To Build a Fire
Symbolism in to Build a Fire by Jack London
Jack London’s “To Build A Fire” explores the stubbornness of man. And the risk men take to achieve something even if it is not in their reach. The setting takes place in the woods during Yukon winter which is one hundred and thirteen degrees below freezing point. Now throughout this story winter or nature symbolizes dominance you can’t change the outcome of nature. The man, dog, and nature are all important symbols throughout this story as they show a characteristic of human life.
First of all a very important symbol is the “Yukon Trail” when the man takes off from the right direction. That’s a symbol of risk see before the man left off the right direction of the trail he was on the correct path with his boys or in another term his companions. The main trail symbolizes safety and security and the departure from his comrades symbolizes the danger that he is to face ahead throughout the story. The relationship of man and nature are very important as you read through this story see a trail helps man survive nature and survive the wilderness. As well as the expectations a person needs to survive the wilderness. “The trouble with him was that he was without imagination he was quick and alert in the things of life but only in the things and not the signifgance.” Jack London shows no sympathy for the man he seemed to make the character arrogant and very disrespectful to the enviroment of the elders all of the good attributes were givin to the dog. To me it seems Jack London likes the dog more than man.
Another important symbol Is the old man the old timer at Sulphur creek he is used repeatedly as a symbol throughout the story. The old man gave the man advice stating that “No man should be out here if temperatures are below zero especially alone by yourself.” The old timer bridges the gaps between human and nature. Because he has a very healthy perspective on how nature can be a threat if not being cautious. The dog also sees the view of the natural world and the dog seems to know that the man cannot rely on his resources for survival. “And to get his feet wet in such a temperature meant trouble and danger.” The old Timer or old man had been very serious in laying down the law stating that no man must travel alone in Klondike after fifty below. See its more of intellect vs instinct because the old timer is trying to convey to the man that he has no chance of with standing that Yukon weather. But with the man it is instinct why because he knows of the harsh wind but he chooses to still go instead for the search. But the mans fellow traveller the dog has a very natrual instinct the man dies because of his miscalculation’s of his trip and underestimates the power of nature. Every problem the man encountered he realized that the old timer was correct moments before his death the man admits to the old timer. “You were right, old hoss you were right.” The man mumbled to the old timer of Sulphur creek. See I believe that it was luck that the man met the old timer from Sulphur creek because the old man speaks of taking someone with the man so the man is not alone in the wilderness. Also if you notice the old timer talks about keeping your feet dry and then he states this about the cold “There must be no failure when it is seventy five below zero a man must not fail in his attempt to build a fire that is if his feet are wet the circulation of wet and freezing feet cannot be restored by running when it is seventy five below.” So throughout this story all the old timer was doing was trying to help guide the man but negligence by the man led to his downfall that is why to me it is human vs nature.
Third and important symbol is the fire it shows the difference between life and death. The title of the story keys in the important role of fire within the story the goal of the man is to build a fire and he fails later on in the story. The Building of fire symbolize life in the story but it shows life through human knowledge skill and also technology and failure by the man to build the fire is showing the failure of things expressed by man and by the brutal cold of nature.
The Setting in the Short Story to Build a Fire
When people think about winter they may think about snow and the cold temperatures. Normally they do not think about the harsh consequences that can come with being in the winter wilderness. However, in Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”, those harsh consequences are brought to life as the main character has to deal with them.
London’s style of writing is part of the naturalism movement. This means that the environment and nature have a huge significance in the story. Because of that, “To Build a Fire” follows the framework of a typical naturalist story by having the setting be heavily described and emphasized. In the story, London uses the setting to create the conflict, develop the characters, and tone to convey the message that if one does not put aside his pride and listen to others, then they will suffer in the future.
One aspect that is created by London through the use of setting is tone. The setting is mentioned from the very beginning of the story, allowing the tone to be created from the start as well. By using words such as “dark” and “subtle gloom” (24), the dismal tone of the story is revealed. Whenever London depicts the setting, he never uses words that are lively or cheery, but instead uses descriptors that are very dreary and almost depressing at times. That technique directly affects what the tone of the story will be at any given time. Furthermore, the repetition of the lack of sun, “no sun nor hint of sun” adds to the bleak and miserable tone of the story (24). The constant absence of the sun or anything bright emphasizes the hopeless tone created by the setting. It is also foreshadowing the unpleasant outcomes that are going to occur because everything about the tone and setting is grim. By describing the setting the way London did, the readers are able to infer what might happen to the man. Additionally, the tone that is created by London correlates to how the setting is described. It clearly represents how the setting creates and influences the tone. Through London’s application of the setting, a clear tone is able to be portrayed to the readers easily.
However, tone is not the only thing created by setting. Another element that the setting greatly affects is characters and the evolution of them throughout the story. The setting causes the characters to experience many physical and mental challenges. As the cold temperatures started to get to the man, he started to go crazy and do things that he would not normally do: “…he encircled its body with his arms…while it snarled and whined and struggled” (29). The man became so desperate because of his surroundings that he tried to kill the dog. London uses the setting to show the readers another side to the man that was not seen before. Along with that, the setting played a huge role in contributing to the man’s deteriorating health. As the story goes on, the setting gets worse, causing the character’s health to get worse as well: “Already all the sensation had gone out of his feet” (27). The below freezing temperatures caused this to happen. London uses the effects of the setting to not only cause the character a lot of distress but also expands them by describing how they handle everything that is transpiring due to the setting.
Lastly, the author uses the setting to create the main conflict and develop it throughout the entire story. The setting is the biggest obstacle that the character has to face. This created many problems for him and ultimately led to his death. In the story, it states, “he was losing in his battle with the frost” (30). Due to the frigid conditions, the character has to deal with not having full control of his body. This obstacle generated by the setting adds another layer to the struggle the man has to face. The setting of Alaska’s arctic tundra created many other hardships as well. For example, London states, “It grew like an avalanche, and it descended without warning upon the man and the fire, the fire was blotted out!” (28). The bitter winter windchill caused the man’s fire to blow out resulting in him receiving no warmth. He then struggles throughout the rest of the story to build another. After every step that is taken to better the situation, London always follows it up with a negative action by the setting to contradict what just happened. This then establishes another conflict that has to be dealt with. This pattern goes on throughout the story, permitting London to convey his message that if people do not stop to look at things from other perspectives or listen to others because they are too prideful, then they may face unfortunate consequences. The setting enables the conflict to fully arise and occur as the story goes on.
London used the setting to create the tone, develop the characters, and the main conflicts throughout the story. However, the setting did not only impact the main aspects of the story, it also allowed the readers to have a better understanding of the message that the author was trying to convey. This was that if one does not try to listen to others or see things from a different perspective because of their pride, then they will pay for it in the future. If the setting was not described the way it was by London the story would also be completely different. Without the setting, the story would not be complete.
