Realism: "To Build a Fire" by Jack London

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“To Build a Fire” by Jack London is the tragic tale of a man who becomes a victim of the relentless and unforgiving power of nature. Mirroring life as most people experience it, realistic fiction includes the daily challenges and tribulations of being human. Throughout the story, London creates irony through the main character, which adds to the bleakness that is realism.

The main character in this story is a newcomer to the land who is oblivious to nature’s abilities. With little knowledge of what it’s like to be where he is, the man is practically clueless about what he is getting into. His eventual undoing is the result of using the little knowledge he has and overestimating his abilities, causing him to make foolish decisions. For example, an old-timer on Sulfur Creek had once cautioned him about how extremely cold it was; yet the man ignores the warning. Irony comes into play when the man walks along a creek trail, mindful of the dangerous, hidden springs, and falls through a “safe” spot in the snow. The man knows to watch for concealed water spots, yet he steps in one unexpectedly, getting wet up to his shins. This incident is the first stumbling block in the road, which adds to the realistic feel of the story.

Following the man’s every footstep is his loyal companion, a Husky dog. The dog is depressed by the extreme cold and knows that it is no time for traveling. The dog’s knowledge brings us to another ironic situation. The man carries on his way, disregarding the serious warning signs such as his frozen cheekbones, numbness, and pain. We expect a man to be smarter than a dog, but ironically the dog is the one who understands the severity of the temperature. The dog had learned at an early age that men make fire and seek shelter to survive. The fact that this man doesn’t do so is realistic in that it shows how humans don’t always make the best decisions.

Most of the ironic situations in this story come from nature. The man gets a dose of the...
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