Choices and Responsibility in London's To Build a Fire and Crane's The Open Boat
Naturalism portrays humans' control over their actions and fate as limited and determined by the natural world, including their very humanity. The freedom described by Jean-Paul Sartre results in all individuals having the ability to make present choices independently. Despite the fatalism illustrated in naturalism, the characters in London's 'To Build a Fire' and Crane's 'The Open Boat' are ultimately responsible for their choices and consequences of their choices.
In 'To Build a Fire,' the man's antagonist is nature: London displays the man's journey as restricted by external forces. First, the temperature of the tundra is seventy-five-below zero (978), which naturally exposes the man?s ?frailty as a creature of temperature? (977). Obviously the man is subject to the forces of winter, and can not change his homeostasis as a warm-blooded animal. Similarly, London employs the ?traps? (979) of snow-covered pools of water to show that while humans may presume we are invincible, nature will stealthily remind us of our vulnerability (through invisible germs, for example). Just as the man does not see the ?trap? (981) that soaks his legs, he fails to notice the dog?s apprehension regarding their journey (981). Here London shows man's self-proclaimed superiority is falsely assumed, as he lacks the ?instinct? (978) that the dog possess; later, the man can not kill the dog (985), which signifies the dog is not subordinate regarding survival. After the man steps in the water, London notes, ?He was angry, and cursed his luck aloud? (981). By attributing his misfortune to ?luck,? the man relieves himself of responsibility, recognizing himself as a victim of nature. Later, though, he thinks, ?Any man who [is] a man could travel alone? (982) in spite of the weather: this arrogance signifies that the man operates independent of nature.
Though London illustrates how nature is a difficult external force, the man is responsible for his misfortune, as his circumstances are the consequences of his choices. The narrator explains that the man was traveling ?to take a look at the possibilities of getting out logs in the spring? (978); more than likely, he did not have to perform this task, which required taking ?the roundabout way? (978). Also, despite being a ?newcomer to the land? (977), the man fails to bring a human companion to the ?unprotected tip of the planet? (982): just as the Earth is exposed to space here, as the narrator describes, the man has little defense against the cold. The man is not ignorant of the extreme cold, but rather, arrogant; though warned about the conditions (982), the man does not bring anything except a small lunch (978). Another sign of his lack of preparation is his failure to sufficiently protect himself from frostbite: he ?experienced a pang of regret that he had not devised a nose-strap...[that] passed across the cheeks, as well, and...