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Both Realism and Naturalism came about in the mid-nineteenth century. Realists
sought to narrate their novels from an objective, unbiased perspective that simply and clearly represented the factual elements of the story.
Naturalism is an extension of Realism. While it did not stray from the realistic perspective greatly, it did put much emphasis upon the element of the natural (nature). Many times, within Naturalism, nature was personified (which gave nonhuman things (nature) the abilities and characteristics of a human).
Naturalism was renowned for realistic settings, common people and professions and told from an objective point-of-view (meaning the narrator told the story like it was and did not attempt to change the outcome based upon personal sympathy or empathy).
John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men has many different characteristics of the Naturalistic period. First, the use of natural imagery (as seen in both the opening and closing chapters of the novel) is typical of the genre. Second, the characters depicted in the text are common (simple ranch-hands who face typical problems). Third, the setting takes place in a realistic place.
The most poignant fact, which speaks to the novella's Naturalistic perspective, is the death of Lennie. In Naturalism, nature is regarded as far more powerful than man. Here, Lennie's character is who he is (a mentally challenged man who does not understand his own strength and cannot be changed from such). Therefore, Lennie's nature as a powerful man cannot be altered--it is in his nature. No matter how hard George tries, Lennie will continue to kill things which are weaker than him.
This alone speaks to the power of nature, one of the most important characteristics as seen in Naturalistic texts.
As I understand it, naturalism grew out of realism because realism, like life itself, is not dramatic and consequently can be dull. Naturalism is realism with drama and plot. It can be seen that Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is certainly realistic but also heavily plotted, which is what makes it naturalistic and dramatic. Right from the beginning Steinbeck is planning to have a series of events occur which will lead to the final chapter in which George kills his best friend by the river. He invents the sexy, promiscuous character of Curley's wife for the sole purpose of having her killed by Lennie in the barn when she becomes flirtatious. He invents a violent and sadistic character in Curley who will end up leading a lynch mob after Lennie. And so forth. This is naturalism because it is realism plotted to be dramatic and emotionally moving.
George Gissing, a Victorian English writer who deserves to be much better known, wrote about the lives of freelance writers in his best-known novel New Grub Street. There are many different kinds of writers depicted. One of them spends years working on a strictly realistic novel about a man named Bailey who is a greengrocer which eventually gets published but is a financial failure because it is so intolerably dull. Mr. Bailey goes to his grocery store and waits on customers, then goes home and goes to bed.
Theodore Dreiser was regarded as a great naturalist because his works were realistic but emotionally moving because exciting things happened, including the murder of Roberta in An American Tragedy and the suicide of Hurstwood in Sister Carrie.
Most of us are familiar with reality because that's the element we live in. It is humdrum, repetitive, and directionless, as if we are lost in a maze. Occasionally something interesting or exciting happens, often without rhyme or reason. Sometimes something good happens. Sometimes something bad happens. More often nothing happens. Naturalism adds cause and effect, motivation, and drama to realism, so naturalism is only the illusion of realism.
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