Stability of Characters in to Build a Fire and the Tell Tale Heart

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Instability of Characters

Henry James’ argues that a character is only as interesting as their responses to a particular situation, can be supported by using any written works that a student may encounter, given that the story has at least one character. I intend to prove that the instability of the main characters in each story will ultimately be their downfall. The story “To Build a Fire” by Jack London is about a man struggle with nature and his inability to trust his human instinct, and In Edgar Allen Poe’s story “The Tale-Tell Heart” is about a man who proclaims he is not crazy but plans and executes the murder of an old man.

In the beginning of “To build a Fire” the man realizes how cold the weather is outside but he only sees this as a fact and not a threat to his health. Jack London writes “As he turned to go on, he spat speculatively. There was a sharp, explosive crackle that startled him. He spat again. And again, in the air, before it could fall to the snow, the spittle crackled in the air. Undoubtedly it was colder than fifty below-how much colder he did not know. But the temperature did not matter.” (120) This is one example where the main character ignores his human instinct and doesn’t bring items that would cover his face and cheekbones. Any man with common sense knows to bring the right items for the journey if he’s going to be traveling in weather that will be colder than fifty degrees below zero. While on this trip the man is accompanied by a dog that follows the man on his unadvised journey. The dog uses its natural instinct to outlive the man on this trip. The dog is a native husky and I believe represents pure instinct in this story in which the man doesn’t use at all. The dog knows to bite the ice off of his feet so that they do not become frozen from the harsh conditions. He buries himself in the snow when the man cannot start a fire because his hands are too cold to pull his matches out of his pocket. With the dogs keen since of...
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