What is the narrator's role in conveying a central idea in To Build a Fire? I am trying to figure out the connection between the narrator and the theme of "To Build a Fire."

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catharinek eNotes educator| Certified Educator

London uses an omniscient narrator in "To Build a Fire" to help convey both naturalism and the idea of man versus nature. The narrator shows that the man is a newcomer, and "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." The narrator then goes on to explain that while the man realizes that fifty degrees below zero is cold, he is unable to see the significance of this cold in relation to his own mortality. The man, according to the narrator, is unable to see "man's place in the universe," which becomes his downfall. It is this, and his arrogance in ignoring the old-timer's advice about  not traveling alone when it was fifty below or colder, that causes the man's death.

Conversely, the narrator is also able to show the thoughts of the dog. The narrator shows that "the animal was depressed by the tremendous cold. It knew that it was no time for traveling. It experienced a vague but menacing apprehension that . . . made it question eagerly every unwonted movement of the man as if expecting him to go into camp or to . . . build a fire." Here, the narrator shows us that the dog has a natural instinct which the man lacks. At the end of the story, after the man dies, the dog heads toward camp where it knows there will be fire. As in naturalism, man succumbs to the indifference of the universe and nature survives.