What does the man value in "To Build a Fire"?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is clear from this excellent story about nature and the danger it contains that the man values very different things from the dog that accompanies him. As we read through the story, it is clear that the man and dog act as foils for each other, with the dog, through its survival, showing that it is better suited to survive the rigours of nature because of the way that it is dominated by instinct. The man is shown to have lost this characteristic, which makes him prone to danger and disaster. Note what we are told about him:

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 degreees 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 temeprature, and upon man's frailty in general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold, and from there on it did not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man's place in the universe.

Clearly, then, the man is said to lack imagination and discernment, which could obviously lead him to taking unnecessary risks and ignoring or not recognising danger. We see this of course in the way the dog reluctantly follows the man, even though its instinct is telling it to find fire or to bury itself in the snow. Even though the dog "did not know anything about thermometers," it is clear that because of its "instinct" it recognises the danger of the environment while the man refuses to recognise the danger implicit in the extreme cold.