Compare Farley Mowats Work
Naturalism in Mowats: A scientific look at survival of the Fittest, the human beast, and animal
Farley Mowat’s three novels Never Cry Wolf (1963), The People of the Deer (1952), and A Whale for the Killing all agree on the role of naturalism, the plight of the animal, the commercialization of hunting, ruthlessness of man, and survival of the fittest. Mowat records that “my early years as a naturalist were free and fascinating but as I entered manhood and found that my avocation must now become my vocation” (Mowat Never 8).
His novels delve into the need for hunting as a means to survive and zeros into the struggle of survival and survival of the fittest. However, in the rat race of survival, in a subtle manner, Mowat raises the question of the cost of survival: extinction of endangered species, man’s own suffering, or cultural extinction. A Canadian biologist who researches for The Canadian Wildlife Center, Mowat’s autobiographical accounts tell of his dramatic encounters crosses the boundaries of culture into the wild.
These excursions into the wild unexpectedly have a humanizing effect on him as he learns and understands differences either among humans or animals. In Mowat’s novels, animal philanthropy comes to the fore since it is with the intention of putting a halt to perilous hunting techniques that he launches out from civilization to the tundra regions where the Eskimo reside to gain more insight into the plight of the animals. Cultural immersion will teach him several lessons on appreciating life and having more respect for it.
Naturalism is the theory which takes an objective, scientific look at the world where in literature, humans are regarded as the human beasts and the animals are humanized. Mowat’s novels are naturalistic because the explorers (which are all Mowat himself) ventures into nature, performing a scientific study of animals, reasons for rapid extermination, and the Eskimo community which subsist on these animals. In naturalist novels, elements of heroism are outlined as the author explores man’s lust and instinct for adventure and/or knowledge. Usually the protagonist is uprooted from his own environment to live in another, managing to survive through brute force. Moreover, the natural novel gives a weighty attribution to the effect of environment, heredity, and nature in growth and development which flows into the discussion between Nature and Nurture, the wild and civilization, instinct and education. Based on evolutionary thought, naturalism writers believe in the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest and natural selection, and heredity. Naturalistic works carry a strong undercurrent of determinism where man works in vain to combat fate and free will is non-existent. Authors steer away from romanticizing the narrative and therefore resort to a realist representation – no idealist portrayal, but the plain, realistic truth without embellishment.
Set in Canada, the text Never Cry Wolf, The People of the Deer, and A Whale for the Killing are naturalist novels which portrays with objective accuracy the life in nature. They project “such conceptions of naturalism was to show how the modally robust objectivity of nature could be constituted as significant within scientific practices” (Rouse 262). The author Mowat describes his experience with the wolves as “satisfying to the scientific point of view, seemed to intensify the Hound of the Baskervilles atmosphere of the desolate” (Mowat Never 50). Here Mowat parallels the experience in the wild to that of Sherlock Holmes’ Hound of the Baskervilles which talks of a detective studying a peculiar type of dog under the microscope. This example of intertextuality enriches the novel in that it projects the savagery of animals and man’s attempt to tame or eradicate them. At the beginning of the book, as a child, Mowat got interested in animal biology through a mammalogist who lived among and studied gophers, his next mentor happens to also be a mammalogist who studied the shrew mouse and was intimately acquainted with the creature. Both of his mentors formed a bond with the animals that they research and are passionate about the preservation of these animals in their natural habitats. Mowat scrutinizes the wolves with “scientific detachment” (Mowat Never 75) and when the thought of deviating from the traditional approaches of study occurs classes it as “scientific treason” (Mowat 77). Close adherence to scientific principles make Never Cry Wolf a scientific and naturalistic text in which man looks at and gains appreciation of nature.
The novel, People of the Deer (1952) documents the entry of a scientist to study the caribou among the Inuit people in the Barrens, Canada. Mowat seeks “to become what is called a scientific collector … desperately looking for something rooted in reality” (People of the Deer 18). This aspiration not only asserts the scientifically-based objectivity but also merges realism with naturalism. As a matter of fact, naturalism is a discipline which derives from realism therefore the scientist’s quest for something rooted in reality is not uncommon. Movat has “to remember too that (he) was a biologist of sorts” (Mowat People 176). In his expedition he stocks himself with “scientific equipment” (Mowat People 25) and toward the end of the novel he acknowledges that the trip “begun purely as an experiment” (Mowat People 311). Hence, Mowat also establishes the scientific foundation of this novel and explains his objectivity and detachment. Endowed with an intelligent scientific mind, Mowat sets out to find out why the numbers of deer were dwindling in rapid, yearly, succession. As he gets to the bottom of the mystery, he switches from a biologist to an anthropologist, for instead of focusing on the deer, he gets more acquainted with the people of the deer (the Ihalmuit tribe), therefore taking an anthropological turn.
A Whale for the Killing is another novel which is regarded through scientific lenses. Mowat mentions that man hunted whales not only for their commercial value but also for scientific experimentation. Scientists look at the whale “as a machine and everything that science has discovered has strengthened the conclusion that whales are among the most highly perfected forms of life” (Mowat A Whale). Mowat describes himself as “a modern scientist attempting to plumb the secrets of whale life” (Mowat AWhale 60). The scientific evaluation of whales however were used to manufacture powerful submarines so that man could kill his brother, therefore Mowat cast aspersions on the integrity of research for greed and for evil-doing. Out in the seas of Newfoundland, Canada, the explorers venture out to save the whales and to regulate excessive hunting of the whale.
