An Analysis of Jack London's To Build a Fire
Length: 542 words (1.5 double-spaced pages)
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In his article "To Build a Fire" a Physical Fiction and Metaphysical Critics Charles E. May comments and disagrees with a statement that "To Build a Fire" is "a masterpiece of a short fiction"(20). Literary critics claimed that London used many metaphors in this work such as "sun-fire-life" or "cold-darkness-depression-death"(20), but May argues that this story should be read and interpreted literally and does not contain deep, dual or metaphorical meaning. He says: "For Jack London, and consequently for the reader, the man in the story is simply a living body, the cold is simply a physical fact"(22). What is more article's author strongly disagrees with the critic, who compares the theme of the story to a theme of a classical tragedy. May sarcastically states that the only visible similarity in terms of theme would be the issue of protagonist's death(22).
I think that "To Build a Fire" story relates to many issues hidden behind a superficial plot. The story takes place in a very severe winter; the man under appreciates the dangers of nature forces and struggles to return to camp. He is warned about possible dangers, but he is also too pride and too self-confident to take the advice into consideration. The protagonist is accompanied by a dog. The man tries to survive, but forces of nature are stronger and he dies.
The interpretation of the story, however, reveals real "treasures": problem of loneliness, deadly fear, acceptance, understanding, issue of time, and a scary silence. The protagonist seems to be a very independent and strong person, he rather listens to himself first. He planned his way back home, and regardless to weather condition he realizes his plans and sets off. During this trip he starts to realize that it may be too cold, initially tries to set up a fire, but it is not enough to survive. He is scared, and has a feeling of a coming death.
In some ways he is similar to a contemporary person, who never has enough time for anything. The protagonist rushes to get home, to realize his own plans, to go forward, then on a deserted land he suddenly finds time, too much time to think, and to feel. It was a very uncomfortable feeling to be aware of his own death; he is able to predict what will happen. At first, he tries to escape and safely find camp, but afterwards he learns it is impossible, and accepts his fate.
The story is written from the third-person perspective. However, its tone does not influence readers positively, and they do not sympathize with the protagonist. He is rather considered to be a very self-confident person who disobeys rules of nature and according to his own opinion is not subject to weather dangers.
Theme of the story relates to an issue of loneliness as a life choice. Solitude was not imposed on a protagonist, he might have been accepted by other members of a society, but he chose to live on his own. He is a selfish person, focused on himself.
"'TO BUILD A FIRE': PHYSICAL FICTION AND METAPHYSICAL CRITICS."Studies in Short Fiction Winter78: 15_ EBSCO Host Research Databases_ 10 Feb 2004. GALILEO