Define “literary naturalism” and tell how this
philosophy is demonstrated in Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat.” Discuss how the characters’ perspective
impacts their perception of events and how the men in the boat move from a
faulty perception of nature to a clear perception and then return to a faulty
perception. How do these shifts lead to the theme of the story, which you
should be able to state?
The term naturalism describes a type of literature that
attempts to apply scientific principles of objectivity and detachment to its
study of human beings. Unlike realism, which focuses on literary technique,
naturalism implies a philosophical position: for naturalistic writers, since
human beings are, in Emile Zola's phrase, "human beasts," characters
can be studied through their relationships to their surroundings.
Stephen Crane's story "The Open Boat"
is an excellent example of naturalism that actually deals primarily with
nature. Crane's writing focuses mostly on the fact that nature is an
indifferent and powerful force on human lives. He even states that clearly for
readers, saying in regards to the men in the boat that "...it occurs to a
man that nature does not regard him as important..." (McQuade). Nature
overlooks man and any issues he may have with it. This recalls the major
conflict of man versus nature that is common in many naturalist stories.
Voegele points out that Crane brings up the idea that being human
is "that constant striving in the face of futility, and that need for
others that ultimately none of us can deny." ("Naturalism in
"The Open Boat""). This is a slightly warmer, if still cynical,
side to naturalism. Crane brings up the idea that humans never stop trying to
win against nature, even though they never will. Essentially, they never give
up that hope that one day they'll succeed. The other factor is the need
for other people. This is something that is seen in other stories as a negative
factor, for example, Jack London's main character in To Build a Fire didn't
believe he needed anyone's help and ended up dead. Crane sees it a little more
positively, creating camaraderie between the men on the boat. Crane drew from
real life experiences to create realistic naturalist stories that really show
the highlights of a literary movement
Apr 28th, 2015
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