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AMERICAN NATURALISM Sources Development of science: Darwin s


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Title: AMERICAN NATURALISM Sources Development of science: Darwin s

On June 18th, 1858, Darwin, well launched into
writing his long-planned multi-volume work on
species, was shocked to receive a letter mailed
in February by a fellow-naturalist on his way to
New Guinea. The letter propounded a theory of
natural selection in species development eerily
like the theory he had himself long hugged to
himself as the culmination of his researches.
Influential allies immediately took charge, and
arranged that both theories should be read into
the scientific record on July 1st, a bare two
weeks after Wallace's bombshell had arrived.
Wallace, long an admirer of Darwin, took it all
with remarkable good grace, but Darwin had to
abandon his full-scale book and instead prepare
the preliminary overview of his theory that we
know as The Origin of Species.
  • Development of science Darwins theory of
  • The first public announcement of natural
    selection Charles Darwin, and Alfred Russel
    Wallace, 1823-1913."On the tendency of species to
    form varieties and on the perpetuation of
    varieties and species by natural means of
    selection. Journal of the Proceedings of the
    Linnean Society Zoology, 3 (1858)

When Charles Darwin published The Descent of Man
in 1871, he challenged the fundamental beliefs of
most people by asserting that humans and apes had
evolved from a common ancestor. Many critics of
Darwin misunderstood his theory to mean that
people had descended directly from apes. This
caricature of Charles Darwin as an ape appeared
in the London Sketch Book in 1874.
Charles Darwin
Madeleine Danova Darwin's most famous book was
at first envisaged as only a brief overview of
his central case, that "species have changed, and
are still slowly changing by the preservation and
accumulation of successive slight favorable
variations." Inevitably, it drew in a broad range
of the issues and evidence he had been
contemplating for so long. He began writing in
July 1858, and the whole text, totaling nearly
500 pages, was in proof by the following
September. By the time it was first offered for
sale to the public, on November 22nd 1859, the
first edition of 1250 copies (less review and
presentation copies) had all been taken by the
trade. Darwin's apprehension about public
response to the book can be seen in his careful
choice of the two epigraphs that face the
  • On the Origin of Species by means of Natural
    Selection, or, The Preservation of Favoured Races
    in the Struggle for life. London John Murray,
  • Revealed the animalistic struggle underlying all
    human behaviour

Progress and Poverty
From it come the clouds that overhang the future
of the most progressive and self-reliant nations.
It is the riddle which the Sphinx of Fate puts to
our civilization, and which not to answer is to
be destroyed. So long as all the increased wealth
which modern progress brings goes but to build up
great fortunes, to increase luxury and make
sharper the contrast between the House of Have
and the House of Want, progress is not real and
cannot be permanent. The reaction must come. The
tower leans from its foundations, and every new
story but hastens the final catastrophe. To
educate men who must be condemned to poverty, is
but to make them restive to base on a state of
most glaring social inequality political
institutions under which men are theoretically
equal, is to stand a pyramid on its apex.
  • Henry George Progress and Poverty, 1879
  • This association of poverty with progress is the
    great enigma of our times. It is the central fact
    from which spring industrial, social, and
    political difficulties that perplex the world,
    and with which statesmanship and philanthropy and
    education grapple in vain.

This image (from a Henry George Cigar box)
reflects George's fame at the time of his run for
the Mayoralty of New York in 1886 (and later in
1897). George outpolled a young Theodore
Roosevelt, but lost to machine Democrat Abraham
Hewitt. The rooster was George's campaign icon,
and his slogan was "The democracy of Thomas
Jefferson. And although the cigars were
advertised "for men", George was in fact an
outspoken advocate for women's suffrage.
Muckraking journalism
  • A period of grim social struggle
  • Issues of poverty and political abuse
  • Blended into the reportages of the muckraking
  • Both Crane and Dreiser - journalists exploring
    the life of the slum long before they were

Correspondents Richard Harding Davis (left) and
Stephen Crane during the Spanish American War
Emil Zola
  • Showed how this 'scientific' vision might be
    expressed in fiction
  • "I chose characters completely dominated by their
    nerves and their blood, deprived of free will,
    pushed to each action of their lives by the
    fatality of their flesh."

Absolute determinism
  • In determinism, individuals no longer appeared as
    morally independent actors in a Christian
  • Filings aligned by magnets
  • Succumb to the logic of heredity and environment
  • Thus behaviour - a problem for science, not a
    mystery of life

Naturalist Characters
  • A thoroughly different sense of character
  • - dehumanized
  • - determined
  • - moved by inner and outer forces beyond
    conscious moral control

Naturalist Vs. Realist Characters
  • Realist characters - effective choice, free
    will, autonomous action
  • Each character has the ability to choose and
    characteristically does so through scenes that
    enact a process of deliberation
  • Weighing of alternative actions through
    consideration of consequences
  • The possibilities for the self are conceived in
    terms of responsible choice

Naturalist Vs. Realist Characters
  • Naturalist characters act out of a similar set of
    motives and desires
  • Differ only in being unable to resist the
    conditions that press upon them
  • The self may be no more than an illusion
  • The dynamic forces that constrain one's actions
    from within as well as without not only overwhelm
    an otherwise integrated self but rather are that
    self in a fragmented state
  • No disjunction between outer events and inner

Naturalist Vs Realist Characters
  • Circumstances are the source of character in
  • The realist heroes might always act differently
    in circumstances that destroy them
  • They can attain a tragic stature
  • Not so with the naturalist characters
  • All the major American realists succumbed to
    certain determinist possibilities
  • Sinclair Lewis fictionalized circumstances that
    deprive their characters of autonomy

