Naturalist Philosophy Essay, Research Paper
That Zola s is not purely romantic as was Hugo s, lies chiefly in the choice of milieu. These great terrible dramas no longer happen among the personnel of a feudal and Renaissance nobility, those who are in the forefront of the marching world, but among the lower almost the lowest classes; those who are falling by the roadway. This is not romanticism this drama of the people working itself out in blood and ordure. It is not realism. It is a school by itself, unique, somber, powerful beyond words. It is naturalism
Frank Norris Zola as a Romantic Writer
Human progression and the coming of the industrial age brought forth great social and economic change in the United States. A series of factors, including rapid industrialization, extensive European immigration, and swift urbanization gave birth to a new social class in America: the proletariat. There emerged a noticeable class distinction between the affluent bourgeois capitalists and the impoverished working masses. In a new world of poverty, suffering, and degradation, the Romantic ideal seemed intangible and implausible. Consequently, a new philosophical and literary movement arose which sought to portray the reality of late nineteenth century capitalist America: Naturalism.
Naturalist philosophy adopts the clinical method of empirical sciences to every aspect of human life. As Canadian scholar Greig Henderson put it, Zola [and other naturalists] argues for a literature of observation rather than one of fabrication . In other words, to the Naturalists, the Romantic Movement was nothing but a series of fabrications manufactured by na ve, idealistic thinkers. However, other Naturalists, such as Frank Norris, believed Romanticism dealt with the atypical, or that which was concerned with the variations from the type of normal life . Conversely, the Naturalist concerned himself with the normal aspects of life. Norris called them, the smaller details of everyday life, things that are likely to happen between lunch and supper.
The Naturalist movement was a progression of the Realist movement that preceded it. While both rejected the ideal and attempted to portray the authentic, conceptually, they differed in certain aspects of their respective ideologies. George J. Becker defined Naturalism as, no more than an emphatic and explicit philosophical position taken by some Realists [That position being one of] a pessimistic, materialistic determinism. The Naturalist, Deterministic philosophy argued that man did not have free will (as the Realists argued), but was instead shackled by his fate.
Naturalists reasoned that man s determinism was a result from his instinct, emotions, or social and economic conditions. Because man could not alter these factors, he was subject to a biological and economic determinism. Charles Darwin developed the notion of biological determinism in The Origin of Species. The first two chapters of the work, entitled Variation under Domestication and Variation under nature argue that animals and their actions are dictated by their nature and/or domestication. The Naturalist movement fused this environmental (or biological) determinism with the doctrines of social determinism, as developed by German philosopher Karl Marx. Marx argued that man belonged to one of two classes: the thesis or the antithesis. The thesis class, who were the bourgeoisie of capitalist society, oppressed the antithesis, or more numerous proletariat classes. Members of these classes were bound to a system of dialectic materialism from which they could never flee.
The subject matter and characterization of Naturalist Literature is distinct from that of Realist Literature, or any other, for that matter. Rather than dealing with the splendor of Rockefeller or Carnegie families, the Naturalist author deals with the degradation of the lower-middle and/or lower classes. These factions of capitalist society are deprived, impoverished, and uneducated. In order to survive, individuals belonging to lower classes must resort to demeaning and corrupt actions in order to insure their survival. Violence and passion are not treated with the heroism implied in Romanticism, but instead with desperation and death. These events occur throughout the Naturalist novel all while the protagonist is being driven and manipulated by the society he is part of. As Dr. Donald Pizer put it, The primary goal of the late nineteenth-century American Naturalists was not to demonstrate the overwhelming and oppressive reality of the material forces present in our lives. Their attempt, rather, was to represent the intermingling in life of controlling forces and individual worth. The Naturalists do not dehumanize man.
Frank Norris McTeague character is a classic example of this interplay between the instinctual drives and environmental conditions of an individual. By referring to his characters as human beasts , Norris implies that all men are driven by their instincts and emotions qualities driven by man s exposure to social conditions and social evils.
Upton Sinclair, another literary Naturalist who dealt specifically with the class struggles of the proletariat worker in the meat packing industry of Chicago, described the life of an immigrant who leaves his farm in Lithuania in pursuit of the American ideal, only to be confronted by the harsh reality of the capitalist system, in The Jungle. Sinclair s work adopts the somber mood espoused by many Naturalist writers. Jurgis Rudkus, the story s protagonist, and his family become enslaved into the capitalist system when they arrive in Chicago. What had been the aspiration for prosperity quickly became the necessity of survival, as members of the family died, became indebted, or where forced into crime and prostitution.
The Jungle is a classic example of the social evils which dictate and determine the lives of everyone. Jurgis, who had once arrived with fresh optimism to Packingtown, was abused by his employers and other bourgeois to the point were his livelihood is totally and utterly destroyed. Throughout the Jungle, there does not exist a trace of the Romantic ideal; instead, the reader is presented with the realistic and predetermined reality of nineteenth-century capitalist America.
Naturalism, as a philosophy and its literature, attempts to portray the world as it is, much like the 19th century realists. However, the Naturalist depicts an amoral world in which the chains of determinism bind man; this determinism is dictated by his heredity, his environment, and the natural forces of his society.