My Reflections Over to Build a Fire by Jack London
A man travels with his dog through the Yukon Territory, heading toward a mining camp. The dog understands it is too cold to travel but the man is arrogant and does not heed any previous warnings. They stop for lunch and the man builds a fire. They continue on and the man accidentally steps through the ice and soaks one of his legs. He quickly tries to build a fire under a tree to dry and warm himself, ignoring the severity of the situation. Snow falls from the tree onto the fire and puts it out. Now the man has trouble building a fire because he cannot feel his hands. While the dog may seem loyal, it is actually staying with the man out of self-interest. The dog knows that the man represents food and warmth. After he failed at making a fire, he attempts to kill his dog and use him for warmth, He plans to strangle the dog and cut its belly open. He calls the dog over and tries to crush it, but he can’t do that either, because his hands are already frozen. Desperately, he runs in the general direction of his friends but falls and finally freezes to death. Before he dies, he imagines being with his friends and finding his own body. The dog realizing his master is dead, runs along the trail to The dog heads toward the camp, where it imagines it will find fire and food.
To Build A Fire setting takes place in the Yukon Territory of Canada, during the great Klondike Gold Rush, when over 100,000 people flocked to Canada’s Yukon Territory in search of instant fortune. The land is hidden under several feet of snow, and the man is so far north that the sun has been absent for days. The temperature is about 75 degrees below zero It is also ‘exceedingly cold and gray’ (1). Not only does the setting give off a physical sense but it also gives off a spiritual or reality sense to it as well. This short story takes us out of daily comfort lives and reminds us to give a sense to reality that somewhere out there is a cruel and unforgiving wilderness. The setting of ‘To Build A Fire’ also has a significant effect on the plot and characters. The author, Jack London has taken a lot of pleasure when describing the cold wind and ice covering over the man’s face. ‘The man’s red beard and mustache were likewise frosted, but more solidly, the deposit-taking the form of ice and increasing with every warm, moist breath he exhaled. Also, the man was chewing tobacco, and the muzzle of ice held his lips so rigidly that he was unable to clear his chin when he expelled the juice’ (7). This story wouldn’t be good as it is if it weren’t for Jack’s use imagery.
In this short story, the tone used by the narrator is very blunt and emotionless. The narrator tells everything the ways it is, without a lot emotion. The writing style by the author is direct and straightforward. In Spite of the straightforward writing style, the structure of each sentence written by Jack is very creative, and makes the reader imagine the situation and makes the situation in the story very vivid. An example of this is when the narrator says, “But it didn’t matter much, after all. What were frosted cheeks? A bit painful, that was all; they were never serious” (3). This quote was plain simple yet very vivid. It gives the readers a sense of sight, sound, and touch.
Jack also makes the readers feel as if they can position themselves as the main character in Yukon. However, it felt like Jack did not like or feel sympathy for his main character. He seemed to make the character arrogant and disrespectful to the environment and elders. It seemed as if Jack liked the dog and not the man because all of the good attributes were given to the dog. This can be showed right off the bat on the first page, “The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances” (1).
The mood in this story transitions very slowly, as the man discovers how unprepared he was for the extreme cold weather. At first the story is told with the most straightforward phrases with little excitement and shows the mans unconcerned behavior. He does not worry that it is not sunny because, that kind of weather is normal way up in the North. He is also so sure that by nightfall he will enter the campsite that he brings almost no supplies, only matches and lunch. Even his early sense of Yukon being extremely cold is not enough to convince him. “He ran blindly, without intention, in fear such as he had never known in his life. Slowly, as he ploughed and floundered through the snow, he began to see things again — the banks of the creek, the old timber-jams, the leafless aspens, and the sky. The running made him feel better. He did not shiver. Maybe, if he ran on, his feet would thaw out; and, anyway, if he ran far enough, he would reach camp and the boys” (8). In this quote, fear had become his final worst mistake. In this story, the man is represented at a calm steadiness at first, however would turn into a panicked flight at the end. His brief hopes are washed out by his failure to save himself. The brief explanations of the extreme cold and the gradual hypothermic death of the man at the end creates an uncomfortable mood.
Fire is a repeated symbol in the short story ‘To Build a Fire’. It is a symbol of warmth and life. In successful building of a fire, the man is given a chance to live longer, but in a failed attempt, the life is put out. Fire and the efficient building of a fire have several purposes. Most of all, it is a life-sustaining factor in the Yukon’s deadly cold climate. Initially, fire is something to look forward to for the man It represents a break in the journey or a relaxed end to his journey when he arrives at the camp. He does not see the full importance of fire for survival until he is beyond the ability to create one. On the other side, the dog immediately craves for warmth, knowing his ability to protect them from the cold and help them outlast the extreme temperatures. Naturally, the dog ‘had learned fire, and it wanted fire.'(1). The ability to create a fire is extremely important survival tool for humans. The fire could’ve helped the man live and not die of hypothermia; however, he was being stubborn thinking he can outlast the weather. He could’ve survived if he had developed the instinct to stop, take a break, and create a fire, and not attempt to travel. In a way, the existence of fire in this story represents life, and the lack of it shows life is running out.
The dog in this story represents the instinct of animals and serves as a connection between humans and the natural world. The dog is clearly still a part of the natural world as it keeps its instincts and knows how to live without human resources to survive the cold weather. The dog also symbolizes as a connection to instinct because of his sense with the fire. Although choosing to stay close to the man even though he has no interest in him, the dog looks to him for food and warmth, he also understands wild survival. The dog is said to be just a “toil slave”(8) to the man, while is out in the cold and looks upon the man as a provider for food and fire, the man on the other hand, couldn’t care less about the dog and could just kill it for food or warmth if he needed to. “The only caresses it had ever received were the caresses of the whip-lash and of harsh and menacing throat-sounds that threatened the whip-lash” (3). We are reminded in this quote that in the dog’s loyalty to the man, there is no affection at all for the dog, the man only possesses brutality and self-interest.
The story I think my selection would replace from the current reader would be “Teenage Wasteland.” The main theme in Teenage wasteland is mostly blame, authority and fear. As when Donny blames herself for bad attitude and the bad grades that she is getting. Or how Daisy is the one who is in authority, and it seems as if Donny blames herself for lacking confidence. Donny went from being to out of control to a complete introvert. It is seemingly wonderful at the end Daisy never gives up on Donny, it seems as if Donny had paid price for what can be described as teenage misdemeanors. The reason I think “To Build A Fire” should be replaced for this story is because it shows no moral message. Although it is a great read there is no clear good moral message sent for the students who will be reading this. The moral lesson in “To Build A Fire” is that people should not think they are more powerful than nature. However, in the real would people can apply this moral by thinking they shouldn’t think they are more powerful that anything as a matter of fact. For example, you should never think you are more powerful than other people. Having a big ego is terrible, you should never stop treating people with respect and have an arrogant way of an opinion on them. The man in “To Build A Fire” had a absolutely no respect for nature or the dog and the consequences for him was death. I believe this is an important lesson that can be suggested in several different ways. You should never think you are too powerful for something; it can bring down a great deal of consequences for yourself. The building of a fire therefore symbolizes life in the story, but also life through human knowledge and skill.
