Nature And Humans In The Short Stories Of Jack London And Henry David Thoreau
Two short stories ‘To Build a Fire’ by Jack London and ‘Solitude’ by Henry David Thoreau demonstrate situations when a person is liaised with nature. However, the approach of the main characters of the short stories to such state of events is exactly opposite. Both literary describe the plight of a person who is willingly or accidentally left alone in the woods and either enjoy this juxtaposition of civilized and wild or fights with forces of nature, but they both try to embrace nature and accept it for what it, whether it is the wrong or right way. The reading materials show how one can either benefit from the gifts of nature or become a victim of its frightening power. The outcome of the human’s interaction with uncontrolled powers is dependent on one’s approach and attitude towards circumstances as well as on the ability to find unity with nature. The short stories are suitable for the comparison because they introduce how much the approach of the individual may alter regarding the love of nature, and not only that, but how one treats nature. Through this essay, we have learnt how nature can be an enemy as well as a friend depending on how we humans treat it.
The reading material ‘To Build a Fire’ tells about a desperate traveler who is suffering due to the severe weather, he goes out into nature thinking that he is able to overcome anything that nature can offer. The problem of the story is the capacities of a person’s physical and psychological endurance. The author is delivering a message that a human is a physically weak being, whose life is strongly affected by external factors. Such as natural occurrence like, lower temperatures being a death sentence for a human that is vulnerable being. The fear of fighting the forces of the North make the one loses chivalry and humanity. He is willing to conduct frightening deeds such as murdering of the loyal dog in order to get a little chance of survival. The author describes one day in the life of the character that turns out to be his last day. The man was going to a tricky bypass path in order to reach his mates. The man does not occupy himself with thoughts on the way. He is scared and anxious to be alone with nature at the same time. The traveler cannot appreciate its ancient beauty and, thus, fails to utilize its resources in the right way in order to overcome the obstacles. He perceives nature as an enemy rather than an ally that may help him to cope with the adversity. The author continues to describe the hardships of the man that are directly related to his skeptical mood. The man had accidentally fallen through the ice and wet his feet. This event only annoys him at first and provokes irritation. He did not expect that such a tiny incident would become a dreadful danger for him. When a man manages to make a fire, he is pleased and relieved. The traveler realizes that he has been saved by his practical knowledge of survival. The bonfire symbolizes the tranquility of life in civilization and the alleged victory over the uncontrolled forces. However, such relief turns out to be a short-lasting delusion, because nature does not want to succumb to a man who does not respect its power. Due to own of ignorance and lack of attention, the traveler made a fire under the spruce tree. The snow that fell from the branches put out the bonfire and left him with no hope for survival once again. The traveler is able to have thoughts on profound topics for the first time right before his inevitable death. Nature has taught him to respect powers that are within his control and embrace his plight calmly. The loneliness that he was so afraid of during the course of the plot becomes his last asylum. The company of the wild woods is the last thing he experiences while trying to reach civilization. Therefore, the short story reveals that it is unwise to treat the wild as an enemy and neglect the caution signs that life gives. The arrogance of humans often leads to terrifying consequences nature sees how weak the man from the start and takes advantage of that, as opposed to his dog, that uses instinct from the beginning and ends up surviving. Thus, it is naive to assume that the one can compete as an equal against uncontrolled powers without even putting any effort in trying to win or survive.
