• 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
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
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
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.
• 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
• 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
• 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.
Thorpe, Peter. Thirty-five Literary Ideas.
Needham Heights, MA: Ginn Press. 1990.

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