In this closely reasoned study, John J. Conder has created a new and more vital understanding of naturalism in American literature. Moving from the Hobbesian dilemma between causation and free will down through Bergson's concept of dual selves, Conder defines a view of determinism so rich in possibilities that it can serve as the inspiration of literary works of astonishing variety and unite them in a single, though developing, naturalistic tradition in American letters.
At the heart of this book, beyond its philosophic discussion, is Conder's reading of key works in the naturalistic canon, beginning with Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat" and "The Blue Hotel." The special character of determinism in Crane is, Conder holds, the source of his complexity and striking originality. He finds a stricter determinism in Norris's McTeague. In Dreiser, however, the naturalistic tradition develops toward a fusion of determinism and freedom in a single work, and this fusion in a different guise operates in Dos Passos's view of self in Manhattan Transfer. With Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath the uniting of determinism and freedom finds its fullest realization in the concept of dual selves, one determined, one free. In Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom! the concept of the dual self appears in its most complex form. The developments in the work of Steinbeck and Faulkner, Conder believes, bring the classic phase of American literary naturalism to a close.
Naturalism in American Fiction illuminates a group of major literary works and revives a theoretic consideration of naturalism. It thus makes a fundamental contribution to American studies.