The Theme of Naturalism
A human is a part of nature. It is not a surprise. The only thing which distinguishes people from animals is the way of their living. Since a particular time, people live separately from the other world. They created cities, towns and villages which remind animal zoos. People tend to think that they are on top of the Universe and all the creatures on the Earth, but when they stay alone in the wild nature, not many of them know how to survive. The issue of nature is the basis of the theme of many pieces of literature and it is called naturalism.
The short stories “The Open Boat” and “To Build a Fire” have a common theme of naturalism. The first short story mentioned is written by Stephen Crane. It is about four men who are trapped in the middle of the ocean in a small boat. The reason why they are there is the shipwreck which happened before the story begins. These men are totally different from their profession, complexion, lifestyle, etc. The only thing which unites them is the Crane’s description of them as the antagonists. In their situation, nature plays a role of the indifferent character (Hilfer). It does not help and does not disturb the men. The sun does not stop its rising and setting, birds still fly, even the shark passes by. This attitude of the surroundings has a different influence on the men’s desperation. At the end, when the men swim to the shore, it seems to be obvious that Billie, who was the strongest man, will be the first. The other men were exhausted or injured. The irony is the end when they realize that Billie is dead.
The next short story “To Build a Fire” is written by Jack London. It is the other example of confrontation of the human being with the nature. The main character acts very self-confidently. He challenges himself when he travels to Klondike alone only with his dog. He does not follow the rule not to travel alone in this place, especially on such a cold day. One accident, one sprawl, and his feet are wet (Pizer). To become wet is most dangerous in such a place. All his trials to save his life failed. He cannot build a fire, kill his dog and run a long distance. He dies.
In his short story, Stephen Crane wanted to show that people are unsafe when they are alone with the nature far away from the society. He also shows that it is not the law that the strongest one should win and survive. Nature chooses that. It does not care who a person is or what a person does. The short story tells that everyone is equal in front of the danger caused by nature. The author also underlines the inability of a person to do anything in such situation. Jack London’s short story shows the person who was too self-confident. That is why he has got into trouble. The main character tries all the possible ways to survive, but he fails. The author underlines that jokes with nature, especially with the north cold and strict weather, are silly and senseless. Even though a man has a hope to survive, he is too weak to manage this.
So, both short stories show the situations when people stay face-to-face with nature and are threatened to die. They both describe despair and hopelessness. Both short stories end with death with the aim to show how a person is helpless when he stays on his own far away from the society. Both stories describe unpleasant weather conditions. Moreover, nature is an antagonist. The worst is that it does not care who to take. In both stories, there is someone who survived. In the short story “The Open Boat”, there are three survivors whose getting to the shore is unexpected. The question still remains if they realize how lucky they are, especially when they see the dead body of Billie. In the short story “To Build a Fire”, the survivor is a dog. Its behavior is very strange. Usually dogs are faithful, but in this case, it leaves his dead master and goes to the nearest place where people can be. It is also unusual that the dog does nothing to help his master; perhaps he realizes that the man does not appreciate him anymore when he tries to kill his fluffy friend in order to save his own life. This is also the open question of the story. The open questions which remain at the end of each short story are the last similarities.
There also plenty of differences; for instance, the environment and surroundings of the stories are different: the ocean and the cold space of Alaska. The difference is also in the behavior of the heroes. The characters of the first short story wait for their survival, but the main character of the second one is looking for it. Even though both stories have lethal endings, these deaths differ from each other. In the short story “To Build a Fire”, the death of the main character is not a surprise. The lack of experience and opportunities leads him to death (Pizer). On the other hand, the ending of the story “The Open Boat” is unexpected. The strongest character dies although he has more chances to survive than all the other men. The last difference is in the naturalism conflict. The first short story depicts not only the conflict of the men with the surroundings, but also their self conflicts (Hilfer). Besides the nature-human conflict, the other short story shows the conflict of the man with the lack of experience and survival instincts.
The short stories are spectacular examples of naturalism in American literature. They show how helpless a human is comparing with nature. In both cases, nature protects itself from the invasion of a human being. So, from the other point of view, nature can be defined not only as an antagonist, but also as a protagonist. Unlike realism, where the literary techniques play an important role, naturalism awakes the question of relationships of humankind and nature. Nature wins anyway. The experience of these characters shows that nature is not going to stand the invasions of human beings.