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How is the theme "instinct vs. intellect" depicted in Jack London's story "To Build a...

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sportsfn23 | Student, College Freshman | eNoter

Posted February 9, 2012 at 12:04 AM via web

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How is the theme "instinct vs. intellect" depicted in Jack London's story "To Build a Fire"?

I'm reading this for English and just need a little help on what that theme has to do with the story.

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted February 9, 2012 at 12:29 AM (Answer #1)

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The newcomer--"chechaquo"--to the area is an intelligent man, but he has no instinctive values concerning the deadly conditions that surround him. He has been warned about certain rules to follow--to never travel alone in the extremely cold conditions, for example--but he seems to think that he can avoid these obstacles if he carefully prepares for his journey. However, the man is "without imagination," and he never foresees the problems that may arise. He is surprised how fast his fingers, feet and extremities freeze when he removes his clothing; how his spittle freezes; and how placing a fire too close to a snow-laden tree may cause the snow to fall upon the fire. All of these problems might have been avoided with more experience in the Klondike--or by adhering to the "old-timer's" strict rule about travelling alone. His companion, the dog, may be a dumb animal, but he has a natural instinct about the conditions: He senses the thin ice, recognizes the life-saving need for fire, and refuses to return to the dying man who hopes to kill him for its own life's blood. In the end, he does not faithfully stick by his frozen companion, but instinctively heads for the camp where he knows fire and food await.

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