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Naturalism in Sister Carrie

By Jason Dunn,2014-01-16 11:28
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Naturalism in Sister Carrie

    Naturalism in Sister Carrie

    Abstract: Theodore Dreiser ,the writer of Sister Carrie ,is one of the most outstanding representatives of American naturalism. In this thesis, his first novel Sister Carrie is taken as an example to analyze the features of Dreiser’s naturalism.

    The thesis referred to three great historical and cultural background of the novel which are Darwinism, Determinism, American Naturalism and Industrial Revolution .And the thesis analyzes three features of naturalism. At last, we pay attention to Dreiser’s exploration ------human desire and revelation of the dark side of

    human nature

    Key Words: Naturalism Darwinism desire environment human nature

    Naturalism of Dreiser in Sister Carrie

Introduction

    Theodor Dreiser (1871-1945); an American author, outstanding representative

    of naturalism, whose novels depict real-life subjects in a harsh light. Many of his works referred to the description of naturalism and weakened his critical spirit. His first novel Sister Carrie published in 1990 revealed the financial disparity and the moral decline of American society and thus regarded as forbidden book. But now the book becomes one of the best-sellers of American literature because of the naturalistic features in it. Then Dreiser is regarded as a pioneer of American naturalism and as a naturalist Dreiser expresses the characteristics of naturalism in most of his works. The themes of Darwinism and Determinism are the common features of Dreiser’s story which also characterize Sister Carrie.

    Dreiser chose to reflect life truthful in his works when other novels deal only with the beautiful aspects of life,. It is not an exaggeration to say that Dreiser's Sister Carrie clears the way for the development of American fiction.

    From follow analysis of three aspects and conclusion,we can find out the naturalism of Dreiser in Sister Carrie

1. The historical and cultural background for Sister Carrie

    Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie reflects the profound transformations in American life in the late nineteenth century.

1.1 Darwinism and Determinism

    In 1859, Darwin’s The Origin of Specie appeared. It soon changed man’s recognition. Before Darwin, human was separated from the animals because of its moral. However, at this time evolutionist considered human as a part of natural things and a member of the animal kingdom. American naturalists accepted “bestiality” and “ human beast” as an explanation of desire.

    They attempted to achieve extreme objectivity and frankness presenting characters of low social and economic classes who are determined by their environment and heredity. They dismissed the validity of comforting moral truth. Darwinism is the most important theory, which greatly affects Sister Carrie.

    Freud’s theory gives theoretic basis to Dreiser’s description of man’s desire. Freud considers man’s natural instinct as determination. To him man is a part of nature since man is a member of animals. Human mentality and action will forever be determined by instinct. Desire is just a genetic instinct in his opinion.

1.2 American naturalism

    Sister Carrie was written and published also at the rise of American naturalism, which means a particular genre of fiction that developed in the late 19th century America, and associated principally with writers such as Jack London , Stephen Crane, Frank Norris and Theodore Dreise.

    At the end of nineteenth century came a generation of writers whose ideas of the working of the universe and whose perception of the society's disorder led them to naturalism. A new and harsher realism, naturalism was introduced to the United States,

    literary naturalists spoke out against the ideas that literature should present what Howells called for the " smiling aspects of life". Instead, they attempted to achieve extreme objectivity and frankness presenting characters of low social and economic classes who were dominated by their environment or heredity in depicting the extremes of life. American naturalists emphasized that world was amoral that men and women had no free will, that their lives were controlled by heredity and the environment, that religious "truths" were illusory, and that the destiny of humanity was misery in life and ablivion in death.

1. 3 Industrial Revolution

    Industrial Revolution brought American people a value crisis. The 19th century was the time of industrialization. Serial changes made people feel they were conquering the world and obtaining their treasures. The surprising development made people feel too close to wealth and happiness. Then appeared small amounts of industrial giants and large number of poor people, American value materialistic to the core. Living in such a society with such a value system, the human individual is obsessed with a never end, yet meaningless search for satisfaction of his desire.

2. The typical characteristics of naturalism in Sister Carrie

     In Sister Carrie I find out that some of its themes differ from those of other naturalistic works.

2.1 The desire, instinct and the ifluence of environments

     Freud’s theory gives theoretic basis to Dreiser’s description of man’s desire.

