Conflict in “To Build a Fire” by Jack London

            In Jack London’s to build a fire, an unknown man travels the Klondike, a very close place in Yukon where temperatures plummet to a deadly seventy degrees below zero. It is presumed that the man is a miner, drawn by the Yukon Gold Rush in 1897. Despite the old timer’s warning of travelling without a companion below fifty, the man went on his journey with just a dog as a companion. Ignorance, pride, and a certain dose of bad luck accumulated to bring his downfall, literally, he fell in one of those ice traps that drenched him knee down, as he staggers to build a fire, the cold got to him and killed him. Nature was the only real antagonist in this story, and along with his arrogance, caused him his life.

Man vs. Nature

            Nobody wins over nature, especially during those times when cold protection technology was just animal skins. It is impossible to win, even today dozens of mountain climbers die trying to reach the highest peaks in the world, despite technological advances. The main protagonist, known only as “the man” suffered nature’s wrath. As clear as a day it was, the sun was never really around during the duration of the narrative. It could have meant that the man has seen the sun for the last time, and like a dead man, he cast no shadow on a day plenty of light, a foreshadowing of his imminent death. He wagered his life on his amateur experience despite the heeds of the experienced man from Sulphur Creek. Regardless, the man was got some advice from the old timer and up to the point when he got wet, he was using these advices for his survival. The old timer told the man that he needed to be dry quickly if ever he became wet due to those snow traps. It was the beginning of the end for the rookie.  His cold feet would eventually get to him, if it didn’t the seventy five degree below zero would. Either way, he was a dead man.

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In contrast to the man, the dog, despite showing much interest in the fire, is fine with or without it. It was more of a luxury for the dog rather than a necessity. It was built for this kind of weather, unlike the man who relies on other animal’s skin for protection. It does not read coldness by figures but it knows that this kind of weather is dangerous both for man and beast. The dog instinctively removed the iced that formed between its toes when its feet got wet. The only knew about its dangers when he was advised by the old timer. This was what was lacking for the man, instinct is the ultimate survival kit. He relied on heat from the fire would save him from the cold. In the end, his lack of instinct killed him. There was a chance that the dog could have saved him if only he treated the dog well, he had no affection for the dog, if not cruel to it. He even thought of killing the dog to make it’s carcass warm his body.

Man vs. Himself

            The demise of the man was not only the solely because of nature. If only the man had perceived, or thought of the consequences that would result from his bold adventure. He would not have left under the harsh conditions. Another flaw of the man is his ego, he laughed at the old timer when he was warned about travelling alone under fifty degrees, he only realized the old timer was telling the truth when he was already in deep trouble. His dream of a better life got the worse of him, (he was presumably there during the gold rush). Instead of a finding gold, he found his death, a very cold death.

Conclusion. The harshness of nature and his pride caused the man his life. Nature is not a force to be taken lightly. It shows no mercy regardless of a person’s morality. But sometimes, nature targets the proud man, or rather the proud man is lured by nature. Poetic justice is quick but not death. “The man” is a classic character of a character that suffers because of his or her hubris (pride), with Nature playing the role of judge.

Reference

London, J. (1908). To Build a Fire. The Century Magazine, vol. 76

 

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