Literary Analysis Essay on To Build a Fire by Jack London

Published: 2021-07-20
808 words
3 pages
7 min to read
Boston College
Type of paper: 
Literature review
This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

To build a fire is a story written by the American author Jack London. In the story, there is an unnamed protagonist who ventures through the sub-zero tundra in the Yukon Territory. The character is accompanied by his dog as he tries to go and visit his friends. The character had been warned earlier by an elder about the many dangers of hiking alone but ignores this advice. The man underestimates the very harsh weather conditions, and he slowly freezes to death. We see that the man tries to build a fire three times, but he does not succeed as it is put out. After all those attempts, he finally freezes to death in the snow. This story represents the naturalist movement as it shows the conflict of man versus nature. Therefore, the theme that I select is that of the conflict of man versus nature since it is the dominant one from the start to the end of the story.


The theme of Man versus Nature

As stated above, the theme of Man versus Nature is the most dominant in this story as despite being warned by an elder, the protagonist ignores and goes out to face the cold temperatures to get across the territory of Yukon. This represents a battle of life and death, and it is evident that the fire is the determinant of if he will live or die in the tundra. The man tries all means to keep warm and generates heat to survive. Walking carefully from the beginning, he finally had a roaring fire, over which he thwarted his ice covered face in the protection as he ate his biscuits (London 15). Although the fire gets blown out every time, the man is determined to survive, but unfortunately, nature wins as he finally dies.

Central Conflicts in the Story

The most prominent conflict seen in this story is between nature and human beings. The man knows the dangers of the frozen wilderness but believes he will come out victorious as he has not yet learned to respect the very power of nature. He does not understand the humankinds fragility. The second central conflict is between youth and confidence. The man ignores the advice of the old man who warns him that he should not travel in winter without a partner. The man is not even worried by the lack of the sun for days, as he believes nothing that he cannot handle. It was a bright day but the day was dark due to the absence of the sun. The fact did not worry the man as he claimed that he was used to the lack of sun (London 1). Ignorance made him dismiss the advice, but as he is caught in the bitter cold, he realizes the value of the elders warning.

Character development

The main character in the story is the man who is purposely not named as the deterministic environment is portrayed to be far more important than his individuality and free will. He aims to get to the camp and meet the boys for gold prospects. The mans greatest weakness is his inability to think about the future outcomes and consequences of the current actions and facts. The cold weather does not make the man meditate upon mortality. The dog represents pure instincts, one of the main character that is vital to survival. The man requires various products of intelligent civilization, for example, warm clothes, thermometers, matches but the dog uses its natural advantages such as fur and the keen sense of smell for survival. The old timer represents wisdom and advice. The old man warns the man from traveling alone when the temperatures are low. The man, however, does not listen to him. He scoffs at the advice when he handles the first accident. He remembered the advice of the old timer and smiled. Those old timers are womanish, all a man had to do is keep his head and then he would be all right. Any man can travel alone (London 21).

The Message in To Build a Fire

The main message of the story is that our pride should not supersede the workings of nature. Nature always has its way since it is mighty. The dog survives just because of the instinctual survival skills it had. The man in the story died just because he became too proud and arrogant such that he could not take the advice of others since he thought he knew it all.


From the story, it shows that the plot is revolving around the theme of nature versus man in which nature triumphs. This theme is enhanced and developed by the motifs of reason versus instincts. The dog symbolizes the survival instincts while the man illustrates how reason and pride sometimes can lead to destruction in competition with nature.


London, Jack. To build a fire. Bantam Classics, 2007

Request Removal

If you are the original author of this essay and no longer wish to have it published on the website, please click below to request its removal: