A Discussion of Naturalism in “to Build a Fire”

Topics: Ethology, Nature Publishing Group, Natural environment Pages: 3 (875 words) Published: January 27, 2013
Naturalism, according to Nina Baym in the introduction of The Norton Anthology of American Literature, “introduces characters from the fringes and depths of society whose fates are determined by degenerate heredity, a sordid environment, and/or a good deal of bad luck” (7). Hence, the authors of naturalism often produce stories with twisted plots in which their protagonists encounter many obstacles and setbacks by nature, and these predicaments often injure or even take the characters' lives. Of the many works in The Norton Anthology, I find the work “To Build A Fire” represents this literature movement best. The author, Jack London, skillfully engages his readers by reflecting this notion on his characters - the cruel nature, an instinctive dog, and an ill-fated man - and in which their behaviors are clarifications of Darwinism's ideal and bounded to a deterministic view.

The story is takes place at a Yukon trail and a man, a “newcomer” to the area, is making a daring attempt to cross this dangerous pathway through an extreme environment to meet up with his friends (1057). The temperature at the area is “fifty degrees below zero” (1057) and “exceeding cold and gray” (1057). The man travels by foot without many personal items except a lunch bag that is hidden “under his jacket”; he also travels with a companion, a native husky dog (1058). This area is full of many “traps” (1067), small water streams hidden under icy surfaces . The man knows this fact but he keep on going disregarding the conditions. He meets misfortune when he accidentally steps on one of these “traps” (1067) and drenches his boot up to the knee. This tragedy forces the man to stop and build a fire for drying out. However, his initial fire is diminished when a chunk of snow from an overhead branch of a tree falls over the flame. Frozen and nearly handicapped by the -75 degrees weather, the man's panicked attempt at building a second fire is now hindered greatly, this time by his own poor...
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