Now that it has been established that both Call of the Wild and "A New England Nun" have elements of both realism and local order, it's time to present them in terms of their most powerful literary attribute, categorically speaking (of the three aforementioned literary categories): naturalism. As mentioned, naturalism in literature is the notion that social conditions, heredity, and environment unalterably impact and shape human character. Both Buck and Louisa are limited and forged by the social conditions that surround them, their heredity and environment.
Buck's transformation from a semi-slothful house pet to a high-octane sled dog is prompted not by his own free-will - Buck never really decides to become the leader of the pack - but by his subjugation. When Buck is taken in by his new owners and they force him to pull a sled, he has very little recourse. In fact, it comes down to a simple choice for him: Adapt or Die. Instinctively Buck chooses the former and what results is an atavistic regression toward primordial behaviors that help him to survive and ultimately succeed in his new environment.
London describes this process of losing one's domesticity beautifully in the novel. It reads,
"This first theft marked Buck as fit to survive in the hostile Northland environment. It marked his adaptability, his capacity to adjust himself to changing conditions, the lack of which would have meant swift and terrible death. It marked, further, the decay or going to pieces of his moral nature, a vain thing and a handicap in the ruthless struggle for existence (59).
The shackles of decency have been shed. And a new modus-operandi has been adopted, one that favors theft over charity, fear over love, cunning over caring, etc. all so that Buck may survive under the brutal law of club and fang. It is often said that adversity reveals character, but perhaps our philosophers had it wrong, perhaps its better said: adversity forms character.
With respect to sweet, orderly Louisa, she too has been forged from her environment. Like Buck, she doesn't act on her own accord; she reacts. However, her environment and the social customs that influence her are quite different from Buck's. That is, Buck was thrown into a hostile snow-covered wasteland where survival was all that mattered. Life is lived on a bladed edge, one slip and one is dead. Louisa, on the other hand, lives in a world filled with ennui and inactivity. Her days are spent stemming and sewing and cleaning - and, perhaps most importantly, waiting for Joe. But as the reader learns, Louisa has become adjusted to the solitary life. She's been alone for so long, waiting, that when she finds out about Joe's affair she feels a mixture of disappointment and relief. But soon the disappointment fades and she looks forward to the remainder of her solitary life. As the story goes:
She gazed ahead through a long reach of future days strung together like pearls in a rosary, every one like the others, and all smooth and flawless and innocent, and her heart went up in thankfulness. Outside was the fervid sunnier afternoon; the air was filled with the sounds of the busy harvest of men and birds and bees; there were halloos, metallic clattering, sweet calls, and long hummings. Louisa sat, prayerfully numbering her days, like an uncloistered nun.
Louisa is a spinster. Her uneventful life has led her to crave an uneventful future. Like her dog Caesar she's been chained to a way of living that has narrowed her expectations and enervated her ambition. She's an uncloistered nun, one who has experienced enough of the world to want give her life over to something else, to submit to the ways of the world, come what may.
In looking at these two works of fiction it is evident that they both contain elements of local color and realism. However, what makes them enduring as works of art and endearing to the reader (at least this humble reader) is the way in which they express the plight of man; as a rudderless ship in a stormy sea of inescapable forces. Where one ends up is not a matter of self-determination, but of hereditary, social, and environmental forces. Resistance is futile.
London, Jack. Call of the Wild. Norwood Mass: Norwood Press, 1903. Print.
Wilkins, Mary. A New England Nun. New York: Harper and Brothers,…