Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The main conflict in this story of survival is between human beings and nature. Another central conflict, however, is that between youth and confidence as opposed to wisdom and experience. The main character is a young man who believes that he knows the frozen wilderness, but he is still a tenderfoot who has not yet learned to respect the power of nature. Jack London shows early in the story that the tenderfoot lacks imagination, an asset he sorely needs when tested to the extreme by the harsh wilderness.
The man’s egotism is in conflict with his common sense. He does not understand humankind’s frailty and is too proud to admit his own. He does not comprehend the danger posed by an alien, hostile environment in which he can only survive by the full exercise of his native wit, instincts, skill, and cunning. Before the coming of winter, the old-timer from Sulpher Creek had warned him that one should always travel in winter with a partner and that one should never attempt to travel alone in temperatures colder than fifty degrees below zero. In his ignorance, the tenderfoot had laughed at the old-timer’s advice. Caught in the bitter cold, he is made to realize the value of the old man’s warning.
The tenderfoot scorns other precautions. Once caught in the wilderness, for example, he realizes the value of having a partner. He realizes, moreover, that a facial strap would have protected him against frostbite. Still, he manages to build a fire...
(The entire section is 405 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of To Build a Fire Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!