accurately. Realism objected classical art for the reason that classical art and literature suggested that life is more ordered than it is. Also realism objected romanticism, because the romantic tradition suggested that life is more emotional than it is. It’s very typical of realists to believe that science and technological progress can gradually solve all the problems of humankind. Naturalists also paid much attention to the problem of technological revolution and new scientific developments.
Naturalism was largely based on Darwinism and as a consequence this trend stressed the importance of heredity and environment; man is nothing more but a natural object. Naturalism compared scientific progress to human evolution. Also this literary trend denied the importance of individual effort, because it stated that all sins originate in society and acknowledged the existence of forces that are beyond human control. If such forces or social pressure are in place, a man is never to blame. Writer’s mission was compared to that of a doctor because he was capable of curing social ills. Now I would like to provide a deep analysis of each work.
Stephen Crane’s “ The Open Boat” may be defined as predominantly realistic work. In that times Darwin’s Origin of Species provided naturalistic explanation of human evolution, and the new industrialists extrapolated the results of Darwin’s findings on economic and social conditions of the human. As the Norton Anthology of American Literature suggests, Crane hinted that biology, psychology, and environment shaped, but did not wholly determine, human behaviour. The realistic nature of Crane’s works may be explained by the fact that his journalistic experience was the primary source of the largest part of his books.
If we speak specifically about “ The Open Boat”, we should keep in mind that this work is based on the author’s real-life experience when a ship he was on sank off the coast of Florida. Crane is widely admitted to be Naturalistic writer. But from my point of view, “ The Open Boat” has more features typical of realism than that of Naturalism. Crane himself names the work “…the experience of three man sunk from the steamer Commodore. ” He carefully depicts this experience in all the detail so the work sometimes seems to be hyper-realistic. The only element of Naturalism is the discussion of the role of fate and occasion in human life.
As the Norton Anthology of American Literature suggests, the primary focus of non-fiction realist works of the nineteenth century was racial inequality, women’s rights, ecological issues, political and business corruption and worker’s exploitation. W. E. B. Du Bois and his work “ The Souls of Black Folk” addressed the issue of racial discrimination. The realism of his works is understandable for the ample reason that he has spent thirteen years to pursuing sociological studies of African American life. African American songs and spirituals included in “ The Souls of Black Folk” makes the depiction of Black living accurate and true to life.
The Norton Anthology of American Literature also suggests that Du Bois to a certain extent accepted English Transcendentalist tradition. So we can consider Du Bois to be a social realist and we can see that he actually disagreed with some ideas put forward by Naturalist. He stated that American blacks should nit accept second-class status and they should revolt against racial discrimination. So he didn’t accept the chief and basic idea of Naturalist about the dominant role of heredity and environment in human life.
Still, he paid attention to the so-called social ills and blamed society of ignorance, inequality and cruelty, and that is typical of Naturalist writers. The theme of racial inequality and discrimination is central in Kate Chopin’s short story “ Desiree’s Baby. ” In the closing lines of story Chopin calls the Afro-American “ the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery. ” We can conclude that the author supports Naturalist idea about racial and social determinism. The example of Desiree shows that a nameless girl can hardly be happy even if her life is arranged.
Again, the idea of fatalism is expressed vividly in the story. Chopin focuses on social ills of those times, and she blames not Desiree of her tragedy and ruin, but the society that imposes racial prejudices. So we can sum up that Chopin’s “ Desiree’s Baby” represents Naturalism in American literature. Charlotte Perkins also focused her attention on the role of social prejudices, and gender prejudices in particular, in human life. The Norton Anthology of American literature states that she had become increasingly aware that women did not receive equal rights.
The Yellow Wall-paper is based on the experience of the lasting depression, when she has been strongly advised to stay in bad and limit significantly her intellectual and creative activity. Joining American Woman Suffrage Association helped her to end the awful depression. As the Norton Anthology of American Literature suggests, the chief topics of The Yellow Wall-paper include the bumbling and paternalistic medical treatment of “ woman troubles” at the end of the nineteenth century, the aridity and suffocation possible in the late Victorian marriage, and the creative and intellectual frustration faced by American women at that time.
From my point of view, some issues raised in The Yellow Wall-paper are typical of Naturalism, but in general the work is a brilliant example of psychological, or psychopathological, realism. So we can make a conclusion that realism and Naturalism in American literature are closely interrelated. Both trends flourished in America; they enriched world literature with numerous masterpieces.
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