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In the 1800’s there were two literary movements known as Realism and Naturalism that dominated the literary world. There were many similarities between the two, but enough differences to set the two apart. They both focused on a more realistic view of the world and ordinary life. These forms revolted against exaggerated emotionalism and the extraordinary that was brought about by Romanticism. Naturalistic writers wrote about the world in a harsher and blunter way than Realists by focusing on the lower classes. The Realists tended to focus on the middle class which was the primary audience for both. I think that Hedda Gabler and The Lost Phoebe are good representations of these two literary forms. They exemplify the qualities necessary to compare and contrast Realism and Naturalism.
There are three main principles of Realism. The first is an emphasis on detachment, objectivity and accurate observation. The reader sees the characters as though from a distance, never becoming involved emotionally in their lives. The author never wants you to put yourself into their lives. You are simply an observer or spectator. The characters seem to have a restrained relationship with each other. In Hedda Gabler, even though George and Hedda are married they treat each other in a very formal manner. She even calls him by his last name. The characters are believable in their specific roles. They all act as you would expect them to as is appropriate for their various professions and circumstances in that time period. George portrays the typical absent minded research professor. He was obsessed with his research and completely oblivious to his wife’s needs. Lovborg is the typical alcoholic with his recovery and relapse periods. The second principle is an emphasis on clear, but restrained criticism of social environment and morality. The author was critical of the middle class and their desires for advancement even at the expense of others. When Lovborg was pronounced dead Mrs. Elevsted was the only one who truly felt bad about it. Everyone else viewed it as an opportunity for George to advance without competition. It was also critical of people marrying for convenience rather than because they loved each other as in the case of Hedda, and when Mrs. Elevsted married the sheriff to have a home. The final principle is an emphasis on humane understanding. Some of the characters reacted to their fellow members in a kind, sympathetic way. Mrs. Elevsted worked with and helped Lovborg with his project as well as his alcoholism. Aunt Julie accepted Hedda’s barbs and made compassionate excuses for her.
There are four principles of Naturalism. The first is that life is deterministic and mechanistic. In other words, humans have very little control over their lives. The events in their lives determine their destiny. Henry and Phoebe’s lives have followed a pattern common to their time. They inherited the family farm and raised their children. Now, the children are gone – some had died and the others had gone their separate ways. This left Henry and Phoebe alone together until Phoebe died. Then, life changed drastically for Henry. The second principle is that man is a subject for scientific scrutiny. In this story we are observing a person who has become senile. We are shone how he has reached this state and the eventual conclusion. His futile never-ending search for his wife caused his final demise. The third principle is that characters are to be selected from the lower ranks of life who need their circumstances improved. Henry and Phoebe live in an old run-down log house that had been in the family for three generations. The house, farm, orchards, animals, and everything they owned had fallen into a state of decay. They had grown old and were poor so they could not improve their situation. They deteriorated along with their surroundings. The living standards for them were much grimmer than for the characters in Hedda Gabler and other Realist’s works. Hedda Gabbler had a nice, large house that was well kept. Henry’s lifestyle gets even lower when he moves out of his house and roams the countryside looking for Phoebe. He eventually becomes somewhat of a nuisance to his neighbors who try to pawn him off onto someone else. The last principle is that the spiritual qualities of man are irrelevant – he equals the sum of his heredity plus his environment. Henry inherited a solitary way of living from his ancestors and lived a close knit life with his wife during her lifetime. The children left and she died. His life became very lonely, isolated and solitary. This caused him to live in the past and have visions of his wife. This obsession took over his complete life. A naturalism man has little control over his destiny.
The two literary works, Hedda Gabler and The Lost Phoebe, exemplify the qualities and principles of Realism and Naturalism. Hedda Gabler shows how characters are viewed with detachment. The Lost Phoebe presents characters as products of their environment. At first glance it is rather hard to tell the two apart. The differences are sometimes subtle. When you know the principles of each; the differences are discernable. Both forms were created to shock the middle class. Naturalism was a darker form and even more critical of the middle class. The middle class quickly tired of this harsh depiction of life and thus brought and end to this period in literary history.
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