Exploring Arctic Circle in Literature: Themes and Symbolism


The Arctic Circle has long been a subject of fascination and awe for writers and readers alike. The stark and unforgiving terrain, the extreme weather conditions, and the inherent danger of the region have all served as potent sources of inspiration for literary works. Indeed, the Arctic Circle has become a popular setting for stories that explore universal themes such as survival, isolation, and the human relationship with nature. In this article, we will delve into some of the most prominent themes and symbolism present in literature set in the Arctic Circle.

One of the most prevalent themes in literature set in the Arctic is that of survival. The extreme conditions of the region, with its freezing temperatures and treacherous landscapes, make it a particularly hostile environment for human beings. This creates a sense of isolation and vulnerability for characters, and the struggle for survival becomes a constant and central theme in many literary works set in the Arctic. For example, in Jack London’s classic novel “White Fang”, the protagonist must navigate the harsh realities of life in the Arctic wilderness in order to survive. Similarly, in Alastair MacLeod’s short story “The Boat”, the main character must endure extreme weather conditions and isolation in order to provide for his family. The relentless pursuit of survival in the face of overwhelming odds is a recurring theme in Arctic literature and serves to highlight the resilience and strength of the human spirit.

Another prominent theme in literature set in the Arctic is that of isolation. The vast and desolate landscape, coupled with the severe weather conditions, often leaves characters feeling cut off from the rest of the world. This isolation can have a profound psychological impact on characters, leading to feelings of loneliness, alienation, and even madness. In Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth”, the characters find themselves in the uncharted Arctic, cut off from the rest of the world. As they face numerous challenges and dangers, the isolation amplifies the tensions and conflicts between them. The Arctic landscape becomes a metaphor for the characters’ internal struggles, highlighting the theme of isolation and its impact on the human psyche.

Nature is also a dominant force in literature set in the Arctic, with its power and ferocity serving as a potent symbol for the human relationship with the natural world. In many Arctic texts, nature is portrayed as a force to be reckoned with, capable of both sustaining and destroying life. For example, in Tanya Tagaq’s novel “Split Tooth”, the harsh environment of the Arctic serves as a metaphor for the protagonist’s troubled and tumultuous internal world. As she navigates her own personal struggles, the unforgiving Arctic landscape reflects her inner turmoil and the volatile forces at play within her. By using nature as a symbol, these literary works invite readers to consider their own relationship with the natural world and reflect on the impact of human actions on the environment.

In addition to themes, the Arctic landscape is also rich in symbolism, often representing key concepts such as purity, resilience, and the unknown. The vast expanse of untouched snow and ice can represent purity and innocence, as well as the potential for danger and unpredictability. The whiteout conditions of blizzards can symbolize the overwhelming and disorienting aspects of life. In literature, the Arctic is often portrayed as a blank canvas, allowing writers to infuse it with symbolism and meaning to enrich their stories.

In conclusion, literature set in the Arctic Circle offers a unique and nuanced exploration of themes and symbolism. Through vivid descriptions of the landscape and the experiences of characters, it allows readers to contemplate universal concepts such as survival, isolation, and our relationship with nature. As the world’s climate continues to change and the Arctic faces new challenges, the literature set in this region will undoubtedly continue to evolve and present new perspectives on timeless themes.