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Through his choice of setting, imagery and artful placement of irony in the story ‘To Build a Fire’ Jake London directs his reader’s attention to the indifference of nature. Discuss.


“To Build a Fire” by Jack London is an adventure story of a man’s futile attempt to travel across ten miles of Yukon wilderness in temperatures dropping to seventy-five degrees below zero.
The conflict between Man and the Nature is one of the main themes of the story.The man in the story was a newcomer in this land and was without imagination. The fact that he was going to travel alone in Yukon wilderness in extremely low temperatures did not “lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature”. He was indifferent to the fact that man can only live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold.
During his trek the man was confronted again and again by his weakness as a lone individual against the formidable power of nature in the form of the brutal cold. Each time he removed his gloves, the man was surprised at how quickly his fingers were numbed. He was also startled at how fast his nose and cheeks froze, and he was amazed When his spittle froze mid-air before it even hit the snow. When the man stopped for lunch, his feet went numb almost as soon as he sat still, a fact that finally began to frighten him.
Even after realising it was cold, too much pride in his abilities resulted in his death. He underestimated the power of nature and did not heed to old-timer’s advice. When he built the fire for the second time and was apparently successful he made fun of old timer’s womanish advice.
The story depicts that how nature has the ability to everpower man the brutal, intense cold killed the man but the four-footed brute who displayed his instinct and wisdom survived.
The man had been warned by experienced expeditioners never to travel “after fifty below” without a partner who could help him in emergencies, but the man did not pay attention to such advice. He travelled with few supplies and without a partner and when his fire was apparently successful for the second time he felt too proud of his abilities. But the nature is much more overpowering than man ever think and it was then that the “treacherous tree” blotted out the fire. The flame of life withered away, his hopes were shattered and unable to build a fire again, he panicked and finally resigned to the power of nature.
It depicts the importance of primitive instincts through the character of the dog. The dog was a big native husky who was more or less a part of natural surroundings. The dog realised the dangers of travelling in tremendous cold. “lts instinct told it a truer tale than was told to the man by the man’s judgement”. The dog who was half-wild and thus closer to nature felt “depressed” by the cold. He also seemed to be inquisitive about man’s unwanted movements in such a weather when he should have been seeking shelter somewhere or building a fire.
The man, who was “without imagination” tried to use reason to get him past his difficulties but human rationality proved to be helpless against the Klondike’s “killing landscape”.
The theory of Survival of the Fittest by Charles Darwin can be observed in this story. The man was stronger and presumably smarter than the dog, yet the man was afiiicted with “hubris” and thus he failed to overcome nature.
The man and dog were walking to another camp in weather that was seventy-five degrees below zero. They were required to battle nature to succeed, but nature in the form of extreme cold defeated the man, and the readers watch him as he slowly froze to death. Thus, through this story we can conclude that sometimes nature is very cruel within it’s calmness.

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Dipendu Das

Dipendu Das

Author of Resonating Voices and Resounding Minds. A writer, poet, blogger and web developer. Administrator and Founder of ExamsTopper. Alumnus of Stepping Stone Model School, Alipurduar. Currently pursuing BA. LLB. (Hons.) at the prestigious NLU National University of Study and Research in Law (NUSRL), Ranchi. His work has been published in more than 21 nations around the globe.

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