Man's Test of Strength
To Build a Fire
Nature is always pushing man to his limits. When man heeds the warning signs that nature has to offer and those warnings of other men, he is most likely to conquer nature. When he ignores these warnings, nature is sure to defeat man. To build a fire is a prime example of this scenario. In the short story, "To Build a Fire" by Jack London, an inexperienced traveler in the Yukon travels alone with his dog, even though it is ill advised to do so. The man is strong and smart but nature humbled him during his quest to reach his friends. The man's inexperience with traveling in the cold subzero temperatures doomed him from the beginning, but his strong focus under extreme pressure and his keen sense of observation are what allows him to survive as long as he did. The ignorance of the old-timer's words of wisdom slowly haunts him and catches up with him in the end. The man's disregard for nature's power is his demise during his journey.
Although the man's inexperience is his demise, he has very keen observing skills and strong focusing abilities. London writes, "he was keenly observant, and he noticed the changes in the creek, the curves and bends and timber-jams, and always he sharply noted where he placed his feet." (London, 527) These skills allow him to make his way through the Yukon.
He lacks imagination of what could happen to him in the tundra of the Yukon. "The trouble with him was that he was without imagination," (London, 525) London explains. If he had had a better imagination before he started his journey, he surely would have taken better precautions. He had the book smarts' about walking through the Yukon but he lacked the street smarts.' He may lack experience and imagination in traveling in subzero temperatures but his calm nature allows him to stay focused, even when the fire is snuffed out by the falling snow from the tree and he thought of it as hearing his own death sentence....
Cited: London, Jack. "To Build a Fire."
The Century Magazine, v.76, August 1908, 525-534.
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