Representation of Necessary Role of a Woman in to Build a Fire
The intelligence of women is a controversial matter which has been debated for centuries. Although recent feminist movements have allowed for more equality between men and women, traits such as “emotional” and “worrisome” are perceived in a manner that allow women to be viewed as inferior. In To Build A Fire by Jack London, the independence of man is tested as he tries to survive through excruciating cold weather. The man fails various attempts at starting a fire, eventually leading to his death. Although the short story does not evidently introduce a female character, To Build A Fire exemplifies the discrediting of woman’s intelligence as a result of perception.
The attribute of vigilance which many women attain is often criticized and perceived as a sign of weakness. This notion is depicted when the man in To Build A Fire begins reflecting on the advice given to him before entering the cold. London writes, “He remembered the advice of the old man on Sulphur Creek, and smiled. The man had been very serious when he said that no man should travel alone in that country after 50 below zero. Well, here he was; he had had the accident; he was alone; and he had saved himself” (72). In this instance, the man in the story finds himself complete without a companion. This thought represents a viewpoint on the role of women in the life of men. In many cases, females aren’t recognized to be of value other than company; however, the man in this story does not even view the companion aspect as desirable.
At the time when To Build A Fire was written (1902), women’s suffrage had not yet been granted throughout the United States. In fact, California (London’s birth place), did not grant voting rights to women until 1911. Women were not considered anywhere near equal to men, furthermore represented through Jack London’s writing. The denigration of women in society is illustrated when London writes, “Those old men were rather womanish… All a man must do was to keep his head, and he was all right. Any man who was a man could travel alone” (72). London not only comments on the discrediting of women’s intelligence, but the perception that a “real” man does not need a woman at all. Indirectly, London also draws on some men’s egotistical values of being the dominant sex due to a higher intelligence level.
Although women may be thought to be less intelligent than men, many studies have proved otherwise. The intellect of women is often degraded as a result of emotionalism. When To Build A Fire was written, the intelligence of women was assumed rather than studied, but throughout the years, scientists have sought to determine the intellect of women in comparison to men’s. In 2012, there was an increase in women’s IQs, allowing that of women to surpass man’s. Alice G Walton (writer for Forbes magazine) comments, “Being more educated, more intellectually engaged, and more ensconced in professional life may all have effects on women’s IQ over time.” Not only has women’s intelligence increased significantly, but Walton implies the continuing growth of women’s IQ levels through the years to come.
In the past years, researchers have found a connection between perceived intelligence and IQ. In a 2014 study, researchers involved in the Department of Philosophy and History of Sciences in Charles University (Prague, Czech Republic), sought to determine the accuracy of perceived intelligence through the use of standstill photographs. In the study, all candidates were able to accurately assess the intelligence of the men’s pictures; however, “these results suggest[ed] that a perceiver can accurately gauge the real intelligence of men, but not women” (1). The study implies a higher intelligence level in women as opposed to men’s intelligence level.
Once being hit with the realization that he is in severe danger, the man in To Build A Fire is faced with a reevaluation of his decisions as a result of the ignorance given to the old man’s advice. London writes, “The man was shocked. It was like hearing his own judgment of death. For a moment he sat and stared at the spot where the fire had been. Then he grew very calm. Perhaps the old man on Sulphur Creek was right. If he had a companion on the trail he would be in no danger now. The companion could have built the fire” (73). The man in the story immediately begins to feel regretful of the consequences caused due to his disregard of the advice given to him by the old man in the story. At this moment, he begins to wish for a companion, in this case a woman. Through this event, London implies the significant role a woman has on the life of a man.
Overall, the intellect of women cannot be accurately assessed through perception. Vigilance and emotionalism, which are often seen as negative attributes, are one’s that contribute to the underestimated intelligence of women. London’s ideals on the inaccuracy of perception as well as the necessary role of a woman are clearly represented in To Build A Fire. The absence of a woman in the short story, ultimately leads to the demise of the main character. The journey (representative of life) which the man travels alone, is conclusively ended in destruction. Although the man in the story criticizes the need for a companion, he dies regretting his decision to travel alone, furthering London’s implication of the essential role of a woman in the life of a man.
To Build a Fire: Unique Combination of Jack London’s Techniques
In Jack London’s To Build a Fire, complex yet crucial literary tactics are used to portray a lesson of nature that would otherwise be left untold. Symbolism and point of view play a pivotal role in the development of the story’s concealed meanings. The author incorporates omniscient narration to subliminally paint a transparent mural of existentialism, revealing a commonly overlooked yet fundamental concept.
Unique tactics were used in To Build a Fire to strengthen the functionality of the story. One of the most advanced tactics London used in his work was omniscient narration. The narrator in this story described all of the travelers encounters and thoughts, while voicing his opinion on his actions. Jack London used one of the key advantages to the omniscient point of view, which is the extended ability to describe the experiences of the main character, without the individual thoughts of the character taking away from the action. This tactic is useful in To Build a Fire as it prevents the audience from developing sentimental feelings for the traveler. The narrator was not fond of the traveler’s intelligence, and as the story unfolds the audience is manipulated into similar negative feelings due to the bias inflicted by the omniscient narrator.
One of the many roles of the omniscient narrator was providing cues of symbolism throughout the story. Mentioned several times in the work as well as in the title, fire not only represented the opportunity to live but also the inexperience of the traveler. The traveler consistently leaves the fire despite the physical cues provided by his companion, and makes several mistakes based solely on his inexperience in the tundra. London also incorporated an additional symbol of life into his story, the traveler’s hands. Initially the man slips off his gloves to help his dog remove the ice from his paws. Due to his inexperience, he is surprised by the extent to which the ice caused numbness in his hands. After failing to select a functional spot to build his fire, his hands become too numb to build another. Once he understands that he cannot build the fire he attempts to kill the dog in order to warm his hands with its insides. It is clear that the lack of functionality in his hands impacted his fate, as now he could not build the fire which was the only factor protecting him from death.
Jack London uses complex strategies to emphasize the calamity that closes the story that ends in the unsuspecting traveler’s death by the force of mother nature. In a scholarly article composed by Donald Pizer, the story is analyzed from a unique standpoint in which he mentions the obscure style London uses in the story that is commonly acknowledged as determinism. The original idea of determinism being used in the story originates from a book written by Lee Clark Mitchell. Pizer argued that the story was not based on determinism in stating that:
“repetition is used throughout by London not to express a belief in a deterministic universe but rather as an obvious tool of narrative irony to buttress the story’s emphasis on the man’s weaknesses and limitations and thus his responsibility for his fate (Pizer)”.
