Naturalism in Crane’s “The Open Boat” and London’s “To Build a Fire”


Naturalism is a discipline of literature that aims at reproducing the characters of humans with the help of factors such as heredity, environment, chance, and instinct. American literary naturalism is linked with literary realism which is influenced by the behavior of a person who is swayed by heredity and environment.

Open Boat

Crane and London show the internal thoughts and actions of the characters as influenced by forces of nature. In the stories, the actors’ thoughts and actions are controlled by environmental forces. The actors try against all odds to carry on against the hostility and insensitive universe. In the poem, “the open boat”, Stephen talks of four men’s beliefs as they struggle for survival against all inhuman and hostile forces of the sea. He reveals the human struggle with an insensitive environment, which is not concerned with the desire of man to live. When the moon sets and the sun rises, the men start to realize the full extent of their situation.

The men try to look ashore for safety but, the four crew members are subjected to a lot of mistakes that lead to confusion as to how they will get ashore safely. “The correspondent is presented to readers as inquisitive and curious to know the reason for the situation he seems to be trapped in (Crane, 2012)”. The cook is sure of life as he seems very light-hearted. The ship’s captain struggles as he tries to bring the crew ashore safely. The most composed of them is the oiler, who is also presented as the most skeptical to their reaching the shore safely. Stephen develops the character of the four crew members as brothers who come together to fight and work together against the cruel and insensitive nature of the sea surrounding them. “The world around the four men battling against the sea’s harsh nature is dramatically and constantly referred as indifferent to their attempts at humane survival (Crane, 2012)”.

The cook is of the opinion that they will get to the shore safely since people who are ashore will see their problems and come to their rescue. True to the spirit of naturalist literature, the men do not seem to come out of the grasping problem of the sea surrounding them. When they realize that they will not be saved, the captain decides that they have to bring the ship ashore by themselves. As they near ashore, a strong wave sweeps the four men out of the boat and the oiler does not survive. The struggle with the sea must be paid by some price and that was the death of the oiler. Stephen chose the oiler as the sacrificial lamb as he seemed unfriendly to the four. He argues that to battle the sea, man should choose life and be ready to lose all other things.

To Build a Fire

The author of the story “to build a fire” shows a man who went on a journey that was ill-advised after the man refused to heed the advice of the old man, as he is accompanied by his dog. The man was doomed by his inexperience to move in the freezing temperatures. The man did not have the expertise needed to move in near-zero temperatures but he was endowed with the ability to see and focus clearly. London states, “He was keenly observant, and he noticed the changes in the creek, the curves and bends, and timber-jams, and always he sharply noted where he placed his feet (London 2001, p.117).”

The dog also had its instincts as it followed him in the ill-fated journey, but upon his death, the dog uses his instincts to move in the inhuman journey of Yukon. “Then it turned and trotted up the trail in the direction of the camp it knew, where there were other food providers and fire providers (London 2001, p.129).” Jack used nature as the antagonist to the main players’ desire to survive just as Stephen used environment in his poem. London gave the environment a lot of personification in the quest to accomplish the story. He had to accept the inevitable in nature such as death and that he was wrong in not acknowledging the old-timers’ warning of not traveling alone.

Works Cited

Crane, Stephen. The Open Boat. New York: Macmillan, 2012. Print.

London, Jack. To Build a Fire. New York: Macmillan , 2001. Print.