Naturalism vs. Regionalism

What's the Difference?

Naturalism and Regionalism are both literary movements that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States. While Naturalism focuses on the harsh realities of life and the influence of environment and heredity on human behavior, Regionalism emphasizes the unique characteristics and culture of a specific geographic region. Both movements sought to portray a more authentic and realistic depiction of American life, but Naturalism tended to be more pessimistic and deterministic in its outlook, while Regionalism celebrated the distinctiveness and diversity of different regions within the country.


Focus on everyday lifeYesYes
Realistic portrayal of charactersYesYes
Emphasis on natureYesYes
Exploration of social issuesYesYes
Use of local colorNoYes
Focus on individual psychologyYesNo

Further Detail


Naturalism is a literary movement that emerged in the late 19th century, focusing on the depiction of realistic and often harsh aspects of life. Naturalist writers sought to portray human beings as subject to natural forces beyond their control, such as heredity and environment. This movement was heavily influenced by the scientific theories of Charles Darwin and the idea of survival of the fittest. Naturalist literature often featured characters from the lower classes and explored themes of poverty, violence, and social injustice.


Regionalism, on the other hand, is a literary movement that emerged around the same time as Naturalism but focused on the unique characteristics of specific regions or locales. Regionalist writers sought to capture the essence of a particular place and its people, often celebrating the local customs, dialects, and landscapes. This movement was influenced by the growing interest in regional identity and the desire to preserve local traditions in the face of industrialization and urbanization.


While Naturalism and Regionalism both emerged in response to the changing social and cultural landscape of the late 19th century, they differ in their thematic focus. Naturalist literature tends to explore the darker aspects of human existence, such as poverty, violence, and social inequality. Characters in Naturalist works are often portrayed as victims of their circumstances, with little agency to change their fate. In contrast, Regionalist literature celebrates the unique qualities of a particular place and its people, emphasizing the importance of local traditions and customs.


In terms of characterization, Naturalist writers tend to focus on the psychological and physiological aspects of their characters, often portraying them as products of their environment and heredity. Characters in Naturalist works are often depicted as flawed and morally ambiguous, struggling against the forces of nature and society. Regionalist writers, on the other hand, tend to create characters that are more rooted in their cultural and geographical context, embodying the spirit of a particular place and time.


The setting plays a crucial role in both Naturalist and Regionalist literature, but in different ways. Naturalist writers often use the setting to reflect the harsh realities of life, portraying urban slums, rural poverty, and industrial landscapes in vivid detail. The setting in Naturalist works serves to underscore the deterministic forces that shape the lives of the characters. In contrast, Regionalist writers use the setting to evoke a sense of place and community, capturing the unique atmosphere and character of a specific region.

Language and Style

Both Naturalist and Regionalist writers pay close attention to language and style, but for different purposes. Naturalist writers tend to use a more objective and detached tone, emphasizing the scientific observation of human behavior and the natural world. The language in Naturalist works is often stark and unadorned, reflecting the harsh realities depicted in the narrative. Regionalist writers, on the other hand, use language to capture the unique dialects and speech patterns of a particular region, creating a sense of authenticity and local color in their works.


Despite their differences, both Naturalism and Regionalism have had a lasting impact on American literature. Naturalist writers such as Stephen Crane and Theodore Dreiser paved the way for a more realistic and socially conscious approach to storytelling, influencing later movements such as realism and social realism. Regionalist writers such as Sarah Orne Jewett and Kate Chopin helped to preserve the cultural heritage of specific regions in the face of increasing homogenization and globalization. Both movements continue to inspire writers today, reminding us of the importance of capturing the complexities of human experience and the richness of local traditions.

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