To Build a Fire Questions and Answers
by Jack London

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How does the theme of Man vs. Nature pertain to "To Build a Fire"?

The theme of Man vs. Nature in "To Build a Fire" is the primary conflict of the story as the inexperienced traveler attempts to journey across the wilderness and survive the dangerous natural elements. The protagonist's main conflict pertains to the treacherous environment, which is minus seventy-five degrees below zero. The unforgiving wilderness is hostile, and the traveler does not survive the journey.

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The theme of Man vs. Nature is the central conflict of Jack London's short story "To Build a Fire," which focuses on an inexperienced traveler's struggle to survive the treacherous Yukon wilderness. In the short story, a newcomer attempts to journey through the forest alone with his dog to reach a camp by six o'clock. In order to arrive at his destination in time, the newcomer must carefully traverse the dangerous wilderness and endure the extremely cold temperatures, which drop to minus seventy-five degrees below zero. The newcomer is depicted as inexperienced, naive, and arrogant. London writes that the newcomer lacks imagination and is "not much of a thinker."

Despite being warned about the dangers of traveling alone in temperatures minus fifty degrees below zero, the traveler ignorantly dismisses the old man's advice and believes that he is too intelligent to make a serious mistake that will cost him his life. During the journey, the...

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I think that "To Build a Fire" story relates to many issues hidden behind a superficial plot. The story takes place in a very severe winter; the man under appreciates the dangers of nature forces and struggles to return to camp. He is warned about possible dangers, but he is also too pride and too self-confident to take the advice into consideration. The protagonist is accompanied by a dog. The man tries to survive, but forces of nature are stronger and he dies.

The interpretation of the story, however, reveals real "treasures": problem of loneliness, deadly fear, acceptance, understanding, issue of time, and a scary silence. The protagonist seems to be a very independent and strong person, he rather listens to himself first. He planned his way back home, and regardless to weather condition he realizes his plans and sets off. During this trip he starts to realize that it may be too cold, initially tries to set up a fire, but it is not enough to survive. He is scared, and has a feeling of a coming death.

In some ways he is similar to a contemporary person, who never has enough time for anything. The protagonist rushes to get home, to realize his own plans, to go forward, then on a deserted land he suddenly finds time, too much time to think, and to feel. It was a very uncomfortable feeling to be aware of his own death; he is able to predict what will happen. At first, he tries to escape and safely find camp, but afterwards he learns it is impossible, and accepts his fate.

The story is written from the third-person perspective. However, its tone does not influence readers positively, and they do not sympathize with the protagonist. He is rather considered to be a very self-confident person who disobeys rules of nature and according to his own opinion is not subject to weather dangers.

Theme of the story relates to an issue of loneliness as a life choice. Solitude was not imposed on a protagonist, he might have been accepted by other members of a society, but he chose to live on his own. He is a selfish person, focused on himself.