Determinism is defined in the Merriam- Webster dictionary as the theory that occurrences in nature are determined by preceding events or natural laws and that people have no real ability to control what happens to them (“Determinism”). It is clear that Lee Clark Mitchell may have manipulated the definition of determinism to adhere to the story in order to form an analysis by choosing not to use the definition in its entirety; or there may be inconsistency in the definitions of Determinism based upon the sources available in modern day versus when Lee Clark Mitchell wrote his analysis. The official definition of determinism does not describe the story, as the narrator placed continuous blame on the traveler for making uneducated decisions resulting in his death.
Although the presence of determinism in this story is questionable, the occurrence of existentialism is not. According to the Merriam -Webster dictionary, existentialism is a philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual in a hostile or indifferent universe (“Existentialism”). In London’s story, the man has the freedom and ability to avoid death by hypothermia considering that was previously warned. Existentialism places emphasis on the idea that when found in extreme conditions, one is presented with the opportunity to survive based only upon their choices; not fate. Continuously throughout the story the narrator mentions the dog accompanying the traveler. The dog did not want to embark on the journey and shortly before the man’s death the dog pushed to stay near the fire, the only source of warmth. The dog survived because he was naturally more prepared for a trek in the tundra; he was unique compared to the man, a concise example of existentialism. The man lacked the experience and natural ability of the dog, therefore his choices determined his death. Clearly, To Build a Fire highlights the unique traits of two separate individuals, a man and a dog in a hostile climate which projects the overall philosophy existentialism.
The unique combination of techniques that jack London used to create To Build a Fire acted as the foundation for the overall success of the story. The amalgamation of omniscient narration, symbolism, and the existentialist philosophy established a unique story that emphasizes the importance in making educated and reasonable decisions rather than being driven by pride and impatience. To Build a Fire is an extraordinary display of mature literary technique and life experience combined with one another to project an extremely relevant concept to for all to see.
Description of Human Nature in to Build a Fire Novel
In Jack London’s, “To Build a Fire,” the presumptuous qualities of human nature are highlighted, in the story of a man who attempts to take on the hypothermic Yukon in Alaska. The main character allows his pride to take over his mental process, which distorts his perception. This leads him to making ignorant decisions. The man ignores what an old-teller warns him about traveling alone in the Yukon when the temperature is fifty degrees below zero with his strong sense of dignity and confidence. However, when he runs out of gas in his attempt to reach the mining camp where his friends would be, he accepts his sciolism in reminder of what the older teller told him and comes to terms with his death.
The unnamed character is trekking through the bleak conditions of Alaska through Yukon in hopes of arriving at a mining camp where his friends are. The man ignores the fact that it is fifty degrees below zero in the midst of a sunless day. His dog, a native husky, is traveling with him is “deeply depressed by the tremendous cold.” (820) When he reaches Henderson Creek, an area that he was familiar with, he decides to stop. He notices that the creek is frozen and sends the dog ahead of him in fear of getting his feet wet by the subzero water. When the dog breaks through the ice and gets his legs wet, the man’s fingers go numb while trying to remove the ice off the dog. He immediately builds a fire. After traveling for some more time after their stop, the man falls through the ice himself and is forced to stop and build a fire once again. While trying to build the fire, the man thinks of the old-teller who told him not to travel alone when it is fifty below zero. He convinces himself that the old-tellers are generally feminine and that “all a man had to do was keep his head, and he was all right.” (824) The man epically fails at building the fire and irrationally comes to the conclusion that he should kill the dog and submerge into its body for warmth. After his attempt to attack the dog, he realizes that the old-teller was right after all and finally accepts defeat.
London suggests that the central conflict is an internal conflict within the main character, in which “he was without imagination” leading him to make foolish decisions. Along with his stubbornness, he ignores nature and the advice he’s been given and believes he can defeat the odds of nature. The story leads to the main character realizing that he will not be able to survive when he runs out of gas. This realization consists of him remembering what the old-teller had told him about how “no man must travel alone in the Klondlike after fifty below,” and the severity of his incomprehension of his situation. His obstinate attitude takes the price of his life. He tried to express free will in spirit of his self-assured attitude in an environment that was going to inevitably destroy him. The theme of determinism is emphasized, in the fact that nature is indifferent to humans.
The story is told in third person omniscient, allowing readers to get a great understanding of the situation, not only through the main character, but his “dog, a big native husky.” (820) The mind of the main character, the unnamed man, “was of thoughts, he was keenly observant, and he noticed the changes in the creeks, the curves and bends and timber jams…” (812) The dog’s mind is subtly introduced in the fact that “the animal was depressed by the tremendous cold.” (820) The third person omniscient point of view allows for the author to express his indifference towards the character and his foolishness. This indifference is emphasized when the author states that the falling of tree, that destroyed his fire, was the man’s “own fault or, rather, his mistake.” (825) Within the quick peak into the dog’s mind, its “menacing apprehension that subdued it…” better reveals the relentlessness in the austere situation. In addition, the fact that the man’s mind is rarely truly entered and the conditions and situations compose most of the story highlights London’s intention in revealing the theme of determinism.
The Bonds That Ties Us Together in To Build a Fire and The Open Boat
To Build a Connection
We’ve all experienced those days where it seems the universe is out to kill, or at least psychologically maim, us. A series of mundane irritants accumulates into a seemingly unmanageable, insurmountable mountain, completely derailing any attempt at productivity…and in the midst of this one of many frustrating, yet trivial, scenarios is the nagging doubt that it’s all for nothing. It dimly occurs to us that this is just the interim between birth and becoming worm food, that we’re all just matter and energy that will eventually break down and contribute to new configurations of matter and energy. It also dimly occurs to us that this haphazard rearrangement of atoms will also fall beneath the gaze of an omnipresent—god? Force? Alien being? Or, perhaps more distressingly, it occurs to us that the gaze is nothing but an apathetic void.
Such contemplations fall to the naturalist writer to unpack. Authors like Jack London and Stephen Crane, whose respective short stories “To Build a Fire” and “The Open Boat” exemplify the genre, seek to chase this truth to its logical, frightening conclusion: we are all nothing but matter and energy with intent, and this alone does not entitle us to a nurturing, benevolent Universe or a sympathizing God. While both stories contribute to the genre by depicting humans’ relationship to their environment as inherently one-sided, the authors clearly subscribe to different interpretations of that relationship. London goes out of his way to construct a conflict based purely on biological, practical matters, while Crane delves deeper into the psyche of humans looking death in the eye and meekly wondering, “Why me? Why now?”
