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Realism and Naturalism in American Literature Essay

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Updated: Jan 12th, 2022

In the years after the civil war, Americans experienced remarkable changes in their daily lives. Realism and Naturalism, as artistic styles, found their logical outgrowth in American literature after the Civil War. Realism is the first artistic device that came out first chronologically and it attempts to narrate a story without adding emotions to color the topic. Therefore, realism relies on a truthful piece of literature (Perkins 23). On the other hand, naturalism depends on realism, but they have a slight distinction, as realism does not focus on individuality. Realism and naturalism movements in American literature got representation by individual authors like Walt Whitman.

Naturalism sought to expand and became more explanatory by providing underlying causes of human beliefs and actions. It also provided a dimension that predetermined fate that caused the will of man to be ultimately powerless (Perkins 25). After the civil war, there were unique concerns in American history, such as, class divisions and other social concerns that strongly influenced American literature. Hence, realism and naturalism took their places as important American literary movements after the civil war. The fact is that there is no literature that exists independently of social, economic, as well as, historical variables. Thus, it is crucial to understand the works of writers like Whitman and Dickinson on how social and historical experiences occurred. These attributes influenced their works. In the earlier decades, realism was not the dominant literary style in the US but became more influential and important to a famous novelist in the US. This literary style presents earth in its real form. Realism refers to truthful or realistic literature by providing a plain and sensible account material it describes. Realists did their works with details obtained from everyday experiences of life and facts. These are facts about nature, history, or geographical places.

The description of the ‘everyday world is an important element in realistic work. Realists often speak about plain and normal daily materials using trials of everyday plain travails of a normal daily life. In realist literature, a reader might be left concluding that a character describes a real folk doing a daily chore. On the other hand, realists often write specifically about places they experienced. For instance, the calamus, which celebrated a love of man for man to be the heart of democracy originated like a free-verse sonnet derived from an original manuscript ‘I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing’ which was the key poem, having a sequence containing narratives of human relationships. However, homoeroticism indicates a man’s feeling of loneliness, as well as, alienation in society.

Realist writers, such as Mark Twain, who was very famous for realist works in American literature, wrote about people, places, and other materials in their real existence or ‘everyday life’. They used American dialects when setting their literary pieces in places. American realists had excellent ears when making their characters portray sounds like real Americans (Killingsworth 18). Through the representation of different American dialects, realists genuinely assisted in creating a real American body of literature referring to a set of literature that is distinguishable from literature from other regions such as Europe after the Civil War. Consequently, realism celebrates individuals since they mostly deal with central characters obliged to deal with some moral struggle in order to realize something or achieve victory. Realist writers put their characters to experience some normal ‘everyday world (Killingsworth 17). This combines with some interesting external experiences that are not happening. However, most realist writers develop an interest in an individual through the love of the notion that man must learn and grow through the experiences of the changes in his life. Realism literature is always plot-driven. Thus, realism revolves around an occurrence of a conflict, which the audience wants to get resolved. In Realism literature, a writer must use at least a protagonist and an antagonist that will be showing opposing forces within an episode. This makes the audience be anxious to experience the sequence of events that prevail. Realism possesses these attributes which prevail in all standard works of literature, but its significance in realism is that it leads to a more fragmented or conscious style.

Naturalism also remained famous in American literature after the Civil War. This is an outgrowth of the realism style in American literature. Naturalism relates to realism in the sense that it represents an accurate version of reality in everyday life. Naturalism has facts, as well as, details of everyday experiences of the world and how ordinary human beings experience it. Furthermore, there is a similarity with the real American dialect spoken by the characters. In his work, Whitman wrote about the American people, geography, and landscape in a free verse form (Donna 43). On the other hand, Dickinson used tones and poetic styles that were much more measured and compact. Their works evolved in a unique American manner that uniquely portrayed the ‘everyday’ American life. However, naturalist writers show no interest in individuality. They do not believe that individuals have a place to make changes in the everyday life in the world. Hence, any moral struggle by their protagonists does not add up to any little change in the setting of the literary works.

According to naturalist writers, the central belief focuses on the dependence of man to be at the mercy of certain mightier forces in control over nature. Some of these forces include the need for basic needs and social dominance. In a broader perspective, these external forces may include both physical and natural surroundings. The whole point of naturalism is its inevitability. Naturalist writers tend to be more political, for instance, they tend to describe the plight of the working class in society. Hence, they expose the cruelty of a larger external force, such as describing a sense that money could be used to crush the plight of the poor in society. To some extent, this notion is true; hence, the readers should not ignore it. Consequently, realism requires that readers should view a bigger picture than an individual’s political movements that may be crucial to counter the exploitation of the working poor by the capitalists. Therefore, naturalism deals mostly with the extraordinary subject matter in the quest to describe how external forces control and manipulate individuals’ lives. Thus, naturalism supports the notion that free will is capable enough to enact real change in life situations (Donna 56).

In conclusion, American writers sought to have their own voice after the civil war; hence, realism took the first stage then followed suit by naturalism. Realism expounded the virtues of the common person who differed from the capitalist economy. However, most experts in literature argued that naturalism was a pessimistic view of realist, but an independent style of literary writing (Killingsworth 21).

Works cited

Donna, M. Campbell. Realism in American Literature, 1860-1890. Literary Movements. Washington State University. 2010. Print.

Donna, M. Campbell. Some information adapted from Resisting Regionalism: Gender and Naturalism in American Fiction, 1885-1915. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2009. Print.

Killingsworth, M. Jimmie. The Growth of Leaves of Grass: The Organic Tradition in Whitman Studies. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 2007.

Perkins, Charlotte. American Literature from the Civil War to Present. McGraw hill. 2011. Print.

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