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‘To Build a Fire’ written by Jack London is a tragic story of a man who disregards potential life saving advice and decides to travel on his own through the unforgiving environment of Yukon under the extremely cold temperatures. He trusted his human brilliance in dealing with nature only to fall victim to its (nature’s) unrelenting power. In the course of his journey, the man (he had no name) finds himself in trouble as his feet fell in freezing water from a spring. The water was extremely cold, at about seventy five degrees below the freezing point. The cold was very severe and he realizes that he is in a very precarious situation where the possibility of death was very much real. To save his life, he thinks, he must build a fire as soon as possible to prevent his feet from freezing. He manages to build one, but it was only the temporary reprieve. Nature can be unforgiving; he could only watch hopelessly as snow from the same tree (read, nature) that had given him some hope fell down on his fire extinguishing it and extinguishing his hope and his life. He now had to battle the hostile environment all by himself, but only for so long. At last he realizes that he must meet his death calmly with ‘dignity’ (Lone star).
Impact of Character
The main character in the essay is ‘the man’ conspicuously not given a name by the author. It can be argued that this was so because the author deemed the unforgiving environment more important than the man’s self-centeredness and free will. The man embarked on the journey to meet ‘the boys’. His greatest flaw that ultimately led to his downfall and subsequent death is his pride (or lack thereof). He could not take advice from more experienced persons. As a result, he could not look at the possible consequences of his actions and the cold hard facts at present. The temperatures were too cold for anyone to venture out all by himself. He also ignored the possibility of the snow falling from the tree (GradeSaver). However, the man could only think about meeting his boys, possibly a treasure that awaited him. In the end, he never met them. The man can be said to represent individuals who are self-centered, unrealistic and often ignore other people (especially those whom they know). All these traits have disastrous consequences.
The man, in the story, was also accompanied by his dog. Human beings are more intelligent than dogs. However, in this instance, the dog seems more intelligent than the man. The dog instinctively knew the perils of the cold. For instance, it bites the snow at its feet to prevent them from freezing. It also senses the danger of possibly being killed by the man. In the end, while the man succumbs to the severe weather, it managed to survive. Using its natural instincts, the dog struggled long enough to find a camp that provided it with food and warmth (GradeSaver). The dog in this story represents realism. The dog knew the dangers of travelling in the cold and its actions before the journey indicated that it was very much unwilling to travel. It even wanted the man not to leave the warmth of home. While being ambitious is crucial for all persons, it is sometimes better to be real. There are some situations where it is better not to venture.
Impact of Setting
‘To Build a Fire’ is set in Yukon; cold, harsh and potentially fatal. The landscape was covered all over with snow and ice. The cold was simply biting; so severe that the moisture (already frozen) from the man’s breathing actually formed ice on both his beard and moustache. Despite these extremely harsh conditions, the man could not be deterred from embarking on his journey, even if there were oblivious dangers involved. From the beginning, the author paints a picture of a place that is inhabitable, unsafe, and certainly dead for humans. The fact that the man still ignored all these hazards and advice not to go ahead with the journey depicts him as an unrealistic and greedy person. The development of the setting of the story slowly indicated that there was only one destiny for the man: death (WriteWork). The setting in the story describes the unforgiving power of nature. Although humans may think that they have the ultimate control over everything on earth, they are actually at the mercy of nature. No matter how intelligent humans may think they are, they cannot get the better of nature. The consequences when it strikes are enormous, just as the man sadly found out at the time of his death.
‘To Build a Fire’ is a story that is still relevant even up to these days. In fact, it can be said that it has taken more relevancy due to the environmental changes that are apparent today. The story clearly shows that the nature can be very powerful when underestimated. The story also warns about the repercussions of ignoring advice (especially from the experienced people), individualism and greed. These traits can be harmful in the end, just as the man found out. Speaking about the dog, which survived, it is always good to be realistic. It can be said that it followed the man in the journey simply because it had no option. However, it was always aware of the dangers all along. In the end, it stayed alive.