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.
Jason 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
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