Survival of the Fittest Plots: The Influence of Darwin on Literature

When we think of Charles Darwin, the first thing that comes to mind is his groundbreaking theory of evolution and the concept known as “survival of the fittest.” However, it’s important to note that Darwin’s ideas didn’t just revolutionize the scientific field; they also had a profound impact on literature.

Throughout the literary world, we can trace echoes of Darwin’s theory in various aspects, from the natural selection of characters to depictions of survival struggles in dystopian societies.

The Natural Characters

In literature, much like in nature itself, characters undergo a process akin to natural selection. Authors often create a diverse array of characters, each possessing distinct traits and abilities. Similar to what Darwin proposed, certain characters thrive and endure while others succumb or fade into insignificance.

Let’s consider Jane Austen’s timeless novel “Pride and Prejudice” as an example. The protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, embodies qualities such as wit, intelligence and a strong sense of self. As the story unfolds, these attributes enable Elizabeth to overcome numerous challenges she encounters along her journey towards happiness. Conversely, characters like Mr. Collins – who lack these desirable qualities – are depicted as social outcasts and are met with disdain from both other characters within the book and its readers alike.

Through the use of natural selection in storytelling, writers have the ability to craft authentic and relatable characters who experience personal growth and development as the narrative unfolds. This not only captivates readers but also brings a sense of depth and intricacy to the storyline.

The Struggle for Survival

Darwin’s theory of natural selection, known as survival of the fittest, finds its way into literature by depicting the struggle for survival in challenging and unforgiving environments. Whether we’re reading dystopian novels or thrilling adventure stories, this recurring theme captivates our attention and keeps us engrossed in the narrative.

An excellent illustration of this theme can be seen in Suzanne Collins “The Hunger Games.” Set in a future society plagued by dystopia, the story follows protagonist Katniss Everdeen as she becomes entangled in a televised battle to the death. The characters survival hinges on their skills, resourcefulness and ability to adapt. The fierce competition and constant threat of elimination mirror the harsh struggle for existence observed in nature.

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By incorporating such narratives, authors tap into our primal instincts and craft stories that deeply resonate with readers. These tales of survival not only entertain but also prompt introspection about our own experiences in a world that can sometimes feel like a battlefield.

Evolution of Societies

Darwin’s theory of evolution extends beyond individuals; it encompasses societies and civilizations as well. Literature often delves into exploring how societies evolve and transform over time, reflecting the changes and adaptations that occur within them.

One well known instance is the novel “1984” by George Orwell. In this dystopian tale, the totalitarian regime led by Big Brother suppresses individuality and enforces strict conformity. The society depicted in the story has deteriorated into a harsh and oppressive world, where the vulnerable are easily manipulated and the strong are eliminated. Orwell’s portrayal brings attention to the perils of a society that refuses to adapt and progress, ultimately leading to its downfall.

By incorporating these societal shifts into their stories, authors encourage readers to contemplate the impact of changes in society and question how individual agency shapes the future.

The Pursuit of Adaptation

Darwin’s theory also underscores the significance of adaptation when faced with changing circumstances. Literature often presents characters who must adapt and evolve in order to survive or achieve their objectives.

An excellent example of this can be found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.” Throughout this epic fantasy series, characters like Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee are thrust into a monumental quest. In order to accomplish their mission of destroying the One Ring, they must adapt to various challenges and overcome their own limitations. The story not only showcases personal growth but also illustrates the importance of adaptation and resilience when confronted with adversity.

Authors use the theme of adaptation in their works to remind readers about the significance of being flexible and adaptable in order to withstand challenges and flourish.


Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection has had a profound impact on literature. It has influenced the way authors portray characters, depict struggles for survival and explore the evolution of societies. By incorporating these concepts into their narratives, authors create captivating stories that deeply resonate with readers.

Literature not only entertains but also educates and stimulates critical thinking. By delving into the realm of Darwinian influences in literature, readers can develop a deeper appreciation for the intricacies of storytelling and the strong connections between science and art.

For those interested in exploring Darwin’s influence on literature further, I recommend delving into other works that delve into similar themes. Some notable suggestions include Margaret Atwood’s “Oryx and Crake,” Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” and Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild.”


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