Despite the fact that all of the authors for the realism and naturalism unit seem to seek the same aim—to represent things as they really are—each author in his or her turn has a very different...
Despite the fact that all of the authors for the realism and naturalism unit seem to seek the same aim—to represent things as they really are—each author in his or her turn has a very different understanding of what the truth is.
Compare and contrast Henry James's Daisy Miller: A Study and Jack London's "To Build a Fire."
What is the fundamental truth for each author you've chosen to compare?
What do these two truths have in common with each other?
In what ways are these truths in conflict, or opposed to, each other?
To some extent, James's Daisy Miller: A Study and London's "To Build a Fire" share the same truth: that humans misjudge the world and people around them. In Daisy Miller, Winterbourne believes he understands the effervescent Daisy Miller. When he first meets her, he thinks:
"He had a great relish for feminine beauty; he was addicted to observing and analyzing it; and as regards this young lady's face he made several observations. It was not at all insipid, but it was not exactly expressive; and though it was eminently delicate, Winterbourne mentally accused it—very forgivingly—of a want of finish. He thought it very possible that Master Randolph's sister [Daisy] was a coquette."
Winterbourne appraises Daisy as if she were an object of art or a painting, but he doesn't understand her interior at all. Mr. Giovanelli, the Italian man who courts Daisy, has a better understanding of her. After she dies, Giovanelli says of Daisy, "She was the most beautiful young lady I ever saw, and the most amiable...and she was the most innocent." Winterbourne is aghast that Giovanelli would describe Daisy as innocent—a quality that he has never perceived in Daisy. Though Winterbourne admires her beauty, he never comprehends her fundamental innocence and falsely considers her a shameless flirt.
Like Winterbourne, the unnamed main character in "To Build a Fire" does not understand the world around him or his companion, a husky dog. The man disregards advice not to venture out on such a cold day in the Yukon; however, the dog beside him is keenly aware of the peril of being out in the cold. As London writes:
"This man did not know cold. Possibly all the generations of his ancestry had been ignorant of cold, of real cold, of cold one hundred and seven degrees below freezing-point. But the dog knew; all its ancestry knew, and it had inherited the knowledge. And it knew that it was not good to walk abroad in such fearful cold."
The dog could be a useful companion to the man, but he instead decides to slay the dog. As London writes:
"He would kill the dog and bury his hands in the warm body until the numbness went out of them. Then he could build another fire. He spoke to the dog, calling it to him; but in his voice was a strange note of fear that frightened the animal, who had never known the man to speak in such way before. Something was the matter, and its suspicious nature sensed danger—it knew not what danger, but somewhere, somehow, in its brain arose an apprehension of the man."
The dog understands the reality of the situation far better than the man, who has underestimated the deadliness of the Yukon in the cold and failed to rely on the dog beside him. Even as the man is freezing to death, he curses the warmth and security that the dog could provide him. In the end, he, like Winterbourne, has misjudged his companion.
The differences between the two stories are that Winterbourne's companion, a woman, dies, while in "To Build a Fire," the man dies while his companion, a husky, lives on. The truth in Daisy Miller is that misjudging others results in others' demise, but in "To Build a Fire," misjudgment results in one's own death.