Naturalist writers apply scientific principles and methods to the writing of fiction. Like scientists conducting experiments, they introduce readers to a character or characters and then set the events of the novel in motion to see how the characters’ inherited traits and environmental influences will determine their outcomes. In some cases, an unexpected opportunity is also introduced to give the character a chance to take it or to ignore it. Given extreme circumstances or desires or needs, characters make decisions they would not otherwise make. The naturalist writer believes that the characters’ true natures emerge in these situations.
Another scientific idea used in naturalist writing is conditioned behavior. Characters learn how to behave when they are exposed repeatedly to the same environmental influences. A character such as Henry in The Red Badge of Courage quickly learns how to behave in order to survive in the extreme circumstances of war. Buck in The Call of the Wild is first conditioned to hate people but later learns to trust the right man.
Darwinian processes are sometimes evident in naturalist writing. In Sister Carrie, for example, Carrie is inherently stronger than Hurstwood; as a result of his weakness, he abandons all of his comforts and ultimately commits suicide, while Carrie enjoys a successful stage career and self-reliance. Society is unforgiving and harsh...
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