The Mirrors of Naturalism: Stephen Crane's Pragmatic Determinism

Manganaro, Anthony. The Mirrors of Naturalism: Stephen Crane's Pragmatic Determinism. 2017. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

My dissertation contributes to current scholarship on nineteenth-century American naturalism by arguing that the emergent theories of determinism and pragmatism were antithetical to, and yet dependent upon, one another. On the one hand, Stephen Crane's fiction reveals determinism's heavy weight upon the naturalist genre (the sense that humans cannot affect their worlds), yet unlike Frank Norris or Jack London, for instance, Crane innovatively employs pragmatic elements that work against the very deterministic frameworks that structure his stories. By tracing the dialectic between these theories, I demonstrate how Crane's fiction not only reveals the destructive relationship between nature and humanity but also, in his pragmatic suspicion of static concepts, the failure of language to accurately interpret the world of the fin de siècle. My lens provides for more complex interpretations of Crane in addition to Theodore Dreiser in ways that highlight how the deterministic yet pluralistic character of naturalism serves as a bridge between the realist and modernist styles.

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