Though achieved primarily through the use of openly hostile environments, the stories’ themes are also carried by the repetition of key phrases that establish these authors’ differing views. In “To Build a Fire,” for instance, the protagonist’s repeated thought “it certainly was cold” carries with it first an observation of empirical fact: the extended thought process preceding this declaration is one of blasé observation, one that “made no impression on the man” because his concern is “not in the significances” of information so much as how it immediately applies to him—in this case, merely as an obstacle (809). Here, the appearance of “it certainly was cold” is only a bored reflection of his position in the Yukon, not an instinctual fear swelling below his civilized mind to warn him. Indeed, “[t]hat there should be anything more to it than that was a thought that never entered his head” (809); the protagonist, this inexperienced chechaquo, does not consider this environment as anything more than a passing obstacle that he will surely overcome—so surely, in fact, that the thought of his death in the tundra, and the fear that follows it, does not even occur to him at this juncture.
Contrast that with the final repetition of the phrase, where it appears only a few lines before we learn that the man has frozen to death, and that he does so with a certain sense of willing resignation, insisting that the “old hoss” who had warned him of the foolishness of his actions was right all along (818). The man sees no use in fighting any longer and seems to gracefully succumb to the cold. This establishes a sense of accountability, according to Donald Pizer. In his review of Lee Clark Mitchell’s book Determined Fictions: American Literary Naturalism, Pizer dismisses Mitchell’s idea of a universal determinism that allows no real opportunities for human “free will”; in the case of London’s chechaquo, Mitchell insists that this lack of agency ultimately propels the man to his frozen death. Pizer, however, contends that London’s “constant attachment of blame and therefore moral responsibility” to the intrepid protagonist clearly makes the case for human agency rather than human impotence (260). The man has overstepped the boundaries of his biological limitations and justifiably suffers the consequences. London attaches the chechaquo’s death to the man’s own lack of awareness, his own lack of “imagination” that might have chimed in and alerted him to his fatal can-do, can-have attitude that ineffectively defies the inimical Yukon winter. The man’s death, London suggests, could easily have been avoided had he only tapped in to his basic survival instincts rather than his purely human desire to conquer a hostile environment for the purely human desire to obtain arbitrarily meaningful wealth. By rejecting the instinctual understanding that humans must bend their will, contort their imagination, to their environment, and not visa versa, the chechaquo illustrates London’s belief that, while death is obviously inevitable, misplaced arrogance and lack of respect, and lack of the intuitive imagination that acknowledges things worthy of respect, will exacerbate the process.
Crane, too, illustrates the inevitability of death in “The Open Boat”; however, more so than London, Crane insists that respect and willingness to be held accountable for failure amounts to nothing when the Universe is so clearly indifferent to human—or all—life. Unlike “To Build a Fire,” Crane’s short story revolves around characters trapped in a situation where seemingly nothing short of divine intervention can provide succor. The chechaquo knowingly dismisses the experience of his fellows, but the shipwrecked crew of “The Open Boat” find themselves in the eye of peril despite their combined knowledge, experience, and caution. The crew’s repeated sentiment of “If I am going to be drowned…why…was I allowed to come thus far…?” (784) suddenly becomes much more poignant; it suggests an ingrained sense of injustice toward the situation that, based on their collective skill set, should not have happened. Here, even with the presence of awe, caution, and presumably the “imagination” found lacking in London’s protagonist are rendered insignificant by a Universe that sees neither right nor wrong, skilled nor unskilled, sentient nor completely instinctual.
Moreover, the crew’s sentiment about drowning after “coming thus far” parallels all humans’ experiences when confronting their own mortality. Because this feeling is collective (“As for the reflections of the men…they might be formulated thus”) rather than individual, and yet is not more or less significant than an individual’s supplications, Crane presents this density of despair as wholly impotent and objectively useless (784). The mere presence of impassioned struggle or seething rage does not—indeed, cannot—impress itself on an indifferent Universe. There is no assigning of responsibility in the case of these four crew members, and this lack of responsibility, coupled with their frantic, diligent struggle, manifests as a profound sense of injustice. Here, Crane implies, the will to live does not entitle one to life. No matter how “good” we act or how willingly we obey instinct, in the end we all die…and in the end, no great, nurturing God cares that we die.
The lack of an empathetic Universe is no reason for humans to resign themselves to a life of apathy and nihilism, however. While “The Open Boat” dabbles in the darker themes of humans’ “absurd” existence, devoid of intrinsic meaning, Crane still insists that inevitable death of the individual is trumped by the bonds of kinship and empathy that tie humans together. “It would be difficult to describe the subtle brotherhood of men that was here established on the seas,” Crane writes. “No one said that it was so. No one mentioned it, but it dwelt in the boat, and each man felt it warm him” (781). The struggle and tendency toward despair is mitigated by the fact that no man is alone in his fear, and this sense of togetherness, while obviously forced by circumstance, is no less useful in providing the protagonists a sense of meaning in an environment that otherwise forces them to doubt their significance in the Universe. To an extent, even London suggests human connection may be spiritually fulfilling institution, if not a particularly useful one. The chechaquo consistently refers to “the boys” waiting for him at camp, “the boys” who will find his frozen body, “the boys” who will presumably mourn him or at least notice the loss of his presence and deem it significant (818). While admitting that his blunders have led him to a premature death, his final thoughts are about the connection he’s forged with his fellows, the connection that, in part, propelled him to keep pressing forward until he no longer could. Even peripherally, a sense of optimism lurks in both stories, suggesting that, regardless of Universal significance, humans find strength and reassurance in the significance of their relationships.
Whether illustrated in more deterministic terms or in profoundly fatalistic terms, the fact remains the same: we all die, and nothing significant can ultimately be attached to these deaths. Ultimately, the external, hostile Universe may succeed in killing off every outraged, despairing human in existence—but the bonds formed by kinship are soldered by that outrage and despair, by the creeping sense of mortality or the immediate threat of annihilation. And in the brief interim between birth and death, those bonds knit humans together. As exemplified in “To Build a Fire” and “The Open Boat,” whether trapped beneath an apathetic eye or a gaping void, humans have forged their own meaning.
A Comparison of the Similarities and Differences Between Jack London’s To Build a Fire and Stephen Crane’s The Open Boat
Survival Against Nature
Many works of American literature contain similar themes and elements. This is because some ideas are common to human nature and many authors strive to express them in different ways. An example of this is Jack London’s story “To Build a Fire” and Stephen Crane’s story “The Open Boat.” Both of these works of literature share similar themes but address them from different perspectives. Both stories share the theme of survival against nature and place their characters in life threatening situations that test both their physical and mental strength. The man in “To Build a Fire” is forced to fight his way through the freezing snow in his search for riches during the Klondike gold rush of 1897. He uses all of his recourses to try survive and even goes to the length of attempting to kill his only companion, his dog, to try and protect himself. The four men in “The Open Boat” learn to rely on each other as they battle the waves of the ocean after being shipwrecked. They form bonds with each other under such harsh conditions. The stories “To Build a Fire” and “The Open Boat” differ in their handling of the theme of survival against nature because “To Build a Fire” shows the selfishness that the need to survive can instill in a person while “The Open Boat” shows the need for survival bringing characters together.
