Give an example from the works of Stephen Crane or Jack London for each of the characteristics of Naturalism in American literature: Nature is depicted as cruel and indifferent, characters are not...

Give an example from the works of Stephen Crane or Jack London for each of the characteristics of Naturalism in American literature: Nature is depicted as cruel and indifferent, characters are not individualized, and people are pawns of an indifferent universe.

Asked on by mgoun

1 Answer | Add Yours

literaturenerd's profile pic

literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Naturalism was a movement initiated by Emile Zola (a French author). Naturalism became popular in the United States during the Realist movement (given both shared many of the same characteristics). Most evident in Naturalistic writing was the power of nature over man and the lack of free will.

In regards to Stephen Crane, his work in Naturalism depicted nature as being cruel and indifferent in regards to the life of man. In his poem "A Man Said to the Universe" Crane's Naturalistic perspective regarding nature's indifference is made apparent.

A man said to the universe:
"Sir, I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."

Here, nature (the universe) comes off as being utterly indifferent to man.

In regards to "characters not being individualized," one can see an example of this in Crane's short story "The Open Boat." While the names of the characters in the text are intermittently used, the majority of the story refers to the men as titles: the oiler, the corespondent, the cook, and the captain. The men are not named (with the exception of a few names used in dialogue). Therefore, the men remain anonymous and general in character.

Perhaps the best story which depicts mankind as pawns is Jack London's "To Build a Fire." In this story, the man decides to travel across the Yukon for the first time. As a newcomer to the area, he has no clue as to what lies ahead. Thinking that he is strong enough the make the journey, the man's life actually is taken by the extreme cold. Essentially, the one point from the story that proves the man to be a simple pawn is the fact that nothing he does really matters. Nature rules the "game" and even his dog abandons him (able to survive the extreme cold given its "brotherhood" with nature). The man's death means nothing to nature. He set out to conquer the wilderness only to die as a result of his inability to concern himself with the power of it ("Fifty degrees below zero was to him just precisely fifty degrees below zero. That there should be anything more to it than that was a thought that never entered his head.").

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,915 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question