To Build a Fire Questions and Answers
by Jack London

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How are determinism and social darwinism present in London's naturalistic short story "To Build a Fire"?

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In London's story, as in his fiction in general, man is shown in a relentless struggle against nature. The principal question at the heart of "To Build a Fire" is: what abilities do men (and animals) require in order to survive, and what is the source of these abilities?

Determinism is a philosophy that attributes results to things outside human will. Obviously, in London's story, will alone is insufficient to save the man. From the way the man acts, a present-day analysis might judge him to have a learning disability. He is familiar with the mechanics of surviving in the Yukon, but seemingly does not recognize the danger he's in:

He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significance.

The extreme cold--50 below zero Fahrenheit--"impressed him as being cold and uncomfortable," but did not lead him to "meditate upon man's frailty in general, able to live only within certain narrow limits of heat and cold." It is as if...

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