American Naturalism and Modern Evolutionary Psychology

Jeff P. Turpin

in The Oxford Handbook of American Literary Naturalism

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

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 American Naturalism and Modern Evolutionary Psychology

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This article focuses on how writers seemed to anticipate developments that science would not “discover” for another half-century. Modern studies of sexual selection and reciprocal altruism, when applied to works like Edith Wharton's Roman Fever (1934) and John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men (1937) and The Grapes of Wrath (1939), reveal some surprising, prescient aspects of the works. These authors were not just dramatizing the theories handed to them by evolutionary science, but they were extending the evolutionary hypotheses well beyond the reach of their contemporaries. In Wharton's case, retrospective evolutionary analysis shows that, contrary to traditional criticism, some of her more famous female characters were radically empowered, subtle, and competent survivors. In Steinbeck's case, that the author cut directly across contemporary ideas about altruism to both complicate theories of human morality and advocate for true morality and true selflessness.

Keywords: American naturalists; sexual selection; reciprocal altruism; Edith Wharton; John Steinbeck; evolutionary analysis

Article.  8477 words. 

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

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