Realism, Naturalism, and Novels of Manner

Historically, from the late 19th century due to two main events industrialization and World Wars –the progress of American society started decreasing rapidly. Such a radical change going on in the society of America was captured by the novelist of the 20th century. These novelists, who had moved away from the Romantic masters of the 19th century, were either realists or naturalists and some where even the novelists of manners. These novelists have their own new styles to capture the changing society in their novels.

The American fiction got accelerated as American society was attacked by society economic problems. On the one hand, economically the American society was divided in to majority and minority groups.

While on the other hand, socially the Americans society was divided in to conservatisms and liberalists. Due to such divisions, counter culture developed in American society, so various writers stared to portray this society in various ways. The novels of realism represented life as it really is with life like characters and very much possible events. Realistic fiction is often opposed to romantic fiction. The romance is said to represent life more fantastically, adventurously, picturesquely or heroic than actuality. Realism on the other hand, is said to represent life as it really is.

Naturalism is claimed to give even more accurate depiction of life than realism. In other words it is extended version of realism. But it is not special selection of subject matter; it is a mode of fiction which has a particular philosophical thesis. This thesis holds that a human being exists entirely in the order of nature. Human behavior is determined by two kinds of force- internal force like heredity and other compulsive instincts like hunger, passion , sensuality and the external forces of environment the social and economic forces in the family , the class , and the milieu. The ending of naturalistic novel is usually tragic because of the heroic but losing struggle of the individual mind and will against gods, enemies and circumstances. So if realistic portray the society the naturalistic portray the nature. Similar to the novels of realism, is the novels of manners. It also represents life as it really is, but focuses particularly on the social culture like, customs of conversations as any special type of social group (like professional and social class having different ways of thinking and valuing) In American society when culture developed, such difficulties of society were explored by the novelists of manners like Nelson Algren, Henry Millar, Norman Mailer etc. Hence, either by portraying life or by portraying nature as even by highlighting some social culture of social culture or social group, the novel of realism, naturalism and manner play an important role on the development of American fiction.

JOHN DON PASSOS (1896-1970) [Realistic]

Passos was the person to bring social events in real sense as they occurred. He was a member of last generation of American expatriates in Paris in 1920s that included Ernest Hemingway and e.e. cummings. His focus was on social panoramas than towards personal and poetic expressions. So he was a social realist, which was a common feature among his contemporary realities. This method was typical of the fiction of 1930s. His best novels dealt with the subject matter of World War I and II. He is noted for rhetorical techniques that included prose poem, documentary collages and essays as well. In the war, he became detached observer; this means he did not participate in the war but rather observed everything as an outsides. In the later phase Passos tried to become more and more a naturalist. His intention was to expose ills and evils of contemporary American society that forced him to follow the line of crude reality. Therefore in the last phase of his writing careers he was close to naturalism. Passos was not happy with the contemporary American policy where many people were killed on the charge of being communists. Passos wanted to expose that reality. So his later phase or the journalistic phase is more important than the earlier phase of his career. The second phase of Passos is called the phase of disillusionment. Indeed Passos was fed up with American policy of treating public and injustice prevailing there. Some were killed on the charge of being communists and others without any cause the later realized that American policy, government and all the institutions, Agencies and others were not in favor of American people. Though Passos’s first novel deals with the impact of Europe and First World War an America, his later fiction reflects his dissatisfaction about the individual freedom being suppressed. Passos established his reputation with such novels as
Three soldiers (1921), Manhattan Transfer (1925), The Trilogy U.S.A (1936), Mid Century (1961)

JAMES T. FARRELL (1904-1979)

The novels of Farrell give the sense that they are the product of depression, frustration and despair. Subject of his novels are catholic working class and lower middle class of Chicago that existed before World War II. He shows complexities of the time through the complex aspect of the character. His characters are frustrated and unhappy since they are trapped in difficult situation and frustration. War basically creates depression, sense of helplessness, frustration, despair, economic crisis and sometimes leads to the state of suicide. Farrell shows the painful condition of catholic working class and lower middle class which was the exact picture of contemporary American especially 1930s scenario of depression. Farrell developed the stories in series because he was so careful about detailed description where his characters grew gradually. This is the reason he used the trilogy or tetra-logy format in his works. Farwell used the language of working class people hence his characters are also uneducated people. The language used by Farwell was male language working class language and language of sports. He delivered language in clipped, direct, bleak style that made his style similar to that of Hemingway. It is to be noted that Passos wrote about war whereas Farrell wrote about the psychological aspect of war.
His novels are:
Study Lonigan: A Trilogy (1935), Young Lonigan: A Boy hood in Chicago Street (1932)
The young manhood of studs Lonigan (1934), Judgment Day (1935)

