How does the theme of Man vs. Nature pertain to "To Build a Fire?"

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The conflict of Man vs. Nature is a main theme in "To Build a Fire." The protagonist, believing in his own abilities over the Yukon weather, sets out on a long walk without a human companion; his dog cannot help him when he gets cold. He is new to the area and does not fully appreciate just how cold it gets, and how much that is a danger to humans.

Fifty degrees below zero meant eighty odd degrees of frost. Such a fact impressed him as being cold and uncomfortable, and that was all. It did not lead him to meditate... upon man's frailty in general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold...
(London, "To Build a Fire," eNotes eText)

Because of this failure to recognize the danger of the cold, the man falls prey first to his arrogance in treating Nature as something an individual can tame, and then to his lack of preparation. Without a companion to light the fire, and with only a small number of supplies that are quickly used up in his panic, the man is alone against the elements. He cannot fight nature, only hold it back with fire, and without fire, he is simply an animal unsuited to the harsh environment.

jjrichardson | Student

I think that "To Build a Fire" story relates to many issues hidden behind a superficial plot. The story takes place in a very severe winter; the man under appreciates the dangers of nature forces and struggles to return to camp. He is warned about possible dangers, but he is also too pride and too self-confident to take the advice into consideration. The protagonist is accompanied by a dog. The man tries to survive, but forces of nature are stronger and he dies.

The interpretation of the story, however, reveals real "treasures": problem of loneliness, deadly fear, acceptance, understanding, issue of time, and a scary silence. The protagonist seems to be a very independent and strong person, he rather listens to himself first. He planned his way back home, and regardless to weather condition he realizes his plans and sets off. During this trip he starts to realize that it may be too cold, initially tries to set up a fire, but it is not enough to survive. He is scared, and has a feeling of a coming death.

In some ways he is similar to a contemporary person, who never has enough time for anything. The protagonist rushes to get home, to realize his own plans, to go forward, then on a deserted land he suddenly finds time, too much time to think, and to feel. It was a very uncomfortable feeling to be aware of his own death; he is able to predict what will happen. At first, he tries to escape and safely find camp, but afterwards he learns it is impossible, and accepts his fate.

The story is written from the third-person perspective. However, its tone does not influence readers positively, and they do not sympathize with the protagonist. He is rather considered to be a very self-confident person who disobeys rules of nature and according to his own opinion is not subject to weather dangers.

Theme of the story relates to an issue of loneliness as a life choice. Solitude was not imposed on a protagonist, he might have been accepted by other members of a society, but he chose to live on his own. He is a selfish person, focused on himself.

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To Build a Fire

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