The cold of space smote the unprotected tip of the planet, and he, being on that unprotected tip, received the full force of the blow. The blood of his body recoiled before it. The blood was alive, like the dog, and like the dog it wanted to hide away and cover itself up from the fearful cold.
—Jack London, “To Build a Fire”
Whenever I am teaching the philosophy of the American Naturalists in my literature classroom, this passage is the one that I try to focus my students’ attention on in order to exemplify the attitude that the naturalists held about man’s place in the universe. A lot of my students make the mistake of assuming that a writer who is a naturalist simply likes to tell stories about nature, which is, I suppose, easy to do if you are looking at stories like London’s “To Build a Fire” or something like Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat.” However, the term actually derives from the discipline of the naturalist, one way of describing a species of scientists of the nineteenth century.