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Principles Of Realism Versus Principles Of Naturalism English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1383 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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As stated in the lecture on realism and naturalism, realism is the “truthful treatment of material”, and naturalism is the next step in literature or an “extreme” form of realism in which “people are the slaves to both their own biological make-up and social situations.” The subjects in realistic works were usually middle class situations with normal middle class people. These characters handled their problems in “realistic” ways. Naturalistic writers normally used “working class” type settings that made the dark and depressing types of characters they used stand out more. Aside from their meanings, characters, and settings being different, the principle ideas of realism and naturalism are also different. It seems to me that according to the principles of realism man has at least some control over what will happen to him. The principles of naturalism indicate that man has no control over his destiny, but is constantly influenced by the outside word. We can see this contrast in the evaluations of Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen (Realism) and Chickamauga by Ambrose Bierce (Naturalism) with respect to the principles of each of the literary forms.

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In searching for the differences of the two literary genres through these stories, I think that the principles should be evaluated first. As stated in the lecture, first, there’s the principles of realistic literature, which include emphasis on the following; detachment, criticism of the social environment, and humane understanding. Henrik Ibsen, in his work Hedda Gabler, shows his characters as dealing with normal problems of the common middle class. There is nothing about any of the characters that makes them anything but normal. In the story Hedda Gabler, Hedda is a young woman who is used to high-class living she had when she was younger and is newly married to a man named George Tesman who does not have a whole lot of money. George is a scholar who seems to be attempting to make Hedda happy, but little does he know, she is not. She is unsatisfied with her new life, and she is always messing with people’s minds including and especially George’s throughout the story. If anyone shows the detachment part of realism, it is Hedda. It seems to me that she sits back and watches everything happen around her, and while she watches she manipulates all of the people involved in what’s going on. I pictured this as everyone being cars and Hedda is the traffic director sitting in a “detached” position and kind of pointing people in the direction she wants them to go in. As far as the criticism of the social environment goes, there are more than just Hedda to cite as an example. I believe that one example of this would be the marriage of George and Hedda, because it seems that the union of the two is poking fun at the act of marriage itself. You would think that newlyweds would be spending a lot of time together and being happy, however this is definitely not the case with these two. Hedda is financially unsatisfied by George. George seems to be chasing and snooping after his rival scholar, Eilert Loevborg than actually working to make his wife happy. Also, you always see the family member who wants the newly married couple to have a kid. In this story it is George’s Aunt Julle, who tries to be nice to Hedda and hint that they need to have a kid. However, Hedda only seems to see their economic differences and never befriends her. I think a good example of criticism of the social environment is the character Judge Brack and the way he is always coming over to the Tesman house and “gossiping” with George about his aspirations of becoming a professor. Judge Brack always seems to have his hands in other peoples’ business. I believe that he is an example of the way people always have to know what others are doing and how they are doing it. I think the best example of this criticism is what we talked about in class. When Hedda kills herself and the way that George and Judge Brack react to it is a little too casual if I may say so. They say that “people don’t do such things” when in reality they do and people don’t react the way they did to a situation like that. Humane understanding is shown through the characters Hedda and Eilert Loevborg. Hedda convinces Eilert to “kill himself beautifully” by shooting himself in the head when he starts to slip back into alcoholism. However, the gun goes off and shoots him in the chest. I think that his humane understanding is that in death, all of his personal problems would be solved. At the end of the story Hedda shoots herself in the head, which is her definition of a “beautiful death” and I believe that her understanding was that since she was so unsatisfied with her life that death was the only thing that would truly satisfy her. That is how I saw the principles of realism in the story Hedda Gabler.

The lecture states that one of the principles of naturalism is that man is not free to determine his own life, instead he is an “animal” driven by his biological makeup and his surroundings. Also, man is the subject of scientific impersonal analysis, and the moral qualities are not important in defining an individual. This is because a man is “the equivalent of his heredity and his environment”. Finally, the characters in naturalistic stories are from lower ranks of society that needed life to get better. This, as the lecture speaks of, would make “society the antagonist of the story.” I believe that Chickamauga is a really good example of these principles that we have covered. In the story the boy is driven by his sense of adventure and imagination, which he has inherited from his father. He is also persuaded by his surroundings in the forest, such as; his imaginary enemy crossing the creek, the rabbit scaring him, the wounded soldiers, and finally the fire. This to me seemed like he had no control over what he was doing due to his childlike interest in his surroundings. While reading the story I found myself constantly questioning the boy’s reaction to what was going on around him. I couldn’t understand how he didn’t hear the soldiers’ march, the battle, or why he didn’t try to talk to anyone to see what was going on. Then, at the end of the story, when Bierce lets you know the boy is a deaf mute it made everything make sense. This was me analyzing the boy, as stated in the principles of naturalism. Also, while reading the story I noticed that Bierce doesn’t really bother to go into much detail about who the boy really is, and from a reader’s perspective the character of the little boy was simply defined as the sum of his heredity and environment, as stated in the principles. Although it is not known until the end of the story, I believe that the boy being a deaf mute is what classifies him as being in the “lower ranks of society” rather than his family’s economic standings. Obviously, the little boy needs things to get better with his conditions and since the raging war (society) basically brought a battle to his front door so to speak and the result was the death of his mother and destruction of his home. This makes it seem like nothing will ever get any better for him. I thought this was a great example of society being the antagonist against the boy. That is how I related the principles of naturalistic literature to the story Chickamauga.

There are some aspects of these literary genres that make them similar, but there are more that make them different, most of all the principles. In reading the lecture on this subject it was very interesting to me to see how literature was influenced so greatly by realism for one period of time and naturalism for another, and how quickly the shift between these two occurred. I really liked to see how authors of that time period thought about society and how they reflected their thoughts into their works. I believe that these authors set the groundwork that more contemporary authors could build upon.


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