To Build a Fire Questions and Answers
by Jack London

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How does Jack London's "To Build a Fire" illustrate the elements of naturalistic literature?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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"To Build a Fire" is naturalistic in that it looks at the story's protagonist in much the same way as a scientist would observe microbes in a petri dish. We observe the unnamed man from a distance as if we're participating in some kind of scientific experiment, an experiment designed to determine the effects of a cold, wintry climate on human behavior.

As the word "naturalistic" implies that the emphasis of literary works written in this style is very much on nature. Inevitably, this means that there's a quasi-scientific objectivity to the writing. Man isn't portrayed in such works as standing apart from nature but as an intrinsic part of it. This means that characters, such as the man in "To Build a Fire," are presented more as objects of study than recognizably human figures with whom we can readily identify.

As a consequence, we gain, or should gain, a greater respect for the forces of nature than the man displayed in foolishly embarking upon such a hazardous journey in the midst of...

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