Émile Zola

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What effects did Emile Zola have on American literary realism and naturalism?

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As an outgrowth of realism, naturalism emphasized accurate depictions of actual locations or places closely modeled on them and focused on the lives of ordinary people, including farmers, miners, and workers. Its popularity and influence were linked to the expansion of industrialization and analyses of class conflict, an approach closely linked to the theories of Karl Marx. The influence of Charles Darwin has also been noted, as environmental determinism often controls the character’s lives.

Emile Zola had explained his approach in an 1880 treatise on The Experimental Novel. While Zola concentrated his attention on these issues in France in the late-nineteenth century, strongly nationalist strains of naturalism developed in many European countries as well as in the United States. A connection to journalism, as it exposed the harsh realities of everyday life, was also evident.

One of the American writers whom Zola’s works influenced was Frank Norris, whose fiction writing grew out of journalism; as in his novel McTeague, he tended to favor urban settings. A writer who is far better known today, Stephen Crane also came out of journalism. Along with his well-known war-themed fiction, his novel Maggie: A Girl of the Streets explored the plight of the urban underclass.

Stretching into the twentieth century, Theodore Dreiser often chose immigrants and their American families as subjects and considered the wide-ranging effects of social and economic pressures. The corrupting influence of city life is evident in Sister Carrie.

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