Defining American Literary Naturalism

Eric Carl Link

in The Oxford Handbook of American Literary Naturalism

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780195368932
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Defining American Literary Naturalism

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This article discusses the definition of American literary naturalism. “American literary naturalism” is the phrase used to describe the thematic exploration, in American literature, of concepts arising out of post-Enlightenment developments in science and philosophy. Or, put another way, it is the literature born out of the tension between older, traditional belief systems and the new science of the post-Darwinian nineteenth century. The American literary naturalists are those authors who engage, at the thematic level, post-Darwinian reconsiderations of the relationship between humans and nature. This engagement manifests itself in explorations of natural law, evolution, atavism, and degeneration, as well as in the philosophical, sociological, and psychological implications of such engagement. As a result, the issues pursued by the American literary naturalists include questions concerning the deterministic pressures of heredity and environmental forces, the theologically challenging implications of materialism and biological reductionism, the emergent issues in race and gender theory invoked by aspects of evolutionary theory, and the ethical complications of social Darwinism.

Keywords: American literary naturalism; literary naturalists; thematic exploration; post-Enlightenment; Darwinism

Article.  10113 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (Fiction, Novelists, and Prose Writers)

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