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Naturalism in Literature

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/27/2014

Teaching Naturalism in literature exposes a new generation to some of the world's greatest authors.

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    Introducing the Topic

    After hearing the same 13 excuses for nearly an entire year, I decided to introduce Naturalism as follows: English 

    1. Ask if any student at any point in the semester didn't do a homework assignment. Ninety-eight percent will raise their hand.
    2. Assign each student to write a one-page note excusing their missing assignment. The excuse must clearly show that the missing homework assignment was not their fault and that circumstances beyond their control caused the assignment not to be turned in.
    3. Collect the excuses and tell the class they have experienced Naturalism in Literature.
    4. Tell the class that each student who completed the assignment will have their zero replaced by an 'A'.
    5. On the way to your desk, trip and "accidentally" throw the papers in a trash can.
    6. Explain that due to circumstances beyond your control the zeroes will remain.
    7. Tell the class they have once again experienced Naturalism in Literature.
    8. Laugh really hard.
    9. Discuss the following notes.
    10. Tell your colleagues what you did.
    11. Laugh really hard.
    12. Park in your garage.
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    What is Naturalism?

    Naturalism is best exemplified in the following poem, "A Man Said to the Universe," by Stephen Crane:

    A man said to the universe:

    "Sir, I exist!"

    "However," replied the universe,

    "The fact has not created in me

    A sense of obligation."

    Naturalism is a literary movement in the late 19th and early 20th century, characterized by the application of scientific determinism to literature. The assumption with naturalism is that everything that is real exists in nature. Realism and Naturalism are often linked due to its emphasis on realistic people in realistic settings, featuring ordinary people struggling against unseen forces over which they have no control. Realism and Naturalism differ insomuch that Realism focuses on literary technique whereas Naturalism focuses on a specific philosophy. Naturalist writers include:

    • Stephen Crane
    • Jack London
    • John Steinbeck
    • John Dos Passos
    • Theodore Dreisser
    • George Eliot
    • Thomas Hardy
    • Edith Wharton
    • Joel Chandler Harris

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    Naturalism Notes

    Discuss the following. Taking notes is effective. The Cornell notes style works well.

    • The naturalistic view of humans is that they respond to the natural world much like animals, reacting to natural forces they neither understand nor control.
    • Naturalism embraces sociological and economic determinism.
    • Human beings are often portrayed as victims of destiny or fate.
    • Naturalistic writers portray nature as indifferent.
    • Naturalists strive for objectivity.
    • Naturalists are pessimistic about human capabilities.
    • Life is a trap.
    • Naturalists portray humans as animalistic, driven by fear, hunger, and sex.