Alienation of the Main Character in To Build A FireIn most novels and short stories, the emphasis lays on the main character. The author gives details on his personality, his skills, or his appearance one by one until we, as readers, get the final picture of what the protagonist looks like. However, this is not always the case; sometimes it seems in the writer’s favor to limit the descriptions of the main character to a minimum, in order to allow him to put the emphasis on the theme. In the short story “To Build A Fire” by Jack London, the main character slowly evolves in a wild environment as a distanced, alienated man, lost in a fatal fight against nature. To create such a character, the author made critical choices regarding the point of view of the narration; he also did a meticulous work of depicting the setting; and finally, we will see how the relationship between the main character and the dog supports this alienation.
The first element of the story that reveals London’s intention to distance and isolate the main character is the narration’s point of view. The third-person omniscient narrator has this intrinsic characteristic of non-identification with the main character, of detachment to a certain extent. Therefore, the story, by not being narrated through the main character’s eyes does not allow for intimacy. At many times in the story, the narrator limits himself to describe the actions of the man: “When the man had finished, he filled his pipe and took his comfortable time over a smoke” (London 104), only revealing some of his fears and thoughts towards the panicking end. Moreover, as the narrator from time to time enters the dog’s mind, the only other living being in the story, he contributes to the distanci…
…f snow, uncaringly annihilated by nature in a snap of the fingers. With a clever choice in terms of point of view and graceful work in the placement of the setting, Jack London successfully rendered his main character’s tininess, isolation, and dehumanization. This slow march towards death must have had even more impact on our culture in its original context in 1910. Charles Darwin had just proposed his theory of natural selection and evolution a few decades earlier and the debate was still fresh. London produced a really interesting story filled with plentiful references on the subject of human-nature relationship, which have undoubtedly bothered more than one’s minds.Works Cited
London, Jack. “To Build a Fire.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 7th edition. Ed. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. New York, NY: Longman, 1999. 100-11