While both “To Build a Fire” and “The Open Boat” share the theme of survival against nature they handle the presentation of this theme in very different ways. The two most obvious differences are London and Crane’s contrasting uses of point of view and character interaction. For example, London uses the third person omniscient point of view to give the audience full access to the thoughts and actions of characters and their surroundings. Crane uses the third person limited point of view, giving the audience a third person perspective to the narrative through the eyes of one of the characters. The second major difference in the presentation of the theme of survival against nature is the way the characters interact with each other within the two stories. London presents the theme using one major character and his inner thoughts to show how the need to survive can cause a person to become self-centered and care only for himself and his own survival. This is shown through the man’s greed for gold and his attempt to kill his dog in order to warm himself. This attitude is exemplified through the quote from the text “He would kill the dog and bury his hands in the warm body until feeling returned to them” (London, 76). This quote shows the man’s willingness to sacrifice any other life to save his own. Crane uses the interaction between his four main characters to show how them depend on each other and the need to survive can cause people to work together to beat the odds. This is shown through the interactions of the four men as they fight to survive after being shipwrecked and injured. This is exemplified through the quote “The oiler and the correspondent rowed the tiny boat. And they rowed. They sat together in the same seat, and each rowed an oar. Then the oiler took both oars; then the correspondent took both oars; then the oiler; then the correspondent. They rowed and they rowed” (Crane, 3). This quote shows the men sharing the responsibility of keeping the boat moving until they found their way to safety.
Both of the literary works “To Build a Fire” and “The Open Boat” draw upon historical events from their time period but use them in different ways to reflect the shared theme of survival against nature. “To Build a Fire” is based on the documented experiences of those who participated in the Klondike gold rush and how many men lost their lives because of their greed for riches. This supports the theme of survival against nature because of the harsh conditions men were willing to endure to fulfill their search for gold. “The Open Boat” is based upon the personal experience of the author when he was a passenger on a ship that sank. He used his experience to portray the theme of survival against nature and the way it brought his characters together and bonded them in a way that only the most difficult conditions can.
There have been many studies done on the brain and the way humans react physiologically when placed in life threatening situations. The characters in “To Build a Fire” and “The Open Boat” reacted in very different ways to the harsh conditions they faced and their responses support the theme of survival against nature in two very different ways. The man in “To Build a Fire” cared only for himself and his selfish need to survive. This may seem like a character flaw, but it is a normal human response and has true psychological reasoning behind it. A study done by psychologists Avi Besser and Beatriz Priel suggests that grandiose narcissism (caring only for oneself and how situations effect oneself) is a survival mechanism and a natural form of self-preservation (877). This would explain the man’s self-centered need to survive and the way he handled his life-threatening situation. However, the characters in “The Open Boat” show very a very different response then the man in “To Build a Fire.” They pull together and use their resources to help each other survive. A study done by Marco Zanon et al. states that humanity has developed the ability to react altruistically and empathetically during life threatening circumstances. They believe these characteristics have developed over time to help humanity survive as a species and that many basic moral codes have been created from the same sense of altruism (135). This would explain the behavior of Crane’s characters and the way their life threatening experiences cause them to bond and care for each other. Both of these very different types of reactions shown in each story depict two sides of humanity’s survival methods when fighting to live against the difficulties of harsh natural conditions. An experiment done by psychologists Kawani Jagmeet et al. suggests that these reactions to harsh situations can also depend on age, sex and experience by those who go through them (2). Both stories show different sides of the human need to survive against nature.
The overall theme of survival against nature is expressed through the stories “To Build a Fire” and “The Open Boat” in very different ways. Both stories have comments to make about human survival and the mechanisms people use to survive not just physically but also mentally under difficult conditions. Both stories draw upon actual historical events but use them to show separate sides of the human need to survive. Although the characters in each story are faced with different types of natural dangers, the tone of fear of death is seen in both. Although the characters in each story react to their circumstances very differently, both stories are relatable because both types of reactions are natural responses to emergency situations. The theme of survival against nature can be shown through many historical accounts, but the fictionalized versions of real events expressed by London and Crane are both relatable and support the themes from two very different perspectives. London shows the self-centered side to human survival strategies while Crane shows the altruistic and empathetic reactions that can come from great struggles. Life threatening situations show people what they are truly made of, and the clout it takes to survive defines the character strength of each individual.
Analysis Of Traveller In Jack London’s To Build A Fire
Dating back to Greek myths, the scenario in which a man fights alone against the hostile environment is not uncommon in literature. What makes Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” significantly innovative within this narrative subgenre is the author’s choice to scientifically observe reality rather than being passionately involved with the character’s decisions. London’s approach is based on the Naturalistic conception of storytelling, in which the writer’s task is to identify the mechanisms of cause and effect that lie at the foundation of society. The protagonist of the story, a solitary man who is travelling across the tundra, lacks the ability of understanding things beyond mere tangible facts, and this absence of imagination condemns him to tragically freeze in the snow of the Yukon Territory. The man’s flaws are made even more obvious in comparison to his wolf-dog, who is able to withstand the inhospitable climate thanks to his ancestral instincts. While the traveller cannot be held responsible for his flawed intuition, he is guilty of failing to counterbalance his inferiority towards nature by integrating intellectuality into his journey.
The author introduces the reader to the man’s insufficient ability to interpret the reality around him since the beginning of the story, when the cold temperature of fifty below zero “did not lead him to meditate upon his frailty”. This simple defect represents the first ring of the chain of events that will determine the outcome of the travel, since, although the man recognizes the harshness of the weather, he doesn’t adopt any counter-measure to improve his chances of survival. Although he had been advised by the old-timer about the foolishness of travelling alone, he disregarded the recommendation, not only because of subtle arrogance and pride, but largely because he hadn’t been able to visualize a situation that he had never experienced in person.
The man’s negligence is made even more evident by the author through the figure of the dog, whose connection with nature runs much deeper than in the case of the traveller. The animal, being perfectly adapted to survive in freezing weather and having trustworthy instincts, doesn’t need a fire to warm his feet and is able to foresee the menaces in front of him. The man, on the other hand, is a much more vulnerable creature and, instead of being cautious and in constant apprehension, keeps an impudent attitude and doesn’t recognize danger. He is less compatible with the environment, but he also can’t conceptualize with his judgment the “true tale” that the dog understands with its sixth sense. Ironically, the only primitive and instinctive response the man displays during the story is his attempt to kill the dog to warm himself up with the animal’s carcass, but the dog’s intuition proves to be sharper, preventing him to fall into the man’s trap.
