illustration fo a man in winter clothes lying on the snow under a tree with a dog standing near him

To Build a Fire

by Jack London

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Why is "To Build a Fire" both psychological and regional fiction?

Quick answer:

"To Build a Fire" is both psychological and regional fiction.

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Jack London's "To Build a Fire" isn't considered primarily a psychological or regional story.

True, it does take place in somewhat of a unique region--the Yukon territory of Canada--but it's considered a classic with universal appeal.  It's themes of fear and death and survival in the wilderness, as well as its naturalistic depiction of man at the mercy of vast and powerful natural forces, give the story universal appeal.  The term regional fiction usually suggests the fiction is primarily of interest to people of or interested in that specific region.  The is hardly the case with "To Build a Fire."

The work is also naturalistic in nature, rather than psychological.  As mentioned, it deals with humans suffering against overwhelming natural forces.

That said, even though psychology isn't preeminent, I can still give you a rundown of psychological elements that are revealed:

  • the speaker is cocky; a newcomer who thinks he knows better than some veteran, old man who warns him about the cold. 
  • he is so confident, or overconfident, that he remains calm even after several mishaps.
  • his calmness is shattered and explodes into panic when he cannot rebuild the fire doused by the snow falling from the tree he built the fire under.
  • he runs furiously in an effort to save himself, but eventually he collapses.
  • he resorts to killing the dog for warmth, but he is already too numb and frozen to do it.
  • he resigns himself to his fate and admits the old man was right and he was wrong.

Concerning the regional nature of the work:  it takes place in the Yukon, the temperature is -75 degrees, and there are few places on the planet as dangerous as this one.

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