Naturalism in Literature: How Philosophy Meets Art


What is naturalism in literature? Naturalism in literature served as a movement in the late nineteenth century that engulfed the idea of natural ways-of-being to stand ground in meaning within art and literature. Taking focus through the theories and ideas of Darwinism by the English naturalist Charles Darwin, naturalism and its concept shaped the way of life with all natural-happenings. Putting this idea with art and writing, naturalistic writing exposes the instinctive experience, rather than the thorough thought.

The naturalism movement was led by Emile Zola. Zola’s most influential essay, Le Roman Experimental (1880), revealed the theory that man does not have the wanted control and decision of life as once believed. Zola exposed that all natural laws are what generate the experience of human life and responsibility. As an extreme take to realism, naturalism formed itself to become the essence of defining human life through the environment, social conditions, and roles of family life.

The literary definition of naturalism in literature can be explained and defined by the idea and belief that people and beings in this lifetime have very little control over their own lives. The theory and belief that naturalist writers can define naturalism in literature through the power of environmental, social, and economic outcomes and experience, is how the literary definition of naturalism can be characterized.

The naturalist movement in literature is one of exact belief and expression. Through words and story, these writers used characteristics of naturalism in literature context to exude and expose the natural laws that construct such a life. Creating characters and evolving them through a literature timeline, naturalistic writing became a naturalism literary movement that exposed the fate of one’s being, out of one’s control. This specific literary movement creates what is a naturalist writer.

Examples of Naturalism in Literature

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

An American naturalist, Steinbeck’s novel explains the environmental and societal influence among a family during the time of the Great Depression. As first coming to this new way of life rather simply, the Joad family finds themselves adapting to new circumstances by natural laws.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Taking its place in the late 1800s in the French Quarter atmosphere of Louisiana, Chopin creates the story of Edna Pontellier. Magnifying the essence of a self-revealing naturalism experience, Chopin writes a story of how independent living inside of a new societal environment molds and embodies oneself to develop and realize the self-discovery of perhaps what a type of “fate” can look like in a world of the known and unknown.

The Open Boat by Stephen Crane

The Open Boat by Stephen Crane

In a short story based on his own, personal experience, Crane writes of the time he was sailing to Cuba on a newspaper correspondent job and how the journey became a shipwreck hardship. Through words of real-life feeling and understanding, Crane affirms through a personal level how naturalism and its theory in this life play its course…

These naturalist writers created literary art through extreme realism promotion. With authors crafting stories that are defined by the power of the environment to shape human existence and experience, naturalism in literature can be swallowed with, and next to Darwin’s theory of evolution; the idea of “survival of the fittest” while fate takes its own chosen path through natural law.

Something else to think about: characteristics of naturalism in literature. These characteristics solidify and collect the theory of naturalism inside of story and narrative.

Some characteristics include:


The story-telling flow of what has been created.

Narrative Detachment

How the narrative interacts (or doesn’t) within the story and its timeline, when it comes to naturalistic writing, the narrator is quite uninvolved with their tone.


The idea and concept that people do not have control of their fate and outcome of life and life experience, creating rather dark experiences and storylines for those observing from perspective.

Social Environment

How the societal atmosphere can control, sculpt and shape one’s life and its outcome – both intentionally with awareness as well as self-discovery and undeniable happening.


Blatantly, the Darwinism theory of “those who are the fittest survive” concept and way of living through this life.


Though it was its own movement prior to the naturalism literary movement, realism is the reasoning as to why naturalist writers are heavily dedicated to the belief that individuals do not have control over their own fates, but rather it is the social environment that will craft it as it should.

Naturalism in literature and its definition swirl and weave with the idea that this theory of life-living is to happen with natural efforts of “fate”. Without the scientific “evidence” or moral responsibility, to define naturalism in literature is to conceive and admit to a world and life of a human being that is found and formed by the ever-living world around them.

The influence of naturalistic writing has lived a life of literary movement that eventually led to the modern movement. As naturalism confides in the blunt honesty of what is life in the present, and still, (i.e. poverty, racism, prejudice, etc.), these darker sides of daily life are heightened and accepted through the literary definition of naturalism. Taking on the heavier realities of human existence and experience, naturalism in literature portrays the outcomes of crafted fate.

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