Naturalism in English Literature – Meaning and Characteristics


Naturalism was a literary movement that arose during the Victorian era in the 19th century. It was seen as a continuation of the Realism movement that preceded it. It had its central point in determinism and was influenced by science, especially Darwin and his “Theory of Evolution”.

Characteristics of Naturalism


Determinism functioned on the principle that humans had no free will. It stated that the external environment is what determines a human being’s actions and that their destinies are pre-determined with them having no control over it whatsoever.

Social Commentary

Naturalists produced work that commented on and critiqued society. In challenged societal norms and traditions, they also often came off with pessimistic and cynical undertones that shed light on human suffering and the futility of everything they did. 

Taboo Topics

In this manner, such works also covered the darker side of human beings with the exploration of taboo topics. These included themes of sexuality, violence, and substance use. 

Naturalism Major Poets List and Their Important Works

Stephen Crane

Crane perhaps was the most prominent of the Naturalist poets. He is renowned for his work “The Red Badge of Courage” in addition to “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets”. 

Theodore Dreiser

Dreiser was yet another eminent Naturalist. His most noted works are “Sister Carrie” and “Twelve Men”. 

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Dunbar again was a notable Naturalist. Famous works of his include “Lyrics of Lowly Life” and “The Sport of the Gods”. 


Naturalism thus was a significant movement in the Victorian literary landscape. It tested the limits of Victorian ideals, morals, and ethics and introduced new, revolutionary philosophical ideas and themes.