ISC Echoes ‘To Build a Fire’ question and answers- Man’s struggle against nature


“To Build a Fire” by Jack London

Question: why do you think that the man in Jack London’s short story ‘To Build a Fire ‘ despite being bold, intelligent and adventurous lost the battle against nature?

Answer: The man lost his battle against nature because of several reasons like he was a newcomer, his lack of imagination, lack of experience and most importantly due to his hubris or his overconfidence and arrogance towards the nature.

     The man was a newcomer in the Yukon territory, “a chechaquo” and it was his first winter there. He was unknown to the harshness of winter in Klondike region. The author days about him as ” he was without imagination”. Although he was quick and alert in the the things of life but not in significances.

   The man decided to travel alone through the hostile environment of the Yukon trail in temperature seventy five degrees below zero which was estimated by him as fifty five degrees below zero. His only companion was a husky , native wolf dog. This fact didn’t ” lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature”.  He was indifferent of the fact that man can only live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold. He was unprepared for the harsh weather that he was encountering. He had no idea how cold it really was in the Klondike region but his dog knew it is too cold to be traveling. 

   He only considered it as cold – a mere inconvenience. The man was indifferent towards nature’s ability to overpower him. He believed that that the harsh Klondike winter could be easily taken care by use of mittens,ear flaps, warm moccasins and thick socks. The man lacked imagination as he did not imagine the brutal cold being fatal. 

     It was the man’s pride or hubris that allowed him to begin his dangerous journey, prevented him from turning back when he realised how cold it was and ultimately leads to his death.  

    During his trek, the man was confronted again and again by  his weakness as a lone individual against the formidable power of nature in the form of brutal cold. Each time he removed his gloves, the man was surprised at how quickly his fingers were numbed. He was startled at how fast his nose and cheeks froze and he was amazed when his ” spittle had crackled in the air”

     It was his hubris that the man did not pat any heed to the advice of an old timer that ” no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below” . But he made fun of the advice by calling him  “rather womanish”

    He was too proud of human beings capabilities as he thought” any man who was a man could travel alone”. 
      There is a degree of strength and safety in community. When his fire was extinguished he thinks ” if he had only had a trail mate he would have been in no danger now, the trail mate could have built the fire.”  A lone person is at a marked disadvantage. 

      The lack of instinct is another cause of his death. The man was knowledgeable, he exercised intellectual properties ore than instinctive  ones. He used complicated tools(matches) to build a fire , he could find the degree of coldness through thermometer and find the location on map but the dog is pure instinct. It doesn’t know matches, maps or thermometer but it uses it’s instinct to survive in that harsh weather. It remain warm through its fur coat, it has an innate understanding of the cold and it’s danger and he knew that ” it was no time for traveling”. It longed for a fire and expected the man to go to the camp and seek fire. 

      In Yukon instinct is far superior to intellect. The man’s intellect backfires on him . His ability to light the matches with his numb fingers suffers in the extreme cold, resulted in his failure to build a fire for his survival. 

     When the man wanted to kill the dog , the dog’s instinct saved it as a result  it ” sidled away”  from  the man. 

    After the dog realised the man was dead, it “trotted up the trail in the direction of the camp he  knew”.  It’s instinct led it to the “other food provider and fire providers.”

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