Essays on Theodore Dreiser
Dreiser and American Naturalism
PIZER_book.indd 51 09/08/13 4:06 PM PIZER_book.indd 52 09/08/13 4:06 PM · 4 · american literary naturalism: the example of dreiser American literary naturalism has almost always been viewed with hostility. During its early years the movement was associated with Continental licen- tiousness and impiety and was regarded as a literature foreign to American values and interests. “We must stamp out this breed of Norrises,” a reviewer of McTeague cried in 1899.1 In our own time, though antagonism to naturalism is expressed more obliquely, it is as deeply rooted. A typical discussion of the movement is frequently along the following lines.2 The critic will examine the sources of naturalism in late nineteenth-century scientism, in Zola, and in post-Civil War industrial expansion. He will note that to a generation of American writers coming of age in the 1890s the mechanistic and materialistic foundations of contemporary science appeared to be confirmed by American social conditions and to have been successfully applied to the writing of fiction by Zola. But he will also note that Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, and Theodore Dreiser were often muddled in their thinking and inept in their fiction, and he will attribute these failures to their unfortunate absorption of naturalistic attitudes and beliefs. Our typical critic will then discover a second major flow- ering of naturalism in the fiction of James T. Farrell, John Steinbeck, and John Dos Passos in the 1930s. He will remark that scientism has been replaced by Marxism and that the thinking of...
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