There are many similarities and many differences between the two literary periods of Realism and Naturalism. Naturalism is the darker extreme of Realism that took the philosophies of the Realism literary period and skewed them even further into the views of science. In the Realism literary period, the characters were pulled from the middle class and in the literary works of the Naturalism period; the characters were pulled from the lower class. Realism also criticized the social environment and morality where naturalism criticized that man is merely an animal who is motivated by his chemistry, heredity and the environment or circumstances in which they lived. The final contrast between Realism and Naturalism is that Realism emphasized humane understanding while Naturalism stated that life is deterministic and mechanistic. We can see these contrasts vividly when we compare the two literary works of “Life on the Mississippi” by Mark Twain to the literary work of “The Lost Phoebe” by Theodore Dreiser.
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In “Life on the Mississippi” written by Mark Twain, the main character began as a little boy from a middle class family with the dream of becoming a captain of a steamboat on the Mississippi River. We can tell that he is middle class because he had the freedom to roam and play with his friends rather than being made to work or to study social graces. In direct contrast to this is the character of Henry in “The Lost Phoebe” by Dreiser. Dreiser gives us a very vivid account of how he and his family were lower class. They had never been able to afford new furniture, they lived in the house that his grandfather had built, the farm buildings were falling down because they could not afford to fix them and they had the bare minimum of livestock that they needed to operate the farm. By the time that the story was written, the only livestock that they had left was a horse that no one else would buy because he was so old and so sickly. Every day the Henry and Phoebe were married was a struggle just to have enough food to eat and to survive to live another day.
The narrator of the literary work “Life on the Mississippi”, which was written during the Realism period, had the extra money to be able to afford to take a trip on a riverboat, even though his trip was not in an extravagant room, he was still able to afford to pay the passage. Not many people in this time had the extra money to be able to pay to go on a trip like this. It was less expensive, though more time consuming, to make the trip by land. Therefore, most families or travelers would actually take the extra time to make the trip because they could not afford to pay the passage for the riverboat. In “The Lost Phoebe”, written during the Naturalism literary period, it is evident that there was no extra money for anything. Whatever money that Henry and Phoebe had went directly towards their livelihood. The contrast between these two different literary periods and the stations of life which are portrayed in directly correlated to the differences in the principles of the Realism and Naturalism literary periods. In the piece by Mark Twain, there is hope given for rising above where the character came from to a higher social standing. In contrast, in the literary piece by Dreiser, the characters began their life together in the lower class and they were never able to improve it and no hope was given that they ever would have been able to do so.
Another difference in the principles of the Realism and Naturalism periods were that in Realism they criticized the social environment and morality where the Naturalism period criticized that man is merely an animal who is motivated by his chemistry, heredity and the environment or circumstances in which they lived. In “Life on the Mississippi”, the main character had grown up in a town directly on the Mississippi River. He grew up watching the boats come through every day and his entire life became centered around obtaining the goal of a life on the river, as the captain of a riverboat. He did not just want the job of hauling cargo up and down the river. Rather, he just wanted the job that had the most prestige and glory associated with it. In contrast to this outlook on life, shown in the Realism period is the one that is portrayed during the Naturalism period, which is bleak and depressing with the characters being given no hope. As shown in “The Lost Phoebe”, Henry was destined to be a poor farmer by heredity. Due to being poor, he probably had not been able to maintain a proper and nutritious diet during his lifetime, which probably led to his mental decline. After he lost his life mate, when Phoebe died, his environment dictated that she was everywhere in the house that they had shared. Due to the circumstances of his life, it is portrayed by Dreiser that he has no option but to search for her everywhere. The remainder of his life, and even his death, were dictated by this hopeless search for her. Without her, he had no reason for anything, so finding her was the only action that held any meaning for him. To make the events even more bleak, his neighbors kept giving him hope rather than telling him the truth. They just sat back and watched, other than giving him the occasional meal, as he searched and searched for her. His neighbors were able to discuss his situation between them but they would not do anything to help his situation.
A third contrast in principle between the Realism and Naturalism period was that in Realism there is an emphasis on humane understanding and in Naturalism that life is deterministic and mechanistic. The emphasis on humane understanding is shown clearly in the literary piece “Life on the Mississippi”. The steamboat Captain knew what it is like to dream about being a captain on a riverboat and how hard that the dream was to obtain. Instead of turning down the main character, the captain decided to take him under his wing and teach him how to captain a boat on the Mississippi River. The captain gave the main character hope and a purpose for his life. The main character may not have been able to do the job in the end but the captain did give him the opportunity to at least try, even if it meant that he would fail. To try and to fail is better than to have never tried at all. The Realism literary period portrayed life as the characters having the option of reaching for their dreams and achieving more than doing the same thing that their parents did.
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In direct contrast was the principle of Naturalism that life is deterministic and mechanistic. In “The Lost Phoebe” Henry had no hope. He was born to a poor farmer and when he got married, his bride moved into the house with him and his parents. Every day of his life was essentially the same. He was born to a poor farmer and it was determined by that birth that he would remain as a poor farmer. That every day of his life was essentially the same, except for births and deaths, made his life very mechanistic. It is very depressing to think that every day of your life would consist of getting up extremely early and eating breakfast. Then, going out and toiling and struggling all day on a farm that barely supports the family and then going to bed late each night. To go through life each day with no hope of today being better than yesterday was or this year being better than last year makes it extremely difficult to get up each morning and keep trying.
The very principles of the Realism and Naturalism literary periods were extremely different which we can see in the literary works of “Life on the Mississippi” by Mark Twain to the literary work of “The Lost Phoebe” by Theodore Dreiser. The principles of the Realism literary period had characters that were pulled from the middle class, criticized the social environment and morality and also emphasized humane understanding. In direct contrast to these principles, the principles of the Naturalism period pulled their characters from the lower class, criticized that man is merely and animal who is motivated by his chemistry, heredity and the environment or circumstances in which they lived and that life is deterministic and mechanistic. To have the Naturalism literary period follow the Realism period, the principles which dictated the elements and tone of the writings was drastically different. While there are many similarities between the two literary periods, the differences in the principles are so drastic that the writings are drastically different. The difference between the two periods was between hope and desperation or between a sunny day and a stormy night. The events occurring around the world must have been very dreary to the people that were living them for there to have been such a drastic change in the literature.
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