Critical Overview

(Literary Movements for Students)

Although naturalist novels such as The Red Badge of Courage and The Call of the Wild are now considered classics, critics are often torn on the merits of the movement as a whole. The movement was initially met with suspicion because it was regarded as irrelevant to the American culture and its values. Perhaps because of its French roots, Naturalism was perceived as having little to offer an American readership. The lack of a strong morality presented in many naturalist novels further alienated critics and readers who looked to literature to enlighten and inspire. In his book Realism and Naturalism in Nineteenth- Century American Literature, Donald Pizer provides a retrospective comment: “We are coming to realize that a generation of American critics has approached American literary Naturalism with beliefs about man and art which have frequently distorted rather than cast light upon the object before them.” Conservative reviewers denounced the works of Dreiser, for example, for his unfavorable depiction of the modern American man and woman. Still others, like Joseph Warren Beach in his book The Twentieth Century Novel: Studies in Technique, praise Dreiser for his negative depictions. Beach commends Dreiser’s “fearlessness, his honesty, his determination to have done with conventional posturings and evasions.”

In the 1940s and 1950s, critics were quick to distance themselves from naturalist writers because some of them...

(The entire section is 471 words.)