Naturalism and Class

Jude Davies

in The Oxford Handbook of American Literary Naturalism

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

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Naturalism and Class

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This article focuses on the relationship between naturalism and class. Naturalism played a significant role in forging a new middle-class sensibility. Dreiser, Norris, Crane, and even the overtly left-wing Sinclair and London helped shape and solidify this class, and ultimately enabled its self-recognition as the cultural and political mainstream, a position it retains. Typical naturalist texts helped define an aspirational middle class against existing elites and the industrial working class through their subject matter and mode of address. Looking upward and backward, naturalism catered to a literary taste that thought of itself as displacing the “genteel” realism associated with Boston and of which William Dean Howells became, somewhat unfairly, the epitome. Looking downward, the naturalist text differentiated its readers from its typical subjects precisely by virtue of their implied capacity for self-determination, in contrast to the Maggies, McTeagues, Carries, Hurstwoods, and others, whose narratives are determined by social and biological forces. Hence, though naturalism broke with picturesque, sentimental, and sensationalistic depictions of poverty, its embrace of environmental determinism tended to objectify its working-class and underclass subjects.

Keywords: naturalism; middle class; working class; naturalist texts; environmental determinism

Article.  7543 words. 

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

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