An Overview of Naturalism in Literature

Naturalism in Literature


Teaching Naturalism in literature exposes a new generation to some of the world’s greatest authors.


ELA Common Core Standards Covered

Teaching Naturalism in Literature and instructing students to find aspects of Naturalism in the literature they read covers the following ELA Common Core Standards.

  1. RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  2. RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
  3. W.9-10.9  Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

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Fallen_Monarchs_1886_by_William_Bliss_Baker

Ever feel like education’s become a Naturalist “survival of the fittest” adventure? Feel like you’re getting more stuff to do with less time and resources to do it? This downloadable/printable pdf might help.

Check out this Literary Periods Lesson Plans pdf. It contains notes on British Romanticism, American Romanticism, Naturalism, Realism and Modernism that you can print out, copy and distribute to your students (who will think you’re awesome for not making them copy things they could easily just take a picture of with their cell phones).

It also includes lesson plans and graphic organizers to get your students engaged in the notes. The best part is you can print the lesson plans out, place them in your lesson plan book and wait for the accolades from your Common Core enforcing administrator. It’s only $3.50. Find more at Teacher Guide Central.

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Introducing Naturalism

After hearing the same 13 excuses for nearly an entire year, I decided to introduce Naturalism as follows:

  1. Ask if any student at any point in the semester didn’t do a homework assignment. Ninety-eight percent will raise their hand.
  2. Assign each student to write a one page note excusing their missing assignment. The excuse must clearly show that the missing homework assignment was not their fault and that circumstances beyond their control caused the assignment not to be turned in.
  3. Collect the excuses and tell the class they have experienced Naturalism.
  4. Tell the class that each student who completed the assignment will have their zero replaced by an ‘A’.
  5. On the way to your desk, trip and “accidentally” throw the papers in a trash can.
  6. Explain that due to circumstances beyond your control the zeroes will remain.
  7. Tell the class they have once again experienced Literary Naturalism.
  8. Laugh really hard.
  9. Discuss the notes below.
  10. Tell your colleagues what you did.
  11. Laugh Really Hard.
  12. Park in your garage.

What is Naturalism?

Naturalism in Literature

This is Stephen Crane in case you were wondering.

Naturalism is best exemplified by Stephen Crane’s “A Man Said to the Universe”:

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

Naturalism is a literary movement of the late 19th and early 20th century, characterized by the application of scientific determinism to literature. The assumption with Naturalism is that everything that is real exists in nature. Realism and Naturalism are often linked due to their emphasis on realistic people in realistic settings, featuring ordinary people struggling against unseen forces over which they have no control. Realism and Naturalism differ insomuch that Realism focuses on literary technique whereas Naturalism focuses on a specific philosophy. Naturalist writers include Stephen Crane, Jack London, John Steinbeck, John Dos Passos, Theodore Dreisser, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Edith Wharton, Joel Chandler Harris.

Naturalism Notes

This is Jack London in case you were wondering.

Discuss the following to give context to Naturalist writers.

  • The naturalistic view of humans is that they respond to the natural world much like animals, reacting to natural forces they neither understand nor control.
  • Naturalism embraces sociological and economic determinism.
  • Human beings are often portrayed as victims of destiny or fate.
  • Naturalistic writers portray nature as indifferent.
  • Naturalists strive for objectivity.
  • Naturalists are pessimistic about human capabilities.
  • Life is a trap.
  • Naturalists portray humans as animalistic, driven by fear, hunger, and sex.

Genres of Literature

Teaching literary genres helps provide context and understanding.

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