American Realism NaturalismTerm Paper

Pages: 8 (2280 words)   |  Style: MLA  |  Bibliography Sources: 3

¶ … Naturalist and Realist Literary Movements Depicted in Stephen Crane, John Steinbeck, and Mark Twain

Naturalism and Realism are two movements of American literature that explore the human experience. Naturalism literature is often slightly darker in nature than Realism literature. Realism is similar to Naturalism in that it attempts to explore the human experience. In the Naturalist world, people are often controlled by their environment and become victims of circumstance. From this perspective, free will does not play a significant role in the characters' lives. Characters are not simplified nor are they exaggerated. Social conditions are important aspects of Naturalist literature as they are with Realistic literature. Realism focuses on characters and their experience - keeping that experience as close to the character's real experience as possible. The characters in realistic literature are more important than the plot; however, the plot generally serves as a solid backdrop for the human experience. Realistic characters are generally not perceived as good or evil but rather human. Celebrated authors attempting to examine the human condition through the Naturalistic and Realistic literary movement are Stephen Crane, John Steinbeck, and Mark Twain. Each author explores characters in their natural environment and allows us to understand life on a deeper level through them. Crane, Steinbeck, and Twain are authors that illustrate through words what the Naturalistic and Realistic movements represent - that life is not always easy.

Stephen Crane was a maverick in the Naturalist movement. He portrays characters that become victims of circumstance because they cannot control their immediate environments. When we read Crane, we should keep in mind that his protagonists can only be held partially responsible for their actions because their free will has no direct bearing on the immediate situation. Maggie, a Girl of the Streets demonstrates Crane's ability to delve into the raw experience of a young girl that becomes a victim of circumstance. Maggie struggles with her environment throughout the entire story. Crane provides us with rich detail about Maggie's life, including the violence and negativity that plague her. He sets the tone of the novel in the first scene with the shabby young men fighting and cursing in the streets. We read, "On their small, convulsed faces there shone grins of true assassins," Crane tells us (Crane Maggie 3). We also see Jimmie at the hand of his abusive father in the first few pages of the novel. As the two walk into the tenement, we are told they pass by infants that "fought with other infants" and women "screaming in quarrels" (6). Jimmie is also abusive to Maggie - an angry habit that even his father cannot control. With these few opening scenes, Crane is allowing us to see the uncontrollable aspects of Maggie's environment. Violence is an integral aspect of Naturalistic literature and it is often the end of it as well. In Maggie, a Girl of the Streets, Crane allows Maggie to feel love but only for a short time. Her life and her circumstances are beyond what she can fix or even control. The unfortunate ending of the novel represents the dark view that Naturalism often symbolizes.

Crane's most popular work is the Red Badge of Courage, another novel that delves into the human experience. The setting in this novel is the obvious setting by which Henry is a victim. He can no more control this environment than he can wish himself out of it. The backdrop of war allows Crane to dive completely into Henry's world. He witnesses death and this experience turns him to "stone" (Crane Red Badge of Courage 54). His encounter with the dead man represents the most basic aspect of nature that a man can witness. It is vile and disgusting and it changes Henry forever. Henry cannot act with courage and this allows us to see him in a real environment. Crane focuses on the pessimistic with the Red Badge of Courage with the novel's title and its significance. It is not a badge in the way we typically think of a badge when think of courage associated with war. Henry's experience was real and he becomes a victim of the war in which he served. Henry does experience "a quiet manhood, non-assertive but of sturdy and strong blood... He had been in touch with the great death... He was a man" (154), but he is not whole by any means. While he has survived war, he cannot be the way he was before and this is troubling. This novel allows us to sink deep into the setting of war and experience what it is like to encounter death and then attempt to return to life.

Another prolific writer of the Naturalist movement is John Steinbeck. His novel, of Mice and Men, explores the fate of George and Lennie, two men controlled by their environment and chance as well. Crane achieves their struggle with achieving of the American Dream. Their difficulty results in a life of endlessly moving and replanting themselves. They have no place to call home and their lower-class status becomes something that controls them. George and Lennie have additional problems as well. Lennie's innocent but terrible habit of doing "bad things" (Steinbeck Mice and Men 11) is constantly setting them back. To escape the repercussions of Lennie's behavior, the two resort to such acts as hiding in an "irrigation ditch all day" (11). Lennie is a burden and George resents this at times. Here we see George's environment controlling him when he feels as though he could break free and have a chance. He believes that if Lennie were out of the picture, he could succeed. He tells George, "If I was alone I could live so easy. I could get a job an' work, an' no trouble" (11). Here Crane places George in a setting that is almost impossible. His existence is common and he longs for more. His act of violence leads to the death of an innocent man. Of Mice and Men captures Naturalist aspects because it demonstrates the total lack of control people have when it comes to their environment.

Another example of Steinbeck's contribution to the Naturalistic movement is his famous novel, the Grapes of Wrath. Again, Steinbeck provides us with a picture of desperation that farmers faced during their migration to California. The setting in this novel is significant to the overall theme of Naturalism and it provides us with an excellent example of how environment controls the individual. Families suffer loss of various kinds and the end does not appear in sight. Individuals did not sense any relief with sunrise. We read, "The dawn came, but no day. In the grey sky a red sun appeared, a dim red circle that gave little light, little dusk; and as that day advanced, the dusk slipped back toward darkness, and the wind cried and whimpered over the fallen corn" (Steinbeck Grapes of Wrath 5). The novel also focuses on the dire situations in this setting. Families sold all that they had in an effort to strike it rich in California but the dream was more fatal than they could imagine. Farmers, after selling all of their belonging, would come back to their anxious families with "hands in their pockets, hats pulled down... They walked back to the farms, hands in pockets and heads down, shoes kicking the red dust up" (113). Here Steinbeck is drawing on the experience of loss to convey the utter hopelessness these people felt in the middle of nowhere with nowhere to go. He emphasizes this heavy weight by allowing the families experience the desolation together. For example, the Joads and the Wilsons are "lonely and perplexed, because they had all come from a place of sadness and defeat, and because they were all going to a mysterious place, they huddled together; they talked together; they shared their lives, their food, and the things they hoped for in the new country" (249). These images present us with the absolute desolation every family faced fully reinforcing the Naturalistic thought.

Mark Twain is perhaps the most notable of Realistic writers. His work focuses on real aspects of life to convey a message about society. Nothing demonstrates this ability anymore than the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The obvious elements that make this story realistic this issues of slavery and authority. In addition, Twain cleverly weaves the issue of morality into the story to emphasize relationships with people. The most predominant issue is that of slavery, and Huck and Jim become the tools in which Twain uses to explore the notion the men are not entirely good or evil. Huck grows up hearing what is good and bad and he learns this from the society in which he lives. Huck grapples with the idea of Jim being a bad slave for running away but being a good man for wanting to make things better for his family. Likewise, Jim knows what he is doing is considered wrong but he feels… [END OF PREVIEW]

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