Naturalism • Naturalistic writers sought to “prove” that man is caught up in a nexus of deterministic forces and that, as a puny creature who is unaware of his fate, he has little or no free will. Man is trapped by his environment. • Henry David Thoreau, who was part of the positive, idealistic movement of Transcendentalism, was also troubled by the sometimes brutal aspects of Nature. From “Brute Neighbors”…. Thoreau watches red and black ants in a fierce battle…. “…I saw that, though he was assiduously gnawing at the near fore-leg of his enemy, having severed his remaining feeler, his own breast was torn all away, exposing what vitals he had there to the jaws of the black warrior, whose breastplate was apparently too thick for him to pierce; and the dark carbuncles of the sufferer’s eyes shone with ferocity such as war only could excite. They struggled half an hour longer…, and when I looked again, the black soldier had severed the heads of his foes from their bodies, and the still-living heads were hanging on either side of him like ghastly trophies at his saddle-bow.” Naturalism, as a literary movement, was heavily influenced by the deterministic thinking of Charles Darwin. Literature of this period depicted humankind as “trapped” and controlled by biological or sociological forces. Darwinian concepts, such as “survival of the fittest,” and “man is pushed on by biological forces” are common. Man is an animal in the struggle for survival. Sometimes this concept is referred to as social/economic Determinism or social biology. Charles Darwin Traits of Naturalistic Literature • Free will is limited. FATE FREE WILL CHOICE? • The Universe is often seen as vast, amoral, and meaningless with characters dwarfed by the huge darkness of a hostile or indifferent (uncaring) cosmos. For some authors, God, if there is one, is disengaged. Many authors believed that the cosmos (world) was so amoral that it was time to “go back to square one,” back to an empty universe without any theological implications. A man said to the Universe, “Sir, I exist.” “However,’ replied the Universe, “The fact has not created in me A sense of obligation.” —Stephen Crane Some more characteristics of Naturalistic literature: • Sometimes language is crude. • The forces of nature emphasize the feebleness of mankind. – Characters. Frequently but not invariably ill-educated or lower-class characters whose lives are governed by the forces of heredity, instinct, and passion. Their attempts at exercising free will or choice are hamstrung by forces beyond their control. – Man struggles with the "brute within" each individual, comprised of strong and often warring emotions: passions, such as lust, greed, or the desire for dominance or pleasure; and the fight for survival in an amoral, indifferent universe. • One of the somber realities of life is that the universe is meaningless and amoral. Better to realize this than to go naively through life believing in something. • Naturalistic texts often describe the futile attempts of human beings to exercise free will, often ironically presented, in this universe that reveals free will as an illusion. Not Man! Works Cited Campbell, Donna M. "Naturalism in American Literature." Literary Movements. 25 July 2005. Retrieved 3 March 2006. <http://www.gonzaga.edu/ facultycampbell/enl413/natural.htm>. Thorpe, Peter. Thirty-five Literary Ideas. Needham Heights, MA: Ginn Press. 1990.