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Character in later nineteenth-century American naturalism

Semmens, Dan (1988) Character in later nineteenth-century American naturalism. Masters thesis, Durham University.

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Abstract

This study considers American literary naturalism written at the close of the nineteenth century, focusing on Stephen Crane's Maggie and The Red Badge of Courage, Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie, and Frank Norris' McTeague. I intend to show that intellectual postulates and physical realities emerging during the latter nineteenth century in America encouraged the appearance of literary naturalism. Evolutionary thought and industrialization contributed conspicuously to the strain of pessimism that naturalism propounds. I contend that naturalism is a combination of realism and romance. It utilizes a realistic presentation, but posits the argument of romance fiction. Character, I propose, is crucial to the naturalistic argument. Crane, Dreiser, and Norris refuse to engage a language that lends character willed thought or action. Symbolism, imagery, the use of a passive voice, and the naming process are employed to compromise the individual's autonomy. The overriding means of diminishing the self, I intend to demonstrate, is achieved through irony. These naturalistic authors' verbal processes soften ingrained perceptions of the world by refusing to signal meaning. In Maggie Crane's ironical art submerges the self beneath the Bowery's codes, while in The Red Badge of Courage it reveals a self that is over-eager to impose meaning. In Sister Carrie Dreiser's patterning of incident shows a self that is directed by a complex of never-understood impulses. In McTeague Norris depicts a self struggling unsuccessfully to escape deterministic and environmental forces.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Thesis Date:1988
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:18 Dec 2012 12:16

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