JOHN STEINBECK (1902-1968) [Naturalism]

Like Passos and Farrell, Steinbeck is also angry about the loss of peace and softness-taken away by war industrialization and many more events. But unlike Passos and Farrell, the theme of frustration and bitterness in his fiction is not as intense as in Farrell and Passos fiction. His writing are set in northern California were the occupations are agriculture and fishing. The world depression of 1930s made him to see people loosing their agriculture land for industrialization and misery of farmer’s life. That compelled people to migrate from one place to another, generally from Midwest to California. He deals with such migration problems in his novels. Steinbeck is not critical; to historical time only but to the cycle of nature. So he does not separate politics and nature. He left them go hand in hand and rarely separated the politics from the nature. Steinbeck deals with nature yet he is not a naturalistic writer because the feeling of despair is not so insisted in his fiction rather insist is up on will and power to change one’s destiny. Unbridled (uncontrolled) assertion of power on the past of person brings hopelessness and despair in other persons so he is always suspicious of power. John Steinbeck was very much closer to nature and his writings have reached variety of observed details, in this sense he seems more realistic. But sometimes the detail is infused with almost symbolic significance. He presents reality in poetic sense, so his stories are also like myth and fables. He also presents the relation of characters in allegorical sense, which makes him different from Passos and Farrell. He was awarded by Nobel Prize in 1962. The significant novels of Steinbeck are:
In Dubious Battle (1936), The Grapes of Wrath (1939), Sweet Thursday (1954)
Of Mice and Men (1937), The Moon is Down (1942)

EARNEST HEMINGWAY (1899-1961) [Naturalist]    Hemingway’s novels are about war, death and lost generation since he himself was a member of lost generation. His characters are not dreamers; they are rather tough bullfighters, soldiers and athletes. Like John Steinbeck Hemingway’s work even does not include pessimism-his attitude towards life is optimistic and with strong determinism. Hemingway does not believe in giving up; so the holding of that resistance makes him underfeeds. Sensibility is one of the unique qualities found in the work of Hemingway like in James, Wharton, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hemingway in his novels creates such a hero who is sensible-he is balanced between emotion and reason. So the protagonist of Hemingway are not just strongly determined characters but also emotional at the same time. Hence being a man of sensibility, Hemingway unlikely Norman, Mailer and Soul Bellow does not include philosophy only in his works. Hemingway’s work has both pessimism and pressure for optimism. In material sense Hemingway heroes fail and pessimism prevails but in spiritual sense his heroes succeed. Hemingway fictional tone was aphoristic and folk wise, i.e. his language is very simple and distinct in prose style. His extraordinary novels are:
The sun also rises, Across the River in to the Trees (1950), The old man and the sea (1952)

JAMES JONES [Realist]    James Jones came in to focus in the post-war American society with the view that the writer should be recognized and in the process to achieve this reorganization, writer can get involved in to his own professionalism. Beside professionalism Jones works are also related to war in which the main theme deals with the overpowering injustice of the world. Hemingway’s optimism is not found in Jones’ novels instead he talks about the assertion of human will which not only rewarded- and in such situation, Jones presents pity and sympathy towards the characters instead of euphoria. So, Jones’s career might be described in terms of two themes; novels about war and novels about being a writer.
The novels about war are:
From Here to Eternity, The Pistol, The Thin Red Line

And the novels about being a writer are:
Some Came Running,, Go to the Window –Maker., The Merry Month of May

NELSON ALGREN (Naturalist)    Nelson Algren is a naturalist; his most successful novel was The man with the Golden Arms. His first novel was Somebody in Boots. He also wrote A walk on the Wild Side.In most of his novels, Algren uses the style of comic pessimism with urban tone and detached ironies. Through his novels, he also shares his philosophical ideas with Marxism, like Farrell and Dos Passos. In his novels, he usually shows the conflict between the writers (outside) who shapes the novel and the writer (inside) who sympathizes the character. He was critical about everything that made unsuccessful and suppressed. However for such a condition, he blamed society less and nature more. The protagonists in Algren’s novels are either Heroic un heroes or Un heroic heroes because they boldly act against implacable forces but fail. Algren’s attitude towards American society highlights the errors of traditional naturalistic fiction in the post war period. In those naturalistic fictions the writer played the roles like that of God by presenting their omniscient point of views; but in novels of manners , the writer himself becomes one of the characters , gets inside the group and sympathizes the minority-here, the role of writer is fore grounded by the use of first person point of view. The writer no more places himself in the judgmental position nor pretends to be objective. Nelson Algren is highly influenced by Farrell’s urban realism. And he has also criticized Norman Mailer or being public performer in Who Lost an American? And Hemingway for his lack of interest in money which is obvious in his works in Notes from a sea Diary: Hemingway All the Way.

