Man’s ego versusthe forces of nature
To Build A Fire is a short tragic tale by Jack London that narratesabout a man’s last days on the earth. The story’s protagonist ispassing through the sub-freezing land of the Yukon when he becomesthe victims of an unforgiving and harsh force of nature. Beforeembarking on the journey, the man is warned against walking alone onsuch severe weather conditions and even if his instincts also warnhim, he decides to ignore all the signs and his conscience and tofollow his ego. He makes several attempts to light a fire but doesnot make it. It is after several attempts that the man finally givesin to the forces of nature and awaits his now evident death. Thispaper asserts that in the story To Build A Fire, Jack London comparesthe man`s ego and powers to the forces of nature by depicting acontest between these two initiated by the man but one that naturealways wins.
First, the audience is introduced to the man’s ego that tells himthat he can challenge the force of nature. The narrator says, “thedistant trail, no sun in the sky, the great cold, and the strangenessof it all-Had no effects on the man” (London, 65). Besides, if theman’s ego was not up for a contest, he would have heeded to theadvice of the old-timer and probably postpone the journey or findsomeone else to take the journey with him. Also, the narrator treatsthe protagonist as anonymous as he is not given a name which supportsthe arguments that in the presence of the huge forces of nature, theman is nothing. While he depicts the man as nothing, he seeks toexemplify the powers of nature by taking every chance he gets todescribe its mightiness. For example, he emphasizes on the freezingpoint of the Yukon’s environment. Additionally, he explains thatnot only was the sun absent but there was no hint of it. Thisdescription is intended to make the audience feel the full wrath andpower of nature against human beings.
Additionally, the setting of the story explores further the conflictbetween the man and the forces of nature but which the man willinglyinitiates. As if in support of the forces of nature power against thehuman beings, the narrator describes the forces of nature in a waythat show that he is warning the protagonist to give up his ego. Thenarrator says, “he also heard the noise of the snow-covered iceskin breaking” (London, 68). Pizer Donald in the book, TheCambridge Companion to American Realism and Naturalism, says, “thatLondon’s description of the man’s inhumanity is his expression ofhis disapproval as he undertakes to expose it accurately andunemotionally” (239). The entire action in the short story takesplace in the wilderness where forces of nature are known todominates. It is common knowledge to any man that the wilderness ischaracterized by the lack of human beings, violent weather conditionssuch as the wind and the sand storms as well as dangerous animalssuch as snakes and poisonous snakes, but the protagonist chooses totake the journey alone anyway.
Besides, London`s act of depicting the man`s powerlessness comparedto the forces of nature is evident in the failures of theprotagonist. After coming to terms with the condition in thewilderness, the man desperately seeks to light a fire to warm him upand prevent his oncoming death. However, every effort by the man isencountered with equal effort from the forces of nature and finallyhe is unable to light up the fire. After several attempts, the manfinally gives in to the forces of nature. The narrator says, "hewas losing his battle with the frost" (London, 78). Thus, whilethe man faces death, the forces of nature triumphs. However, even athis death, the man`s ego does not recognize failure and the victoryfor the forces of nature. The narrators say, "freezing was notas bad as people thought” (London, 78). Additionally, even if theman feels agitated to kill the dog his only companion, the forces ofnature cannot allow him to. The man is unable to hold still the knifeas a result of his fingers that had frozen to an extent that he couldnot go ahead with his urge to kill the dog.
The short story, To Build A Fire by Jack London demonstrates theman’s powerlessness compared to the forces of nature. It is theman’s ego that prompts him to challenge nature by embarking on thejourney while he understands well that he will encounter the fullwrath of extreme weather condition. Additionally, the man`spowerlessness is seen in the setting of the action, his lack ofidentity and the author`s depiction of the mightiness of nature.Besides, the protagonist effort to overcome nature is faced withequal efforts from the latter to defeat him as seen in his failure tolight a fire. It is for these reasons that this paper maintains thatthe story, To Build A Fire by Jack London, is a true manifestationof the conflict between man and nature and which although the formerinitiate he losses to the latter in the end.
London, Jack. To Build Fire. Web. 1902. Retrieved on March 30, 2016.http://www.americanenglish.state.gov/files/ae/resource_files/to-build-a-fire.pdf
Pizer,Donald. TheCambridge Companion to American Realism and Naturalism: From Howellsto London.Cambridge University Press, 1995.