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

Jack London

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Student Question

In "To Build a Fire," how does Jack London exemplify naturalism?

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Jack London's story "To Build a Fire" is an excellent example of naturalism, and it exhibits most of the characteristics of that literary trend. Let's examine the characteristics of naturalism using examples from the story.

Naturalism often focuses on fate and doom. We can tell from the beginning of the story that the man is doomed. He has gone out into the extreme cold against all advice and completely unprepared for handling it. Even the dog with him is "depressed by the tremendous cold" and knows that it is "no time for traveling." The dog's instincts are far better than the man's judgment. Things are not going to turn out well.

We can also see the pessimism of naturalism in this story. Again, we get a strong sense right from the beginning that the man is not going to survive this journey. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong.

Naturalism also explores human nature, and we can notice this in the story. The man is stubborn and refuses to take advice from anyone. He goes against what his body tells him, and then he tries to save himself in any way he can. He is contradictory and foolish, and the author suggests that many people are like that.

This story is all about survival, or in this case, a lack of survival. The man does all he can to survive, but his efforts are fruitless, and in the end, he dies, curling up in the snow for "the most comfortable and satisfying sleep he had ever known." The dog, on the other hand, lives, for it follows its instincts and runs off toward a camp nearby. We get the feeling that if the man would have followed the dog, he might have had a chance.

Finally, naturalism also involves plenty of realistic detail, and the story is full of that, right down to the frozen tobacco juice on the man's chin and the sound of the matches as they blaze up and then fall in the snow.

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