Absolute Determinism
  • How could such a philosophy thrive in a country
    so committed to personal liberty and
  • Partly explained by
  • - rapid industrialization
  • - unprecedented influx of immigrants

American Naturalists
  • Lacked any sense of common purpose
  • No self-conscious 'school
  • Shared in common an attraction to the
    philosophical determinism
  • This concept that inspired the new narrative
    conceptions of setting and character was fully
    incorporated in the works of four American
    writers - Frank Norris, Stephen Crane, Theodore
    Dreiser and Jack London

Stephen Crane 1871 - 1900
  • The most bleakly nihilistic of the group
  • Created the most clearly self-conscious body of
  • His career spanned little more than half a dozen
    years before he died of tuberculosis at

Cranes Works
  • Maggie A Girl of the Streets 1893
  • The Red Badge of Courage 1894
  • George's Mother 1895
  • The Open Boat and Other Tales of Adventure 1898
  • The Monster and Other Stories 1899
  • War is Kind 1899
  • Active Service 1899
  • Whilomville Stories 1900
  • Wounds in the Rain 1900

Cranes Art
  • The perspective he offers is of a fundamentally
    indifferent universe
  • Directly contradicting those realists who felt
    that moral claims redeemed the starkness of
    experience, Crane depicted the world as
    inherently amoral and irredeemable
  • Nature provides no haven in his fiction, nor are
    its processes altered by desire
  • Dramatizes the emptiness of deliberation and
    choice intensifying this vision of a thoroughly
    unaccommodating universe

Cranes Art
  • Settings of war, shipwreck and blizzard
    precluding quiet contemplation
  • Characters who seem in the end enslaved no less
    by conventions than by circumstances
  • Part of his characters' inability to take
    responsibility for experience results from the
    unusual form of his representation his 'nervous'
    style contributes to a radical questioning of the
    very concept of the self

Cranes Art
  • The absence of strong plots
  • Characters often lack names
  • A tacit repudiation of conventional labels and
    predictable judgements
  • His narratives call into question all casual
  • They compel us to recognize how any conclusion
    can only emerge from predetermining expectations
  • Became the originator of Symbolism in America

Theodore Dreiser1871 - 1945
Theodore Dreiser1871 - 1945
  • No less a hybrid practitioner than other major
    American naturalists
  • Eludes clear classification as 'pessimistic',
    'optimistic' or 'reform writer
  • The first Catholic
  • The first to hear a foreign language at home
  • The first whose family was impoverished and

Dreisers Art
  • In his novels impersonal energies always engulf
    desire, which becomes cause for neither nihilism,
    nor optimism
  • Settings no longer constrain desire, but now
    express it fully, if only to confirm in the end
    that desire itself can never be satisfied
  • Identifying desire with urban settings, described
    in unprecedented detail
  • The greatest chronicler of American cities

Dreisers Works
  • Sister Carrie 1900, 1907, 1912
  • Jennie Gerhardt, 1911
  • The Financier, 1912
  • A Traveller at Forty, 1913
  • The Titan, 1914
  • Free, and Other stories, 1918
  • The Hand of the Potter (a play), 1918
  • Twelve Men (sketches), 1918
  • Hey, Rub-A-Dub-Dub, (essays), 1920
  • A Book About Myself, 1922

Dreisers Works
  • An American Tragedy, 1925
  • Chains, (stories), 1927
  • Moods, Cadenced and Declaimed, (poems), 1928
  • Dreiser Looks at Russia, 1928
  • A Gallery of Women, 1929
  • America is Worth Saving, 1941
  • The Bulwark, 1946
  • The Stoic, 1947

Dreisers Art
  • Recurrence of chance alignment of desire and
  • Characters drift from place to place, and from
    person to person
  • More than any other naturalist, Dreiser
    dramatized chance as a means of compelling
    characters to pay or gain for actions not their

Dreisers Significance
  • Subsequent writers have borrowed from the fiction
    of Crane, Norris, and London
  • The adaptations from Dreiser have made the
    tradition seem to continue
  • John Dos Passos, John Steinbeck and Norman
    Mailer, even William Faulkner and Ernest
    Hemingway have seemed to resemble Dreiser in
    technique or material

American Naturalism
  • Naturalism is distinguished by no particular
    attitude or assumption, no specific technique or
  • Crane's 'impressionistic' vignettes hardly call
    to mind Dreiser's lumbering prose
  • American literary naturalists are bound together
    by historical context and philosophical

American NaturalismBasic Bibliography
  • Vernon L. Parrington, Main Currents in American
    Thought,The Beginnings of Critical Realism in
    America, 1930, v.III
  • Charles Child Walcutt, American Literary
    Naturalism A Divided Stream 1956
  • Lars Ahnebrink, The Beginnings of Naturalism in
    American Fiction 1891-1903, 1961
  • Donald Pizer, Realism and Naturalism in
    Nineteenth-Century Literature, 1966

  • John J. Conder, Naturalism in American Fiction
    The Classic Phase, 1984
  • June Howard, Form and History in American
    Literary Naturalism, 1985
  • Mark Seltzer, "The Naturalist Machine, in Sex,
    Politics, and Science in the Nineteenth-Century
    Novel, ed. Ruth Bernard Yeazell, 1986
  • Walter Benn Michaels, The Gold Standard and the
    Logic of Naturalism, 1987
  • Lee Clark Mitchell, Determined Fictions American
    Literary Naturalism, 1989
  • Michael Davitt Bell, The Problem of American
    Realism, 1993