Naturalism in Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”This essay has problems with formatWhen Jack London wrote “To Build a Fire” he embraced the idea of naturalism because it mirrored the events of daily life. Naturalism showed how humans had to be wary at every corner because at anytime death could be there, waiting for them to make a mistake and forfeit their lives. He used naturalism, the most realistic literary movement, to show how violent and uncaring nature really is and how no matter what you do nature will always be there. London also presented the basic idea of Darwinism and the survival of the fittest, basically if you are dumb you will die. Collectively, London used naturalism to show how in life, humans can depend on nothing but themselves to survive. “To Build a Fire” is a short story that embodies the idea of naturalism and how, if one is not careful, nature will gain the upper hand and they will perish.
When the narrator introduced the main character of the story, the man, he made it clear that the man was in a perilous situation involving the elements. The man was faced with weather that was 75 degrees below zero and he was not physically or mentally prepared for survival. London wrote that the cold “did not lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man’s frailty in general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold.”(p.1745) At first when the man started his journey to the camp, he felt certain that he could make it back to camp before dinner. As the trip progressed, the man made mistake after mistake that sealed his fate. The man’s first mistake was to step into a pool of water and soak his legs to the knees. This blunder forced the man to build a fire to dry his wet socks and shoes so his feet would not freeze and become frostbitten. When the man began to build a fire he failed to notice that he was doing so under a large, snow laden spruce tree where he was getting his firewood. When the man had a small fire that was beginning to smolder the disturbance to the tree caused the snow to tumble to the ground and extinguish the fire. “It was his own fault or, rather, his mistake. He should not have built the fire under the spruce tree. He should have built it in the open.”(1750).
That minor detail of the critical placement of the fire ultimately cost the man his life. The third…
…t when he began to panic as the second fire extinguished. He seemed as though he had lost all knowledge of his survival skills. He thought about killing the dog and wallowing in its steaming insides for refuge from the cold. “The sight of the dog put a wild idea into his head. He remembered the tale of a man, caught in a blizzard, who killed a steer and crawled inside the carcass, and so was saved.”(1752). When the man realized that the dog would not let him come near he was forced to concoct another plan. His idea was that if he ran all the way to the camp, he would be able to survive. Unfortunately, that plan failed as well and the man perished in the cold, numbing snow of the Yukon. Overall, naturalism is the most realistic literary movement. It parallels life more than any other movement because it reveals the fact that nature has not heart and no emotions. Nature feels no compassion for human struggles and will continue on it’s path of destruction and harm regardless of the circumstances.
London, Jack. “To Build A Fire.” Sipiora, Phillip. Reading and Writing About Literature. Ed. Phillip Sipiora. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc., 2002. 149-158.