All three novels deal with survival and evolutionary survival of the fittest between man and creature. Never Cry Wolf speaks compassionately about the dwindling numbers of the caribous in the wild and hunting of the creatures. At the same time, the wolves feed on the caribou to survive but not as much as to give reason for extinction. Those to blame were the wolf hunters who chased and killed wolves for their hides and bounty. In this novel Mowat receives a lecture from one “illustrating the theory of survival of the fittest through the agency of natural selection” (Mowat Never 126). Mowat wonders at the ability of the wolves to survive through adversity since “they could survive and function normally (on a mouse regimen)” (Mowat Never 113). He comes to find that the wolves struggle for survival, feeding on small animals and hares.
In The People of the Deer, Mowat speaks of the “hopeless struggle of survival” that the Eskimo people endure since “Indians relied on deer meat for food…also made clothes and shelters” (Frahm 4). The deteriorating numbers of deer are attributable directly to the indiscriminate hunting of the deer/caribou. Ravaged for years by starvation, the Eskimo who are epitheted, People of the Deer, depend upon the deer for survival. Ootek, Mowat’s main tour guide poses a crucial question which is the Eskimo’s first consideration. “Will the deer, who are our life, approve? Or in direct terms, will the site provide the supply to meat which is essential to human life” (Mowat People 124). When about to move in quest of the deer the priority is survival. The Eskimo rely upon the deer’s fat for meat and heat, especially to weather the consistent frigid conditions. Man survives to the detriment of other creatures in nature. The text A Whale for the Killing depicts the competition for survival between man and beast. Mowat describes that whales have learned to survive through millions of years before in which “the ancestral whales returned to the water world endowed with survival skills so hard won on land” (Mowat Whale 33). Whales were at one point in time land-based however the evolutionary and adaptive mechanisms kicked in to allow them to convert to marine creatures with higher chances of surviving. Conversely Mowat concedes the human’s right to survive and hunt for survival, confessing that “on the other hand the emerging human stock had to battle desperately for survival in a bitterly rigorous environment” (Mowat A Whale 33). This whaling novel exposes man’s indiscriminate slaughtering practices of the whale for commerce and out of necessity. It is battle of the survival of the fittest. Within the framework of hunting animals, there is no choice for either side (man or beast). The hunt must continue for survival, without stopping to question the reasons.
As a humanitarian activist for animals, Mowat highlights the themes of the human beast and the humanized animal. With a motive to check the rampant killing of animals, animals are humanized as the scientist lives with them in their natural habitat, learn and study their ways, and sympathize with the tragedy of the hunting perpetrated against them. Human savagery has reduced the wolf, whale, and deer to very small communities on the verges of extinction. Survival or no survival, man, who tops the food chain is responsible for his actions and has to govern his actions to ensure a fair opportunity for beasts to survive alongside him. The Innuit themselves are classed as savages by the government and missionary organizations, likening them to “barbaric and bestial people” (Mowat People 184). Mowat uses language to condemn the animalistic desires in man to decimate populations of animals whose only goal is to survive. Mowat classifies man as “a terrestrial beast of rather rigid perceptivity” (Mowat A Whale 70). Repulsed at the way in which whaling was pursued by man, Mowat criticizes man as “the most rapacious of predators, the human animal (which) set about annihilating (the whales) in earnest during the early 17th century” (Mowat A Whale 211). Clearing out the animal kingdom degrades the standard of man to an animal since all human feeling of tenderness, compassion, and wisdom are ignored for temporary ends and selfish ambition.
Living among the wild, it does not take long for Mowat to forge a bond with this creatures (whales, deer, and man). Mowats works can be categorized as “realistic wild animal story (where)… the wild animal story combined elements of nature writing and animal fiction” (Lutts 1) where the close proximity of man and beast fosters a relationship. Mowat is sensitized to “my feeling of kinship for the whale” (Mowat A Whale 158). In feeling kinship with the whale, Mowat uplifts t he whale from animal to brother. The whales are harmless creatures which face human attack for their blubber, costly meat, and serve as raw material for other manufactured items. He laments that “the combination of man’s genius with for destruction together with the satanic powers of his technology dyed the Antarctic waters crimson” (Mowat A Whale 40). The utter ruthlessness of man is unimaginable in excess, cruelty, and greed. “In his work, Mowat has focused primarily on the Arctic specifically on wildlife, native peoples and mistreatment at the hands of government and industry” (Finch 561). Human nature is exposed black for what it is since the hunt is not for survival or in measure for scientific study.
To conclude, Mowat’s works are naturalistic at heart for they uncover the scientific bases of the novels, the struggle for survival, and echo the philanthropic voice to preserve the wild and to take care of nature. Animals are in need of protection from humans since they do not have as much control over their fates. Mowat’s passion for scientific naturalism takes him on several expeditions in quest of animals and communities who need to be studied and helped. This focus on the wild underscores the fact that sometimes the wild is more civilized and human(e) than one thinks it is.
Lutts, Ralph H. The Wild Animal Story: Animals and Ideas
Frahm, Randy. Deer Hunting.
Finch, Richard. John Elder. Nature Writing the Tradition in English. W. W. and Norton
Company Limited, New York, 2002.
Mowat, Farley. A Whale for the Killing. Stackpole Books. Pennsylvania, USA, 2005.
Mowat, Farley. Never Cry Wolf. Bay Back Books. New York, 2001.
Mowat, Farley. People of the Deer. Key Porter Books Limited, 2005.
Rouse, Joseph. How Scientific Practices Matter: Reclaiming Philosophical Naturalism.
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2002.
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