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Literary Movements: The Beginner’s Guide to Naturalism

Naturalism
Émile Zola exemplified nineteenth-century literary naturalism.

Naturalism is a literary movement that emphasizes observation and the scientific method in the fictional portrayal of reality. Novelists writing in the naturalist mode include Émile Zola (its founder), Guy de Maupassant, Thomas Hardy, Theodore Dreiser, Stephen Crane, and Frank Norris.

Characteristics of Naturalism

  1. Naturalism began as a branch of literary realism.
  2. Naturalistic writers were criticized for being pessimistic and for concentrating excessively on the darker aspects of life.
  3. A characteristic of literary naturalism is detachment, in which the author maintains an impersonal tone and disinterested point of view.
  4. Another characteristic is determinism in which a character’s fate has been decided, even predetermined, by impersonal forces of nature beyond human control; and a sense that the universe itself is indifferent to human life.
  5. Naturalism almost entirely dispensed with the notion of free will, or at least a free will capable of enacting real change in life’s circumstances.
  6. Many authors of the period are identified as both Naturalist and Realist.
  7. One of the first truly Naturalist works of literature, and certainly the first in America, was Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets.
  8. Despite the resounding pessimism of their literary output, the Naturalists for the most part were genuinely concerned with improving the situation of the poor in America and the world.

Authors of the Movement

Stephen Crane was an American poet, novelist, and short story writer. Prolific throughout his short life, he wrote notable works in the Realist tradition as well as early examples of American Naturalism and Impressionism. He is recognized by modern critics as one of the most innovative writers of his generation.

John Griffith “Jack” London  was an American novelist, journalist, and social activist. He is the author of To Build a Fire

Other Literary Periods and Movements

If you want to learn more about literary periods and movements, consider visiting some of these posts:

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