Symbolism Vs. Naturalism

Comparing Naturalism with Symbolism can open your eyes to how different two literary styles can be, even when appearing around the same period of time. Both emerging out of late 19th century Western Europe, these two movements adopted almost entirely contradictory literary styles. By analyzing and contrasting both of these movements, you are exposing yourself to the history of literature and the breadth of writing they encompass.


The term "Naturalism" describes a literary movement that took place from late 19th century to early 20th century. The movement attempted to portray a detailed account of realism in day-to-day life to imply that social and environmental conditions were the inevitable driving force behind the shaping and molding of the human character. Symbolism emerged as a literary style around late 19th century, from French and Russian origin. As a style, it replaced direct statements with the use of symbols and suggestions to reflect life.


Naturalism can be seen as a movement that looked to imitate and represent a believable reality, inspired by life as it was. Naturalist literary pieces often revealed the dark and painful truths of reality and the worst of what was seen, including racism, poverty, illness and death. Symbolists were in support of literary styles that reacted in favor of the imagination and spirituality, possessing the belief that art should be an expression of truth than cannot be described directly. The constant use of metaphor and symbols were evident to represent certain objects or images.


Naturalism stemmed and was inspired by literary realism, a popular and altering movement that emerged out of mid 19th century Europe. It differs from Realism in the sense that it seeks to define the underlying factors that determine the behavior of its subjects. Naturalist influence also came from Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. On the contrary, Symbolism is widely viewed as a revolt against both Naturalism and Realism. Symbolist writers reacted badly to the naturalist styles of writing which used ordinary, and not fantastic, heroic or romantic themes. Instead, symbolism was inspired by the earlier Romanticist movement.


French writer, Emile Zola, was an important and influential Naturalist figure in literary history. His early works include literary pieces such as "The Mysteries of Marseilles," the story of a man's devotion in protecting his impoverished brother, his brother's wife and their baby, and "Therese Raquin," the story of a young woman who is forced to marry her first cousin by a terrible aunt. Arthur Rimbaud, a French poet, was an ingenious and highly influential figure of the Symbolist movement. A few of his works include "The Drunken Boat" and "A Season in Hell."

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