Naturalism and Regionalism

Naturalism and Regionalism

Works needed to be read to complete request:
Stephen Crane: The Open Boat
Jack London: To Build a Fire
Sarah O. Jewett: A White Heron
Willa Cather, Paul’s Case


Week 3 Forum: Naturalism and Regionalism

Part One: Compose a paragraph that applies a Marxist reading of any of the stories from this week. Be sure to ask yourself ( and answer) the kinds of questions discussed in this week’s lecture.

Part Two: Which of the characters this week did you feel the most sympathy for? Who did you most identify with? Why? Who did you feel the least sympathy for? Why?

Part Three: In “The Open Boat,” lines of philosophy about man’s fate and his reward for trying hard are repeating throughout. Quote a line of this story that stands out to you as expressing something philosophical about life. Do you agree with the statement? Why or why not?
Regionalism and Naturalism

The expansion of settlements across the Ohio Valley and into the western and southwestern territories gave rise to an interest not only in the dramatic physical landscapes but also in the lifestyles and folk types that populated them. “Local colorists” like Brett Harte, Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Sarah Orne Jewett, Joel Chandler Harris, and George Washington Cable sought to capture the distinct nuances of language and speech, character, and folk motifs of specific cultures tied to regions of the United States.

The Regionalists strove to express the emerging differences in life among the various regions of the developing nation. From Sarah Orne Jewett, writing of New England gentry by the sea in Maine, to Kate Chopin, interpreting the French Cajun societies of Louisiana, to Willa Cather, chronicling a new way of life in the pioneer Midwest, Regionalist authors began to give all of America glimpses inside their specific part of the country, from geography to dialect. Before there was television, before there were movies, before there was the nightly news, before there was Youtube, these novels and stories expanded the American consciousness as to the richness and variety of the American experience.

On the other hand, the Naturalists pointed to one overlying fact: regardless of location, man is at the mercy of nature. Naturalism came about as a response to the popularization of the new ideas of Darwin and Marx, ideas that changed how man saw himself in relation to the cosmos and in relation to each other. A movement often considered to be a harsh, narrow focus within the realistic period in American letters, “naturalism” refers to a set of assumptions that tie human nature to primordial animal instincts. Driven by explosive passions and insatiable impulses that defy explication, people are also subject to influences of their physical environments. Naturalistic writers employed coolly objective tones and applied the critical analytical techniques of the physical and natural sciences as means for interpreting the human condition unfolding in their works.

Major works that explore naturalistic themes include Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat.”

Reading/Writing about Short Stories
How to Read a Short Story Critically

Analyze the Essential Elements of the Story

Read the text carefully, noting each character and chain of events.

Identify the major character(s)–those who seem to control the action or from whose perspective the story is told.

Reconstruct the narrative line–“what happens.”

Identify elements of the plot–“factors which influence the action.”

Discuss the essential conflict.

Analyze the Structure of the Story

Identify the point(s) of view through which the story is told.

Explain how the author uses time.

Explain how the author uses setting.

Explain how the author uses perspectives (angles).

Analyze Rhetorical Elements

Identify the author’s use of irony (dramatic, situational, verbal).

Identify recurring image patterns.

Explain the author’s use of symbols.

Identify special uses of language like figures of speech, unusual diction and syntax.

Analyze the Meaning of the Story (Interpretation)

Identify what seems to be the theme (dominant message or claim) and how the author announces it.

Explain how elements above contribute to the theme.

Identify contextual elements (allusions, symbols, other devices) that point beyond the story to the author’s experience/life, history, or to other writings.

You have already completed your first literary essay; we have others, so let’s take a moment to focus on some of the basics of writing literary analysis.

Essay Development

Always assume your intended audience has already read the selection; unless otherwise instructed, summarizing the narrative line of fiction is unnecessary.

For out-of-class essays of several pages, use the “thesis-support” outline. For short essays, begin with a brief context statement and narrow quickly to the thesis.

