The nineteenth-century literary movement termed naturalism pits humans struggling against hostile environments. How does Annie Proulx’s “The Blood Bay” express this idea?

Annie Proulx’s “The Blood Bay” expresses naturalism's idea of humans struggling against hostile environments with the dead cowboy and Dirt Sheets cutting off the dead cowboy’s feet to get his boots.

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Annie Proulx’s short story “The Blood Bay” expresses naturalism’s struggle between humans and their hostile environment, as the Wyoming landscape is not too merciful to the humans in her story. The narrative starts with a death. It begins with a Montana cowboy thinking he could make it through Wyoming without mittens or a decent coat. This cowboy was wrong. At night, he freezes to death.

In the opening scenes, Proulx's lone cowboy links to naturalism’s idea that a single person doesn’t have a great chance of overcoming the harsh conditions of nature. Prior to Proulx, Jack London, a key figure of naturalism, expressed the unfavorable odds that a solo individual had of triumphing over nature with stories like “To Build a Fire.” Similar to the lone cowboy in Proulx’s story, the nameless narrator in London’s tale is felled by his harsh environment.

Naturalism doesn’t only entail severity on the part of nature, it also highlights the stark potential of humans. Naturalism shows how nature’s hostility can cause humans to act harshly. In “The Blood Bay,” the merciless condition of the cowboys’ environments compels Dirt Sheets to cut off the dead cowboy’s feet to get the boots. In “To Build a Fire,” the narrator’s dire circumstances lead him to briefly consider killing his dog.

Finally, it might be interesting to think about how Proulx’s story subverts the idea noted in the question. Old Man Grice’s misunderstanding with the horse and the feet arguably suggests that humans are overemphasizing the hostility of their natural environment or, at the very least, the animals that reside in it.

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