James (1843-1916) was a psychological realist rather than a photographic realist who was of the view that the duty of the artist is to represent life, not to produce it. His best works include The American, Roderick Hudson, The Portrait of a Lady, The Tragic Muse, The Spoils of Poynton, The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl. Robert Shulman says that “the first-generation realists and their successors did justice to the surfaces of American life through the conventions of presentational realism—plausibly, rendered speech, recognizable settings and recognizable characters facing everyday problems all open to the interpretation of a middle-class, predominantly feminine audience. American realists also penetrated beneath the surface to engage with the underlying energies of men, women, and society in the Golden Age” (16).
Naturalism in American fiction aimed at a detached, scientific objectivity in the treatment of natural man. It is attune with the philosophy of Determination. It means man is controlled by his instincts or passions, or by his socio-economic environment. According to the Naturalists, man has no free will, therefore, the writers should not attempt to comment on or judge the behaviour of his characters. Susan Mizruchi points out that “Naturalist literature provided an analytical yet voyeuristic view into the low life. Both senses of this perspective—the detached and the compulsive—are important. Even when naturalist narrators betray overt hostility (a naturalist trademark), toward their pre-civilized characters, there is still room for identification with them” (202).
Naturalism has a tendency to take its subject matter from lower-class situations and characters, particularly in its deterministic philosophy. Sometimes, Naturalism tends towards pessimism and human life is pessimistically viewed as being at the mercy of surroundings and basic interior drives like fear, hunger and sex. Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, Frank Norris’s Mc League, Jack London’s The Son of the Wolf and Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie are the best examples of the early American Naturalism.
Generally, modernists were driven by the belief that the assurances once provided by religion, politics, or society no longer sufficed. This belief intensified after World War I, when it seemed to many that history itself was coming to an end. The modern life was horrific, chaotic and ultimately futile. The modernist period also saw a radical experimentation in literary form and expression. American modernism seemed to be of two kinds. One was cosmopolitan, created by expatriate writers such as Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle, Stein and T.S. Eliot. These writers sought to internationalize literature, by making powerful connections between their work and a broad range of past literature. The other group was non-expatriate American modernists such as Stevens, Williams, Marianne Moore, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. William Faulkner and Ernest...