To Build a Fire Questions and Answers
by Jack London

To Build a Fire book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Why is the man not given a name in "To Build a Fire"?

The man in "To Build a Fire" is not given a name because he is intended to be a generalized representative of "man" in conflict against nature rather than an idiosyncratic individual.

Expert Answers info

Colin Cavendish-Jones, Ph.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseCollege Professor, Lawyer

bookM.A. from Oxford University

bookPh.D. from St. Andrews University


calendarEducator since 2019

write3,061 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

Jack London's short story "To Build a Fire" is a work of brutal, unrelenting naturalism, portraying the conflict of man against nature. The man is not given a name because he is not intended to be an individual in whom the reader is interested because of any personal characteristics or attributes. He is merely "the man" because he stands for man in the abstract, not for any particular type of man.

London constantly stresses the representative nature of his protagonist. For instance, when informing the reader that the temperature is fifty degrees below zero, he adds that the man failed to "consider his weaknesses as a creature affected by temperature." He also failed to consider the general frailty of mankind, which is only able to survive "within narrow limits of heat and cold."

The reader is given little idea of the man's interior life. The author focuses principally on what he does and what he observes. This laconic style of writing does not preclude human sympathy, but it does affect the nature of that sympathy. Because the man is an everyman figure, it is easy for the reader to put him/herself in his position and imagine how he must feel. The lack of internal description helps to achieve this effect, but it creates a generalized form of sympathy for physical suffering and desperation.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial