Man Against Nature - Jack London's To Build a Fire.

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Danielle Garcia Silva

Christina Riley-Brown

American Classics

25 March 2014

The Man against Nature

        By the end of nineteenth century, a new literature movement called “Naturalism” developed. Naturalist writers usually created characters that followed their own instincts and passions. However, most Naturalist characters had to face forces beyond their control, such as nature and environment. The most common themes during Naturalism are man against himself, man against nature and man against the universe. Therefore, the stories often represent the idea of people struggling and fighting against something that they do not have control over. One of the most famous writers from this period is Jack London. London became a great writer after he experienced living in Alaska, and taking part in the Klondike Gold Rush at the age of twenty one. Nina Baym, the author of The Norton Anthology American Literature, states that London “[…] was the best-selling author in America and was on his way to becoming the most popular American writer in the world” (1812). Some of London’s most known works are “An Odyssey of the North” (1900), “To Build a Fire” (1902), The Call of the Wild (1903), and The Sea-Wolf (1904) (Baym 1812). London’s short story “To Build a Fire” became well-known because of its moral ending with the main character’s death and the tension of blaming the character’s choice after observing his consequences.

        John Griffin London, mostly known as Jack London, was born in San Francisco in 1896. He was and young and adventurous boy when he decided go into the Inside Passage of Alaska (“Jack London’s Klondike Adventure”). In his journey, he was accompanied by three friends, he faced the winter that achieved a hundred feet depth of snow. He would pass through all snow at least three times a day to get survival supplies. Once, with his partners he went to an existing cabin in order to be protected from the cold that was located next to some frequently used crossroads. Many miners and adventurous people would pass by London’s new home and tell him stories that would inspire him to write stories. Some people believe that London’s stories are all fiction; however, some have real names and were inspired by people’s real adventure. Continuing in his journey, London got sick of scurvy because he did not have enough vitamin C in his body. Through that illness London noticed how likely the winter can be fatal. When the spring came out, London and his friends headed up to Fort Yukon in a boat. After completing his adventures, London came back to San Francisco and died and 1916 (“Jack London’s Klondike Adventure”).

        Even before London went to his adventure to Alaska, he had already written about survival difficulties in his short story “To Build a Fire” which was published first in a smaller version in 1902. After London struggled to survive in the open sea he was inspired to extend the character’s suffering in the short story he wrote an extended version which was published in 1908 (Baym 1812). In the beginning of the longer story, London points out the characteristics of the environment and the character’s indifference towards the freezing weather (Pizer 219).  The man in the story goes to travel alone in Klondike while it is seventy-five degrees below zero (London 1814). However, the man, who is the unnamed principal character, affirms that the cold does not scare him. He believes that he will survive the winter conditions without any help.

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Sulphur Creek, the old-timer, tells the man that the winter of Klondike cannot be experienced alone due to the extreme cold weather, but the man continues in his journey without listening to Creek. Sulphur Creek affirmed that the man should travel with some company to Klondike because he would not survive alone due to the necessities that appear while at least fifty degrees below zero. The only company that the man has in his adventure is a husky, a dog that is used to cold weather and can face it. The problem is that the man does not accept the ...

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