Confronting the Horror: The Novels of Nelson Algren

Confronting the Horror: The Novels of Nelson Algren

Confronting the Horror: The Novels of Nelson Algren

Confronting the Horror: The Novels of Nelson Algren

Excerpt

Several influential critics have in recent years written obituaries for the tradition of American literary naturalism. Extensive reading in post- World War II American fiction reveals, however, that this tradition still retains vitality, although literary and philosophical movements which developed later in the twentieth century have inevitably influenced and modified it. That American literary naturalism has proven to be receptive to innovation and change should not be surprising. Such major scholars of the tradition as Charles Child Walcutt and Donald Pizer have demonstrated convincingly that naturalism as practiced was never as scientific and clinical as the theoretical essays of Emile Zola, Frank Norris, and others proclaimed. Walcutt, in American Literary Naturalism: A Divided Stream (1956) points to the romantic, and at times mystical, overtones of the fiction of Norris, Jack London, Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser, and the turn-of-the-century American naturalists.

A contemporary naturalism, which focuses on urban slum-dwelling and other social outcasts and which emphasizes environmental determinism while incorporating crucial aspects and techniques of literary modernism, Sartrian existentialism, and Céline's vision of the 'absurd,' has emerged in post-World War II American fiction. It has, after all, been virtually impossible for any post-World War II writer to ignore the influences of James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and . . .

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