What Unites to Build a Fire And The Open Boat, and in the Film Up in the Air
Existentialism is the theory that people control their own thoughts, actions, and destiny. Jean-Paul Sartre popularized the theory in the mid-20th century. Existentialism is a common theme in a variety of literature and film works, as well as everyday life. For example, this theory can be applied to the stories “To Build a Fire” by Jack London and “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane and the film Up In The Air.
In “To Build A Fire,” a man is traveling through the Yukon to get to his friends with a dog. As he is walking along a creek trail, he ends up falling through the snow in an area he thought was safe from covered springs and wets himself up to his shins. His fingers and feet are numb, so he decides to start a fire underneath a spruce tree. He remembers that an old man from Sulphur Creek warned him that no one should travel through the Klondike alone when the temperature is fifty degrees below zero. Before he is able to start drying his gear and warming up his feet, clumps of snow fall from the tree and onto the fire. He gathers supplies to build a new fire. His fingers are numb, so he attempts to light matches and fails. Giving up on starting a new fire, the man decides he wants to kill the dog and put his hands inside its body to regain feeling in his hands. Because of his numb hands, there is no way for him to kill the dog, therefore he sets it free. He continues on his journey and starts to run to try and regain circulation in his body. He eventually gives up and dies. The dog eventually picks up death in the man’s scent and runs away in the direction of the camp. The fact that the man decides to ignore the old man and travel by himself is an example of people being responsible for everything they do which is part of the existentialism theory. This also applies to when the man decided he wanted to kill the dog, as well as “he is therefore nothing else but the sum of his actions, nothing else but what his life is. It was up to the man to decide these things and do these actions on his own.
In “The Open Boat,” four men are in a lifeboat off the coast of Florida. They make their way to lighthouse and are assured they will be rescued. After waiting for some time, they realize that no one is there, and they go back out to sea. They create a strong bond with each other. They start to be angry at the universe because they are still stranded in the boat. On a beach in the distance, they finally spot some people and think they will be saved. These people turn out to be tourists who think the men are fishing. The next day, the captain decides that no one is going to save them, so they should try to make it to the shore on their own. Someone on the beach goes in to the water to save them. He drags the captain, the correspondent, and the cook onto land. They see the oiler has drowned with his face down in the water. People arrive on shore carrying blankets, clothing, and food. They carry the oiler’s body onto the beach. Existentialism is seen in this story when they chose to be optimistic at times because “what people reproach us with is not, after all, our pessimism, but the sternness of our optimism.” Another example of existentialism is when the correspondent is rowing the boat at night while the others are sleeping, and he starts to feel irrelevant to the universe because “what man needs us to find himself again and to understand that nothing can save him from himself.
In the movie “Up In The Air,” a man named Ryan Bingham goes around the country to fire people for their employers. A woman named Natalie Keener joins the company and creates with an online firing system. Bingham takes Keener with him to several different cities to experience what he does and how he does it. Spending time with Keener caused him to realize that his job has made him disconnect himself from his family and other people and be selfish. Bingham’s decision to make these choices because of his job is an example of existentialism because people are responsible for everything they do. Another example could be how he tries to change to be a better person because “what man needs is to find himself again and to understand that nothing can save him from himself.”
In conclusion, existentialism is a popular theory that can be applied to most films and literature, as well as everyday life. It’s a popular theory because it’s common for people to be selfish and make decisions for themselves. People are responsible for their own thoughts and actions, which applies to this theory.
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