In Stephen King's novel The Shining, there seems to me to be a correlation between the weather and the sanity of Jack Torrance.

Namely, as the Torrance family becomes more isolated (i.e. people from the hotel are leaving), the closer Jack gets to insanity and the more powerful and violent the storm is.

This has reminded me of the literary movement known as Naturalism, where even known there's no causation there is a correlation of the external outside weather and the internal state of affairs.

Is the stormy weather in the novel an element of naturalism, or am I interpreting things wrong?


1 Answer 1


In 1856, John Ruskin coined the term pathetic fallacy (in Modern Painters, Volume III, Part IV) to denote the attribution of human feelings to inanimate objects. One of the examples he gave comes from the poem The Sands o' Dee by Charles Kingsley:

They rowed her in across the rolling foam,—
The cruel, crawling foam,
The cruel, hungry foam,—

Ruskin commented:

The foam is not cruel, nor does it crawl. The state of mind which attributes to it these characters of a living creature is one in which the reason is unhinged by grief.

Ruskin called this literary device a fallacy because the attribution of human feelings to inanimate objects or to nature is "false"; he called such passages "morbid" (Cuddon, page 692–693). Today, "pathetic fallacy" is no longer used to describe a flaw or weakness in a literary text.[1]

A common example of a pathetic fallacy is

the attribution of bad weather to a deliberate intention on the part of nature, as in Hardy's The Return of the Native where the difficult conditions on Egdon Heath are for Eustacia Vye a result of deliberately hostile nature, whereas for the down-to-earth Thomasin they are merely the impartial actions of nature.
(King & King, page 125)

It is not a device that I would associate with Naturalism; it seems more strongly associated with Gothic fiction (even though the device is much older), since it can serve as a supernatural element. For example, the destruction of an oak tree in the second chapter of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein can be read as an example of pathetic fallacy (see Kilgour, page 211).

What Naturalism emphasises is the strong influence of social conditions and social forces (and human nature) on people's behaviour, rather than the influence of nature.


  • Cuddon, J. A.: The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. Third edition. Penguin 1992.
  • Kilgour, Maggie: The Rise of the Gothic Novel. Routledge, 2013.
  • King, Neil; King, Sarah: Dictionary of Literature in English. Taylor & Francis, 2002.
  • Ruskin, John: Modern Painters. Volume III, containing Part IV: Of Many Things. London: George Routledge, 1856. See specifically Chapter XII: "Of the Pathetic Fallacy", pages 166–188 (on Archive.org).

[1] As far as I know, the pejorative meaning intended by Ruskin derives from the noun "fallacy", not from the adjective "pathetic", which is derived from the noun pathos. The meaning "arousing scorn or contempt, often due to miserable inadequacy" is more recent.

  • Out of interest, did Ruskin use the word "pathetic" with the negative connotations it has nowadays, or was "pathetic" in the English of that time a more neutral word like "pathos"?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jan 4, 2021 at 7:50
  • Ruskin uses "pathetic" in the sense "producing or expressive of emotion", for example, "it is always to be remembered that Titian hardly ever paints sunshine, but a certain opalescent twilight which has as much of human emotion as of imitative truth, in it, and that art of this kind must always be liable to some appearance of failure when compared with a less pathetic statement of facts." (Modern Painters, volume I, p. 90) Jan 4, 2021 at 9:48
  • Ruskin's discussion of the "pathetic fallacy" is in Modern Painters, volume III, pp. 166–183. Jan 4, 2021 at 9:51

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