“Survival of the Fittest” just might as well be the title of this short story. Only the strongest will survive is Charles Darwin’s theory of “Survival of the Fittest” (Puchalik). This theory is concisely paralleled in Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” (Puchalick). A man’s trip into the Northern Wilderness, the Yukon Trail, faces a series of difficult challenges as he progresses on the trail. However, arrogance will be the man’s fatal downfall when he faces these foreboding challenges. In London’s “To Build a Fire”, the narrator’s description of arrogance is demonstrated through the conjoined use of setting, character, and plot to proclaim that arrogance can lead to disaster.
In “To Build a Fire,” Jack London uses a varied amount of details in the setting to illustrate the seriousness of the main character’s situation. The story is a detailed description of the dangers of severe cold and the stages involved in the process of freezing to death. The main character, the man, in “To Build a Fire” is a very arrogant person who believed in his own capabilities to handle anything that came at him and took everything at face value. He didn’t analyze and survey the area over every detail which caused him to oversee many important things throughout the story. He definitely was not one of those people that are very analytic and his conceptions were rooted in the tangible world and not in the surreal.
The severity of the man’s situation is fully demonstrated and established through London’s descriptions of the landscape, intense cold, ice, and snow. The height of London’s descriptive portrayal is the story’s concise illustration of the intense cold of the winter that the man is traveling through. The description of the Yukon Trail gets more into depth with descriptions; such as, London’s description of the man spitting, “sharp, explosive crackle”(Burdick 14) is happening in the middle of the air before the man’s spit could even hit the ground is just an example of how vicious the cold was and what the man was traveling through. The frozen moisture of air that the man is breathing formed the ice on his beard and mustache (Kreidler). For example, “crystal beard of the color and solidity of amber”(Burdick 15) transpired when the man chews tobacco and the swiftness in which the man’s limbs become numb and unusable are more illustrative examples of London’s account of the cold. The journey through the unbroken white “North and south, as far as the eye could see” (Burdick13) was another vivid account of the wonderful use of setting in this story. Without a reason to doubt, the idea of a world of ice is a huge factor in the greatness of this story only to be undermined by London’s very descriptive depiction of the man’s death. This is depicted in detail throughout the further on into the story. The treacherous environment of the Yukon, to the man, is just an obstacle that could easily be conquered with the knowledge of your surroundings and an arrogant attitude, but it is actually the executioner. The fear of falling in the water, and this thought kept running through his head “once in a while the thought reiterated itself that it was very cold and had never experience such cold” (Kreidler), the relief when the fire is built, and the horror when it is put out are all situations that builds tension of the story and the man’s arrogance is really starting to get him in serious trouble. The panic when he is unable to build another fire and the climatic end that is bound to happen are more completely realized when the man is unable to light a match (Bloom). The rush through the snow, then becoming exhausted and not being able to keep up the running, and the, the idea to kill his dog, but not able to grasp his knife, to use its body as warmth. Once he knew that the end was near, the man laid down to embrace death that was coming to him (Bloom). These are all further illustrative details of the mental break down of the man’s character and how his arrogant mindset has brought him to his end.
The arrogance of the man has now been fully recognized by him and he thinks of “meeting death with dignity”(Burdick 27) and this is the final stage to the man’s realization that he was to die. The concept to “sleep off to death”(Burdick 27)and his statement, “Freezing was not so bad as people thought. There were lots worse ways to die.” is another step towards the imminent conclusion that we had all suspected when the fire was forcefully put out. The setting and his character is furthermore developed by these various accounts and the brutality of the severe winters in the Yukon Trail are even more realized.
In conclusion, London’s setting within the unemotional Yukon is both descriptive and energetic. The major problem of the story takes place after the fire is put out, leading to the climax of the story when the man begins his realization that death had found him and was not going to go away. In this way, London uses setting, plot, and character to show the extent of the man’s situation and the death that will surely come if you underestimate it and not look at it with an open mind. The challenges of the story, the severe cold, and the man’s final death all happened because the man did not keep an open mind.
Cite This Work
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below: