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Naturalism in American Fiction

Naturalism in American Fiction: The Classic Phase

John J. Conder
Copyright Date: 1984
Pages: 240
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    Naturalism in American Fiction
    Book Description:

    In this closely reasoned study, John J. Conder has created a new and more vital understanding of naturalism in American literature. Moving from the Hobbesian dilemma between causation and free will down through Bergson's concept of dual selves, Conder defines a view of determinism so rich in possibilities that it can serve as the inspiration of literary works of astonishing variety and unite them in a single, though developing, naturalistic tradition in American letters.

    At the heart of this book, beyond its philosophic discussion, is Conder's reading of key works in the naturalistic canon, beginning with Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat" and "The Blue Hotel." The special character of determinism in Crane is, Conder holds, the source of his complexity and striking originality. He finds a stricter determinism in Norris'sMcTeague. In Dreiser, however, the naturalistic tradition develops toward a fusion of determinism and freedom in a single work, and this fusion in a different guise operates in Dos Passos's view of self inManhattan Transfer. With Steinbeck'sThe Grapes of Wraththe uniting of determinism and freedom finds its fullest realization in the concept of dual selves, one determined, one free. In Faulkner'sThe Sound and the FuryandAbsalom, Absalom!the concept of the dual self appears in its most complex form. The developments in the work of Steinbeck and Faulkner, Conder believes, bring the classic phase of American literary naturalism to a close.

    Naturalism in American Fictionilluminates a group of major literary works and revives a theoretic consideration of naturalism. It thus makes a fundamental contribution to American studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6250-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. ONE American Literary Naturalism: From Hobbes to Bergson
    (pp. 1-21)

    It is now clear that no critical consensus exists to explain the commonly used termliterary naturalismas distinct fromliterary realismin American fiction, and some background is necessary in order to understand the complexities of the problem raised by the term and the approach taken here to help resolve that problem. It is generally agreed that, in late nineteenth-century America, a body of fiction arose that is rather different from the fiction represented by the termAmerican literary realism.¹ It is also certain that earlier literary critics saw in the works of several of these fin-de-siècle writers—Crane,...

  6. TWO Stephen Crane and the Necessary Fiction
    (pp. 22-68)

    “The Open Boat” is the center of the Crane canon and the appropriate work with which to begin a discussion of Crane’s naturalism. In its brilliant starkness, the central image portrays a naturalistic vision of man. Men adrift in a boat, a human creation, confront the sea, the world of nature. Unwillingly they receive an education whose terms are understood mainly by the correspondent. The lessons he learns are central to Crane’s naturalistic vision, and they emerge with remarkable clarity.

    Although the correspondent would like to think of nature as having purpose, he is soon divested of that comforting illusion,...

  7. THREE Norris and Hard Determinism: McTeague
    (pp. 69-85)

    InMcTeague, Norris raises the question of freedom of the will explicitly. Of McTeague’s struggle with his animal or sexual self he asks, “Was he to blame?” (27)* Of Trina’s attraction to McTeague, he spells out the question for even the most obtuse reader to comprehend: “Did she choose him … of her own free will?” (77). These questions raise a major issue for the reader, and though they here refer to sexual attraction, it is clear that they are meant to apply to cultural matters as well. For Norris stresses the influence of specific cultural backgrounds on his two...

  8. FOUR Dreiser’s Trilogy and the Dilemma of Determinism
    (pp. 86-117)

    In “The Dilemma of Determinism,” William James argues for a theory of indeterminism by arguing for the existence, not of man’s free will, but of chance. He could well take the position that “the stronghold of the deterministic sentiment is the antipathy to the idea of chance,” for to believe that something is “not controlled, secured, or necessitated by other things in advance of its own actual presence”¹ is to deny the fundamental premise of determinism: “For everything that ever happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen.”² If chance exists in the physical universe, then,...

  9. FIVE Dos Passos and Society’s Self: Manhattan Transfer
    (pp. 118-141)

    Dreiser explored well the problems of the fated self aware of its condition, aware especially that it could experience no sense of meaning, whether of a cosmic or a more limited terrestrial kind. That self, like all the selves that comprise society, was a part of the continuum of nature and, as such, but an expression of the creative spirit controlling all of nature. But if nature was man’s cross for Dreiser, it also became for him man’s salvation; for by recognizing one’s connections with nature one could find within the personality another self that shared the energy and intelligence...

  10. SIX Steinbeck and Nature’s Self: The Grapes of Wrath
    (pp. 142-159)

    Both Dreiser and Dos Passos saw the self as a product of mechanisms and hence incapable of freedom, and both postulated the existence of a second self beyond the limitations of determinism. Dreiser arrived late at the notion and, borrowing it wholesale from Brahmanic thought, barely tested its meaning, save to see it as the source of man’s freedom. Although Dos Passos never developed a version of such a self, he early found its existence and suppression the cause of man’s misery and, in elaborating on that theme, he was able to enlarge a cluster of themes and attitudes associated...

  11. SEVEN Faulkner and Naturalism’s Selves: The Sound and the Fury
    (pp. 160-196)

    ViewingThe Sound and the Furyas part of the naturalistic movement is to the mutual advantage of the novel and the movement. The structure of the novel comes to make a good deal more sense when it is seen as an outgrowth of American literary naturalism, just as the coherence of the movement becomes more readily visible when the novel is seen as an enrichment of it. As part of that tradition, the novel represents a second line of development away from determinism in naturalism, so a few words recalling the larger context are in order.

    One major development...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 197-208)
    (pp. 209-224)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 225-229)