A Symbolic Interpretation of “To Build a Fire”

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In every piece of literature, there are characters, situations, or objects that society can relate to. They appear in most pieces and are easily recognizable. These are called archetypes. Using an archetypical approach when analyzing a piece of literature can help you figure out a central theme entwined into a story.

London wrote the short story To Build a Fire about survival and exploring the elements. In this story, a man, who remains unnamed, is determined to hike through the forests that line the river of the Yukon Trail in British Columbia, Canada. The man is described as being someone with no sense of imagination. It is described in the story as a lack of common sense but it really translates to a lack of emotion for inconvenience. Because of this, he does not see the danger of the journey he is about to go on. He even ignores a warning from an elderly man who said he should not go into the forest alone in sub-zero temperatures. He accidentally falls through some ice making his lower half soaked. It begins to freeze immediately and he cannot feel his fingers or toes. He tries to light a fire but all the matches light at once and the fall on the snow. He realizes that he is going to die. He tries to strangle the dog for heat and shelter until he is found, but he is too weak. The dog runs off and leaves him as he drifts into a final sleep.

Situational archetypes are part of what creates the theme of this story. The first that is established is The Journey. The Journey is a self-established trip that the character takes in order to find something or someone. In this case, the man on his way to find shelter and the other travelers. Having The Journey as an archetype could contribute to the theme in the way that it is about overcoming something, or having a struggle. The next situational archetype is The Fall. This is displayed quite literally in this story but it also is accurate to the situational archetype. When the man falls into the water, he goes from a higher to lower state of being. He is very confident in his ability to detach himself from the extreme temperatures before the fall into the water, and then after, he begins to doubt his abilities and his sureness of life. This archetype also contributes to the theme in the sense that one event can take you from a mindset of confidence to being unsure and scared. The last situational archetype is The Unhealable Wound. In this instance, it is his frozen hands and feet. He continuously tries to get blood to flow to his toes and fingers by hitting his hands against his chest and running as fast as possible. This Unhealable Wound is what causes him to drop the matches thus preventing his final attempt at life. This helps us uncover the theme even more by revealing that one unhealable wound or one traumatic incident could be your final straw.

Character archetypes are equally as important to a story as situational archetypes. Because there are only three characters in this story, the things we can extract from the character archetypes are limited. The first character is the man. He is someone who is straightforward and explores new territories. This would make him The Pioneer or The Explorer. He is alone and detached from truth or reasoning. The next character is the “Old Man on Sulphur Creek.” This old man is who warned him from going into the wilderness alone. He warned of death or danger. His visionary advice and view into the future could assign him as The Seer or The Prophet. He is unknowingly such, so he is not prideful or absolute, rather he speaks from experience. The last character is the dog. This dog was not so much a companion to the man, as he was The Slave (London 70). The dog is also The Scapegoat because his owner tried to kill him instead of his owner facing his own death. These three characters contribute greatly to the theme of the story.

Now let’s turn to A&P by John Updike three high school young ladies, wearing just their swimsuits, stroll into an A&P market in a little New England town. Sammy, a young man working the checkout line, watches the girls intently. He assesses their looks and notes even moment insights concerning the manner in which they convey themselves. He additionally theorizes about their identities and their inspiration for entering the store dressed the manner in which they are. Sammy is especially inspired by the most outstanding young lady, who has all the looks of being the leader of the group. This young lady, whom Sammy names ""Queenie,"" has a characteristic effortlessness and certainty, showing us her uniqueness. As the young ladies meander the walkways of the A&P, they cause a buzz. As Sammy calls attention, the store is in the focal point of town, not even close to the shoreline, where the young ladies' clothing would pull in less notice. Sammy's colleague Stokesie gazes at the young ladies also, clowning around with Sammy as he does as such. Sammy jokes along with Stokesie, however he feels the problem between himself, still single, and the married Stokesie. Lengel, the store chief criticizes the young ladies for entering the store in swimming outfits, referring to store arrangement. The young ladies are humiliated, and Queenie dissents that her mom needed her to come in and get some herring snacks. As the young women leave the store, Sammy abruptly swings to Lengel and leaves his place of employment, challenging the way Lengel has humiliated the young ladies. Sammy hopes the girls are watching him. In this story the main archetypes seem to be those such as the fall of man, and the coming of age. From the time the young ladies enter the supermarket, to the minute they abandon; you can see changes in Sammy. At first, he sees just the physicality of the young ladies: what they look like and what they are wearing, appear to be his only perceptions. As the story advances, he sees the connections between the young ladies, and he even decides the chain of command of the little powerful. He watches their activities and how they influence different perceptions of the people around them. Or maybe, how different individuals see the young lady's activities. His point of view is developing and he begins to consider things how a grown-up might see them. He sees that the ""regulars"", appear to do very similar things all day every day. Following a similar way through the isles, they mark off their lists and approach the counter like regular. This is the reason the gathering of young ladies is so reviving to Sammy. They are unique and don't appear to pursue any set way. They appear to live in the now. Following how he views the girls, he begins to feel terrible about the manner in which the young ladies are being seen by others. He doesn’t want to get caught up in something that discourages uniqueness. When he chooses to quit his job, hurriedly as it might be, he is settling on the decision to be a person, to wander into the world on his own. It is something that he realizes he needs to do, so he has some hesitation in ""removing the apron"". (Updike) When it has been removed, he realizes he can't return it on. This symbolizes his realization of proceeding onward throughout everyday life.

