A lack of Respect
“To Build a Fire” by Jack London is a short story about a man traveling along the Yukon River in the bitter winter weather. While warned against traveling alone in the frigid cold, he ventures out to meet his companions at a remote camp many miles away, with only his dog. Overcome by nature’s power, he eventually perishes along the way, leaving his four-legged partner to complete the journey alone. The story displays how the forces of nature can surprisingly overwhelm even the most confident of men.
The traveler, or also referred to as a chechaquo, is the main character of London’s tale. He is a quick and alert man, yet lacks imagination to see things in the big picture. We know that he knows the ways of the arctic environment, but it becomes obvious that he has never experienced a situation like this. The man is observant and quite resourceful, exemplified when he coaxes the dog to walk ahead of him across the ice, in case of soft spots. A combination of arrogance and confidence are apparent with almost every thought he has. Even when faced with his own immortality, the man fights to contain himself and remain calm. London uses the dog traveling with the man to support some of the less obvious points in the story. We know from the dog’s thoughts that the climate is not simply cold, but closer to unbearable. The central conflict in the story is the Traveler vs. Nature. He displays a total lack of respect for the environment in which he has chosen to travel. From the beginning, the reader understands that the man is undertaking a task where most would wait for more suitable conditions. His trip begins well enough, yet soon becomes disastrous when he breaks through the ice and wets himself up to the waist. He is more angry than worried as he begins to build a fire to dry his wet boots and socks. His arrogance shows when he thinks to himself, “Those old-timers were rather womanish.” Due to a grave mistake on his part of building the fire under a tree branch overburdened with fresh snow, his fire is doused out when the heat collapses the branch. His extremities are already numb from the cold and he lacks the dexterity to light another fire so begins to run in an effort to get to his companions camp as well as increase his circulation enough to warm up.