Seek opportunities to discuss “why?”

Use a title that introduces both the topic and the perspective you plan to develop.

Use a specific rather than a general claim as the thesis for the paper.

Maintain coherency in the paper through the use of topic sentence, sub-thesis sentences, and echoes.

A literary analysis is similar to any argument. It requires a thesis, main points, and evidence. However, unlike some forms of writing, you don’t have to go back to the beginning for the reader. You should, in fact, write with the assumption that your reader is familiar with the work you are discussing. Let’s begin with the thesis.

A thesis should be specific and debatable. It will not be a question or a fact. When you have a specific prompt, your thesis will usually answer the question posed there. Here is an example of a literary thesis that is not a thesis:

“Pulitzer Prize winner Edith Wharton wrote Ethan Frome, a novel about life in a small New England town.”

Why is this not a literary thesis?

It is a fact. It is not debatable.

How about this thesis?

“Who is Ethan Frome, the central character of Wharton’s novel?”

This is not a literary thesis, either. Instead, it is an open-ended question.

How about this one?

“In her novel Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton attempts to show the emasculation of the modern American male.”

Yes, this meets the criteria—it is a statement of opinion, not a statement of fact, it is not a question, and it states an arguable position.

An even better thesis would provide a ‘map’ of your paper that projects the main points your paper will discuss, in order.
“In her novel Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton attempts to show the emasculation of the modern American male by examining Ethan’s dreams, his marriage, and his relationship with his lover.”

As a writer, you know that you should talk about Ethan Frome’s dreams, marriage, and lover in separate paragraphs, in that order. Each of those paragraphs should be nearly the same length, and each should have examples from the text to help prove the point you are trying to make. Always take the time- before you start writing your draft- to brainstorm a potential thesis with a thesis map. Use the map to help you develop your paper so that you avoid summarizing and you avoid tangents.

Paragraph Development

Begin body paragraphs with claims as topic sentences that repeat key concepts from the thesis sentence.

Always introduce the speaker, context, and/or significance of block quotations.

Always follow block quotations with a response that clarifies the significance of the quoted passage.

Avoid lengthy quotations. Aim to keep quoted content to about 10% of your total word count.

Use a balanced reference to the readings of a text, including combinations of allusions, paraphrases, summaries, and quotations.

Enhance the discussion of the topic sentence with both primary development (explanation of the main idea in the topic sentence) and secondary development (explanation of the explanation) when to do so reveals new insight.

Never begin a body paragraph with a quotation or synopsis of an action in the story.

Cite your work with MLA citations. This system includes quotation marks, in-text citations, and Works Cited page. Please familiarize yourself with MLA citation format. You will want to use a style guide or any reliable website that provides MLA guidance. The university library includes information about MLA formatting and citation as well.

If you use any secondary sources in your essay, you need to cite them, whether you are using the ideas via paraphrase, or quoting directly from the secondary critic. Please make sure that all of your citation meets MLA guidelines.

One last thing to remember about MLA—if you list a citation in your Works Cited, you must actually cite it within the body of your paper. A Works Cited page is not a bibliography, but rather a list of works cited within the essay.

Ways of Reading: Marxist Criticism

If you are concerned with economic and political theories ( esp those of Karl Marx), this critical lens might work for you. You might see evidence of power structures, class structures, the almost invisible ways in which ordinary lives are controlled by economic factors, the ways that ideology shapes us, the way our roles in life are socially pre-determined to keep a status quo. You can apply Marxist Theory to works that explore issues such as why true love can’t work out if it’s between people of different social classes, or how life seems to conspire against a hard-working, honest lower class person to keep him from succeeding or climbing out of his station in life.

You are conducting Marxist criticism if you are asking questions like:

How does class factor into the lives of the main characters?

How are main characters pitted against each other in terms of power? Who holds power over others, and how is that power derived?

Can people escape their fate or their class?

How does social class get in the way of the happiness of the main character?

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