The traveller, however, has an evolution in his way of thinking when, reached the point of freezing, he starts losing the support of his senses. Since he is incapable of using his fingers to pick up stimuli, he is forced to rely on the “sense of vision in place of that of touch”. This movement away from the corporeal point of view originates the first flashes on creativity in the man’s mind, as he starts to notice the peculiarity of how “he could run at all on feet so frozen that he could not feel them when they struck the earth”. The process of transcending himself from his weakening body is then taken to extreme when the traveller compares his condition to the orbiting of Mercury around the surface of the earth. Finally, as he recognizes that death is only a few moments distant, the man reaches the point of picturing himself in company of his friends looking for his own corpse, acknowledging that “he did not belong with himself anymore”. Even after this psychological metamorphosis, however, it is hard for the reader to consider the man as a hero of the story and to feel saddened for his demise. The reason for this emotional detachment is the fact that the narrator, besides remarking that the traveller admitted some of his faults, also gives us reasons to doubt about his moral improvement. The man’s conceptual reasonings are described as an improvised alternative to “taking an anesthetic” and can be attributed to the physical need of turning his focus away from the pain of hypothermia. He is regretful for disregarding the old-timer’s advice, but he still doesn’t hold himself completely accountable for his negligence, feeling “a great surge of envy” towards his dog, who just needs his fur to be safe from the outside temperature. Even the dignity that the traveller tries to maintain in his last instants is diminished by the image of the man “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” that the author describes in the same paragraph.
In conclusion, whilst it is possible to argue that the turning point of the traveller’s fate is the unpredictable event of stepping onto a too thin layer of ice, it is also true that the man’s ill-suited behavior plays an equally important, if not greater role in the character’s fate. London is exceptional at portraying Nature as vastly superior to the inexperienced traveller, but this should serve the man as an incentive to equip himself with the full potential of his intellectual skills, instead of justifying him to accept the role of the victim.
Naturalism in Jack London’s To Build a Fire and The Call of the Wild Research Paper
Nowadays, literary critics are being well aware of the fact that it was namely throughout the course of late 19th and early 20th centuries, that the naturalist motifs in European and American literature have come to their all-times-high prominence.
In its turn, this can be explained by the fact that, during the course of this historical period, more and more writers have been realizing that Darwin’s evolutionary theory, concerned with the survival of the fittest, correlates perfectly well with the essence of human societies’ inner dynamics.
As it was noted by Cuddy and Roche (2003): “[In early 20th century] The notion of the survival of the fittest in relation to inherited traits and response to environmental factors became fertile conceptual ground for literary analysis of human nature and society” (22).
The validity of such an idea can be well explored in regards to the literary legacy of one of America’s greatest writers – Jack London, as the extreme naturalism of many of his short stories and novels conveys a clearly defined philosophical message – only the objectively existing laws of nature, to which people are being subjected as much as plants and animals, which should be thought of as the basis of true ethics.
According to McClintock (1970): “Since, for London, science had dislodged idealistic concepts of man, his temperament insisted that affirmations of the human condition, too, have a scientifically justifiable rationale” (336).
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that in literary works of Jack London, naturalist motifs do not only serve the purpose of increasing the extent of plot’s emotional appeal, but they are also being expected to enlighten readers on the true essence of their existential mode. In this paper, we will aim to substantiate the validly of an earlier articulated thesis at length, while exploring the emanations of literary naturalism in London’s short story To Build a Fire and in the novel The Call of the Wild.
The close reading of London’s ‘Northern’ short stories and novels, points out to the fact that naturalistic themes and motifs, contained in them, are being utilized not only for the purpose of exposing a particular ease, with which a formerly civilized individual can be reduced to a primeval savage, while facing the elements, but also for the purpose of revealing a variety of Western ethical conventions conceptually fallacious, since they do not correspond to the essence of their carriers’ physiological functioning.
As Rossetti (2006) had put it: “Naturalism rebukes the primitive for his or her debasement. At the same time, however, it necessarily posits a privileged class and confirms that class’s elite status” (5).
The soundness of this suggestion can be explored within the context of a following quote from To Build a Fire: “As he [traveler] turned to go on, he spat speculatively. There was a sharp, explosive crackle that startled him. He spat again. And again, in the air, before it could fall to the snow, the spittle crackled” (The World of Jack London). Apparently, the author had made a deliberate point in drawing readers’ attention to purely physiological process of spitting.
Nevertheless, given story’s overall context, the fact that the traveler has been spitting rather excessively, does not degrade him in readers’ eyes, as this context confirms the validity of London’s conviction that whatever is natural, cannot be referred to as ‘immoral’ or ‘anti-aesthetic’, by definition.
In its turn, this explains why the apparent ‘distastefulness’ of London’s preoccupation with expounding upon utterly graphic aspects of human existence, clearly visible in this particular story, did not result in lessening the extent of story’s literary appeal.
The same can be said about the effects of utilization of naturalist motifs in London’s novel The Call of the Wild, where author had gone a great length while describing physical violence’s mechanical subtleties with great precision.
For example, in the scene where Buck receives his first ‘submission beating’, London appears to have deliberately strived to produce a heavy blow onto readers’ sense of aesthetic appropriateness: “The man, shifting the club from right to left, coolly caught him [Buck] by the under jaw, at the same time wrenching downward and backward.
Buck described a complete circle in the air, and half of another, then crashed to the ground on his head and chest” (11). It is needless to mention, of course, that the way, in which London had gone about describing the scene of Buck’s beating, can be best referred to as utterly graphic.
And yet, given the fact that London had never made a point in treating the subject of violence as ‘thing in itself’, while aiming to simply entertain intellectually marginalized readers, we cannot be referring to this particular scene’s clearly defined naturalism as being distasteful, in semantic sense of this word.
The earlier suggestion helps us to realize the essence of London’s literary talent. Apparently, unlike what it used to be the case with many of his writing contemporaries; he was not only able to benefit from tackling the issue of violence in intellectually honest manner, but also to show that, under no circumstances, should emanations of physical violence be regarded as ethically inappropriate, by definition, because in the natural environment, they do provide an additional momentum to the process living organisms becoming ever-more complex – hence, violence’s high morality.
In its turn, this explains the phenomenon of why it were author’s particularly naturalistic literary pieces that appealed to intellectually sophisticate readers the most – whatever the ironic it might sound.
