Literary Interpretation Part 2


Terms to Know and Use for Discussing

Author’s Purpose, Theme, and Characterization

determinism, influenced by the rationalism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Determinists believe that every event is the inevitable result of antecedent causes. Applied to ethics and psychology, determinism usually involves a denial of free will. In some respects, determinism is similar to predestination; however, determinism is not theologically based. Determinists believe our fate is decided by circumstances beyond our control, circumstances such as our environment. The institutions of society – control us, as well as our own psychology. If I am born into an inner city family that does not value education, then my educational future is determined, which, in turn, controls my economic future. Today, based on genetic studies, some are advancing the idea that my disposition for diseases (as well as my emotional/psychological attributes) is “built into my genetic structure.” This is an expression of determinism.


existentialism emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in an indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one’s acts. For a broader description see part 4


naturalism, in literature, a philosophical attitude that became dominant in early twentieth century.

Naturalism is based on realism and determinism, but it adds another dimension. The naturalist places emphasis on the importance of environment. The environment in which the individual finds himself controls whether or not the individual will succeed or overcome adversity, and “environment” is a broad term–it can be society, government, culture, family or our own psychology.  Our fate is decided by circumstances beyond our control.

In expressing his/her attitude toward life, the naturalist seems to say: “I must try to overcome; I must struggle against adversity.”  The individual does try–but the individual will fail. The individual may think there is a chance of success, but the odds against him/her are too great. The reader may conclude that such a character is a tragic hero because he/she struggled valiantly, or the reader may conclude that such a character is simply “pitiful” for fighting a losing battle.

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