Type: Literary Analysis
Pages: 5 | Words: 1467
Reading Time: 7 Minutes

Human relationship with nature has been a theme for thinkers and philosophers throughout centuries. Different visions of nature are reflected in literary works also depend on what vision a corresponding author has. In fact, most of theories balance between two polarities some believe that nature is a cradle of humanity and a loving mother while picturing it as a mighty and frightening force, which can be destructive. Literary theories of Romanticism and naturalism have their own visions on what place humans take in relation to nature, which can be traced in the stories under analysis. While “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett presents a Romantic view of nature, picturing a person as its child, “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane and “The Law of Life” by Jack London present nature as irrational and unsympathetic to people, which is based on naturalist philosophy.

Speaking about Romanticism, it is worth saying that nature as a realm of the divine is one of the core concepts of this philosophy. Nature is considered to be a place of utter harmony and tranquility as contrasted to civilization. In fact, human life is said to be tarred by civilization, and more people forget that they are part of a nature, the unhappier and the more morally challenged they appear. “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett is apparently Romantic as nature descriptions are full of fascination. Human life in the country side, as opposed to urban lifestyle is presented as a more natural and joyful one. It is not surprising that a young girl is the main character of the story because living in close contact with nature is associated with innocence as the first stage of humanity’s history. In the text, the author does not merely describe beautiful landscapes, but she also underlines that Silvia keeps in touch with nature and its beings. “A little girl was driving home her cow, a plodding, dilatory, provoking creature in her behavior, but a valued companion for all that”¦

as for Sylvia herself, it seemed as if she never had been alive at all before she came to live at the farm”. The major conflict of the story is a moral choice that the heroine has to make between her sympathy for humans and love for nature. Despite the fact that she is initially charmed by a young ornithologist, in the course of the story she realizes that she cannot give in a bird to be killed by him. In fact, the passion that the man has for killing birds and keeping them as his trophies reflects a perverted relationship between nature and civilization. Humans believe themselves to have the right for destroying nature, yet when it is touched by human hand, it is dead. The author believes that it is a huge mistake of humanity to try and control nature or turn it into an artifact. The reason for passions like the ornithologist has been the desire to possess and greed. People are not only cruel to nature, but they are also eager to possess each other. Yet, the author believes that violence over nature is the first step to other aspects of violence. In contrast, Sylvia has a strong feeling of belonging to nature, which the man does not possess. This is clear by the author’s way of building in the character’s emotions into the description of nature “There was a stirring in the great boughs overhead. They were full of little birds and beasts that seemed to be wide awake, and going about their world, or else saying good-night to each other in sleepy twitters”. When the girl walks through the forest she comes to understanding her own soul in a better way. Despite the fact that she used to live away in the city, she starts believing that nature is her true home. Nature revitalizes her, and the secret of this energy is her understanding that she is a part of nature and hence has access to its every bit, which she is able to absorb. Nature is changeable and versatile, as so is the girl’s mood. In fact, Sylvia mirrors everything she sees around “She was not often in the woods so late as this, and it made her feel as if she were a part of the gray shadows and the moving leaves”.

In contrast, nature is presented in a much less friendly way in Stephan Crane’s story “The Open Boat”. It would be true to say that it challenges Romantic vision of nature as the realm of eternal sense. On the contrary, the shocking implication that the author introduces in the plot and its philosophy unveils the darker aspect of nature. Like Romanticists, the characters of the story initially believe that nature works for them that somehow its works should be full of God’s plan of saving. Yet, they appear to be in the situation when they realize that they are not nature’s favorites just because nature is irrational and indifferent force that is not interested in people’s individual or collective fates. God appears to be dead, so people have to rely only on themselves in order to survive. This bitter insight penetrates the canvas of the text, which describe the story of four men who are lost in the ocean on a small boat. Totally desolated, they have no support either from people or from nature. In fact, description of the sea as it progresses reflects the transformation of consciousness, which the men undergo. At the beginning, they see nature as something that has sense, and that is able to actively participate in the process of existence “The crest of each of these waves was a hill, from the top of which the men surveyed, for a moment, a broad tumultuous expanse, shining and wind-riven. It was probably splendid. It was glorious, this play of the free sea, wild with lights of

emerald and white and amber” (Crane). This initial depiction of the sea appears to be traditionally Romantic because it ascribes intrinsic sense and beauty to nature. Besides, the change of sea’s observation corresponds to the stages of mind altering that the voyagers experience throughout their struggle with nature. In fact, there is an existentialist touch to the story too, which means that the total freedom is what people have. Because nature has no sense or inner logic, the whole responsibility for human life lies on humans themselves. This idea is about losing one’s religion because it takes time for the characters to realize that nature is not alive “If I am going to be drowned–if I am going to be drowned–if I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees?” (Crane). In the end of the story, the sea’s description suggests its absence from participation in human life.

In the same way, Jack London’s story “The Law of Life” is full of Naturalist implications. This means that nature does not work as a loving mother but as a force whose role is just to keep balance on the Earth. This balance between life and death should be kept in order to maintain the circle of the natural process. In fact, nature does not presuppose death in a global sense of the word because this circle is never ending. Because nature includes death as its necessary element, it has no mercy to those who die, so there is no emotionality and humanization of nature. The main character of the story is an old man Koskoosh who is left to die in the snow by his own tribe. In this aspect, nature is contrasted to civilization but in a quite different way than Jewett does. The author suggests that morality is in fact the product of civilization while nature is quite indifferent and rational in some way. “It was the law of all flesh. Nature was not kindly to the flesh” (London). She had no concern for that concrete thing called the individual. Her interest lay in the species, the race. Naturalist perception implies an idea that the law of life is based on survival, in which the strongest go on living while the rest die in this natural struggle for life.

In conclusion, it should be noted that while Jewett follows the philosophy of the Romanticism when describing nature, London and Crane are rather proponents of Naturalism. “A White Heron” states that nature is the realm of God and a key to human morality while the other stories suggest that nature is immoral. Cranes gives rather an existential idea of nature’s irrationality and absence from influencing human life while London believes that nature is rational in many ways because it is based on the law of life and death.

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