American Lit, Stephen Crane (and beyond)
Literary Naturalism is an outgrowth of Literary Realism.
It emerged at the end of the 19
century, in the 1890s, as a movement that sought to incorporate the latest ideas about
man, science, and society.
Its immediate predecessor, Realism, was always a rather tame
phenomenon; realism was predicated upon the idea that there was an average, rational
norm in society and that individuals could make the correct decisions about how to live
Realism held that middleclass life was the norm, and that average middleclass
Americans could, using reason, arrive at sane, healthy decisions.
As examples of such
texts, see works by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman and Edith Wharton.
In each, their
characters solve their problems so that the greatest good is available to the greatest
number of characters in the stories (“A New England Nun” and “The Other Two”).
in the 1890s a new, younger generation of writers took issue with the very tameness of
the Realist worldview.
Frank Norris, for example, called Realism “the tragedy of a tea-
cup” (and you will notice in the Realist stories cited above, inevitably, the taking of tea is
an important moment in each story).
Such a quiet world of manners and morals is
certainly absent from the violent stories inherent in the Naturalistic tradition, in such texts
as Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets
, 1893; The Red Badge of Courage
1895; and “The Open Boat,” 1897); Frank Norris’s McTeague
, 1899; Jack London’s The
, 1900, and An American Tragedy
In these works, reason fails, animal appetites prevail, and the world is a dark,