A Investigation Into Naturalism and Romanticism

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Man’s Relationship With Nature
The theme of man versus nature is one of the most widely explored topics in the realm of art and literature. Although long-range communication was unthinkable during the earlier years of art, influential artists and writers worldwide shared a common trait within their works. Many of these writers and artists never heard of or met one another, and each approached their subject with their own unique styles; however, they were ultimately able to explore the same theme of man versus nature by using their personal experiences and imagination. Within many areas of literature, the theme typically features a person or a group of people who attempt to overcome hardships such as natural disasters, supernatural occurrences, and “acts of God.” Similarly, the theme is represented in art, in its depiction of people stuck amidst a disaster or in a difficult situation in nature. As literature and the arts evolve, the theme of man versus nature is depicted in both obvious and subtle ways. In the earlier years, the theme generally focused on the idea of an impending doom or inevitable hardship, but in many modern works, this has widely shifted to feature people willingly choosing their fate to face the merciless beatings of nature. Though varied in appearance, all of these works, whether new or old, prove that the theme of man versus nature can be categorized into two subgenres: the naturalistic perspective and the romantic perspective. A common trait among works that feature the theme of man versus nature is the naturalist concept that nature is cold and unforgiving, and man either rises above or falls when facing a certain hurdle or challenge. If the challenge proves to be too difficult, the person perishes or returns to the drawing board. In many of the works produced before modern meteorological technology was available, such as in John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath, or in Winslow Homer’s The Gulf Stream, the characters depicted are unable to avoid their looming troubles. Only by overcoming what nature presents can each person achieve what he or she originally set out to do. In The Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family has no way of avoiding the huge dust storms, nor do they have any say in the deaths that ravage their family. Their approaches to the hardships they face, however, significantly influence their chances of success. If they had not tied Grandpa Joad up and forced him to leave or continued on their path even though Grandma Joad was sick, the family would have never made it to California. Similarly, in The Gulf Stream painting, the man stuck in the boat has absolutely no control over the weather, nor does he have any influence over the sharks circling beneath him. What he does have control of is his response to the situation. The man on the deck seems strangely at ease, and unusually calm in the storm, allowing him to make smart decisions (Reiss). Although The Gulf Stream only represents a single moment in time, Homer follows up this work with another painting, one presumably depicting the same man washed up on the shore of an island (“Winslow Homer”). As a result, one can assume that the decisions the man made during the storm were ones that positively influenced the outcome and did not lead to his downfall. In both these examples, it is simply nature serving the parties their share of misfortune, and luckily, both parties do not fall to their challenge. Another important factor that the theme of man versus nature embodies is the concept that nature can hold a direct relationship with a character’s future and thus be a representation of a person’s misfortune. In John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, the challenge the Joad family faces is their constant battle with the devastating effects the Dust Bowl has on their crops and livestock. When dust storms riddle the Southwest and caused major ecological and agricultural disasters, the Joads’ vegetables and grains stop growing because sunlight...
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