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In his masterpiece An American Tragedy, the naturalist writer Theodore Dreiser depicts different pains of American society as it was stepping into the modern age. The youths from the lower rung of the society detested the traditional norms and values and sought ways of transformation in the job market and opportunities brought about by industrialization. However, their dreams, ambitions and efforts to ascend the social ladder ended up in a tragedy.
Dreiser, the pioneer of naturalism in the American literary arena effectively depicts such phenomena through the life of his protagonist, Clyde. Brought up in a strict religious family characterized by abject poverty, Clyde struggles to overcome the life of deprivation. However, he does not possess the mental ability and skills to overcome the difficulties of life and succumbs to vicious circle of circumstances.
Whereas realism portrays events and incidents of a society in a realistic manner naturalists go beyond realism to come up with the causes and explanations behind a real event. By relying on psychology, chemism, mechanism and social forces, Dreiser portrays how human life is devoid of free will. Dreiser effectively shows that lack of education, religiously stringent home environment and pangs of poverty throughout his childhood had charted out a gloomy fate for Clyde, who heads towards the death bed and is executed at the prime of youth.
In his works, Dreiser often uses animal metaphors and similes to effect his point that human beings are no different from animals for their lack of free will and, are prey to circumstances.
Though at the face value the school of naturalism seems gloomy, dark and negative it does offer optimism and hope. Naturalists believe on evolution and hence, human beings can improve themselves and can learn to overcome beastly nature. In the due process of evolution they can learn to live by reason instead of being ruled by instincts. Thus, human beings have the potential to achieve a similar ideal world as envisioned by spiritualism.
Works inspired by naturalism also impart a guiding lesson to the society that the society and its stake holders are responsible for existing social ills/evils. In the case of the tragic hero, it was the social structure that denied access to education and better opportunities for poor youths to embrace a good life.
- AutorGuneshwor Ojha
- VerlagAnchor Academic Publishing
- Seiten88 Seiten
- Gewicht153 g
- LeseprobeText Sample:
Chapter I Naturalism and Dreiser:
Emlie Zola (1840-1902), a French literary giant is considered as the fountainhead of naturalism in the field of literature. Every literary trend has some inspirational factors or precedent circumstances resulting to its birth. Artists, who can feel the pulse of a society and its environment, react to those expressing what is genuine to them thus, giving birth to a new literary trend or stream. As such naturalism is the consequence of astounding scientific discoveries at the dawn of modernism, ushering human society to an era of modern science. Or naturalism is the shift of belief from mysticism and spiritualism to science and psychology, trying to diagnose human life and cosmic phenomena from natural laws that can be explained scientifically. In the case of American literature, Dreiser is regarded as the pioneer of naturalism. An avid seeker of ultimate knowledge, Dreiser emerged as a naturalist in his late twenties with the publication of his first novel, Sister Carrie. Brought up in a strict puritan family, Dreiser did not turn a naturalist all of sudden. "Dreiser believed in mental telepathy hypnotism, Ouija boards, psalmists, and other occultisms; old folk sayings and practices; and charms."(1) It is obvious that the puritan belief in Dreiser did not give up so easily to the promises laid down by modern science.
Unlike other American naturalists, Dreiser is regarded as a born naturalist. Stating that Dreiser had not read Zola when he wrote Sister Carrie, Malcolm Cowley says, "He had become a Naturalist almost without premeditation, as a result of everything his life had been or had lacked. Unlike Norris he couldn't choose among different theories or move from the drably pitiful to the boisterous to the sentimental." (2) Besides the lure of science, circumstances involving his own life experiences were enough to turn a puritan child like Dreiser into a bold naturalist writer. He had experienced the bitterness of poverty and had also witnessed tremendous changes brought about by science. Moreover, journalism as a career also provided him with ample of opportunities to be acquainted with the harshness of life. The period Dreiser lived was crucial in this that important scientific discoveries had marked a major leap in the history of human civilization. As Louis J. Zanine says, "The development of the electric light bulb, the gasoline engine and the atomic bomb were only the tangible result of that revolution - products of a technology that was spawned by the growing understanding of the physical world." (3) Equally astounding was Darwin's theory of evolution
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