    Freud considers man’s natural instinct as determination. To him man is a part of nature since man is a member of animals. Human mentality and action will forever be determined by instinct. Desire is just a genetic instinct in his opinion.

    This thesis covers Dreiser’s meaningful ideas--desire. Man’s behavior is

    dominated by instincts (desires, needs and fear) and environments (cities and consumerism) and chances. In the process of evolution, man is not able to control instincts completely. Desire is considered hereditary and instinctive. In this novel

    most of the central characters are hurried by a desire of personal affirmation, a desire they can neither articulate nor suppress. And Carrie Meeber is the representative. She sufferd from a need that her lives assume the dignity of dramatic form, and they suffer terribly, because they do not really understand it.

    Her view to money is “Money, something everybody else has and I must get.” (Theodore Dreiser, 1979, P77) Drouet then becomes her first ladder. When Drouet give her money for the first time, she hesitates. She knows clearly that no deep, sinister soul with ulterior motives could have given her fifteen cents under friendship, since “nature has taught the beasts of the beats of the field to fly when some

    unheralded dangers threatens” (Theodore Dreiser, 1979, P79) Here in her superego,

    she has a feeble instinct of self-production. However, deep in her mind, there is a strong desire for better clothes, jewelry, dinning in halls and plays in the theaters. Then preconscious becomes weak. Id gets upper hand. At last, id implies the superego and Carrie chooses to live with Drouet.

     When she knows that Drouet’s love is unsteady, the appearance of Hurstwood stimulates her new hope and desire. It is the new hope and desire that compels her actions. “his kind of unfulfilled dreams would beckon and lead her until death and dissolution dissolve their power and would restore her blind to nature’s heart”

    (Theodore Dreiser, 1979, P353) When Hurstwood can supply the life she dreams of, she stays with him, if not, she leaves.

    With the degradation of Hurstwood, Carrie would not endure losing her dreams. When she meets Mrs Vance, Carrie longs for the dainty decorated, beautiful clothes and genteel manners. “What a wonderful thing it was to be rich” (Theodore Dreiser,

    1979, P385) is the powerful voice of her heart. Without money,she leaves again.

    From the beginning to the end, Carrie is just like a machine controlled by the desires .

2.2 The influence of the environment

    Environment is a tremendous thing often leads people to a wrong direction.

    Drouet tells Carrie that Chicago is a wonder, and that she will find lots to see.

    Even her siste tells her, “You'll want to see the city.” [1]She comes there. She comes to the big web of Chicago in order to pursue a happy life. The prosperous parties, lights, dinners, theatres attract her.

    she chooses Drouet.As soon as she sees Hurstwood, she evaluates his worth?ªhis wealth, position and sexuality----by his “rich” plaid vest, mother of pearl buttons and

    soft black shoes “polished only to a dull shine.” When she meets Mrs Vance, Carrie

    longs for the dainty decorated, beautiful clothes and genteel manners. “What a wonderful thing it was to be rich” (Theodore Dreiser, 1979, P385) is the powerful

    voice from the bottom of her heart. She inters another pursuition.

3. Dreiser’s exploration

    ------human desire and revelation of the dark side of human nature

    From the first novel Sister Carrie on, Dreiser set himself to project the American values for what he had found them to be --materialistic to the core. Living in such a society with such a value system, the human individual is obsessed with a never-ending, yet meaningless search for satisfaction of his desires. One of the desires is for money which was a motivating purpose of life in the United States in the late l9th century. For example, in Sister Carrie, there is not one character whose status is not determined economically. Sex is another human desire that Dreiser explored to considerab1e lengths in his novels to reveal the dark side of human nature. In Sister Carrie, Carrie climbs up the social ladder by means of her sexual appeal. Also in the “Trilogy of Desire,”the possession of sexual beauty symbolizes the acquisition of

    some social status of great magnitude. However, Dreiser never forgot to imply that these human desires in 1ife could hardly be defined. They are there like a powerful "magnetism" governing human existence and reducing human beings to nothing. So like all naturalists he was restrained from finding a solution to the social problems that appeared in his novels and accordingly almost all his works have tragic endings.

