Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Jack London - "To Build a Fire"

Naturalism is a huge understatement for Jack London's "To Build a Fire." With a focus entirely on nature and the human interpretation of it, this subgenre of Realism relates to Darwin's theory of "survival of the fittest" (Werlock). London's "To Build a Fire" tells the story of a man and his Huskie exploring the Alaskan wilderness in the depths of winter, where it is very, very cold. The poor man's basic survival instincts are diminished by the dog's amazing sense of protection in this epic battle between life and the harsh cold of a deep Alaskan winter (London, 603-614). There is so much the reader can assume from the title of the story, alone. At first, it is apparent that the story must teach some sort of wilderness lesson, such as how to actually build a fire, but it can also be assumed that the wilderness puts the main character in some sort of survival situation in which he will need to learn to cope with the situation, despite its bleak outlook. Naturalism is truly a large concern here this concept deals with the interaction between man and nature and the overall survival, which brings out his most primitive instincts (Werlock). As the unprepared man travels out to Alaska in search of gold, his mind is not set on the signs of increasing danger, such as the immensely growing cold weather (London, 603-614). Still, as taken from the title, the reader is able to assume that the character will have to comply with some sort of struggle with nature. However, as the story picks up, nature does nearly nothing of drastic proportion to halt the man and his dog, but it just keeps up with the well below freezing temperatures, making the man lose his care about gold eventually (London, 603-614). The main focus of the short story is to bring out the man's, and dog's, instincts to the point of where the man is hardly even a functioning human anymore, but his bodily instincts take over his mental toughness in order to ensure survival. Darwinism plays an enormous part in Naturalism, as well (Werlock), and this theory is illustrated well in "To Build a Fire." The main character is not really fighting against another being to stay alive, but his fight is against his body and will (London, 603-614). Next, to cover the remaining topics, society is fairly unimportant in this story because the focus is all about the human nature of the main character. Religion is useless in this story, too, because the man mentions no references of God even throughout his entire span out in the difficult wilderness. Also, government does not have anything to do with "To Build a Fire" because the government is not strong in Alaska since it covers such a grand expanse of land. Finally, the American Dream and the Hero are not quite as present in this story either as result of the bleak situation the character and his dog are placed in. And, finally, the language is extremely simple, almost modern, hinting at a new shift from the Civil War era's Realism to a much more modern style of writing.

Works Cited

London, Jack. "To Build a Fire." Glencoe Literature. Ed. Jeffrey Wilhelm. American Literature ed. Colombus: McGraw-Hill, 2010. 603-614. Print.

Werlock, Abby H. P. "naturalism." The Facts On File Companion to the American Short Story, Second Edition. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2009. Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin= Gamshrtsty0501&SingleRecord=True. 15 Feb. 2011.

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