The Definition of Nature in “To Build a Fire”

Check out more papers on American Literature Arts Nature

Jack London’s brief tale, “To Build a Fire,” is the unfortunate story of a man who chooses to travel alone through the unfriendly climate of the Yukon in sub-liberating temperatures and succumbs to the tenacious and unforgiving force of nature. During his excursion, the man considers going all in as he falls through the ice into the water of a natural aquifer (London 122). In view of the seriousness of the chilly, nearly “107 degrees underneath [the] edge of freezing over,” the man’s life relies on his capacity to immediately get a fire going to hold his feet back from freezing (122-23). After one, half-effective fire-beginning undertaking, and a few other forlorn endeavors, the misery of the man’s solitary battle against the threatening climate of the Yukon starts to become obvious. After an extensive scene of frenzy wherein the man attempts frantically to return the inclination to his furthest points by “going around like a crazy whirlwind” (128), the man finally “develops quiet and chooses to meet demise with nobility . . .” (Labor 66). The story’s focal topic is one depicted by numerous existentialist authors—that man carries on with a singular presence which is dependent upon the persevering, unforgiving powers of nature; an unpretentious piece of this subject is that it is man’s objective to discover significance in his reality. 

Don't use plagiarized sources. Get your custom essay on

“The Definition of Nature in “To Build a Fire””

Get custom essay

The word existentialist, just as the subject of existentialism itself, dodges definition. Davis McElroy calls attention to this issue by contrasting the demonstration of characterizing existentialism with the demonstration of endeavoring “to clarify human life in a solitary sentence . . .” (xi). For curtness, maybe a short, straightforward definition would be ideal; as per the American Heritage Dictionary (third ed.), existentialism is “a way of thinking that stresses the uniqueness and separation of the person in a threatening or uninterested universe” This assertion characterizes the topic of Jack London’s brief tale—the solitary man traversing the hopeless, hostile region of the Yukon can come to be viewed as the singular person who possesses a pitiless and unconcerned universe. At the finish of the story we at last see the man go to the acknowledgment, in an indirect way, that it was ideal to meet his destiny with nobility, subsequently offering importance to a generally insignificant and remorseless passing. This existential topic in “To Build a Fire” isn’t probably going to be a simple incident, yet rather seems, by all accounts, to be essential for London’s deliberate plan. As per Charles Child Walcutt, Jack London was extraordinarily affected by the thoughts of such men as Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, and Friedrich Nietzsche, all conspicuous scholars of London’s time (5). So it is no mishap that at the core of the story lies an existentialist subject. 

London accentuates the existential subject in “To Build a Fire” severally, the most significant of which is his choice of the setting wherein the story happens. The story is set in the wild of the frozen Yukon during the unforgiving cold weather months when “there was no sun nor trace of sun” in the sky (118). London puts his lone human person in the dangerous setting of the wild of the Yukon, which is sufficient to start to show his topic, however when London consolidates this unforgiving climate with the destructive cold of the Yukon winter, he makes a setting which is the exemplification of the antagonistic, existential climate. The distance of the Yukon wild, just as the shortfall of a human sidekick for the man, serve to delineate the existentialist thought that man is separated from everyone else in the universe. To additionally underscore this thought, London has not given the hero a name, yet essentially alludes to him as “the man” all through the story. By not naming the person, London has put him at a significantly more noteworthy separation from the peruser inside his lethal setting, consequently secluding him even more in a hopeless and unfriendly universe. 

Symbolism is a significant component which London uses to delineate and underline his topic. Baron Labor sees the “disposition and air, which is passed on through redundant symbolism of cold and misery and whiteness,” as being “the way in to the story’s effect” (63). To be sure, London depends vigorously on symbolism to set the state of mind of the story, and in this way he draws an image of the pitiless climate his person should persevere. London utilizes symbolism with such expertise that the peruser can nearly feel the serious and dangerous cold of the climate and can nearly hear the “sharp, unstable snap” when the man’s spit would freeze in mid-air (119). Using such distinctive symbolism, London directs the peruser toward the acknowledgment of the story’s subject; the peruser can picture the man “losing in his fight with the ice” and accordingly can imagine man in his contention with a merciless and relentless universe (128). 

London likewise utilizes incongruity to represent and stretch his existential topic. The man is “acutely perceptive” as he travels through the slippery territory of the Yukon (120). He is continually watching out for signs which recount the secret risks that he wishes to stay away from, in any case, amusingly, the man “falls through the ice” in a space which is without any sort of “slippery signs” (Perry 227). The man gets a further portion of the whimsical and apathetic nature of the universe when, after meticulously lighting a fire, the life-supporting fire is incidentally snuffed out by falling snow similarly as he is going to start defrosting his freezing feet. Lord Hendricks sees incongruity in that even “with all his insight [the man] is as yet a vulnerable casualty to inherent forces and normal powers” (22). Hendricks further notes the incongruity in the way that the man “couldn’t get by in the Artic [sic] climate of 75 degrees under nothing while the canine, living simply by sense, without gloves, without earflaps, without a coat, without lunch, and without a fire, saved himself” (22). To save the existential topic of man being separated from everyone else in an unfeeling universe, the peruser should not be befuddled by the presence of the canine as a venturing out ally to the man; the peruser must rather perceive the truth about the canine—a further expansion of the impassive and cutthroat climate. The canine is definitely not an aware being as man himself is and can’t thusly be viewed just like a close companion who shares the unpleasant presence of the solitary, lost soul who is the hero. By emphasizing the fundamental pieces of his story with incongruity, London guides the peruser’s focus toward the wanton aloofness of nature and in this way the existential subject of man’s carrying on with a singular presence in a whimsical and hurtful universe. 

With his exemplary style, Jack London has made an astonishing and remarkably shocking story which outlines a cutting edge thoughtful topic. This current story’s topic discusses man’s need to discover importance in the sufferings of his singular presence in a climate which is both antagonistic and apathetic regarding his sufferings. London outlines and underscores this subject threely: through his decision of setting, his symbolism, and his cunning position of incongruity inside the story.

Did you like this example?

Cite this page

The Definition of Nature in "To Build a Fire". (2020, Apr 13). Retrieved March 30, 2023 , from

Save time with Studydriver!

Get in touch with our top writers for a non-plagiarized essays written to satisfy your needs

Get custom essay

Stuck on ideas? Struggling with a concept?

A professional writer will make a clear, mistake-free paper for you!

Get help with your assigment
Leave your email and we will send a sample to you.
Stop wasting your time searching for samples!
You can find a skilled professional who can write any paper for you.
Get unique paper

I'm Chatbot Amy :)

I can help you save hours on your homework. Let's start by finding a writer.

Find Writer