To Build a Fire by Jack London

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Make judgment on "To Build a Fire." Lodon wrote another, more commercially acceptable ending for an earlier version of "To Build a Fire." In the first version the man survives, returns to camp and...

Make judgment on "To Build a Fire."

Lodon wrote another, more commercially acceptable ending for an earlier version of "To Build a Fire." In the first version the man survives, returns to camp and learns an important lesson: Never travel alone. Do you think this ending improves the story or weakens it? Explain your opinion.

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bullgatortail eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Thank God London kept his final draft of the ending. The lessons learned by the reader would have been negated by the newcomer's survival after ignoring all the good advice he had been given. The entire theme of nature's power would have been shattered with such an ending. The man's death makes the story a memorable one, and one in which the reader comes away knowing that man is insignificant in the presence of nature's fury.

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Jack London wrote for adults.  As a Naturalist, he certainly cannot sugar-coat reality or he loses any credibility.  As the previous post so cogently emphasizes, the entire point of the story is to contrast the natural, instinctive and adapted dog against the unequipped and unadapted human being.  Survival of the fittest....

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This alternative "happy ending" would have destroyed the story as an excellent artistic representation of realism, naturalism, and determinism in American literature. For the man to have survived would have created an artificial ending, one not consistent with the facts and events established in the narrative, thus violating one of the basic principles of realism. His survival also would have negated the literary themes of naturalism and determinism, themes which develop the ideas that human lives are determined and controlled by heredity and environment. A discussion of naturalism and determinism can be found here:

http://www.enotes.com/naturalism

Finally, for the man to have survived and "learned a lesson" would have personalized him and destroyed the story's objective, detached tone. In the narrative, the man is not a person with a unique identity; he is not even given a name, which emphasizes this. He functions in the story not as a human being, but as a creature of biology who merely responds to the forces acted upon him.

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Oh my gosh, no wonder why Jack London nixed the earlier version!!!  It would totally negate the entire point if the man lived and returned to camp in "To Build a Fire"!!!  In fact, I like the wording of accessteacher who states that the current ending is "infinitely superior" to the one you suggest.  The entire point is that pride and stubbornness are the tragic flaws of the man (if you'll allow me to use that term in this short story).   Couple that with the fact that instinct saves, as in the case of the dog, and you simply must reject the "more commercially accepted" version.  If we are reading Realism, then let's stick with true Realism, for goodness sake!  : )

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litteacher8 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In general, I would say that whenever an author changes an ending for commercial reasons, the second ending can be discounted. It's not the author's intended ending. His...

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