TeeJaw Blog

Mother Nature is Not a Loving Mother

Posted in Culture by TeeJaw on Sunday, October 2, 2011, 1: 29 PM

The quotes below are from the short story The Open Boat (1897) buy Stephen Crane (1871-1900), based on his personal experience stranded in a dinghy at sea with three other men after the SS Commodore sank off the coast of Florida on January 2, 1897.  They eventually made it to shore after an arduous struggle on the open sea, with three of the four surviving, including Crane.

As Crane memorialized the event, his short story came to be the opening act in the Naturalism school of American literature, the belief that nature is utterly indifferent to the fate of man, that she is as randomly helpful as hurtful.  The literature of writers who adopted this view of life depicted man as insignificant and inconsequential in the natural world.

At the end of the story, as the men in the open boat finally make it through the breakers and the undertow to land on the beach, nature’s indifference and randomness is demonstrated when a freak wave saves the life of one of the story’s characters, the cook, and is the cause of death of another, the oiler.

The story contains the following two narrative statements the are the theme of the story:

After several unsuccessful attempts to reach the shore and being forced to turn back out to sea to avoid floundering:

“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? Was I brought here merely to have my nose dragged away as I was about to nibble the sacred cheese of life?”

And the narrator sums up the men’s feelings:

When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples. Any visible expression of nature would surely be pelleted with his jeers. Then, if there be no tangible thing to hoot he feels, perhaps, the desire to confront a personification and indulge in pleas, bowed to one knee, and with hands supplicant, saying: “Yes, but I love myself.”

The literary Naturalists from the turn of the 20th century stand in sharp contrast to the strange beliefs of many today who naively believe that man can, merely by the CO2 in his exhaled breath, change the climate of the earth, and that this is such a danger to the natural world and our survival in it that we must expand the EPA from 18,000 employees to over 250,000 to administer and enforce reams of new regulations for the emission of “greenhouse gases”, and that our mere breathing is a significant factor in these purported changes.

 

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