‘Open Boat’ (Crane) and ‘To Build a Fire’ (London) revolve around the common theme of naturalism, which implies philosophical action. Both stories depict the inferiority of humans to nature. Both Crane and London try to assert that man does not have free will and is entirely under the control of nature. The men in both stories have a similar fate since both are found trapped in natural forces way beyond their control.
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Similar to the theme of natural forces, in ‘The Open Boat,’ Crane describes the plight of four men who have been shipwrecked and are isolated on the ocean in a tiny dinghy. The fate of these men has been decided by the roaring seas, as a force of nature they can’t circumvent. The central theme in ‘The Open Boat’ is the struggle for survival against extreme natural forces.
London’s ‘To Build a Fire’ shows the helplessness of a man facing adversely cold conditions. It is absolutely impossible for him to change his fate, and he is left with no option but to try and endure the harsh realities of nature. Building a fire is the man’s main goal, for it provides him with the hope of life and survival. However, after building a fire, the man and his dog bask in its momentary pleasure when they find that “for a moment the cold of space was outwitted,” not realizing that the flames would soon wear out and give way to the frigidly cold conditions.
Soon the fire dies down, bringing him closer to death. His hopes for life are revised with the lighting of the second fire, which promises him ‘life with every dancing flame”. Once again, this is short-lived as the fire ends with the falling of snow from a tree, ending not only his hope for life but his life.
Crane Stephen. The Open Boat. 1894. Web.
London Jack. To Build a Fire. 1902. Web.