Comments on Sister Carrie

    I. Sister Carrie is frequently regarded as a turning point in American fiction. Firmly embedded in the realist tradition, the book's simple yet serious naturalistic outlook emphasizes that human behavior results from instinct, self-interest, and social pressure and not from any real understanding or sense of ethical responsibility. Dreiser's experiences in Chicago and New York keenly observing the details of city life are rendered in the novel with detached, emotionless objectivity. The author is equally silent about the unconventionality非常规and amorality非道德

    of his characters.

    (1) Carrie's rise to success as a chorus girl and stage actress as well as the questionable motives and actions of Drouet and Hurstwood, her two worldly patrons and lovers, are presented against a backdrop背景

    of urban glitter and decay, an enticing迷人的but cold world evocative

    唤起的of an equally remote and uncaring cosmos秩序.

    (2) Naive and passive, casually accepting favors and their consequences, Carrie nevertheless slowly learns the ways of the world as well as the need to free herself from the emotional and sexual domination of the men in her life who see her merely as extensions of their own egos. (3) In a world where destiny seems to be controlled by forces beyond one's reach, Carrie is not only a survivor but a victor. Yet her success can be regarded as dubious: ever restless, good but shallow, optimistic but uncertain of who she really is, Carrie may represent the typical American morally adrift漂浮着的in the brutal, unprincipled,

    materialistic world of our culture's own creation. If Carrie is seen as triumphant, then the false values of that culture endure. (4) Although loosely based on the experiences of his sister Emma, in many ways Carrie is suggestive of Dreiser himself, notably his search for artistic identity and acceptance in a world bound by outmoded conventions.

    II. Theodore Dreiser's most obvious affinities in the novel form are with Honoré de Balzac, Émile Zola, and, in his own country, William Dean Howells. To say this is not to point to his detailed familiarity with their works, for few novelists of his stature have been so little exercised by questions of form, method, or theory, or what they might learn from the writings of others. Dreiser is, in other words, a realist, but his comments on the art of the novel rarely rise above the banal, the self-evident, or, indeed, the unhelpful. His realism is largely a matter of instinct, an instinct dominated above all by an acute eye for circumstantial detail and an ability to render with concreteness and vividness every aspect of daily life that impinges on the lives of his characters. Although not an intellectual, Dreiser's understanding of human experience was shaped by intellectual thought and intellectual movements, above all by Darwinian ideas of natural selection and the struggle for existence and their application by the social Darwinists, notably Herbert Spencer, to

    human society. (1) It may be hard for the modern reader to understand the reasons for the controversy that surrounded the publication of his first novel, Sister Carrie, in 1900. Dreiser's publishers, Double-day,

    Page and Company, withheld the novel from publication, fearing that its amoral treatment of Carrie Meeber's story might give offense to a readership unfamiliar with the neutral ethical register of life that had become almost de rigueur in European realist fiction. Dreiser scorned the optimistic realism of Howells and the genteel treatment of small town life in contemporaries such as Booth Tarkington. (2) Carrie's story is one of rags to riches. In many ways it satirizes the classical conventions of this characteristically American myth, for Carrie's good looks and her physical charms, those qualities to which her lovers Charles Drouet and, more centrally, George Hurstwood are attracted, are matters of biological accident; but they, above all, are responsible for her rise from rural poverty to a life of affluence富裕and, finally,

    stardom in the musical theatre.

    (3)Like Gustave Flaubert's Emma Bovary, Carrie is an adulteress and, for the time she lives with Hurstwood in New York, a kept woman, but Dreiser attaches no blame to her. Neither does he allow any other character to provide moral commentary on her life or circumstances. Instead the novel dramatizes a conflict between instinct and will, one that has more in common with Lev Tolstoi's treatment of the same in Anna Karenina (1875-77) than it does with the crude, mechanical naturalism of Frank Norris in McTeague (1899), a novel that saw

    publication a year before Sister Carrie. (4)Dreiser's own commentary

    places a good deal of emphasis on what we might now deem

    pseudo-scientific analysis of human action: Carrie is drawn magnetically to the city; her attraction to clothes and jewelry bespeaks a material compulsion that is not easily checked or resisted by reason or moral judgment; like all humankind, in Dreiser's Darwinian vocabulary, she occupies an intermediate stage of civilization between beast and human, balanced on what Dreiser clumsily calls "the jangle of free will and instinct." In Dreiser's view no blame can attach to the victim of these forces, since action and moral choice are not, finally, matters of exclusively rational consideration. It is one of the ironies of Dreiser's achievement that the reader is moved much more by Hurstwood's decline and death than by the loneliness of his eponymous齐名的

    heroine at the end of the novel.

