The story tells the tale of a newcomer braving the cold, snow-covered country. The story recounts the man’s journey, intentions, the characters he meets, and how the interactions shape and contrast with him. Through the adventure, the author develops human folly, pride, and lack of judgment when it comes to the force of nature. The man’s character shows excellent flaws in his interactions with nature.
The main character flaw of the man is his foolish nature. The man’s lack of imagination makes him not worried about the cold and lack of the sun (London). While the man appears to be knowledgeable about worldly things, he is too clinical and fails to acknowledge the severity of his situation. The man is seemingly unbothered by the cold or the journey ahead of him. He does not recognize the distance he has to cover in the snow thus does not respect nature. The man’s folly is one that the author portrays at the onset, while the reader has yet to understand why the author points it out. During the story’s development, the reader understands why the man’s failure to acknowledge nature’s severity is foolish.
The author portrays the man’s foolishness in his failure to acknowledge his mortality against the cold. Despite the cold, he does not think of his life and the frail nature of his existence against nature (London). The man is not stupid, has an idea of how cold it is, and has warm clothes to help him warm. However, he does think of his weak nature against the cold. The author develops the concept of his foolishness by his failure to acknowledge the need for warmth in the extreme temperatures and is more concerned about getting to Henderson Creek, where others are, where he would find warm food and a fire. Despite his determination, recognition of his needs, and sense of self, he fails to recognize his weakness against the forces of nature and warm himself.
His second flaw is his lack of good judgment and instincts. Despite realizing that it is colder than he initially thought, the man continues his journey rather than build a fire to warm himself (London). The man tries to spit on the ground, but his spit freezes before reaching the ground, making him realize it is colder than he thought. Despite this realization, the man does not take the initiative to build a fire to keep himself warm or help him survive. He instead thinks of getting to where the boys are. On the other hand, the dog has better judgment than the man as it chooses not to travel on such a cold day. The contrast in the man’s choice shows the dog’s survival instincts are better than his.
The man’s judgment about the severity of his predicament once his fingers start to get frostbite and his bread freezes show his lack of survival instincts. Despite the man’s realization of the cold, he still does not take the initiative to warm himself, which causes his face and finders to freeze (London). The man perseveres the cold of the mountain and freezing conditions. However, despite his perseverance, the fact that he got to the place where he has to thaw out his face to eat and his fingers get frostbite shows his lack of survival instincts. Had the man taken time to build a fire before he froze, some parts of his body show a lack of sound judgment. One could argue that he had no sense of self since he had the sense to keep his biscuits warm with body heat and kept them hidden in his clothes so that they could not freeze, yet he did not value himself the same way.
The man is overly proud, which causes his demise. Despite his newcomer status, the man chose a long route to Henderson Creek rather than across the Indian Creek Country with the boys (London). The man’s pride makes him separate from the boys despite being new to Yukon and having no knowledge of the harsh conditions. This move makes him appear borderline arrogant in his decisions and somewhat reckless as he does not know the area or the severity of the cold. At the same time, he tends to think he will survive the cold despite his failure to build a fire.
The man’s interaction with others shows his pride. The man’s interaction with the dog and the Old Man at Sulphur Creek shows his arrogant nature (London). The Old Man at Sulphur Creek tried to advise him against traveling alone in such temperatures. He’s cocky when he thinks he has saved himself despite the Old Man’s concerns and predicament after his accident. He goes ahead to consider the older man’s sense of masculinity is lacking instead of acknowledging his experience and knowledge of Yukon. Being a newcomer to the region, he has a false sense of self as he believes himself capable of navigating the unfamiliar territory in the harsh climate by himself despite what others think. His pride makes him make questionable decisions, such as separating from the boys, failing to make a fire on time, traveling alone in the severe cold, and failure to listen to advice.
The man’s decision not to build a fire might be born of folly, lack of instinct, and pride. The author develops the man’s shortcomings throughout the story. He lacks the imagination to recognize the severity of the weather and thus fails to acknowledge his mortality in the face of nature. At the same time, compared to the dog, the decision not to build a fire early on shows his lack of adaptability and sense of self-preservation, thus questioning his instincts. Finally, his pride ultimately leads to his demise. With the knowledge of Yukon, he separates from the boys and takes the long route alone. Additionally, he fails to listen to the Old Man and questions his masculinity when he attempts to advise him on his decision to travel independently.
London, Jack. “To Build a Fire.” AmericanLiterature.Com, americanliterature.com/author/jack-london/short-story/to-build-a-fire. Accessed 2 Feb. 2022.