Analytical Essay on "The Fire On The Snow"


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Douglas Stewart’s radio play, The Fire On The Snow, first performed in 1941, presents the story of Captain Falcon Robert Scott’s tragic expedition to the South Pole. In the radio play, Stewart skilfully positions the audience to accept the dominant reading of the play by showing the dominant discourse: that heroes’ nobility depends on their action and ordinary people can become heroes too. Stewart also positions the audience by using the role of the Announcer as a mask for himself to give comments to the stages during play in lyric verse forms and factual commentary statements, and also involve the men’s dialogue.

     In November, 1911, Captain Falcon Robert Scott led a British team across the snows of Antarctica, striving to be the first to attain the South Pole. After marching and hauling over 800 miles, Scott and his four comrades reached the Pole in Jan, 1912, only to find out that Amundsen’s team (five Norwegians) had achieved the goal a month earlier. Scott, Wilson, Oates, Bowers and Evans, all perished in the ice on the return journey, but became national heroes, because of the selfless, sacrifice for the others and their heroic action to the Pole. Their race against the Norwegians to be the first reaches the Pole, laid the foundation of one of Antarctica’s most tragic legends.
     
     Due the time frame when Stewart was writing the play, which is during the Second World War, he effectively positions the audience to sympathize with the tragic death of the heroes in the play by reinforcing the main discourses of both personal and national sacrifices of ordinary men. Many dramatic techniques were used to enhance the audience’s awareness of the struggles that the men had been through. One of the major techniques is Stewart’ positioning of the audience involved the use of lyric verse to assist the audience to create the visual and auditory imagery and to feel the harsh atmosphere that the play has created; and also through some technical devices such as the metaphors, similes, alliteration, assonance, repetition and rhyme within the verses, as found in the texts of the Announcer. Stewart has successfully used these techniques to reflect the feelings deep inside the men’s struggle of physical difficulties against the nature of freezing snows and blizzards; emotional struggle of depression, pressure and disappointment; and Stewart symbolizes “The Fire On The Snow” as “man against snow, the spirit of man against all that conspires to defeat him”.

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     In the beginning of the play, the Announcer makes a clear factual statement that the South Pole has spelt death as Stewart emphasizes the danger and hardship of the exploration ventures with his references to “…no matter how bleak, how black… heroes will not turn back” and “five men struggling like dark tough flames on the snow”; through the usage of metaphor, simile and symbolism in order to reinforce the visual imagery of the solitude environment and the myriad challenges faced by Scott and his men. “…flames on the snow” consist of the use of symbolism to present the human spirit against the white sterile nature of Antarctica by symbolizing the human spirit as ‘flames’ and the snow as ‘white and pureness’. Stewart also uses the combination of simile, alliteration, assonance and repetition as shown in “All this and is white… The snow slowing the sledge like waves of white iron”; to enhance the audience’s attention to the stages and situations of the men’s marching journey. Stewart adroitly combines four technical devices within one verse as an appeal to the emotions. He used ‘white iron’ to describe the ‘heaviness’ of the snow which in order to convey the difficulty and arduousness of matching and hauling the sledges on the snow to the Pole; and he described the surrounding environment is snowing like unceasing waves and reinforced the ‘colour’ of the Pole with the repetition of ‘white’.

     The other major technique that Stewart has used in the play is the dialogue of the men (the ‘voices’ of the central characters), combines with the voice of Announcer’s factual commentary statements to depict the lives and characters of the remarkable men who died after enduring ‘the coldest march’, and to illustrate how each hero was unique in his contributions, outlook and ultimate fate. In January, 1912, the men’s return journey was hampered by appalling weather and the shortage of food and resources. Stewart used his Announcer as a mask for himself to present his comments with the men’s comments as the character construction to help position the audience.

     Stewart selects five men, Scott, Wilson, Oates, Bowers and Evans, as his central characters to convey the audience to accept the dominant discourse of the play by showing their heroic actions. Evans, a sailor; is a man of few words and a man of action as shown in “I’d like to bash their heads in”; when they see the Norwegians’ flag. He’s also the strongest man in the team, but the one who died first, who was injured in a fall and suffered a swift mental and physical breakdown. “A big man… down on his hands and knees, crawling about like a child”, the Announcer comments to position the audience to sympathize and understand his struggle. After the loss of one man, Oates became a burden on the others. His own refusal to admit defeat and with the unwillingness of his three remaining comrades to leave him behind caused such delays that it made the difference between life and death to the others. Eventually, Oates recognised the need to sacrifice himself in order to give others a chance of survival, left the tent and walked to his death. “Nobody move, don’t move. I am just going outside. I may be some time.” Oates’ action is the most obvious one of being a hero as he sacrifices himself just for the sake of others and his action also conveys the men’s bravery to achieve their goal.

     “Rollers of blizzard, roar and break…the men… lost beyond hope in the roaring tide of the storm.” The Announcer’s commentary depicts the situation outside the tent while the three remaining men in the tent waiting for death. Bowers wanted to keep on marching in the blizzard but was restrained by others as they thought they might have more chance to march the next day, but instead, Bowers died first in the tent due to starvation. Wilson, a doctor and scientist who has the deepest thought and always encourages the others when they were down. “Solder…there’s always a chance”, he said to Oates when Oates think that living is nearly over for him. Scott, the leader of the polar party, is not afraid when facing the commitment towards comradeship and his country. He is prepared to undertake the hardship to the Pole and even they’ve lost the race, but is still proud of what he has done – “I’m sure for myself…that it’s been worth while…that life when it’s lived like this…is something so joyful no one could understand it unless he was willing to dare it.” “People will know someday that Bowers was a hero and Oates walked to death like a God and Evans was strong… how much your friendship has meant.” Scott is also considered as an honourable leader and his great respect for his comrades emphasizes the importance of leadership as a crucial element for success in a group venture. The men’s heroic manner towards their physical hardship and demands is unquestionable and Stewart positions the audience once again by showing their willingness to challenge nature without complaint.

Stewart has successfully expressed the message that ‘everyman’ can achieve extraordinary things and celebrates human spirit and the refusal to give up one’s goal while facing adversity, through his radio play: The Fire On The Snow. As shown in this text, today’s heroes are not the traditional well-born males anymore. Through the great usage of dramatic techniques, Stewart conveys to audience to accept the dominant reading of the play and to appreciate the protagonists’ heroic action by selecting Captain Scott’s tragic story to South Pole to highlight that everyone should believe in their goals and dreams, and making commitments for achieving one’s goals, and never easily give up while facing difficulties and hardship.


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