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It is said that a more precise concept of life than realism, with a touch of pessimism, is Naturalism. Naturalism derived from realism and it became a way to explain real life events. It focuses on extreme events such as famine and war. This is as a means to help one to understand the life changing characteristics of these events. “The term naturalism describes a type of literature that attempts to apply scientific principles of objectivity and detachment to its study of human beings. Unlike realism, which focuses on literary technique, naturalism implies a philosophical position. Naturalism sought to highlight that the human beings should be studied without any form of moralization and with absolute impartiality. Through this objective study of human beings, naturalistic writers thought that the laws behind the forces that govern human lives might be calculated and understood.” Naturalistic writers thus used a version of the scientific method to write their novels; they studied human beings governed by their instincts and passions as well as the ways in which the characters’ lives were governed by forces of heredity and environment.” To gain a wholesome understanding of naturalism and to divest and elaborate on the stories “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and “Under the Lion’s Paws”, one would have to start from the literary and historical nature of naturalism.
Naturalism sought to bring writer beliefs, actions and their reactions to certain events an in very representative way. This sometimes come off as pessimistic as they sought to do away with the Romanization and sensualization of struggle. The Naturalist literary movement began in the France in the 19th century with the main source of inspiration being Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Darwin focused on studying and documenting animals and their behavior. Even though his research never sailed away from animals and their ecology the data that he acquired was rare and came with the capability of inspiring a different point of view. It can be noted that Darwin’s theory has never been applied to social behavior but the phenomenon of studying the behavior of a species has remained the same.
In examining the work of Emile Zola; one can see where his work was written without any fictional interference to paint the world exactly as it is. He did not seek to paint an illusion but to create the story in its “Most natural stat,” “His most famous contribution to Naturalism was Les Rougon-Macquart, a sweeping collection of 20 novels that follow two families over the course of five generations.” In Zola’s story, the aim was to ensure that naturalism aesthetics are created. This can then be the reason why such importance is placed on inanimate objects and places in his stories. Zola is trying to gauge the reaction of the character and is not so much so concern with the characters themselves.
Stephan Crane was one of America’s first natural writers. In his story that was not so popular, he portrayed the life of an immigrant. She was showed in way that was depicted suffering and hardship. Her dialect was also very uncouth. Naturalist writers built their foundation on objectivity. This meant that all things depicted were exactly as they were. Whilst some author would have made and attempt to romanticizing the chronic poverty of the immigrant, Maggie, Crane thought it necessary to be objective and reveal the situation at face value. Crane also did this in his Civil war novel about a young soldier. He saw an opportunity to craft the first novel that explored warfare from the point of view of the psyche. In his own words, “Crane envisioned “a psychological portrait of fear.” He achieved this vision through intense, almost painterly prose. Characters speak in realistic dialects.” Crane also objectified the war, his characters did not show the very popular grandeur and glory of the war, and instead, they show pain, grief, and fear. Crane postulate that this is exactly what human been feel in such gruesome times. This is of a cynical nature as it wanted to remove the human façade that the extremity of these events is to be adored.
The most potent expression of Naturalism is Norris. He like many other naturalists was interested in the life of the penurious. In his most famous novel, he highlighted how ambition and gluttony derail the life of a moderately successful dentist. “Characters are frequently referred to in animalistic terms, and there is an undercurrent of unhealthy sexuality that permeates the first sections of the novel”. This is as Norris was very much concerned with the animalistic side of a cultured man. This showed that naturalists really ought to be unbiased. Thus, embracing all sides of a man will highlight the struggle that man face with overcoming such darkness inside of him. It will also confirm the constant battle of man, having to contend with such obscurity.
Naturalist writers will in general set their character in outrageous regular habitats, and natural habitats, yet poverty, or alienation with the last purpose behind portraying and disclosing the deformities of human society. A quality of Naturalism is to communicate that the truth is unprejudiced and show that the unadulterated presence of people is controlled by not simply the power of nature in the story but by multiple force with is beyond human control. The naturalism writing did not have the greatest effect on American literature but it brought about facets of man that could not be disregarded. It portrays the ugly and derails side of a man just as it is had existed. The naturalist displayed full transparency.
The story that will be examined in this essay is the short story of an “An Occurrence at Owls Creek Bridge” By Ambrose Bierce. It started with the main character Farquhar preparing for execution. He then had multiple flashbacks where he saw himself relaxing with his wife and family. The third part of the story saw Farquhar, escaping the execution by swimming and diving. He was set on his journey home where he would return to enjoying life with his family. At the end of the story it was identified that the third part of the story was a myth. He did not escape execution. Instead he jumped off the bridge and the noose broke his neck. All that his was imagining were simply illusions before a very gruesome death.
The realism was brought forth in the story as the larger force seeking to shape and control the characters in the story is war. This showed that there is no romance or splendor in war. The story was made to depict the ghastliness in war and in death. The word “occurrence” in the title can also be said to have depicted how frequently the loss of life is loss, how little value is place on a person life because war has molded their behavior and their actions. “Another theme present is that of ‘dying with dignity’. The story shows the reader that the perception of ‘dignity’ provides no mitigation for the deaths that occur in warfare. The final idea is the idea of psychological escape right before death.” Farquhar encounters an exceptional fancy to divert him from his unavoidable passing. The moments of unpleasantness that the readers experience with the finishing of the piece, when they understand that he passes on, mirrors the contortion of reality that Farquhar experiences.
There are also the larger forces of time and the environment. Farquhar’s story depicts the shift from illusion to reality. That is the essence of naturalism, to awaken readers from the illusion. In this case, the illusion is that Farquhar has escaped and will go back to live his life as normal. The veracity is that he would go on to get a very brutal death. Bierce sought to ensure that readers were jerked from their illusion. The environment of the south also played a hand in shaping the ruggedness of characters. The environment was very horrific and harsh. It requires the characters to also be engaged in active warfare. That played a vital role on the reaction of these characters to that phenomenon. Bierce being a naturalist writer tries to give us a description of the ambience to show human uncensored emotions that goes through one’s head before death and the harshness of death itself.
In the story written by Hamlin Garland, naturalism was depicted slightly differently. In the Story of “Under the Lion Paws”, the protagonist Haskins’s farm, his income was being infested by grasshoppers. After seeking a way out, they were advised that it is within their best interest to sell the far. They did just that. He sold the farm to Jim Butler who was thought to be an honorable man and though he sold the farm legally, he did so by using very ethically questionable measures. Haskin being in the position that he was in could not afford to turn away any deeps and agreed.
The naturalist nature of the story started in the very description of what the agricultural life is like. It portrayed what the life actual entails rather than showing a fairytale. This story also highlighted the different forces that control the life of the character. These were outer forces. It is showed how forces of nature can play a part in shaping one’s life. “Naturalism is suggested in the fact that Haskins is a victim of circumstances not of his making but of happenstance: the failure of his first farm because of the grasshoppers”. There was nothing that Haskins could have done about his condition yet it caused him to lose his farm nonetheless. That is the reality of an unfortunate circumstances that a naturalist writer like Garland seems to portray. Seeking to improve their life even got harder, when the force of Greed came into play. Due to the forces of nature that has rendered Haskins helpless. It placed him in a situation where he was exploited by Jim. Jim knew the position that Haskin was in and due to him being avaricious, he gave him a very low price for his farm and overall a very bad deal. This places Haskin in a worst position than he was before.
Both stories reflect the hardship and gruesome nature of life. It did not Romanization and sensitize but depicted the characters and vents just as they were to show how events can play a part in people life and the natural behavior and actions of human beings.
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