To Build a Fire Questions and Answers
by Jack London

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What is "Naturalism" in "To Build a Fire"?

Naturalism in "To Build a Fire" involves observing the events of the story as if one were a scientist. There's no real identification with the man as a human being. We simply observe him as an object of study as he struggles to survive in the icy wastes before eventually dying. The man, no less than his dog, is a part of nature, and that's how he's presented.

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One of the most notable aspects of literary naturalism is the way it presents human beings as an intrinsic part of nature. All too often, we like to think of ourselves as standing over against nature, which then becomes nothing more than a world of objects to be measured, observed and controlled. Naturalism turns human beings into objects of nature; by using naturalism, authors make their human characters no different from the rocks, trees, plants, and animals surrounding them.

Jack London does precisely this kind of leveling the field with his protagonist in "To Build a Fire." At no point do we establish any kind of human connection with this man. He is an object like any other. Reading the story is rather like watching a nature documentary on TV: we observe the struggles of a particular animal in harsh winter conditions.

The man's battle to survive in the icy wastes of the Yukon is a prime example of what Tennyson famously called "nature red in tooth and claw." It's a kind of struggle...

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