Major Theme in to Build a Fire by Jack London

Topics: Free will, Determinism, Causality Pages: 4 (1360 words) Published: January 3, 2011
Major Themes
The movement of naturalism was greatly influenced by the 19th-century ideas of Social Darwinism, which was in turn influenced by Charles Darwin's theories on evolution. Social Darwinism applied to the human environment the evolutionary concept that natural environments alter an organism's biological makeup over time through natural selection. Social Darwinists and naturalists cited this as proof that organisms, including humans, do not have free will, but are shaped, or determined, by their environment and biology. Naturalists argued that the deterministic world is based on a series of links, each of which causes the next (for more on these causal links, see Causal links and processes, below). In "To Build a Fire," London repeatedly shows how the man does not have free will and how nature has already mapped out his fate. Indeed, both times the man has an accident, London states "it happened," as if "it" were an inevitability of nature and that the man had played no role in "it." The most important feature of this deterministic philosophy is in the amorality and lack of responsibility attached to an individual's actions (see Amorality and responsibility, below). Amorality and responsibility

A curious revision occurs when London writes that the man's second accident with the snow was his "own fault or, rather, his mistake." While both are damning words, "fault" is much more serious; it implies an underlying moral responsibility and role in future consequences, while "mistake" suggests an isolated incident outside of one's control. Likewise, the man believes his first accident is bad "luck," another word that connotes lack of free will. "Accident," too, insinuates an unforeseen or unanticipated event out of one's power. If naturalism maintains that an individual has no free will (see Determinism, above), as London's careful phrasing suggests, then it is logical that the individual should not bear responsibility for his actions: if humans...
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