When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples.
—Stephen Crane, “The Open Boat”
This week you are going to get to study two of my favorite short stories to teach. The only bummer is that I only get to see you once a week, therefore we won’t get to pretend you are on a boat in the sea, toppling around without the universe batting an eyelash.
Notes (Please copy these into your notebook or print them out and highlight them)
Your notes actually made me angry this week, because I so bad wanted to just copy and paste them. But the words were too academic. And because it is my job to TEACH you, I had to translate them into plain English. Which took me an extra 45 minutes. So appreciate me and don’t complain about taking notes and learning things 🙂
This is a literary technique practiced by many schools of writing; it actually began as a reaction to “Romanticism” (think Hawthorne). Realism sought to represent the middle class life, normal people. It also sought to document history, but by focusing on the here and now. It encompassed the time between the Civil War and the turn of the century.
* Some critics have suggested that there is no clear distinction between realism and the late nineteenth century movement naturalism. “Pizer suggests that “whatever was being produced in fiction during the 1870s and 1880s that was new, interesting, and roughly similar in a number of ways can be designated as realism, and that an equally new, interesting, and roughly similar body of writing produced at the turn of the century can be designated as naturalism” (5). Put rather too simplistically, one rough distinction made by critics is that realism espousing a deterministic philosophy and focusing on the lower classes is considered naturalism.”
In American literature, the term “realism” encompasses the period of time from the Civil War to the turn of the century during which William Dean Howells, Rebecca Harding Davis, Henry James, Mark Twain, and others wrote fiction devoted to accurate representation and an exploration of American lives in various contexts. As the United States grew rapidly after the Civil War, the increasing rates of democracy and literacy, the rapid growth in industrialism and urbanization, an expanding population base due to immigration, and a relative rise in middle-class affluence provided a fertile literary environment for readers interested in understanding these rapid shifts in culture. In drawing attention to this connection, Amy Kaplan has called realism a “strategy for imagining and managing the threats of social change” (Social Construction of American Realism ix).
Realism was a movement that encompassed the entire country, or at least the Midwest and South, although many of the writers and critics associated with realism (notably W. D. Howells) were based in New England. Among the Midwestern writers considered realists would be Joseph Kirkland, E. W. Howe, and Hamlin Garland; the Southern writer John W. DeForest’s Miss Ravenal’s Conversion from Secession to Loyalty is often considered a realist novel, too.
|Characteristics of Realism|
1.) Selective presentation of reality with an emphasis on looking true, non-fiction–even act the expense of a well-made plot.
2.) The character is more important than the action and the plot, it is more about the choices that the character makes as he struggles to figure out what to do.
3.) Characters appear in their true complexity, showing their personalities and motives. It shows how they relate to each other, society, nature, and their past.
4.) Social class is important–many novels at this time focus on this, like the “House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton and “A Hazard of New Fortunes” by William Dean Howells. But while social class is important, realist literature will focus on showing the truth of each level of society.
5.) Events will be plausible. Realistic novels avoid dramatic elements and sensationalism
6.) The word choice (diction) is realistic. It uses the natural vernacular (you will see this with Mark Twain, and you did see this in Uncle Tom’s Cabin). It is not flowery or poetic. The tone may be comical, satiric, or matter of fact.
7.) It is objective. You don’t have the writer making comments or swaying the narration to promote their own ideas. It is like they just present you with what happened and then ask you to think about it for yourself (we DIDN’T see this in Uncle Tom’s Cabin)
8.) We see psychological realism and interior realism, as we look into the minds of the characters.
“Naturalism was a literary movement or tendency from the 1880s to 1930s that used detailed realism to suggest that social conditions, heredity, and environment had inescapable force in shaping human character. It was a mainly unorganized literary movement that sought to depict believable everyday reality, as opposed to such movements as Romanticism or Surrealism, in which subjects may receive highly symbolic, idealistic or even supernatural treatment. Naturalism was an outgrowth of literary realism, a prominent literary movement in mid-19th-century France and elsewhere. Naturalistic writers were influenced by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. They often believed that one’s heredity and social environment largely determine one’s character. Whereas realism seeks only to describe subjects as they really are, naturalism also attempts to determine “scientifically” the underlying forces (e.g., the environment or heredity) influencing the actions of its subjects. Naturalistic works often include uncouth or sordid subject matter. Naturalistic writers were frequently criticized for focusing too much on human vice and misery” (Wikipedia)
Characteristics of Naturalism:
1.) Nature is an indifferent force working on an individuals life. It is no longer good, like it was to the Transcendentalists. It isn’t necessarily evil either. It just doesn’t care. And sometimes you find yourself struggling against it, and when you lose and die because of nature, it doesn’t even matter!!! Which brings us to number 2.
