illustrated portrait of American author Jack London with mountains in the background

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How can I compare The Call of the Wild and "To Build A Fire" in an essay?

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Comparing these two pieces makes a lot of sense, as they are both written by Jack London. My general recommendation when comparing any pieces of literature is to start looking for similarities between themes, settings, and/or characters. This initial starting point will hopefully point out that both stories feature dogs. The dog in "To Build a Fire" is much more minor compared to Buck, but that doesn't change the fact that both dogs listen quite effectively to their instincts. Both dogs are also equally adept at reading people.

Both stories are set in wild and unsettled territories where nature's elements are harsh and unforgiving to life. These settings tie quite nicely to a theme that deals with man's place in the natural world. Both stories feature a natural world where starvation, exhaustion, and death are constant realities. Buck may be a dog, but he experiences these harsh realities just the same as the man from "To Build a Fire."

Consequently, both stories feature suffering. A difference in that suffering is that Buck will experience suffering that is caused by humans rather than only suffering from nature's onslaught.

Finally, I would also say that both stories thematically feature the importance of knowledge and wisdom. Buck learns throughout the novel how to adapt to the changing environment in order to better survive. He's constantly taking in new information and applying it to his current knowledge base. The dog in the short story is also portrayed as wise enough to know that he should not be out in the cold. It is the man that is portrayed as lacking wisdom, and it costs him his life in the same way that lack of knowledge and wisdom costs Hal, Charles, and Mercedes their lives.

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"To Build A Fire" and the The Call of the Wild are similar in that they are about how men and dogs help each other survive. Both the unnamed protagonist of "To Build A Fire" and Thornton in The Call of the Wild rely on dogs to survive, and their dogs rely on them. In the end, however, it is only when men truly love their dog that the dog actually helps them survive.

The unnamed dog in "To Build A Fire" is wiser about surviving in the frozen Yukon than the unnamed man he is traveling with. London writes of the dog:

"The animal was depressed by the tremendous cold. It knew that it was no time for travelling. Its instinct told it a truer tale than was told to the man by the man’s judgment."

The dog knows that the man should be trying to build a fire to survive in the frigid temperatures, but while waiting for the man to build this fire, the dog is forced to tread across a frozen creek bed. The dog is reluctant to go because he feels no connection to the man. As London writes, "there was no keen intimacy between the dog and the man." In other words, the dog and the man have not really come to love and trust each other.

When he fails to build a fire, the protagonist wants to kill the dog and bury himself within the dog's body to thaw himself out and then rebuild his fire. However, when he calls the dog, the dog senses something strange:   
"He spoke to the dog, calling it to him; but in his voice was a strange note of fear that frightened the animal, who had never known the man to speak in such way before."
  The man then realizes that he can't kill the dog because he doesn't have use of his hands. The dog breaks away from the man, snarling, and after the man dies, the dog "turned and trotted up the trail in the direction of the camp it knew, where were the other food-providers and fire-providers." The dog and the man have never truly developed an affinity for each other because the man only sees the dog in utilitarian terms; therefore, in the end, the dog does not want to help the man.   In The Call of the Wild, however, the dog, Buck, develops a deep connection to Thornton after Thornton rescues Buck from cruel owners. London writes of Buck, "Love, genuine passionate love, was his for the first time." After Thornton shows this type of concern for Buck, Buck is entirely devoted to him. London writes, "Buck's love was expressed in adoration. While he went wild with happiness when Thornton touched him or spoke to him, he did not seek these tokens." In other words, Buck doesn't even need treats from Thornton because he loves his owner so much.   As Thornton has shown so much concern for Buck, the dog helps Thornton and even saves his life. When Thornton is thrown out a boat and is being carried down river, "Buck had sprung in on the instant; and at the end of three hundred yards, amid a mad swirl of water, he overhauled Thornton." Buck rescues Thornton not just out of a sense of instinct but because Buck loves Thornton. In both stories, men and dogs play vital protective roles for each other, but only when the dog truly loves the man, as Buck loves Thornton, is the dog willing to sacrifice his life for his owner. 

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