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Jack London and Naturalism
and “To Build a Fire”
Naturalism
Application of principles of
Scientific determinism
To fiction and drama
If it's real, it exists in nature
Everything that is real
Exists in nature
Or objects, actions, forces
Which have causes explained
Through
Objective scientific inquiry
The naturalistic view of human beings
is of
animals in the natural world.
In London's “To Build a Fire”
Look for instances in which the man's descriptions
are put in terms that resemble the dog.
Realism vs. Naturalism
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Realism presents the
commonplace
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Naturalism presents
elements that can
reveal a pattern of
ideas
The pattern is that of
scientific theory
Romanticism vs. Naturalism
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Naturalism finds
reality in scientific
laws
The elements is
presents represent
that natural “reality”
or pattern
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Romanticism finds
reality in
transcendent ideas
The elements it
presents represent
that transcendent
“reality” or pattern
Note the differences:
Romanticism acknowledges transcendence.
Naturalism limits itself to what is scientifically
knowable in nature.
Determinism in Naturalism
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Naturalism presents a reality that is
“determined”. Things, people, animals behave
according to natural laws that are predictable.
Examples
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Rocks fall because of gravity
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Animals behave based on instinct
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People behave based on influential forces
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NOTE NOT BECAUSE OF FREE WILL OR
GOD.
Determinism in Naturalism
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Some of the determining factors that “cause”
people to behave in specific ways include
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Mechanistic determinism (from Newton)
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Biological determinism (from Darwin)
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Economic and Social forces (from Marx)
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Inner and Subconscious forces (from Freud)
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Social and Environmental Forces (from
Comte)
What do these “forces” mean for the behavior of
people today?
We hear of these forces often:
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A person behaves as he/she does because
that race has evolved to behave that way.
A person behaves as he/she does because
he/she is poor, rich, upper-class, lower-class.
A person behaves as he/she does because
he/she has repressed social, sexual, anger, or
other issues.
Those examples are very simplified, but speak
somewhat to the “deterministic” way of seeing the
world.
One believes that behavior is caused by outside
forces and there is no transcendent intervention
(God, or even the soul or free will) to change that
behavior. In this way, the human is like an animal,
behaving on instinct and as he/she is bred to
behave.
Consider London's Naturalism
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In “To Build a Fire” London presents “the man”
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Without a name
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In terms that resemble a dog or animal
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W/ a muzzle of ice (283)
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Without imagination (281)
As not reflecting on his death in
transcendent terms (heaven/hell/life-afterdeath) (293)
London's stories tend to present
human struggles
against the forces of nature
in pessimistic terms.
Animals tend to succeed where people do not.
Dog vs. Man
Dog
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Man
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Depressed (282)
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Apprehensive and
questions man's
movements(282)
Does not consider
his frailty (281)
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Not given to thinking
(283)
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Did not know cold
(285)
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Dog and ancestry
had known cold
(285-286)
Deterministic Vision
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Finally, London has us see the deterministic
vision in the man's reflections on his death.
He thinks, “Well he was bound to freeze
anyway, and he might as well take it decently”
(293).
He sees his death as determined because he
did not take the old timer's advice. He dies in
a purely natural context, not a spiritual setting.
Assignment for London
Due June 27 at midnight
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Because this is our last reading in Realism
and Naturalism, reflect (from your own
opinion) what London's approach means to
you. Does his naturalism agree with your
perspective on humanity? What new insights
do you gain from London? What points disturb
you? Please post, and reply to at least one
classmate. You may discuss in depth! He
should provoke some interesting thought in
light of the Christian worldview.
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