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To Build a Fire

by Jack London

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The man who dies in the story "To Build a Fire" by Jack London is never given a name. Why might London not have given this character a name? Who or what might he represent?

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Authors have to make up names for characters mainly in order for their readers to be able to tell the characters apart. However, when there is only one character in a story the author may not feel obliged to give him or her a name. What purpose would be served by giving the protagonist in "To Build a Fire" a name. The author Jack London can get by comfortably just by calling his character "he" or "him" or "the man." For variety London sometimes calls him the chechaquo. The dog isn't given a name either, but in some of London's stories involving dogs he has to invent names because there are several dogs involved, as in The Call of the Wild. It is possible to read too much into the fact that a character in a story doesn't have a name. The protagonist in Jack London's "To Build a Fire" is described in considerable detail both in appearance and in his thoughts and feelings. He is not an important person, but in the story he is all-important to the reader just because he is a fellow human being. Some people attach a lot of importance to the fact that in his novella Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck doesn't give Curley's wife a name. But she is the only female character in the book and doesn't really need a name. A name would only cause confusion. If Steinbeck named her, let us say, Margaret, then some readers might get the idea that there were two female characters in the story, one called Margaret and another called Curley's wife. Names are usually invented to enable readers to tell characters apart. Some writers are good at inventing names, while other writers are not. 

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Stephen Crane once wrote a poem entitled "A Man Said to the Universe."  The poem is as follows:  

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”
The poem perfectly captures exactly how much nature doesn't care about mankind.
That indifference on nature's part is exactly what "To Build a Fire" focuses on.  The man in the story isn't named, because his name isn't important.  A point of the story is how nature can give and take from mankind at any time regardless of how well prepared and confident a person is.  The man in the story thought he could handle the incoming weather and avoid any major disaster.  Nature showed him otherwise, and didn't care in the slightest that he died.  In fact, not even the man's dog cared all that much.  
Then it turned and trotted up the trail in the direction of the camp it knew, where were the other food-providers and fire-providers. 
I think the man represents all of mankind and mankind's relationship with nature.  We think that we have nature figured out.  We think that we can predict the weather, withstand hurricanes, beat out freak freezes, etc., but time and time again nature shows us exactly how powerless we are against it.  
London's story about nature's indifference and Crane's poem are not the only two examples that I can give either of nature's indifference toward humans.  Sara Teasdale wrote a poem called "There Will Come Soft Rains" about the same topic, and Ray Bradbury based a story of his by the same title on the topic.  The closing line of the poem goes like this:
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.  
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