What does "To Build a Fire" suggest about death?

"To Build a Fire" suggests that death is inevitable, and that to avoid it for as long as possible, one should heed the advice that one is given.

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In both Jack London's "To Build a Fire" and Leo Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilyich," the protagonists fear death and resist giving in to death until the last moment. Then they both discover that death is something different from what they feared.

In "To Build a Fire," when the anonymous protagonist is freezing to death in the snow, he has the following epiphany:

Well, he was bound to freeze anyway, and he might as well take it decently. With this new-found peace of mind came the first glimmerings of drowsiness. A good idea, he thought, to sleep off to death. It was like taking an anesthetic. Freezing was not so bad as people thought. There were lots worse ways to die.... Then the man drowsed off into what seemed to him the most comfortable and satisfying sleep he had ever known.

And in "The Death of Ivan Ilyich," when Ilyich has gone through all the stages of his terminal disease and has reached the end, he has a similar epiphany:

And suddenly it grew clear to him that what had been oppressing him and would not leave him was all dropping away at once from two sides, from ten sides, and from all sides. He was sorry for them, he must act so as not to hurt them: release them and free himself from these sufferings. "How good and how simple!" ... He sought his former accustomed fear of death and did not find it. "Where is it? What death?" There was no fear because there was no death. In place of death there was light. "So that's what it is!" he suddenly exclaimed aloud. "What joy!"

Neither of these men is religious. They do not die with any hope of an afterlife. But both come to realize that nature itself is pitiless and merciful, totally indifferent but not in the least punitive or sadistic. Both stories end by giving the reader reassurance about his own inevitable fate.

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I would argue that "To Build a Fire" suggests that death is inevitable in certain circumstances, despite one's best efforts to stay alive. It also reminds us of the importance of heeding warnings that could potentially save one's life.

The unnamed narrator in this story was warned about the danger of travelling through the extremely cold area, so it cannot be argued that he was unaware of what he was getting himself into. The story therefore suggests that in order to conquer death, or at least to live a little longer, we should heed the advice we are given.

Once the man gets into trouble, falling through a thin patch of ice, he takes proactive action to prevent death. He is well aware that he will freeze to death if his feet don't dry, so he builds a fire in an attempt to stay alive. His efforts are thwarted, however, when a pile of snow falls from the boughs of a tree, smothering his fire. Frostbite has, by now, set in to the man's fingers, rendering him unable to light another fire. He is powerless, by this stage, to do anything to save himself and is struck by the inevitability of death.

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