Naturalism Literature

The term naturalism defines a literature type that applies scientific principles of detachment and objective in the study of human beings. Unlike realism that mainly focus on literary technique, naturalism adopts a philosophical position. In Zola's Le roman experimental (1988), the description follows that human beings are products that can be studied impartially and with no moralization of their nature. Similar views on naturalism literature were shared by Hippolyte Taine's observation, Claude Bernard's medical model, Joseph LeConte, and Herbert Spencer. Naturalism provide scholars with an opportunity to analyze forces which govern human lives. The literature writers; therefore, adopts a version of scientific and philosophical method in their writing.

Naturalism characters are victims of fate. The Chrysanthemums present Elisa as a strong, capable woman, who is kept from personal, sexual, and social sexual fulfillment by the manner the woman are conceived in the society. Elisa's actions, appearance, and speech illustrates the frustration women undergo in Steinbeck's masculine society in the 1930's.

In The Chrysanthemums, the fate of a woman is determined by the masculine society. Elisa is first depicted as "blocked and heavy" when she appear in heavy shoes, heavy gloves, a "man's black hat," and a big apron hiding her printed dress (Steinbeck, 1989, p.330). The masculinity of Elisa is further demonstrate by her hard-swept" and "hard-polished" (Steinbeck, p. 330). Elisa is bored with her husband and the traditional woman’s role in the masculine society.

Hulga in the Good Country People is first depicted as intelligent, cynical, and intellectual woman, whose strength defies her physical challenges and the nativity of the women in the society. From her references to her mother and the conversation she had with Mrs. Freeman, she believes that women have obscured view of their society. Despite being limited by her artificial leg and weak heart, Hulga present herself as knowledgeable person than many women in the society. She tells the Bible’s Salesman that she has “a number of degrees” (O’Connor, 1955).  Hulga succumbs to her fall when the Bible Seller who turns out to be a scam steals her leg. As with Elisa, the fate of Hulga is again changed by the masculine society.

Despite their efforts, naturalistic characters felt a blow from the dominant masculine powers. Elisa's first encounters tinker like a man; she resist the attempt to give him work. However, as tinker continue to talk, Elisa’s calculated man’s effort melts into feminine. Tinker takes the opportunity and hits her in her most vulnerable spot, her chrysanthemums. He pretend to fall for her flowers and compare the flowers to a "quick puff of colored smoke" (Steinbeck, 1989, p. 333). Elisa's femininity gradually reveals as she remove the gloves. She is smothered by her emotions and sexuality. She only realizes late that she has betrayed herself after tinker leaves. She goes indoors to bathe and scrubs herself "until her skin was scratched and red" (Steinbeck 335). Elisa becomes a victim of the masculine society.

Hulga prides herself of being an intellectual. She is happy of her education and excellence. She tells the Bible seller she even has a Ph.D. in philosophy. As a way of breaking away from the traditional women’s fate, she changes her name from Joy to Hulga. She considers herself above a typical Christian and believes religion to be a waste of time (O’Connor, 1955). However, Hulga’s fall come too soon when the Bible Seller who turns out to be a scam steals her leg and disappears. Hulga becomes desperate and grieves her immeasurable loss to the man.

Both Elisa and Hulga present a unique slice of life drama. Elisa shows progress in her life by defying the traditions which betrayed women. She illustrated a steadfast progress in defying masculinity. However, her life drastically changes when she meets tinker who dissuades her from her path of progress. She falls back to feminism that she struggled out of (O’Connor, 1955). Hulga, in her part, is first depicted as an intellectual woman with a lot knowledge. However, her fall comes from the scam, the bible seller. She goes into regret after the fall back just like Elisa.

In conclusion, John Steinbeck and Flannery O’Connor have successfully demonstrated that naturalism literature involve scientific study of characters based on their environment. Despite their strong wills, the characters’ success in growth were heavily influence by their surroundings; the masculine society. In the end, both the characters fell to their feminine place in the society after being misled by men.


. O’Connor, F. (1955). Good Country People. Gothic Digital Series, UFSC

Steinbeck, J. (1989). "The Chrysanthemums." Literature and the Writing Process. Ed. Elizabeth    McMahan, Susan Day, and Robert Funk. 2nd ed. New York: Macmillan.