2.) Pessimism–No matter what you do, it may not matter. Naturalistic texts often describe the futile attempts of human beings to exercise free will, often ironically presented, in this universe that reveals free will as an illusion. You can try all you want and nothing good will come of it.
3.) Survival of the Fittest--Naturalism presents us almost as animals that strive against our vices (passion, lust, greed, power, etc.). The conflict is less about man against man, but usually “man vs. nature” or “man vs. himself.” We see people in a war to survive, despite base instincts–instead of virtue.
4.) Determinism–there is no free will. You have no choice. Everything that will happen will happen. No hope.
5.) Surprising Twists–Another common trait of Naturalist literature is that they like to have a surprising twist at the end of the story.
John Dos Passos (1896-1970), U.S.A. trilogy (1938): The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), andThe Big Money (1936)
James T. Farrell (1904-1979), Studs Lonigan (1934)
John Steinbeck (1902-1968), The Grapes of Wrath (1939)
Richard Wright, Native Son (1940), Black Boy (1945)
Norman Mailer (1923-2007), The Naked and the Dead (1948)
William Styron, Lie Down in Darkness (1951)
Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March (1953)
Other writers sometimes identified as naturalists:
Nelson Algren, The Man with the Golden Arm
Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio (1919)
Harriet Arnow, The Dollmaker (1954)
Abraham Cahan, The Making of an American Citizen
Kate Chopin, The Awakening
Rebecca Harding Davis
Paul Laurence Dunbar, The Sport of the Gods
Edward Eggleston, The Hoosier School-Master
Harold Frederic, The Damnation of Theron Ware (1896)
Henry Blake Fuller, The Cliff-Dwellers
Hamlin Garland, Rose of Dutcher’s Coolly
Robert Herrick, The Memoirs of an American Citizen (1905)
E. W. Howe, The Story of a Country Town
Joyce Carol Oates
David Graham Phillips
Hubert Selby, Jr.
Upton Sinclair, The Jungle
“An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge”
by Ambrose Bierce
In class on Friday we read “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” by Ambrose Bierce. Bierce is sometimes considered a “Naturalist” writer. I want you to look at the characteristics of Naturalism above and then decide if this story fits into the Naturalist criteria or if the story is more of a Realist piece. Then argue about it in the comments below.
You will also need to complete the packet that I handed out on Friday, with the vocabulary, and questions on the last page.
“The Open Boat”
By Stephen Crane
Then I want you to read “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane.
Don’t just read it to be entertained. This isn’t an “entertaining” story. Remember, this literature isn’t just about the plot, but about what the story tells you about the people and the world in general!!!
I was going to ask you to write two informal essays this week, but I changed my mind. What I would like is for you to tell me how you see the characteristics of naturalism in “The Open Boat” and how naturalism is different than Christianity.
Realism and Naturalism in Our Future Reading
This was a quick introduction to the world of Realism and Naturalism, we are going to talk much more about it once we get into Mark Twain and In His Steps, by Charles Sheldon. You will also see it later in “The Old Man and the Sea” by Earnest Hemingway <3. So, this is just a really fun introduction.
But seriously, you will need to have these notes in your folders and bring them to class for our class discussions. Also, remember that you need your notes on Transcendentalism too.
This is fun stuff. You are going to get to see how the philosophy of society changes over time, and how those changes affect the art and literature. This will be especially apparent in the coming weeks when we get into Social Darwinism and Freud. Yucky stuff ahead. Rough seas. It is like you are on an “open boat,” in a wild and turbulent sea of philosophy. But the Lord will give you wisdom!
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8)
Assignments Due January 16:
- The Timeline 🙂 Please make it nice.
- No Journals
- Comments about “Owl Creek,” “Open Boat,” and Naturalism in the comment section below
- “Owl Creek” handout, questions and vocabulary
- Oh, and don’t forget to print the notes on Realism and Naturalism (and now Romanticism) and highlight them and put them into your folder.