Grand Canyon University
American Literature II
September 28, 2011
September 29, 2011
Naturalism was a literary movement that took place from the 1880s until the 1940s. It used realism as a mechanism to suggest that social conditions, heredity, and environment had a monumental impact in changing or defining human character. Naturalism exposes the dark areas of life and how they affected people, such as sex, violence, disease, prejudice, abandonment, disease, and even death. Naturalism, in short, is a need to return to the earth. (Williams, 571) A prime example of this literary theory was the story “The Law of Life”, written by Jack London.
The story tells the tale of Old Koskoosh, a chief of a Eskimo tribe from the Klondike, a part of the Arctic region of northwest Canada. His tribe left him alone in the snow to face his death as they travel on without him, despite the fact that he grew was blind and lame during the course of their journey together. His son leaves him a pile of sticks to feed the fire beside him. Symbolism arises in the appearance of the fire that he starts. When the fire dies, so will he. As he waits alone for death, he thinks of the time he left his own father in the snow. He also remembers having seen a sick, old moose killed by wolves when it straggled behind the rest of the herd. "It was the law of all life," he decides. When he feels the cold nose of a wolf on him and hears the pack's footsteps surround him, he first fights them off, then gives in.
Now that the summary of the story has been provided, it is now time to connect the dots and draw the correlation of how “The Law of Life” falls into the category of Naturalism. The first aspect that makes this story a prime example of Naturalism is the amount of realism that was incorporated into its creation. The narrator gives a realistic account of a old man whom is coming to terms about eventual demise. Certain lines such as “It was the last time he would hear that voice.” and “In the end, Death waited, ever-hungry and hungriest of them all.” conveys to the reader that Old Koskoosh’s health is dwindling with each passing sentence. Another characteristic of the story that allows it to be classified under the Naturalism genre is the fact that the entire story focuses around abandonment. This was established within the very first paragraph of the story, as shown in the excerpt “Sit-cum-to-ha was his daughter's daughter, but she was too busy to waste a thought upon her broken grandfather, sitting alone there in the snow, forlorn and helpless”. At first, Old Koskoosh panicked at the thought of dying alone in the freezing cold, but slowly and surely he started to realize his fate and why his family members made the decision to pursue on and leave him behind. An aspect of the story that really made it stand out and gave it an added touch of realism was how calmly Old Koskoosh accepted his fate. Evidence of this acceptance can be seen in this excerpt: “He bowed his head in content till the last noise of the complaining snow had died away, and he knew his son was beyond recall. Then his hand crept out in haste to the wood. It alone stood between him and the eternity that yawned in upon him. At last the measure of his life was a handful of fagots. One by one they would go to feed the fire, and just so, step by step, death would creep upon him. When the last stick had surrendered up its heat, the frost would begin to gather strength. First his feet would yield, then his hands; and the numbness would travel, slowly, from the extremities to the body. His head would fall forward upon his knees, and he would rest. It was easy. All men must die.” Within this passage, Old Koskoosh comes to terms that his son is gone and beyond reach. The branches that were left in his company to feed the flame that was...