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    The Existential Theme in Jack London’s “To Build A Fire”

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    Human history is littered with example where a few individual risked life and limbs to venture into the unknown, which then came to be discovered, thanks to their spirit of adventurism or as some would say, fool hardy bravado.

    Of course, certain names come to mind, Christopher Columbus, Captain James Cook, Lois and Clark etc. There is another side to this tale of fame as well. Even the success stories sometimes had a ring of failure about it self. A person might be a pioneer in the field of discovery but the fruits of his labor are enjoyed by those who follow him.

    He might in fact have served as an expendable instrument in the road to discovery, in the big schemes of things. Little do we know about the glaring failures of those who dared to and never lived to tell the tale of their supposed glory. The arctic and the Northern Alaskan territory presented similar challenges to the human spirit of the adventurism and discovery.

    The element of nature, the unfamiliar terrain, the extreme weather and unforeseeable circumstances all stacked up as worthy obstacles in the way of anyone who dared to explore its secrets and expansiveness, and fostered and thought of overcoming these. In the text under discussion, To build a fire by Jack London, the struggle between nature and man exemplifies the difficulties in the quest for adventurism whereby it can be said that much of what was discovered, what was new, came about through struggle rather than co-operation. Even though the main character foresees the big challenges lying ahead of him, he sets off to pursue it, through a mixture of ignorance, indifference and resolve.

    This perception follows the readers through out the body of the text uphill the end (L 16, P1745. This shows him to be less than prudent and a tad bit indifferent. (L 20, P 1745). Continuing in the same vein, it appears that main character is perhaps taking things lightly.

    Considering the journey itself, which is presented as a significant obstacle, it does present a contrast. The contrast is between the degree of difficulty and the lack of grasp for the gravity of the situation which presents itself (L 7, P 1745). Perhaps, no where is this lack of preparedness for the journey more exhibited than where he does find himself in a hole (moment of danger) e. g.

    where he acknowledges this. (L26, P1748). Perhaps the most compelling evidence of this fool hard cockiness that is bordering on madness is evident through the following. All of the above explained, have the cumulative effect of presenting a picture of a man might be a tough individual but not necessarily a prudent one.

    The journey is wrought with peril and indeed presents itself as a significant hurdle not to be taken lightly. There is danger of thin ice on the top of a water hole or river covered by soft snow. In the extreme weather, getting wet is as good as dead! (L19, P1747). That he does find himself in that situation is a grim reminder of the harsh reality.

    (L24, P1747). The implicit implication is ofcourse death by exposure to cold facilitated by his being wet. The grimness of the situation is further re-iterated in the following. (L39, P1747.

    When he does try to control the situation by building the fire again after his first attempt ends in failure, he starts to freeze up. L27, P1751). When his condition deteriorates and he begins to lose sensation, it is the moment of truth. (L18, P1753). These examples show that the dangers were not overstated and were real as they did in the end manifest themselves to be such. Finally, the challenge proves itself to be greater than the human resolve arrayed against it which breaks down the human pride and makes it possible to accept the harsh verdict of nature on its (natures) terms.

    The fire time the reader senses a hint of acceptance or a dent in the confidence of the man is when it is said that (l44, P 1750). When his second attempt to build a fire also meets the same fate as his first one, then he options begin to border on the .

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    The Existential Theme in Jack London’s “To Build A Fire”. (2019, Mar 26). Retrieved from

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