How does the setting function as a character?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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In Jack London's short story of survival, "To Build a Fire, the setting serves as the antagonist of the story. It is a setting where all the most perfect and natural elements work against mankind: The battle of man versus wild. However, the protagonist of the story already reunites a number of characteristics that puts him at the losing end against the elements of nature.

First, the main character is crossing the Yukon territory of the Northwestern part of Canada, which is synonymous with deadly temperatures that can reach up to 100 degrees below zero. In the story, the temperature has already reached 75 degrees below zero, and not even the sturdy and tough Husky dog that accompanies him wants to be there. If a dog, with its natural intuition, cannot tolerate a weather like that, much less will the man who is in his company.

Second, our main character is what is known in the Chinook language as a "cheecako" or, in slang terms, a "newbie". This man was to the Yukon what a greenhorn is to the sea. There are plenty of tales, myths, and tales of caution that specifically warn against getting into a dangerous situation in lands that are not natural to mankind. Yet, he still goes on with his dog overestimating human nature, and underestimating nature, itself.

Finally, when he realizes that, in a short period of time, his hands and feet have already grown numb , he understands finally that this is the first indicator of trouble: Without your feet you cannot walk, and without your hands you cannot possibly start a fire. Every problem imaginable happens as a result of that one moment when he felt overconfident of his power over nature.

Therefore, the setting (namely, nature and its elements) definitely plays the role of an antagonist to our main character. Nature overpowers human nature and basically puts it back in its rightful place: A secondary place. Nature was here first.

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