Jack London's "To Build a Fire"

Essay by Anonymous UserCollege, UndergraduateA, April 1997

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How many times have you seen birds flying south for the winter? They do not read somewhere or use some computer to know that they must fly to survive. In Jack London's 'To Build a Fire', we see how that mans intelligence is sometimes foolish. The man, who is walking in seventy-five degrees below zero weather, lets his learned behavior override his instinct. Therefore, he dies. London's theme is that no matter how intelligent society becomes, we as a species should never discard our basic instincts.

In the beginning of the tale we see that the man realizes it is cold, but only sees this as a fact and not a danger. The man spit on the ground to test how cold it was. His test taught him that it was colder than he had first thought, but he never thought of that as a danger only as a reality.

'That there should be anything more to it than that was a thought that never entered his head' (119). To many times modern man plods along oblivious to the reality that lies one moment or misstep away (Votleler 272).

The man sees that he is feeling the effects of the cold more and more as he goes along, but more than ever he pushes on. Several times he comments that the cold is making his hands and feet numbed, and frostbite is killing his cheeks. He thinks 'What were frosted cheek? A bit painful, that was all. . .' (120). Again he chose to ignore an instinct that would have saved him.

The dog, on the other hand, although guided by his learned behavior still retains his instincts. The dog follows the man throughout his ill faded journey, but after the man perishes he relies upon his instincts...