In his article, Nash (1966) states: “His [London’s] readers had little difficulty seeing the moral for their own lives of Buck’s reversion to the primitive. Significantly, London’s White Fang (1906), in which a wolf becomes a family dog, never enjoyed the popularity of The Call of the Wild” (530). Thus, it will not be much of an exaggeration, on our part, to suggest that it is due to London naturalism’s strongly defined philosophical sounding that even today; most readers consider it contextually appropriate.
Another reason why it is being the case is that London often exposes naturalistic themes and motifs in conjunction with his characters being on a great mission. For example, even though author’s description of traveler’s physical appearance in To Build a Fire, implies his lessened ability to conform to the conventions of Western civilized living: “The man’s red beard and mustache were likewise frosted…
Also, the man was chewing tobacco, and the muzzle of ice held his lips so rigidly that he was unable to clear his chin when he expelled the juice” (The World of Jack London), it nevertheless does not imply his lessened ability to act as such living’s actual agent. The reason for this is simple – in To Build a Fire, the character of a traveler never loses its cool, right to the very end. In its turn, this subtly confirms the sheer objectiveness of a so-called ‘White man’s burden’ notion.
It is namely the fact that White people’s exposal to the hostile environment does not usually undermine their ability to face life’s challenges in a rational manner, which created objective preconditions for them to be given the mission of spreading the light of civilization throughout the world. This is exactly the reason why in To Built a Fire, author’s utilization of naturalistic motifs invokes perceptional stoicism in readers.
As Gurian (1966) had rightly noted: “Jack London’s men fight, as heroes, against surrounding force… London depicts protagonists fighting to win in a causative naturalist universe” (112). By naturalistically juxtaposing the character of traveler against the hostile forces of nature, London provides readers with the insight onto Faustian workings of White people’s psyche.
There can be very little doubt as to the fact that the strongly defined naturalism of many scenes in The Call of the Wild, serves essentially the same purpose. Given the fact that in this novel, dogs are being endowed with essentially human psychological traits, it comes as not a particular surprise that, while being exposed to the scenes of bloody rivalry between Buck and Spitz, readers gain a better understanding of what accounts for the essence of dynamics, within just about any human society.
Apparently, London believed that the representatives of Homo Sapiens specie are nothing but primates, with the layer of their civilizational sophistication being only skin-deep. Just as it is being the case with apes, people think of ensuring the propagation of their genes (through sexual mating) and of gaining a dominant position within social hierarchy, as such that represent their foremost priorities in life.
Therefore, the following naturalistic scene, where Buck and Spitz fight to the death, while trying to ensure their dominance, within the pack, can be best referred to as perfectly connotative of how people go about gaining social prominence, within a society to which they happened to belong: “In vain Buck strove to sink his teeth in the neck of the big white dog.
Wherever his fangs struck for the softer flesh, they were countered by the fangs of Spitz. Fang clashed fang, and lips were cut and bleeding, but Buck could not penetrate his enemy’s guard” (35).
Apparently, throughout the course of his life, London never ceased being aware of a simple fact that, on this earth, there is simply no enough place under the sun for all – only the smartest and the strongest enjoy dialectically predetermined existential superiority. This is exactly the reason why there are clearly defined Social-Darwinist undertones to naturalist themes and motifs, contained in both: The Call of the Wild and To Build a Fire.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to think that these motifs are being essentially nihilistic. According to Auerbach (1995), the utterly naturalist way in which London’s characters address life’s challenges, is itself can be thought as the source of a new morality, based upon people’s recognition of natural laws’ full objectivity: “This [Darwinian] struggle… demands the dominance of one man over another; hence the origins of a master/slave dialectic… by working, [slave] becomes master over nature, and in doing so frees himself from nature as well as from himself” (59).
What it means that it is utterly inappropriate to refer to London’s literary naturalism as an indication of the fact that he thought of ‘primitiveness’ and ‘realness’ as basically synonymous concepts.
Quite on the contrary – as the reading of The Call of the Wild and To Build a Fire points out to, characters’ exposal to naturalistically defined primitivism, on the part of nature itself (in the short story) and on the part of gold-seeking brutes and their dogs (in the novel), cannot be discussed outside of how it helped these characters to realize the sheer extent of their perceptional nobleness.
We believe that the line of argumentation, deployed throughout paper’s analytical part, confirms the validity of an initial thesis that the presence of naturalist motifs and themes in London’s The Call of the Wild and To Build a Fire, should be thought of as having philosophical rather than purely instrumental purpose.
While never ceasing to treat readers in intellectually honest manner, sublimated in his tendency to provide graphically detailed accounts of characters’ struggle with the hostile environment and with viciously-minded competitors for the same environmental niche; London strived to promote an idea that it is only those capable of understanding the full spectrum of ‘survival of the fittest’ concept’s implications, who deserve to remain on the leading edge of biological evolution.
Given the fact that, due to being subjected to ideological oppression of political correctness, more and more men in Western countries now grow exceedingly feminized, it is very likely that in the future, London’s literary naturalism is going to be increasingly referred to as such that contains clues as to very essence of masculine virtuousness.
Auerbach, Jonathan “Congested Mails’: Buck and Jack’s ‘Call”. American Literature 67.1 (1995): 51-76.
Carroll, Joseph. Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Cuddy, Lois & Roche, Claire. Evolution and Eugenics in American Literature and Culture, 1880-1940: Essays on Ideological Conflict and Complicity. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2003.
Gurian, Jay “The Romantic Necessity in Literary Naturalism: Jack London”. American Literature 38.1 (1966): 112-120.
Labor, Earle “Jack London’s Symbolic Wilderness: Four Versions”. Nineteenth-Century Fiction 17.2 (1962): 149-161.
London, Jack “The Call of the Wild”. Ibiblio. The Public’s Library and Digital Archive. 2011. Web. http://www.ibiblio.org/ebooks/London/Call%20of%20Wild.pdf
London, Jack “To Build a Fire”. The World of Jack London. 2011. Web.
McClintock, James “Jack London’s Use of Carl Jung’s Psychology of the Unconscious”. American Literature 42.3 (1970): 336-347.
Mills, Gordon “Jack London’s Quest for Salvation”. American Quarterly 7.1 (1955): 3-14.
Nash, Roderick “The American Cult of the Primitive”. American Quarterly 18.3 (1966): 517-537.
Rossetti, Gina. Imagining the Primitive in Naturalist and Modernist Literature. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2006.
Seitler, Dana. Atavistic Tendencies: the Culture of Science in American Modernity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.
- Gordon Mills. “Jack London’s Quest for Salvation”. American Quarterly 7.1 (1955),8.
- Earle Labor “Jack London’s Symbolic Wilderness: Four Versions”. Nineteenth-Century Fiction 17.2 (1962), 153.
- Dana Seitler. Atavistic Tendencies: the Culture of Science in American Modernity. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 221.
- Joseph Carroll. Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature. (New York: Routledge, 2004), 117.