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Identify three descriptions of human action in the story that could also describe the...

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reedcapps | Student, Grade 10 | Honors

Posted July 1, 2013 at 6:17 PM via web

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Identify three descriptions of human action in the story that could also describe the actions of animals. How do these descriptions reflect Naturalist ideas about people's helplessness in the face of nature and circumstances?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 2, 2013 at 12:14 AM (Answer #1)

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One example of the animalist tendencies of human beings that can be seen in the story would be the landscape of war that the Lieutenant walks through as he searches for help.  There is a savagery in what he sees that resembles the world of animals.  The death and destruction that is all around him, the conditions that reduce his horrific injury to a mere "episode of war," help to illuminate how humans resemble the animalistic condition of the natural world.  This detail also helps to underscore the Naturalist idea about people's helplessness in the face of nature and circumstances.  The Lieutenant is unable to change this landscape, unable to help to alleviate anyone else's suffering and unable to minimize his own.  There is a helplessness intrinsic to the human condition that the condition of war evokes.

Another example of a human being's actions that could also describe the actions of animals would be the futility that surrounds the Lieutenant.  The quest to find help causes the Lieutenant to encounter people who really cannot do much to help him.  The soldier who scolds him for not taking care of his wound, and yet cannot take care of it himself is one such example.  In such an interaction, human beings are no different than animals who flail at one another in the face of conditions that overwhelm their own sense of being in the world.  This helps to illuminate how the Naturalist believes that placing individuals in particular conditions can reveal their true nature.  Akin to a scientist who seeks to mix circumstances in order to bring out a true essence of a compound or element, human beings placed in conditions larger than their own can reduce the complexity of the human being to an animal, unable to effect their world or their place in it.

Finally, consider the narrator's description of the Lieutenant's experience as a mere "episode of war."  There is a dehumanizing, almost animal- progression at how the Lieutenant's condition is not really much in the face of war.  The loss of the Lieutenant's arm is horrific, as evidenced in the sobbing of his wife, mother, and sisters.  Obviously, they see it as more than an "episode of the war." Yet, the narrator speaks to this in a very detached manner.  This is “the story of how the lieutenant lost his arm" and is a reflection of just "an episode of war."  There is a detachment of emotion regarding this, almost exploring a purely objective view of human consciousness.  This is Naturalist in scope and reduces human beings to atomized elements in which the Naturalist is seeking to explore more of being in the world, without expressing any emotion or hope of redemption in it. Humans are helpless in this condition of being in the world. This is animalistic and natural in scope because it does not seek to place any additional value on what it means to be human.  In this, being human is no different than any other organism in the scope of consciousness.

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