Naturalism in Jack Londons "To Build a Fire"

Topics: Nature, Free will, Naturalism Pages: 5 (2028 words) Published: December 9, 2010
Naturalism, It Explains Why I Wrote This Paper

Even with our ability to tame some sides of nature, there are still certain conditions and forces which are beyond control; we inevitably are left with no will, powerless against nature’s indifferent influence. This struggle against nature is depicted by many authors of the 19th and early 20th centuries, using key concepts of naturalism and determinism, a key component of naturalist theory, as a foundation and philosophy for many of these stories. Jack London and Stephen Crane are notorious for their writings which have been regarded as cornerstones of naturalist theory in classic American literature. Stories such as "to Build a Fire", "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky”, convey themes of naturalism and universal determinism in order to show the protagonist’s lack of free will in his constant battle with nature, often foreshadowing catastrophe and displaying natural instinct found within each character. In theory of Naturalism, nature holds certain precepts that even our own will and integrity cannot bend or break. Charles Darwin, creator of the theory of evolution, believed in patterns of natural selection and that over time our environment will shape our genetics. Even we as humans, in Darwin theory, are susceptible to change as we have no free will and our environment shapes and determine things for us. We in speculation have no control over our own fates; we only have choices that will lead us towards a certain future, one that is decided by nature, and not the individual. In the story, "To Build a Fire", London makes us aware that the protagonist is completely unaware of that notion, he believes with his own determination and will he can conquer the deepest hardships of the wild, attempting to defy the words spoken to him by the old man at Sulphur Creek. The adventurer simply believes through his own resolve that this expedition is simply an obstacle to which he can survive, but when set against nature in this environment, survival is the key concept, a profound element when talking about Naturalism. The forces of nature and its destructiveness are beyond the protagonist’s control, and London makes that point when he talks about the cold and its effects on the explorer, saying “But, rub as he would, the instant he stopped his cheekbones were numb, and the following instant the end of his nose went numb.”(London, pg 1064) Though the man, through his own determination, attempts to warm himself by rubbing his cheeks and the end of his nose with his mitten, he is unable to fulfill this desire, as nature takes hold of his destiny. This sense that nature prevails can also be read in lines such as “He pulled the mitten on the right hand, and beat it fiercely against his knee” (London, pg 1064) He is essentially fighting, savagely, against nature though is unable to triumph. It is somewhere between his spittle freezing and his face forming frostbite that the man should come to some conclusion about his place in nature. Yet as London described before, his inability to recognize the “significance” of nature and her power puts him in an awful position. His conceit will continue to lead him towards a desolate and bleak future, until finally he will become helpless and feeble amongst the supremacy of nature. It is important to note that the first incident sprung on to the character in this story is passed off as something of bad luck, “He cursed his luck aloud”(London, pg 1063 ). The word luck whether bad or good, implicates his lack of free will, luck is something not controlled by him, as suggested by the naturalist theory. It is even more important to take note of phrasing used in his second and most devastating incident. London uses the phrase, “It was his own fault or, rather his mistake”(London, pg 1062) when describing the occasion when the spruce tree collapses onto his final chances for survival. London follows fault with mistake in order...
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