Lastly let’s turn to Spunk by Zora Neale Hurston in a community in central Florida that is populated only by African Americans, Walter Thomas and Elijah Mosley are perched on the patio of a store. They see that Lena Kanty has vanished into the palmetto shrubs with Spunk Banks, who isn't her husband. Joe is completely mindful of the ramifications of Spunk and Lena's conduct; he realizes that the men at the store have seen her, and he realizes they realize he knows. Joe hauls out a razor and claims that Spunk has gone excessively far. Walter condemns Elijah for ridiculing Joe and insulting him to activity. Elijah shields himself by saying it isn't better than average for a man to acknowledge such conduct. Spunk is the main man in the town sufficiently courageous to ride the hover saw at the sawmill. In the event that Spunk and Joe were to tangle, Joe would not toll well. Lena's job in this triangle is clear to everyone, aside from Joe. She is in love with Spunk and wants to leave her husband for him. The issue is settled when Joe follows the couple into the palmetto brambles, and is murdered by Spunk in self-protection. Spunk and Lena don't live joyfully ever after, despite the fact that the primary obstruction to their joy has been disposed of.

The occurrence had happened similarly as Spunk and Lena were getting ready for bed. Elijah says that a major, dark bobcat had strolled around the house yelling. At the point when Spunk snatched his firearm, the bobcat stopped, taking a gander at him and crying. Spunk understands that it's anything but a wildcat, yet Joe. Walter infers that Joe was the more valiant, on the grounds that despite the fact that he was alarmed of Spunk and realized he had a firearm, he still sought after him. Spunk, then again, a characteristic conceived warrior, was terrified of nothing. A couple of days after the fact, the bobcat shows up for the second time. This time the story is told from the townsman's viewpoint. The men were grinding away in the sawmill when Spunk mysteriously slipped and fell into the circle saw. As he was kicking the bucket, the men contacted him and heard his final words: ""It was Joe, 'Lige . . . the grimy sneak pushed me."" Elijah finishes up: ""If spirits kinfolk battle, there's an incredible tussle goin' on some place ovah Jordan 'cause Ah b'leeve Joe's prepared for Spunk an' ain't skeered any more."" (Hurston) At Spunk's wake, all the townspeople have assembled to offer their regards to Lena, who is mourning her misfortune, even Joe's dad has come. As they are eating at the wake, different grievers guess on who will be Lena's next lover. In this story the archetypes that follow are death vs. rebirth, the hero, and courage vs cowardice. The black bobcat in this case symbolizes death, Spunk dies later in the story, but we can conclude it is Joe (the bobcat) returning from hell and coming back to haunt Spunk for stealing his wife. We can interpret the hero being Joe. Joe shows a true hero when he learns of his wife and Spunk and decides to kill Spunk for deceiving him. Although, Joe knew this would end in death. Courage vs. cowardice is the last archetype, in the story everyone was afraid of Spunk, no one could stand up to him, except Joe. In the beginning Joe was seen as a coward because everyone knew Spunk had taken his wife. Towards the end of the story, Spunk became afraid of the bobcat, which was Joe, But Joe had the courage to stand up to Spunk although things didn't go as planned.

Because of the archetypical approach, a theme can emerge from this story. Using the archetypical approach, we are able to figure out a central theme in which these stories are entwined and analyze the meaning behind what the authors are really trying to tell us. Using only this one approach of many can make us a reader interpret what the author is saying and get a better understanding of what we are reading.

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A Symbolic Interpretation of "To Build a Fire". (2021, Mar 20). Retrieved December 1, 2023 , from

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