I have to write an essay contrasting the themes of the stories "To Build A Fire" and "The Open Boat" and am having trouble getting started and writing a thesis.

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lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sometimes in life, nature presents itself as a struggle against mankind. In To Build a Fire and "The Open Boat," there is a struggle between mankind and nature. Nature in all its fury presents a dangerous situation in which mankind must endure. Unfortunately, in both stories, mankind loses the battle or struggle. Nature wins the war. When faced with the sharp, destructive sting of nature's unruly forces, the newcomer and the oiler lose their lives.

In To Build a Fire, the newcomer is traveling alone in weather that is well below zero degrees:

This is the man’s first winter in the Yukon, but because he is ‘‘without imagination’’ and thus unaccustomed to thinking about life and death, he is not afraid of the cold, which he estimates at fifty degrees below zero.

He was warned to not travel by himself. He disregarded the warning and found himself in a life or death situation. While he did build a fire, he did so under a tree. While pulling at limbs from the tree to keep the fire going, the snow falls from the tree and puts the fire out. Now, the newcomer faces death through freezing.

In "The Open Boat," the oiler struggles with the rage of the sea. He, along with three other survivors, is rowing toward the shore after finding themselves stranded in a small boat:

There are four survivors of a shipwreck: the cook, overweight and sloppily dressed, who is bailing water out of the bottom of the boat; the oiler, a physically powerful man named Billie who is rowing with one oar; the unnamed correspondent, who is rowing with the other oar; and the captain, who lies injured in the bottom of the boat.

While stranded in a lifeboat, the oiler rows for his very life. He is faced with the monstrous waves that attempt to overthrow the lifeboat. Ultimately, the men are forced to swim for safety. While trying to make his way to the surf, the waves fight against oiler. He is the strongest of the men in the lifeboat. He should be termed the fittest and should survive. However, after a rough swim toward the shore, the oiler drowns, while the others survive. Nature stole the life of the oiler. He could not survive the conflict of the swim to the shore.


(I hope this helps you get an idea of how to write your essay).

lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

oops...I read the question wrong...

Perhaps you could contrast how survival often happens to the least expected...

The injured captain survives, but the strong oiler drowns...

You may wrtie about the contrast in that determination does not always save one from Nature's fury...

The newcomer was new to the area. It was expected for him to freeze to death, but the oiler was strong and should have survuved.