This phenomenon is much versatile than you may think. Nature versus civilization can actually be portrayed (and construed) in a number of ways. This is because of its innate connection with Taoism and the concept of Order and Chaos (which we talked about last time).
As we settled before, understanding the “overarching conflict” allows us greater insight into our characters and the motives behind some of the characters’ actions. Structuring your characters with something bigger than just a petty local conflict (as opposed to making their wills aligned with an age-old, universal conflict) is not often a bad idea. The last article was probably a primer, an introduction. More like the philosophy behind the articles that follow. I will focus more here on the practical applications of overarching conflicts.
Nature and civilization are fundamentally at odds. This is because they’re polar opposites (hence the snow-covered mountain…haw haw…). Nature is Chaos, and civilization is Order. They struggle with one another because where one is, the other cannot be. Every inch of man’s early existence has been fighting off predators and trying to survive in harsh environments.
Nature embodies many things, and not just snow-covered peaks. It also represents primal urges of man and beast alike, everything that is anti-establishment, the power of biological organisms over those of technologies created by man, and so forth. Basically everything that is ordered and made rather than that which is natural.
Civilization can mean more than a few other things as well: it represents logical reasoning, labor-saving devices, and ways to circumvent the natural course of biological organisms. Everything that is opposite of nature and what is natural. anything done to circumvent that could be an act of civilization.
In literature, this can take many forms: In Tucker’s Countryside, the sequel to The Cricket in Times Square, (an excellent novel) the heroes, who are various woodland creatures, seek to stop the Old Meadow (their home) from being civilized and therefore destroyed by the efforts of men. Thus the forces of nature wage war against civilization. In this case, the force of nature is the force for good, and civilization (even though they may no1t know it) are the opressors.
In the movie The Day After Tomorrow, a movie of the popular “worldwide disaster” drama, terrible natural disasters break out and terrorize the planet, thus throwing the human race into a struggle to survive a second ice age. Even though flash floods, freezing temperatures and spontaneous tornadoes are not necessarily forces of evil, they are certainly oppressing the good guys…aka humanity.
These are very obvious examples, but by using the alternative meanings of “Civilization” and “Nature” you can still come up with some very original conflicts. Consider the Disney hit Tarzan: with a little discernment, it is obvious that the conflict of “Nature versus Civilization” does not lie with Clayton and his plot to capture the apes. That’s just greed invading the peace of others. The “Nature versus Civilization” is Tarzan’s personal conflict: does he belong to the jungle, or the kingdom? Where does a human belong: in the wild or in the city? That is the question being asked here. It is indirectly an allusion to the conflict between civilization and Nature, but not in a way that they directly oppose each other.
I know I philosophize quite a bit in these articles, and thank you for indulging me thus far. I’ll cut to the chase: Nature is wild, harsh, and unpredictable. Civilization is ordered, circumventing, and easy. See if you can identify the forerunners of civilization and nature in your own writing.
Good luck, and happy writing!
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!