Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Jack London

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Many scholars see naturalism as an extension of realism, but there are some distinctions between the two movements. Naturalism flourished in the early 100s, and naturalists, like realists, wanted to reflect reality, but their approach was somewhat more “scientific.”

- Naturalist authors sought to demonstrate scientific objectivity in their writings.

o These writers saw themselves as detached observers who were studying human beings and their relationships to others and their surroundings. Their works may make social statements, but they do not tend to moralize.

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- Naturalism was greatly affected by Charles Darwin’s recent scientific theories.

Charles Darwin Image of Darwin is from AboutDarwin.com, http//www.aboutdarwin.com

Darwin’s works Origin of Species (185) and Descent of Man (1870) changed the way many people viewed humans and the development of society. Through his observations, Darwin concluded that man, like other animals, had evolved and adapted over time, acquiring characteristics that enabled survival. Darwin’s idea of “survival of the fittest” affected naturalist authors in terms of their attitudes toward human beings. Humans were animals that were governed by their instincts and passions. Through their characters, naturalist writers examined how humans are affected by their backgrounds, biology, and environments.

- The characters and situations in naturalistic works often reflect a dismal picture of reality wherein freewill is an illusion.

o Characters are often working, lower class people who are struggling to survive.

o The setting is often urban, and the city is portrayed as an uncaring environment where competition thrives.

- Nature and the universe are seen as indifferent.

o Nature is a force that acts on humans’ lives without any feeling. [Romantics often viewed nature as beautiful and inspiring; naturalists see it as indifferent.]

- Naturalistic writers are not always pessimistic.

o Characters sometimes possess traits or have realizations that enable them to be viewed as “heroic” despite their circumstances. People have the potential to make sense of their realities, to be sympathetic and compassionate toward others, and to survive.

- Naturalist writers include the following

Jack London


a style of fiction first prominent in such French writers as Honore Balzac and Emile Zola, whom London read extensively in translation. Posits that an individual lives completely in the order of nature and does not have a spirit nor way of partaking in a spiritual realm outside of the natural world; a human being is just a high-order animal whose identity and manners are entirely predestined by ones surroundings and genetics. Naturalists emphasized rich descriptions of even the basest social life without attaching moral commentary.

Naturalism is essentially a literary expression of determinism. Associated with bleak, realistic depictions of lower-class life, determinism denies religion as a motivating force in the world and instead perceives the universe as a machine. Eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinkers had also imagined the world as a machine, but as a perfect one, invented by God and tending toward progress and human betterment. Naturalists imagined society, instead, as a blind machine, godless and out of control.

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