Naturalism1:Excerpts:FantaisiePrintaniere

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One of the strongest examples of Naturalist work is "Fantaisie Printaniere" by Frank Norris. This short story exemplifies the tenants of Naturalism, highlighting characters whose actions are based on experience and environment, not free will.


“McTeague had once been a dentist, and had had “parlors” up at the respectable end of the street. But after a while the license office discovered that he had no diploma; in fact, had never attended a college of any sort, and had forbidden him to practice. So McTeague had taken to drink. Ryer, some years back, had been a son of small stock-dealers on the outskirts of Butchertown, and had done fairly well until the Health Board reported him to the Supervisors because he had fattened his hogs on poultices obtained from the City and County Hospital. The result was a lamentable scandal, which finally drove him out of business. So Ryer had taken to drink.”

This passage highlights the Naturalist notion that characters' fates are defined by environment and experiences, not personal choices. Because their livelihoods were taken away, the men turned to drink and were forced into an impoverished environment.

“Both men trashed their wives, McTeague on the days when he was drunk, which were many, Ryer on the days when he was sober, which were few…Ryer found amusement in whipping Missis Ryer with a piece of rubber hose…McTeague…used the club…”

Naturalists asserted that man is an extension of nature, and the brute side of humanity cannot be quelled. McTeague and Ryer illustrate the beastliness of men by beating their wives remoreselessly, an aggressive, animal act. Thier animal instincts are exposed under the influence of the harsh environment. Alcohol also serves to exacerbate the primative instincts of the men. The power of the environment to influence the men's behavior supports the Naturalist theory.

“ ‘Ah, yes,’ said Trina loftily, ‘little scars, little flesh wounds like that! You never had any bones brokun. Just look at that thumb,’ she went on proudly. ‘Mac did that with just a singul grip of his fist…’”


“ ‘Well, this is what she said,’ exclaimed Trina suddenly. ‘She said Ryer could give her a worse dressing down than you ever gave me, an’ I wouldn’t stand it.’

‘Well,’ declared Missis Ryer, turning to her husband. ‘I ain’t going to let every dirty little drab that comes along say—say—throw mud at my man, am I?...I guess Ryer can do what he likes in his own house. I ain’t goin’ to let any woman tell me that her man is better’n mine, in any way.”

Like animals, the women feel the need to be protective of their kin and defend their sense of power and ownership. The women brag about their only distinctions: how badly their husbands beat them. By attempting to show that she is more badly beaten than her friend, each woman hopes to claim more prestige than the other. The women also become protective of their husbands, defending even their worst characteristics in an attempt to make their husbands seem more powerful. The women strive to protect their only "accomplishments", their abusive husbands and their wounds. In doing so, they exemplify the Naturalist ideas that humans are like animals, defending their territory and fighting for power.

In the story, the females do the “monthly washing” while the men drink and sleep off the need to fight. The women work, but are forced to submit to beating, even after they defend their husbands.

Naturalism states that humans revert to their animal instincts when their environment forces them to do so. The wives in the story carry out the laborious household chores but are still at the mercy of the husbands, who do no work at all. Just as male and female animals fill separate roles in the wild, so too do the McTeagues and Ryers divide the duties of the household, leaving the women as working subordinates and the men as dominating superiors.

The title of the story, which translates to "Springtime Fantasy", makes the reader anticipate a story of love and renewal. The tale of misery that follows seems to contrast with the title, but in reality, the story does tell of "love" in a different environment. The same expression of love (seen through the husbands' and wives' defense of each other) is distorted in the impoverished environment. The effect of the environment on the feelings expressed in the story exemplifies the Naturialist notion that environment, not free will, determines people's actions.


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