Essay Example on Analysis of To Build a Fire, Jack London.










Intensive Academic Writing and Research. Analysis of To Build a Fire, Jack London, January 12, 1876, November 22, 1916, was an American author journalist and social activist who spent a significant time of his young life mining for gold in the arctic north, therefore he mainly used cold and snowy places such as Alaska and Canada as settings in his novels and stories. After coming up against life’s brutal face as a gold prospector in the Yukon he thought that all the modern conveniences which civilization provided had turned everyone men in particular, into lazy individuals who had no idea how to survive from the harsh and brutal side of nature. He also refused to use ideological or political messages racial or otherwise. As two London scholars observe. A committed socialist he insisted against editorial pressures to write political essays and insert social criticism in his fiction. One of his most known stories: To Build a Fire, which is not overtly political or racial, tells the tragic story of a man whose purpose is to travel with his dog to get to his friends through harsh and hostile environment of the Yukon, under freezing temperatures and falls victim to unforgiving, and the unrelenting power of nature.

During his journey, the nameless protagonist gets his feet wet after stepping onto the ice, which is so vulnerable that it cracks. Because of the severity of the cold in the Yukon one hundred and seven degrees below the freezing point the man’s life depends on lighting a fire, to keep his feet and hands from freezing. He even thinks about cutting his dog open to put his hands inside of it. However, he cannot do it since his fingers are too numb to do so due to the cold. After several disgraceful attempts, the desperation of the man against the intimidating environment of the Yukon begins to become evident. Finally, the man grows calm and decides to meet death with dignity after a lengthy episode of panic in which the man tries desperately to return the feeling to his extremities, by running around like a chicken with its head cut off page 78. In this research paper, the story is discussed with the help of different thoughts in terms of the two themes: naturalism and existentialism which the author has splattered in the story. To begin with. To Build a Fire can be given as a prime example of the literary movement of naturalism. Naturalism was an offset of Charles Darwin’s and Herbert Spencer’s theories on evolution. Darwin theorized that environments change things such as the way organisms act and even their biology in his 1859 work Origins of the Species. In other words, an organism can behave more carefully and more successively in order to survive the situation or environment. Spencer implemented this theory to the human environment and then Social Darwinism came out as one of the dominant philosophies in the late 19th century.

Naturalists thought evolution as proof that the world is deterministic and that humans do not have free will. To put it in another way any action that people make is not the first step. Rather the action has been caused by prior environmental social and biological factors, beyond our individual control. Because of the fact that people do not have free will, naturalists abstained from making moral judgments on the actions of their characters after all the environment determined these actions, not humans. The theme of naturalism can be seen clearly in the story. For instance, The sight of the dog put a wild idea into his head. He remembered the story of the man caught in a storm who killed an animal and sheltered himself inside the dead body and thus was saved. He would kill the dog and bury his hands in the warm body until feeling returned to them. Then he could build another fire. He sat down in the snow and in this fashion held the dog while it barked and struggled. But it was all he could do hold its body encircled in his arms and sit there. He realized that he could not kill the dog. There was no way to do it. With his frozen hands, he could neither draw nor hold his knife. Nor could he grasp the dog around the throat. He freed it and it dashed wildly away still barking page 76 77. The man does not kill the dog because his fingers are too numb to do it, however even if he does kill the dog he wouldn't be the one to blame. He even cannot be responsible for thinking of killing the dog. Because he only tries to do the thing which will keep him alive a little longer. Every living creature follows their instincts after all. Another example to naturalism is that the dog which belongs to the man knows that the weather is too cold to travel. That's why there is only one thing to blame the cold environment of the Yukon which is naturalism. But the dog knew and all of its family knew. And it knew that it was not good to walk outside in such a fearful cold. It was the time to lie in a hole in the snow and to wait for this awful cold to stop. There was no real bond between the dog and the man.

The one was the slave of the other. However, this example also shows the difference between human nature and animal nature. The man does not listen to the warnings as to that the time of the year is too cold and that no one has come to travel here for one month. The other theme in the story that is also mentioned above is existentialism. According to the American Heritage Dictionary 3rd, ed existentialism is a philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual in a hostile or indifferent universe. So this statement matches with London’s story, To Build a Fire in terms of the man trying to find the meaning of his life and at last, he gives into his fate. Richard F Robbins states in his article named The Existentialist Theme in Jack London’s, To Build a Fire, that The story’s central theme is one portrayed by many existentialist writers that man lives, a solitary existence which is subject to the relentless unforgiving forces of nature, an ever so subtle part of this theme is that it is man's goal to find meaning in his existence. London emphasizes this theme in several ways however the most important of them is the setting the story takes place. London places his solitary character the man in a wilderness place like Yukon which is enough to reflect the existentialism theme. However in addition to the wilderness of the place London makes it harder for his character by combining the wilderness of the Yukon with the hostile environment. Richard F Robbins explains this in the same article as this. The remoteness of the Yukon wilderness, as well as the absence of a human travel companion for the man, serve to illustrate the existentialist idea that man is alone in the universe. To further emphasize this idea London has not given the protagonist a name but simply refers to him as the man throughout the story. By not naming the character London has placed him at an even greater distance from the reader within his deadly setting thus isolating him all the more in a bleak and hostile universe. What Robbins means by saying this is that London does not let his reader feel empathy with the man so that the man is, in fact, could not be more alone in searching for his existent.

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