The story of Henry Thoreau ‘Solitude’ conveys a completely opposite message on the same topic. The main character who is a narrator of the story enjoys unity with nature and seeks to strengthen this bond with ancient heritage. He goes into the woods due to his own will to live in the wild. The man makes such a decision in order to feel cohesion with his roots. The narrator understands his relation to the wild world of the ancestors. Moreover, the man realizes the actual meager value of one person’s life against the background of the tremendous power of nature that had been existing for millions of years. However, the main character is by no means a weak opportunist who only succumbs before uncontrolled forces. He nourishes from the power of nature and finds comfort, joy and pleasure in it. The author claims that a person is often alone in society even though he or she is part of the crowd. People get bored with each other’s company quickly. This tendency is present because everyone is fed up with the same ideas and thoughts that circulate within civilized society. However, nature makes it possible to relax morally and be filled with energy in order to re-learn how to feel on a deeper level and think more broadly. While the protagonist denies the tremendous power of nature in the short story by London, the man from the literary work by Thoreau accepts this power willingly. According to the narrator, nature provides remedies for both the body and the soul. The human being only needs to benefit from given opportunities and use the provided resources. However, most of the contemporary society members fail to admit that these capacities exist and prefer to be narrow-minded and blind. The company of trees and animals is much more pleasant for the main character because he can feel an attachment to ancient wild roots. Moreover, the character’s ideas are based on much deeper motives than the sudden epiphany of a traveler who is dying in the Arctic. The main character claims that the Earth is tiny and miserable against the background of eternal space. According to Thoreau, every person needs to understand that he or she cannot be the center of the universe. Our fears, problems and wishes are insignificant in the context of the fleeting time. After all, every human being is destined to become integral with the Earth after death. The narrator considers that our existence only reinforces ancient wild powers because each living being reunites with nature as compost that fertilizes the soil. It is peculiar that his feelings are not one-sided. Nature reaches out to the wise man in return. He finds different flowers and leaves that had been left by the visitors at his home. This detail symbolizes that the ancient forces respect the narrator’s life path and accept him as an equal. Not only that, we have seen how nature can be very dangerous to humans if not respected, we humans tend to push nature too far, or take it for granted and in the end, it eventually turns against us, just embracing it and respecting it brings that love between human and nature. In this story by Thoreau, though this traveler leaves human contact to embrace nature, his survival would have gone either way, it’s the how he embraced it, no fear, loved and appreciated it, and in the end, it brought love and peace. All in all, Thoreau showcases in his short story that a completely different attitude towards uncontrolled forces leads to a pleasing result. The main character lives in happiness and prosperity because of his spiritual connection with nature itself. Therefore, nature can serve as a source of inspiration and peace for the one who had learnt to see the wild from such a perspective.
Therefore, the two short stories are about the synergy of a man with the powers that are much more ancient and mightier than his own abilities. The traveler from Jack London’s literary piece neglects the opportunities and hunches that nature gives and tries to endure the frighteningly weather. The man fails in his attempt to get through the woods and dies at the end of the story due to the unpleasing circumstances, not because he could not survive what nature offered, but he took nature for granted, assumed whatever nature can offer or throw at him, he can handle. Even with the little knowledge he had about camping, if he didn’t take anything for granted, I honestly believe he would have survived. For example, if we look back to the movie “wild”, Cheryl has no idea about camping, but she does respect nature, if she feels thirty, she tries to find something to drink even if the water is undrinkable, so she uses a filter and eventually survive.
The man from Thoreau’s literary work has a special connection with nature. The main character treats it as the main source of life power and strength. Contrary to the position of London’s traveler, the narrator does not try to challenge ancient forces. In fact, the man attempts to utilize them for own benefit and even succeeds in it. The character learns to enjoy solitude and treats the calamity of social life skeptically. If nature threw something hash at him, he tries to make the best out of it, doesn’t look at these obstacles as enemies, but as a learning example and keeps moving.
As seen from the essay, these short stories outline how the situations when one is affected by the powers of nature may vary. How nature can be a friend and an enemy, also teaches us that, one doesn’t to be an expert to succeed in something, one has to learn to respect and love nature. If nature throws obstacles, they need to keep going and maybe, through these obstacles, nature trying to say or warn about something. As stated earlier, either stories would have ended up differently, it’s not about having lack of knowledge or being an expert at something, because nature doesn’t know about that, it’s all about love, trust, respect of nature, or else, nature will become man’s worst nightmare just like in the story “How to Build a Fire”.
- London, Jack. “To Build a Fire.” Lost Face, 1910, pp. 257-71.
- Thoreau, Henry David. “Solitude.” Walden; or, life in the Woods, 1854, pp. 48-53.
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