    Naturalism in Sister Carrie

    A woman should some day write the complete philosophy of clothesNo

    matter how young;it is one of the things she wholly comprehendsThere is an

    indescribably faint line in the matter of man's apparel which somehow divides

for her those who are worth glancing at and those who are notOnce an

    individual has passed this faint line on the way downward he will get no glance from herThere is another line at which the dress of a man will cause her to study her own

    ---from Sister Carrie

    Naturalism was a term created by the French novelist, Emile Zola. He believed that people were not really free. Rather their lives, opinions and morality were all controlled by social, economic and psychological causes. At the end of nineteenth century came a generation of writers whose ideas of the working of the universe and whose perception of the society's disorder led them to naturalism. A new and harsher realism, naturalism was introduced to the United States. American Naturalism is a more advanced stage of realism thtoward the close of the 19 centuryThe American naturalists accepted the

    more negative implications of Darwin's theory and used it to account for the behavior of those characters in literary works who were conceived as more or less cornplex combinations of inherited attributes;their habits conditioned by

    social and economic forces

     This article will elaborate on the naturalism reflected in the novel Sister

    Carrie by Theodore Dreiser from the behaviors and fate of the protagnist Carrie Meeber.

     Sister Carrie tells the story of two characters: Carrie Meeber, an ordinary girl who rises from a low-paid wage earner to a high-paid actress, and George Hurstwood, a member of the upper middle class who falls from his comfortable lifestyle to a life on the streets.

     At that time, America were undergoing the industrial revolution, which pushed the economy and social reformation to a high speed developing rate. Money-making had been the central pursuit. What 's more, wealth and power were the only two standards to classify the people into

    classes, the lowest working class could not even keep body and soul together, they were working hard to survive in society. Carrie is the typical figure in that social background, who is struggling for her own hopeless life . Thus, she leaves her rural home to seek work in Chicago. In Chicago, she lives with her sister, and work for a time in a shoe factory. Meager income and terrible working condition oppress her imaginative spirit. After a period of unemployment and loneliness, she accepts Drouet and becomes his mistress. During his absence;she falls in love with Drouet’s friend Hurstwood, a middle aged, married,comparatively intelligent culture saloon manager. They finally elope. They live together for three years more.Carrie becomes mature in intellect and emotion while Hurstwood steadily declines. At last, she thinks him too great a burden and leaves him. Hurstwood sinks lower and lower. After becoming a beggar, he commits suicide, while Carrie becomes a star of musical comedy. In spite of her success.,she is lonely and dissatisfied

     To some extent, Carrie’s fallen period of her life is caused by the social background. If she didn’t live in that society, or not penniless, she might never

    become other’s mistress, or elope with a married man. This exactly acts as a good demonstration of naturalism, which believes that people are dominated by their environment or heredity. American naturalists emphasized that world was amoral that men and women had no free will, that their lives were controlled by heredity and the environment, that religious "truths" were illusory, and that the destiny of humanity was misery in life and ablivion in death. The pessimism and deterministic ideas of naturalism pervaded in this novel.

    Besides, at that time, the idea of American Dream was prevalent. People were in hot pursuit of vanity and wealth. In the beginning, on the train, Carrie felt ashamed and overshadowed by the well-dressed Drouet. Also, when in Chicago, she refused to tell Drouet her address because of her humble shelter. Plus, Carrie pursues beautiful clothes later.All these provide a sound proof of the naturalistic belief that characters are conditioned by the social environment.

    From the traditional aspect, Carrie’s behaviors are amoral, and she

    should end up miserable. Instead she succeeds though feels lonely. Naturalism in literature is a moral and spiritual absolute zero, conceivable but unattainable Neither Carrie nor Hurstwood earn their fates through virtue or vice, but rather through random circumstance. Their successes and failures have no moral value and his stance marks Sister Carrie as a departure from

    the conventional literature of the period.

     As a naturalistic writer, Dreiser stresses determinism in Sister Carrie

    which deal with everyday life, often with its sordid side. His characters are pathetic in their inability to escape their fates. His characters are subject to the control of the natural forces of heredity and environment.

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