illustration fo a man in winter clothes lying on the snow under a tree with a dog standing near him

To Build a Fire

by Jack London

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In "To Build a Fire," what do the man's mistakes reveal about his personality?

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The many mistakes that the anonymous protagonist makes in this great story point towards his tremendous arrogance and the way that he profoundly underestimates the power of nature and man's place in nature. If we have a look at the beginning of the story, and in particular the way that the man himself is introduced, this can be clearly seen. Consider the following quote:

The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances. Fifty degrees below zero meant eighty-odd degrees of frost. Such fact impressed him as being cold and uncomfortable, and that was all. It did not lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man's frailty in general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold, and from there it did not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man's place in the universe.

The central problem with this anonymous protagonist, and this is a problem which is only underscored by his many mistakes and failings, is that he is arrogant and does not seriously understand the threat that nature as a force represents to mankind. He is unaware of his own frailty as a human and the way that the might of nature explictly threatens and overshadows that frailty.

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