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To Build A Fire: Naturalism Essay

1321 words - 5 pages

“To Build A Fire” is a clear example of naturalism and follows many of its conventions. Some of the characteristics of naturalism are being conditioned or controlled by the environment, having the world understood only through objective science, conflicts which bring out the instincts of man, pessimism, and presenting a viewpoint which is detached from the reader.
One characteristic of Naturalism in literature is that the characters in a story are described as being conditioned or controlled by the environment in which they are in; in essence man versus nature. In “To Build A Fire”, the man travels in the Yukon at a bone-chilling 75 degrees below zero. The environment in this story is used to portray a harsh, unforgiving landscape that can ultimately control ones fate if they don’t take the necessary precautions as the man did in this story. He didn’t think the environment could pose such a danger that any situation he encountered in it would get out of his control. Even with the advice of an old-timer to the area who advised him to take a partner at 50 below 0. It illustrates that the environment may seem under ones control, but one should never let their own perception of control interfere with the realization of the reality that no one runs nature other than “mother nature”. This is not to say that the environment was set out to hurt the man, rather, the environment was indifferent to what was going through it and ultimately what happened to the man. In essence, nature is revealed in this story to have no heart, compassion, or emotions regarding its actions. In this quote nature can be seen to control an action which is out of the individuals control: “In a seemingly safe, solid spot, the man falls through the snow and wets himself up to his shins. He curses his luck.” The word “luck” is the key word which emphasizes that what happened was out of his control. He also uses the word accident to describe what happened here: “Old-timers are ‘womanish,’ and that even with his ‘accident,’ he had saved himself in solitude.” Again, the word accident implies something outside of one’s control. However the next accident which occurred is described by the author as a mistake here: “It was his own fault or, rather, his mistake. He should not have built the fire under the spruce tree.” A mistake is something which suggests that an individual was responsible for what happened. Naturalism seems to go against this very concept; however, the concept also says that the responsibility of an individual remains as long as one can foresee a consequence.
One other thing which is significant to the environment is how it must be viewed through objective science. Numbers play an important role in the story and are described in it frequently. The temperature of the environment the man is in is described (75 below 0), and also the number of matches the man has (70). The author could have stated the man had a lot of matches, or, a little, but he gave an approximate...

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