Forces of nature in the naturalistic novel : Dreiser and Hardy
This study refocuses the current critical discussion of determinism and character identity development in Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie, a predominantly "urban" novel, by juxtaposing the ways in which the natural world functions deterministically in Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native and Theodore Dreiser's The Bulwark. First, a close reading of The Return of the Native suggests that characters' interactions with the natural world determine their identities by forcing shifts in perception and complicating their abilities to assert an identity apart from their environments. Then, a reading of The Bulwark—a novel in which Dreiser deals with the natural world quite directly—allows an exploration of how these same patterns of perception, understanding, and identity formation take shape in a text by Dreiser. The final chapter of this study synthesizes these readings of The Return of the Native and The Bulwark as a means of entry into an analysis of Sister Carrie's deterministic forces. Ultimately, attention to how the natural world influences characters through its timelessness and infinite size, as well as to how the natural world shapes a character's perspective and sense of self, adds to our understanding of the novel's determinism.