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Contrasting The Works Of Realism And Naturalism English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1042 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Realism and naturalism are two types of literature styles which peaked during the nineteenth and twentieth century’s. Realism in literature is depicting contemporary life in literature; realism authors use everyday experiences in their writing as compared to the previous romantic style of writing which usually involved fiction. Naturalism in literature is actually a branch of realism and is the belief that individuals behave in particular ways which work in accordance with nature. Naturalist authors use social conditions, the natural environment, and heredity as forces which cause individuals to behave in particular ways.

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One piece of literature we reviewed in our lectures which represents realism would be Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi. This story vividly describes a young man and his journey to become a steamboat pilot. Twain describes his agonizing training which included having to learn every current in the river, every embankment on the river, and every landmark. This story reflects on Twain’s views of larger cities being build, his opinions and observations on the greediness of society, tragedies, and the new architecture that was becoming popular in that time period. The first half of the book is Twain describing his experiences on the Mississippi River, training as a steamboat pilot. The second half of the story is a vivid description of what Twain observes decades later when he travels down the Mississippi River for the second time, later on in his life. By the end of the story you’ll realize that Twain has portrayed two very different sides of the Mississippi River, the first view being of a young, curious, and ambitious man and the second view being of an older, mature, and perhaps cynically humorous man.

Twain’s Life on the Mississippi contains many themes of realism, for example, while most people look at the Mississippi River and see the beauty of the natural environment, Twain looks beyond the beauty and see’s the reality behind it like features of the land that borders the river, the current, and landmarks. Twain’s story also keeps his audience captured with the use of witty humor and personal insight. He speaks of lies and deceit and you can see this difference between the youthful first half of the story and the more experienced second half of the story. In the second half of the story, Twain is a much more mature man who realizes that there is dishonesty, fraud, and deceit amongst the happiness you endure in life. You can also see in the first half of the story that Twain is very young and naive when he grows up dreaming of becoming a steamboat pilot, whereas in the second half of the book you can see the man as being more mature now and I think that was Twain displaying the innocence of youth. Another very common theme in many of Twain’s stories is foolishness; you can see this with his “night watchman” character where the night watchman is slightly insane from sailing on the Mississippi River for so long and he speaks of these crazy fictitious tales to Twain.

A story we studied in class which best portrays naturalism would be Theodore Dreiser’s The Lost Phoebe, which is the story of a man known as Henry who was married for about five decades to a woman known as Phoebe and after Phoebe passes away, Henry cannot seem to accept the fact that she’s gone. Henry begins to experience serious psychological and emotional issues which all revolve around the fact that Henry is repressing the death of his wife. Another major theme in this story was love and how powerful love between two people can be. Henry and Phoebe were very much in love, and the story describes humorous instances where the couple would have small quarrels about finding lost items which Henry would misplace and he would blame Phoebe for and Henry would make sure to leave objects at a low height so that Phoebe was able to reach them. Although Henry was a healthy man at the time Phoebe passed away, he died a few years later literally of broken heart. At the end, Henry’s heart was taking control over his brain. In the story, Henry often asks his neighbors if “they’ve seen Phoebe?” and instead of taking him to a hospital, his neighbors would simply play along with his mind and respond to him that they had not seen Phoebe. This is interesting because if this same situation occurred today Henry would probably have been admitted to a nursing home or hospital due to his mental illness.

Although not as prominent as it was in the nineteenth and twentieth century, realism and naturalism continue in the literary world today. As you can see from the examples of American literature I used above, these two styles of writing contrast each other. Realism in literature tries to portray the most realistic characters which you can see in Life on the Mississippi, the story of the life of a man whose dreams come true when he becomes a certified steamboat pilot and sails down the Mississippi River. Whereas naturalism is based on science and the social environment which you can see in the story of The Lost Phoebe where Henry’s social environment without his wife causes him to become delirious and he continues to look for her until the day he dies. One of the big differences between these two styles of writing is the fact that naturalism does not focus as much as individuality as does realism, and naturalists believe that individuals are actually in the mercy of forces around them which cause them to behave in particular ways. Naturalists often write about how forces are controlling the lives of their characters, just like how the death of Phoebe was completely controlling the life of Henry after she passed away.

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After contrasting the two styles of writing, I would like to point out one major theme that naturalism and realism have in common. Both styles of writing try and put the observable world we live in on stage. These authors do not use fiction and magic to draw in their audience, they use real life scenarios and stories which cause their audience to connect with the characters and relate to the circumstances of the stories.


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