In The Red Badge of Courage (1895) Stephen Crane explores the nature of courage and heroism through the eyes of Henry Fleming, a youth full of romantic dreams of war. Henry is rudely disillusioned when he enlists in the Union Army and discovers what real war is about on the battlefields of the American Civil War.
Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea (1952) tells the tragic yet triumphant story of an old fisherman's relentless battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Cuba. The ordeal pushes the old man to the limits of human endurance in his determination to triumph over nature.
Jack London's ‘‘To Build a Fire’’ (1902) is another naturalistic story of human struggle against nature. In this tale, a man's life depends on his ability to build a fire in the freezing wilderness.
Facing Facts: Realism in American Thought and Culture, 1850-1920 (1995) by David E. Shi provides a highly accessible survey of the Realistic movement in the arts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This book is valuable for any student studying the history, literature, art, or architecture of those years.
Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie (1900) is a masterpiece of literary Naturalism. Dreiser's novel graphically depicts life in New York and Chicago at the turn of the century through the parallel stories of Carrie's fortuitous rise from a penniless farm girl to famous actress, and Hurstwood's dramatic fall from respectable tavern manager to homeless drifter.
William Graham Sumner's What the Social Classes Owe to Each Other (1883) is a classic statement of Darwinian principles applied to human society. The work posits the omnipotent beneficial law of ‘‘survival of the fittest’’ which determines the state of all existing social conditions. The answer to the question posed in the book's title: nothing.