To Build a Fire by Jack London

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What is "Naturalism" in "To Build a Fire"?

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Jonathan Beutlich eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Naturalism is a great literary movement. It focuses on how nature is essentially unaware of mankind's struggles against nature's dominating presence. If nature is aware, then Naturalism says that nature doesn't care about mankind's efforts. Stephen Crane wrote a wonderful short poem that I think encapsulates Naturalism as a literary movement. The poem is "A Man Said to the Universe."

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”
Notice that nature has this wonderfully cold indifference to mankind. London's story quite literally explores the cold indifference by having the man struggle against intensely cold conditions. The man fights and fights against the cold and oncoming hypothermia; however, nature doesn't do anything to respond to and encourage the man's efforts. Nature doesn't do anything to discourage the man either. Nature simply exists regardless of human efforts. To drive the point...

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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