An extension of Realism , Naturalism is a literary movement that claims to portray life exactly as it is. Naturalists tend to dissect human behavior with absolute objectivity. Relying heavily upon certain areas of psychology and sociology, this movement is also influenced by Darwinian theories of survival of the fittest...
An extension of Realism, Naturalism is a literary movement that claims to portray life exactly as it is. Naturalists tend to dissect human behavior with absolute objectivity. Relying heavily upon certain areas of psychology and sociology, this movement is also influenced by Darwinian theories of survival of the fittest as well as a certain determinism. Thus, human beings are subject to laws of nature, just as animals are, and in Crane's and London's writing, it is an essentially indifferent universe in which characters exist.
Stephen Crane writes in a style that places the reader in the created experience so that this reader is affected by events at the same time as the characters themselves. In this way, the reader senses the deterministic factors of the fictional universe simultaneously with the characters, and the impact is powerful.
Often there is an indifferent universe, as in this short poem of Crane's:
A man said to the universe:
"Sir I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."
Another poem by Crane that expresses the determinism of the universe is "War is Kind." As evinced in the title and verses of this poem, Crane employs a bitter irony regarding this determinism. The fourth verse expresses this idea:
Swift blazing flag of the regiment,
Eagle with crest of red and gold,
These men were born to drill and die.
Point for them the virtue of slaughter,
Make plain to them the excellence of killing
And a field where a thousand corpses lie.
Both poems demonstrate the lack of individualization, as the common nouns man and men are used, rather than anyone's particular name.
- Short Story
In "An Episode of War," Stephen Crane's main character, an army lieutenant, is wounded severely in the arm by a random bullet from a battle. The name of this character is not revealed, an omission that lends him a certain anonymity. At first, though, the lieutenant seems to be somewhat individualized as he sits arranging the portions of coffee for the men: "He was on the verge of great triumph in mathematics."
Suddenly, however, a random bullet from a battle some distance away strikes the lieutenant. He is "astonished by this catastrophe which happened when catastrophes were not expected."
In an arbitrary moment, the lieutenant's life is altered. Even though he protests the amputation of his arm when he reaches the field hospital, he has no control over his predetermined fate. He is but one of many victims of war, and his injury merely "an episode of war."
Jack London, too, creates anonymity with his characters, who are referred to merely by common nouns, such as "the man" in "To Build a Fire" and his companion "the dog." There is also "[T]hat man from Sulfur Creek," who has warned the man about the severe conditions.
The "man," who is the main character, continues to underestimate the forces of nature and nature's cold indifference. In the naturalistic world that London creates, these conditions are out of the man's control. For, he has made bad decisions such as lighting a fire under a snow-laden tree that quickly puts out this fire. Consequently, he is not among the "fittest" and does not survive. He is no individual, just a man who is subject to the laws of nature in a Darwinian world.