“It is human nature to think wisely and act foolishly”
Nature is full of hidden menaces. It is always dangerous to underestimate the significance of its power. Nature can give people a lot of pleasure, but also many troubles. If people do not respect its laws or do not have special knowledge and experience they can find themselves in a danger. People should know that very often their carelessness and self-assurance could lead to terrible consequences and even to death.
A bright example of such carelessness was showed us by Jack London in his great novel “To build a fire”. This story is about a man who tried to survive in the extreme cold of an Alaskan winter, when the temperature was 75 degrees below zero. The man was going to a camp where his friends waited for him. His only companion in this journey was a dog, “a big native husky, the proper wolf dog” (London 378).
At the beginning of the story the writer informed us that this man had no personal experience traveling along the Yukon trail. “He was a newcomer in the land and this was his first winter” (London 377).
But the man was very stubborn and had a lack of common sense. He didn’t possess a certain understanding of life and nature. “The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things not in the significances“ (London 377).
The man didn’t think of the infinite number of possible events that could occur during his journey. The man was aware of the extremely cold day, but due to his ignorance he didn’t realize the danger he faced. First, he smiled at the advice he got from the old-timer that “no one must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below” (London 382).
The natural world is superior to all of humanity. Without reason, land controls us and influences our identities. Through mankind’s power we try to suppress the natural world but never truly succeed. “Progressive Insanities of a Pioneer” by Margaret Attwood, “The Bull Moose” by Alden Nowlan and “Not Just a Platform for my Dance” are comparable poems in a way that all three deal with a theme of the ...
But the arrogant main character thought about the old-timer as being “womanish“. He strongly believed that “any man who was a man could travel alone“ (London 382).
He didn’t suspect a big price he would have to pay for his nonchalance and contemptuous attitude toward the forces of nature.
At the beginning of the story cold made no impression on the man. He perceived it as something weak that it was easy to overcome. “Fifty degrees below zero stood for a bite of frost that hurt and that must be guarded against by the use of mittens, ear flaps, warm moccasins, and thick socks. Fifty degrees below zero was to him just precisely fifty degrees below zero” (London 377).
When the story progressed cold began to influence the man more and more. But in spite of this fact the man continued ignoring it. Cold played a very important role in the story and seemed to have an image of a real person. The man and cold constantly competed with each other to find out who would surrender first. Cold was depicted as a cruel unforgiving character that wanted the man to admit his weakness. London described cold so masterly that it seemed the readers could physically percept an awful condition of the weather.
Unlike the man, the dog that accompanied him in his journey understood how dangerous it was to travel in such a cold weather. As all animals the dog had its instinct which told it that “it was the time to lie snug in the snow and wait for a curtain of cloud to be drawn across the face whence this cold came“ (London 381).
Like all people the man was deprived from such a natural gift as an instinct, so he had to count only on his knowledge and experience – things that he didn’t possess. Moreover, the man didn’t pay attention to his dog’s behavior. After lunch, when they had a strong “roaring“ fire, the dog didn’t want to leave that secure place. London let us know that the dog thought that it was wiser to postpone traveling until the weather changed. Unconsciously, the dog felt that the man was not aware that the weather was deadly. “This man didn’t know cold. Possibly all the generations of his ancestry had been ignorant of cold, of real cold, of cold one hundred and seven degrees below freezing point. But the dog knew; all his ancestry knew, and it had inherited the knowledge. And it knew that it was not good to walk abroad in such fearful cold“ (London 381).
Since the fire went out he would seek shelter in the forest or any other suitable location. An hour later, he came upon a cave and decided that it would be wise to enter and rest. Cold or inhospitable it was a shelter and he was only thinking of what mattered to himself for the moment. For some unknown reason, the dog was uneasy to enter with the man. When he entered the cave he went to the back ...
At this point the man still didn’t realize the significance of being properly prepared both physically and intellectually. He still believed that this weather did no harm for him. The thoughts of a danger and his possible death didn’t come to his mind.
The first sign of apprehension and fear appeared when the man fell into a hidden spring. But even after that, all he did was to worry about being late reaching his friends. He didn’t perceive the situation as really threatening. It was for him just an annoying delay. The man knew that in such a cold weather it was essential to build a fire and dry out his shoes. With his wet feet, which were getting numb very quickly the man understood that he had only one chance to successfully build a fire. “He knew there must be no failure. When it is seventy-five below zero, a man must no fail in his first attempt to build a fire – that is, if his feet are wet“ (London 381).
When he succeeded to light a fire he became overconfident in himself again. He believed he was safe and that cold was outwitted. The man was proud of himself and of his control over nature. “Well, here he was; he had had the accident; he was alone; and he had saved himself“ (London 382).
But his euphoria didn’t last for a long time.
His confidence was soon vanished when the snow from the tree fell upon the fire. “It was his own fault or, rather, his mistake. He shouldn’t have built the fire under the spruce tree“ (London 383).
In Jack London’s To Build a Fire the setting of the short story plays a significant role. Jack London uses specific techniques to establish the atmosphere and tone of the story. By introducing his readers to the setting, London prepares them for a tone that is depressed and fear-provoking. Isolated by an environment of frigid weather and doom, the author shows us how the main character of ...
Undoubtedly, it was a lack of knowledge and experience, it was his carelessness that led to tragedy. Now it became clear that nature was getting the best of him. That time the man thought about death first time. “The man was shocked. It was as though he had just heard his own sentence of death” (London 383).
Now he thought that the old-timer was right. He regretted that he didn’t pay attention to his words. “If he had only had a trail mate he would have been in no danger now. The trail mate could have built the fire“ (London 383).
But there was nobody with him, except his dog. The sight of it suddenly reminded him of a story about a man who killed a steer and crawled inside its carcass to get warm. The main character realized that the only way for him to stay alive was to kill his dog. But his desperate attempts were doomed. “With his helpless hands he could neither draw nor hold his knife nor throttle the animal“ (London 386).
Now the main character realized that he had no control over cold. His fate became clear for him. The man was in panic, but he didn’t want to give up yet. He ran down the trail in the last attempt to pump blood through his limbs. “He ran blindly, without intention, in fear such as he had never known in his life” (London 386).
But everything was in vain. His power was melting. He understood that he was defeating the battle with the frost.
The conclusion of the story presented the man accepting his fate. He fell into the snow thinking that “he was bound to freeze anyway“ and “freezing was not so bad as people thought. There were lots worse ways to die“ (London 387).
The last thoughts that came to the man’s dying mind were about the old-timer, “You were right, old hoss; you were right“ (London 387).
From the beginning of the story, a fate of this self-assured man was quite clear for the readers. It was just a matter of time when he would have been conquered by nature. The man was brutally punished for his nonchalance and ignorance. Through the competition between the man and frost we see how this enthusiastic man gradually changed into a sad and desperate person. Unfortunately, he failed to realize the importance of being carefully prepared for such a journey. He underestimated the significance of knowledge and experience. A result of his stupid behavior was his death. Jack London showed us that nature was insurmountable force, which people had to respect, a force that nobody could change, overcome, or outwit.
An After Thought of Short Stories Earth may run red with wars. In the midst of battles, in the roar of conflict, they found the serenity of death. What exactly was Robert Ingersoll thinking when he wrote that? Was he trying to tell us something that we already knew but were to blind to see? Well when I read the quote I immediately thought of two short stories After the Sirens by Hugh Hood, and ...
“Nature never deceives us, it is we who deceive ourselves”
London, Jack. “To Build a Fire.” From Thresholds by J. Sterling Warner. Florida: Harcourt Brace, 1977