NORMAN MAILER [Radical naturalist]    Norman Mailer: the most important figure among the American writer, an extremely influenced personality in the post world war II American literature .He began his career with the novel The Naked and the Dead –a realistic violent novel about II World War. This novel was the first novel to be great critical and popular success with the theme of violence, competition and assertion. In this novel, he changes his narration styles from first person to third person and third person to first person. So he bridges the distance between author and considered much more radical than the naturalist Dos Passos. It is even believed that he tried to end naturalism not only because he was radical but also because he introduced various techniques in this novel like, straight narration, play let interlude, biographical sketches etc. In the beginning, Mailer was more naturalistic writer (using third person narration), but later he becomes more personal and subjective (with the shift to first person narration).There are several works of Mailer like The Deer Park that describes the postwar period, Why we are at Vietnam? Which is an allegory about the war and expresses that Mailer was strongly against the Vietnam War and The Armies Of the Night which was Mailer’s non fictional novel that blends History with Fiction. The Prisoner of Sex was Mailers’ last novel, where he has mixed the style of Passos, Steinbeck and Farrell along with a little bit of Hemingway’s craftsmanship.

GORE VIDAL [Naturalist and novelist of manner]    Vidal began his career as a war novelist. He made use of his experience in World War II in Williwaw and In a Yellow Wood. The city and the Pillar was his best seller that dealt with homosexuality. His language has a closer affinity with Hemingway a plain in style. His writing model is witty, brief and succinct; he uses irony in his works. According to Vidal, against the day to day boredom of society, sex and violence are the only resources the individual has. So many Vidal’s novel includes this theme. For Vidal, the place of true passion’s and true values is always in the past and his characters call on the past to restore the present. This is found in his most successful and impressive works –Julian, Burr and Myron. Vidal uses history to restore will and personality. He often sets character in a family context –especially the competition between brother or the relation of father and son. He celebrates an individuality and personal voice that tries to stand against the impersonal patterns of history.

JOHN O’HARA [Novelist of Manner]    During the post war period, there were too many sexually free novels which became highly successful. Among such writers, the great master in the post war period was John O’Hara. He stands between the novelists of urban environment and the novelist of manners. He sets most of his novels and short stories in a medium-sized Pennsylvania town he named Gibbsville. Sex and social distinction are central to O’Hara’s vision. John O’Hara usually shows sexually barren hero and loveless lust. So sex is the center of his works. He treats sexuality as the final unveiled truth. In O’Hara’s work, we find all the qualities of realist, naturalist and novelists of manners. Like a realist, he adds intricate detail of common class social environment of Pennsylvania, like a naturalist he writes about sexual violence and like a novelist of manners, he shows the manner of people in society.His novels are:Appointment in Samarra,, Ourselves to Know

MARY McCARTHY [Novelist of Manners]    McCarthy includes her individual perception of the social world in her work. The setting is New York in her works. She creates more female characters than male; and she show women figure politically aware and sexually adventurous. She infuses American culture with European culture of 30s and 40s. In The Group, She refers to the age of 1930s very realistically. She creates six characters, with the setting of New York. The characters are all girls but they all are frustrated and complex in their own ways. The style used in this novel is also very complex. Birds of America is a memoir. Here, McCarthy has used the technique of flashback to maintain the effort to understand the America of 1960s. In this work, she has refereed to all common class people of America.

Note on Novelist of Manner in the relation to Realism and Naturalism.

When the realists could not provide meaningful life of their characters especially protagonists the literary movement shifted from Realism to Naturalism. Realism is by its very name aims to depict the reality of the contemporary social scenario especially of materialism or capitalism. Naturalism on the other hand is an extended form of realism where the writers specially depict the characters that are in quest of escape from materialistic world. They show the discontinuity in the social core or values by moving beyond the social norms and values towards sex and violence.

Naturalists show passivity and barrenness in human life. They do not focus on the common class people behavior in society. The novelists of manners show the familiar social, national tie among the common class people. They also depict what happens in the world of high society. Their main purpose is to bring out evils of society and satirize them for the social upliftment.Naturalist and Realist assert larger than human forces. But the novelists of manners tend to be more involved with characters. Naturalistic novels deal with the reality of detail and facts. The novels of manners deals of manner focus especially on a settled, geographically limited world. The novelist of manner often set-their scene in small town America or in the upper class enclaves of big cities.

Realist and Naturalist create characters that often turn out to be rejected by History. But the novelists of manners often stay outside and allow the characters to play more freely and invent their own ideology.