Zola's Naturalism

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Many critics fail to make a distinction between "realism" and "naturalism." Certainly, the distinction does not involve a major critical view. Realism might be most simply explained as an attempt to present life with a large degree of verisimilitude. As a movement, realism preceded naturalism, and the latter movement is essentially an attempt to carry the position of the realist to a further degree. Sometimes naturalism is called "stark realism."

The naturalist thought that the realist had not treated all aspects of life and was determined to show everything connected with life. The naturalist also accused the realist of failing to depict things which are unpleasant, ugly, or sordid. Consequently, the naturalist often concentrates to a greater extent on those aspects of life which are of dubious value, and seldom does it depict the higher nature of humanity.

In theory, the naturalist saw humanity trapped by forces which it could not control. Humanity is caught in a hostile universe and there is no chance for it to escape. When humanity realizes its trap or if it attempts to escape, it is usually reduced to the level of an animal. In general, the naturalistic philosophy might be called pessimistic determinism — that is, humans are totally unable to control their own destinies.

With this philosophy, the naturalist will often use the image of humanity trapped in some type of cage or in some type of circumstances which could be symbolically viewed as a net or cage. Then the dominant image will often involve a person as some sort of animal. The naturalist uses this animal imagery to reinforce the position that people cannot control their urges and are ultimately reduced to bestiality. The French Zola and the American Frank Norris are the most famous for their uses of animal imagery to depict the lack of nobility in humanity.

The naturalist, wishing to capture verisimilitude to the nth degree, would often belabor his descriptions. Many times, this type of...
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