By definition, realism can be thought of as a truthful treatment of material, which is a definition given by a popular American Realist, William Dean Howells. The writers of realism tried to show a truthful representation of reality and their works showed life as it actually was. Instead of telling a story that happened in the past, Realists tended to focus on the here and now. Because of the Civil war and the rapid growth of America, Realists concentrated on the middle class. The middle class was growing rapidly and gave Realists a good chance to write about ordinary, average, contemporary people and events. The characters usually seemed to be more important than the plot of the story and were usually presented with some kind of ethical dilemma. In order to create a natural image, plots and language had to be as natural as possible. Realists also saw the ordinary man as an urban bourgeois that was set apart from nature and pressured from the competitive, materialistic society. Because of this, Realists tended to criticize the social environment and morality and were more or less in open revolt against their society. They were also skeptical of organized religions and even questioned the existence of God.
Naturalism is a movement that came around right after Realism. Naturalism is actually based on a very different philosophical view. This view is a post-Darwinian form of scientific determinism in which people are the prisoners of their biological inheritance and social environment. Naturalists, unlike Realists, were very extreme in their scientific objectivity. Instead of concentrating on the middle class like the Realists did, Naturalists focused their attention on the working class. The characters of the working class were usually not very educated and were usually challenged at exercising free will. The settings of the environment were clear and for violent, animalistic characters whose inherited drives like hunger and sex were very vivid. To Naturalists, life was deterministic and mechanistic. They did not see man as a free agent, but as an animal motivated by his chemistry, heredity, and his environment or circumstances. Because of the Naturalist's scientific objectivity, man was a subject for scientific, impersonal scrutiny. The characters were selected from the lower ranks of life and usually needed their circumstances improved. Naturalists saw man as the sum of his heredity plus his environment. Because of this view, the spiritual qualities of man are irrelevant to his study. Naturalists basically used scientific method and applied it to their writing.
When reading literature from the Realism period, we can see many characteristic of Realism throughout it. For example, the story Hedda Gabler, which was written by Henrik Ibsen, has many examples of Realism throughout the play. The entire play takes place in Tesman's house. This is a very natural setting. There is no idealized setting like we would see from a story that took place in the Romanticism period. Also, when this story was written, it was intended to be a story that took place during that time period.
As I mentioned above, Realists tended to focus on the here and now. It wasn't a story about something that happened a long time ago. The characters in this story are not seen as heroic and they deal with their conflicts the way any person would. In this story, I find that Hedda is somewhat unhappy with her life. On page 1430, Hedda is telling Judge Brack how bored she was on her honeymoon with her husband, Tesman. Brack says to Hedda "I wished you were back home every single day." Then Hedda says "The whole time I was wishing the same thing." She says this because she was really bored because Tesman just wanted to "Scratch around in libraries" the whole time. Hedda then says to Brack, "Tesman is - a specialist, dear Judge." "And specialists aren't so much fun to travel with. Not for the long run anyway." It seems pretty evident that Hedda isn't very happy with her marriage with Tesman. This seems like a pretty natural situation. It's not very uncommon for someone to be unhappy with their marriage. Later on in act three, the character Lovborg loses a very important manuscript so he decides to kill himself. Hedda wanted Lovborg to kill himself "In beauty" but when she finds out that he died a slow, painful death, it becomes too much for her so she decides to commit suicide. This is also a common situation. People often turn to suicide when life becomes too overwhelming or when people are dealing with too many intense negative emotions at once. In this case, the way that Lovborg died was too much for Hedda so she decided to turn to suicide. To me, this seems like a very realistic situation that could actually happen in everyday life.
Chickamauga, which was written by a Naturalist by the name of Ambrose Bierce, shows of Naturalism principles throughout the story. This story is about a deaf-mute child that wanders away from home and enters some nearby woods.
Eventually, the child becomes tired so he falls asleep on the ground. When he wakes up he notices that there are soldiers fleeing from battle. The child thinks it is a game so marches in front of the soldiers pretending to be their leader. Then the child sees a big fire and he makes a game of it as well. Then he discovers that the fire is actually his own home and he finds is mother has been murdered. One example of Naturalism in this story is when the author wrote "For this child's spirit, in bodies of its ancestors, had for thousands of years been trained to memorable feats of discovery and conquestâ€‘victories in battles whose critical moments were centuries, whose victors' camps were cities of hewn stone. From the cradle of its race it had conquered its way through two continents and passing a great sea had penetrated a third, there to be born to war and dominion as a heritage." This basically means that the child's ancestors have always battled and conquered through war and now it is a part of the child's heritage as well. One principle of Naturalism is that man is not a free agent and that he is merely motivated by his heredity. This quote clearly shows that battle and war is a part of this child's heredity. At least in Realism the characters seem to have some kind of choice. In Naturalism, characters basically do not have choice about who they are going to be. Battle and war is a part of the child's heritage because that is the way it has always been and that is the way it will be with him as well. Another example of Naturalism is when the author wrote "The spirit of the race which bad passed the great sea burned unconquerable in that small breast and would not be denied." This is basically saying that his race has been unconquerable and that same spirit is within him as well. Again, this goes back to the Naturalism principle that man is motivated by his chemistry, heredity, and his environment or circumstances.
This quote reinforces the idea that it is the child's heritage to be unconquerable and that it is his fate to be a warrior. These are just two examples of Naturalism in story of Chickamauga.
Realism and Naturalism are two similar but different concepts of literature. Hedda Gabler is one example of Realism literature that clearly shows examples of Realism principles throughout the story. Chickamauga is an example of Naturalism literature that shows examples of Naturalism throughout the story. These two concepts of American Literature were dominant from the early nineteenth century to the early twentieth century.