A Fire Not Built
“To Build a Fire”, a short story written by Jack London, is viewed as a masterpiece of naturalist fiction. “To Build a Fire” features a miner and his wolf-dog companion who are traveling in the Yukon Territory to meet fellow miners. The miner is the protagonist and the wolf-dog companion is the foil because the wolf-dog plays off of the traits of the protagonist. The central theme of “To Build a Fire” concerns the struggle of man versus nature. “To Build a Fire” tells of a man traveling in the extreme cold through the Yukon Territory. Before heading out on his journey, the man is warned not to travel alone in the extreme cold, but he travels any way. The man faces many hardships while on his journey. Despite his effort to stay warm and survive, the man freezes to death before he reaches his destination. The wolf-dog in the story studies the situation and knows that traveling is not a good idea. The wolf-dog stays with the miner until his death. Once the miner dies, the wolf-dog finishes his journey by heading off to the miners’ camp on his own. The most argued point of this short story is the reason for the protagonist’s death. Even though the miner in “To Build a Fire” eventually panics after being unable to start a fire, he struggles in the wilderness of the Yukon Territory and ultimately finds his death due to ignorance caused by a lack intuition and imagination.
Contrary to the idea of the miner dieing because of lack of intuition and imagination, critics say that he dies because of panic (Short Story Criticism). The theory of the miner dieing because of panic is faulty. Evidence shows that the miner panics, but he does not do so until the end of the story. At the beginning of his journey the miner shows no sign of panic. He only begins to panic when his efforts to keep warm fail. “The man tries to start a fire beneath the shelter of a spruce tree but snow falls and extinguishes the embers. The miner attempts to start another fire in the open but the wind is too strong to keep a flame going” (London 9). The miner does not know what to do when his survival tactics fail. The miner thinks about killing his wolf-dog companion for the warmth his body will provide but is too weak physically to accomplish the task. “The man then panics and begins running until he can run no longer” (11). The miner dies shortly after many attempts to run to the camp. He should have panicked when his begins began to freeze, but he shows no concern. These facts lead some critics to believe that the protagonist dies as a result of panic and the failure of his rational faculties (Short Story Criticism). However, the miner only begins to panic when he feels death coming and realizes that death is unavoidable.
The protagonist ultimately meets his death because of his lack in intuition and imagination. The miner displays his lack of intuition many times throughout the story. The miner heads out to the miners camp after being warned to not travel...