13. Naturalistic tendencies in the American literature of the turn of the centuries.
Naturalism is a literary and philosophical trend that first appeared in France (Emile Zolia). It was pushed forward by the genetic theory of Darwin. The main idea is that all the actions of the people are taken under the natural forces. People act because of their main instincts such as an instinct to survive, to eat, to give birth to children. Nature plays a great role in this philosophy as close to God, because it rules everything, the best people are natural people that stick to nature.
In the period of the turn of the centuries in America critical realism developed side by side with naturalism. At this period naturalism was highly productive. At the end of the 19th century there was a discussion about the ways the literature should take. The first point of view was that literature should be realistic, but it shouldn’t reflect ugly and dirty things, creative works should present polished reality that can be pleasantly percepted. On the other hand, Naturalists presented love for every detail, introduced forbidden things into their creativity.
Though naturalism and realism were rather close because they showed the real events and situation and characters, the main difference lied in the philosophical understanding of the nature of the person. According to the realists social motivation rules people’s actions and predominate over the natural motivation. Naturalists over exaggerated natural background, they suppose that person is motivated by the natural instincts. The main laws of life according to their view point are natural laws.
These ideas came to life under the influence of two great philosophers – Spenser and Neitche. There ideas were widely popular and the main of them was that the law of human existence was survival or struggle. Neitche divided people into strong and weak according to the law of survival presented by Darwin concerning the animals. This idea was the ruling one and was lately distorted by Nazis in the purpose of propaganda.
The influence of naturalism is clearly seen in the creativity of Jack London. In his novel “Martin Eden” and his short stories we can find the traces of realism – because London often speaks about the society and shows the influence of the social position and opinions on the characters of the books, naturalism and even some traces of romanticism in his short stories.
London is a master of dynamic plot. His stories are full of action and conflict. The author combines romantic and realistic elements of narration. The action is usually laid far away from civilization, the writer depicts unusual adventures and his personages are of the adventurous type, such as hunters, hobos, gold-miners who have left the corrupt civilization to live freely and independently. London began his career with the romantic interpretation of the North in short-story form in the books ‘The son of the wolf”, “The god of his fathers”, “Children of the frost” and others. Life deyond the Arctic Circle gives rich material for the romantic interpretation. Here people were judged by their courage and their code of friendship and love; by their deeds and not their words, or the color of their skin, or their social position. London’s heroes value freedom. But these stories already bear some points of naturalism. First of all, that is revealed through the descriptions of nature, that can not only be a background of the actions but a reflection of the inner world of London’s heroes.
“Love of life” is one of the best of London’s short stories about the North. In it we can clearly see the influence of Nietche because the theme of the story is survival struggle. Being left alone without food or help the man still tries to survive. In some other stories such as “White Silence”, “The law of life”, “the son of wolf” or “sea wolf” we see that nature and people always come side by side. Nature becomes equal in rights with the men or even stronger, but always living on the same laws.
“Martin Eden” is based on the philosophy of Spenser – the core element of which is individualism. The eternal law of nature - each for himself. At the same time it is very sociological and deals with the problem of world literature: the destiny of art and talent under the conditions existing in bourgeois society. “Martin Eden” contains many autobiographical features, but Jack London and Martin were antipodes. London was a socialist and Martin was an individualist. The novel is about a young poorly educated seaman Martin Eden who falls in love with Ruth Morse, the sister of the well-to-do young man Arthur Morse, whom he had rescued from hooligans. Martin’s love stimulates him to improve himself. At first Ruth’s advice help him but soon his intense intellect outstrips her. Martin devours Darwin, Marx, Hegel and other sociological and philosophical works and soon sees that the whole higher class is narrow minded and self-satisfied. He becomes a rich and popular writer but understands that people will never like him for his personal traits of character and commits a suicide. London himself called his book “an indictment of individualism”.
Theodor Dreiser’s works were also strongly influenced by the naturalistic tendencies. A perfect example of this influence is the novel “Sister Carrie” that belongs to the first period of his creativity. Naturalism is shown in the Dreiser’s fascination by the Carrie’s survival strength. A girl from a poor worker’s family she doesn’t want to survive for all of her life as her sister. Carrie appears in the book as a doll used by a salesman Drouet, she depends on him because she has no work or money. But she always has a desire to climb the social ladder and follows a well-to-do Hurstwood in order to become more rich and famous. She is a modern American Cinderella, because when Hurstwood is absolutely ruined and not able to satisfy her desires she leaves him in order to survive by herself. That is the main contrast of he book: Carrie that finds ways out of all situations and Hurstwood who appears in the book as very rich person and at the end commits a suicide unable to live in the public houses any more and to earn money by bagging. This is a book about the realization of American dream – when a poor girl manages to become a world-famous actress. But the author shows that her dream doesn’t bring happiness to Carrie.
The central elements of the plot are based on the facts that the writer knew first-hand – Emma, his elder sister, served as a prototype of the heroine of the novel, and in the nineties Dreiser himself had experienced what it meant to search endlessly and without success for a job, which experience helped him to draw a vivid picture of Hurstwood wandering about New York looking for a work. Carrie and Hurstwood occur in the similar situations but the difference is that she is always developing, progressing and he starts with s very high position but finally regresses to suicide.
“American tragedy” also show the person trying to climb the social ladder but the outcome of the efforts is much more worse. This book is more social because it reveals all the prejudices of the American society. Dreiser himself said that his task was not to moralize but to give a background and psychology of reality that would explain how such murders happen. The circular composition of the novel and indefinite article of the title show that Dreiser gives a common situation that can happen again and again under the pressure of the society.
Dreiser shows the three different levels of society in the three parts of the novel: the first is a small city where Clyde Griffith starts his life. He tries to leave the poor life and together with his friends kills a girl with the car. The second part is about the higher society where Clyde gains protection of his uncle. The woman he wants to marry Sondra Finchley for him is the embodiment of luxury and happiness. At the same time he becomes he becomes the personification of wealth for Roberta. Dreiser says that the crime is forced by the society because Clyde acquaints with different situations that convince him that murder is the way to happiness in his case. The third part shows the court system of America. We see that though Clyde’s guilt is not proved he is sentenced to death because he becomes a plaything in a election campaign battle waged by two bourgeois parties.
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