To Build a Fire vs The Love Song of Alfred Prufrock: Compare & Contrast
Jack London’s short story “To Build a Fire” exhibits the American naturalistic tradition of observing and analyzing a character in relation to the surrounding natural set up. The protagonist of the story, the inexperienced arrogant man who tries to gain control over nature is treated in contrast with the wild dog and the climatic changes that follow the rules of nature. The American Dream of building a paradise on the face of the earth and the physical realities involved in the fulfillment of it have brought out many naturalistic narratives like The Old Man and the Sea and Moby Dick. This story forms an integral part of such narratives.
The story has a national significance as a cautionary tale to young readers as well. Even as an adventurous spirit is instilled in young minds with the tales taught at school, a story like this form a part of understanding the immense force nature has over man. It dissuades one from perceiving nature as an adversary in human progress and to see it rather as an ally. For the early American nationalistic fervor, the need to succeed against all odds had seemed to be a necessity. However, this tale warns all those who would be influenced by such a feeling to thoughtless deeds and strikes hard the point that one needs to follow the rules of nature and be in perfect union with it to succeed. Understanding nature in man’s terms may not be an ideal choice when one can always try to understand nature in its own terms.
The story serves many purposes of American literature. It depicts the adventurous spirit of Americans in general, confident of the scientific advancements, and aided with its tools. It shows the wide expanse of unexplored lands in excruciating climatic conditions. It relates to man’s struggle for survival to the unchanging, powerful aspects of nature. It contrasts a wild beast to man, who in essence is a ‘human beast’ in American naturalism. And most importantly, it draws attention to the pragmatic aspects involved in man’s contact with and existence in nature. The second version of the story rises far above the needs of a children’s cautionary tale to address readers who are seriously concerned with narrative inventiveness. Thus the story forms an integral part of the American cultural and literary sphere.
T.S Eliot’s long poem ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ characterizes the poet’s deep concerns with the transnational identity he was about to enhance and the cultural collisions attendant to it. Eliot had obviously been influenced by the Imagist movement and the poetic devices used by him cannot be considered solely American. The emergence of the War and the reactions it stimulated the world over in literary and artistic expressions could not be reduced to any national expression. In this sense, Eliot’s poem cannot be considered purely American. The poet had an education in many European languages and literature, and the influence of them has apparently seeped into this poem. However, it has to be noted that this poem is one of Eliot’s earlier works, written before his conversion to the Anglican faith. Therefore, one can find traces of the American preoccupation with the theme of sin and redemption in the poem.
The narrator is depicted as an overeducated, highly philosophical man who is disillusioned by the prospects of love in man-woman relationships. This has to be linked to the multicultural spaces America had to open up in the changing world order. The earlier moralistic issues that the nation had to deal with in its formative years now gives way to the inevitable clash of cultures that it has to accommodate inside itself. The ideas of liberty had to be redefined, and the claims of gender equality brought it many complex issues. Thus the poet ruminates over the different aspects of sexual freedom and how the world is gradually losing its beauty and trust in its constituting elements due to this. The deep concern for personal moral/spiritual laxity amidst intellectual pursuits forms the major theme of this poem.
Even as Eliot traveled through various themes in his poetic realm, his American identity is evident in most of his poems. ‘The Love Song J. Alfred Prufrock’ has the strong Christian elements that he could have imbibed from his American bringing up and education. Moreover, the philosophical endeavors of the poet are basically from the perspective of an American even as it encompasses a worldview from the different terrains he inhabited in due course. This is sufficient to justify the poem in an anthology of American literature.