Student Question

How is realism or naturalism portrayed in Hands?

Quick answer:

Naturalism is used in Hands as Anderson's narrator describes the uncontrollable natural and social forces that work against Wing Biddlebaum.

Expert Answers

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Naturalism can be thought of as a particular type of realism. Realism as a literary movement seeks to capture the lives of ordinary people, those who occupy the lower and middle classes. Because Wing Biddlebaum begins his career as a teacher and then becomes a laborer, he fits neatly into that aspect of realism.

What naturalism brings into further focus is the idea that there are forces that work against humankind over which it has no control. Natural forces not only include biology and the environment, such as weather, but also societal forces such as poverty and discrimination.

The forces that work against Wing Biddlebaum are both natural and societal. Anderson suggests that Wing is hardwired to have restless hands; though he struggles to control their movements, it is something over which he seems to have little to no ability to mitigate. Because Wing has touched others in ways that sometimes made them uncomfortable, it is believable to the townspeople that he molested a child who makes an accusation. As a result, societal forces of widespread suspicion, hatred, organized violence, and vigilante justice drive him from his home and profession. Wing Biddlebaum has no control over the natural and societal forces that work against him, and his existence is reduced to that of a pariah.

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