The text “To build a fire” is the story of a man who goes on a journey towards a camp in the northern country (Alaska) during the winter. The weather is extremely cold, and he sets off on his own despite having been advised to come with company in case he faces difficulties on the way. The only company he has is a wolf dog, an animal that is much more adapted for this extreme cold. In addition to the sub-zero temperatures, the man is faced by other hazards that include pools of water covered by snow on the trail that he follows. He is not a native in this land, and that makes him even more vulnerable. The sledge marks on the path he is following show that there has not been another traveller on that route for at least a month (London 64). Despite noting all this, the man is not alarmed. Spitting or pouring water is not possible in these extremely cold temperatures, as the liquid becomes frozen on immediate contact with air. The man later on succumbs and falls into a pool of water that gets the clothings on his feet wet. This is very dangerous, and he tries to undo it by making a fire. He at first succeeds in building the fire, but it gets put out by snow that fall from the branches of the tree under which he had made the fire. This makes the man frantic as he tries to build the fire once more. The cold takes a toll on his body and causes his limbs to fail him. This eventually results in him surrendering to the fate of freezing to death (London 79). The real world issue in this text is the inability of man to conquer nature single-handedly, despite having the necessary tools and means.
Pride and greed
The description given about the character in this story portrays him as a man driven by pride. He is warned against making such a journey in the cold weather on his elderly and more experienced persons at Sulphur Creek. From the trail that he follows, it is obvious that the people have avoided making such journeys. This should get him worried and make him avoid this quest (Higgins 13). His pride does not allow him to consider the dangers posed by the cold weather or the pools covered by weak ice and snow. He seems to be so self-assured to the point of thinking that the old men that had warned him against travelling alone as being womanish.
From the story, one learns that the traveller is motivated by the prospect of making quick wealth from the selling of logs that will have been carried by the currents in spring. Yukon is also known for gold deposits, and the man might have also wanted to cash in on the same when mast persons were avoiding it because of the subzero temperatures (Maloof, Baker and Thompson 589). This man, whom the author declines to give a name, might be motivated by greed for quick wealth. This greed makes him to go on a suicidal trek. The combination of greed and pride makes him disregard even his own safety. Even the dog, which is only reliant on instincts without having rational reasoning, seems more concerned about its survival and safety compared to him.
The man’s inability to stand up to nature becomes apparent after a fire he has built is put out by falling snow. He is filled with panic as he tries to light the fire once more with his numb hands. He tries and fails a number of times, and when he succeeds, his hands have already become useless. Having lost the use for his hands, he is unable to stoke the fire well enough. It eventually goes out. He then tries to run towards the camp where he is to meet his boys. Running does little to help, as the distance is still substantial. He thinks of killing the dog to use its flesh to warm himself. This is impossible, as he cannot even hold a knife, having had his hands numbed by the cold. He then decides to embrace his fate and freeze to death. As he loses his consciousness, his pride thaws away as he admits that the old man at Sulphur Creek was right. The dog, which has been his slave, leaves him after he dies and goes towards the camp, where it will find other persons with a fire to keep it warm plus food to eat.
Tools to conquer nature
Nature is depicted as harsh in this story. It seems as if it is out to punish the man for disregarding the advice given to him by the elderly man at Sulphur Creek. The major challenge facing the man on this journey is the extreme subzero temperature. According to previous knowledge, he has known the temperature to be as low as negative 50 in Yukon during the winter. He can however, tell that it is much lower than that from the experiences he is having including being unable to spit out the tobacco that he is chewing on as it becomes solidified immediately it encounters air. He is also unable to open his mouth to bite at his lunch. His tool against nature is fire, and it assists him to warm himself whilst having lunch.
The other tool or rather companion at his disposal is the wolf dog that follows him. It seems as if the role of the dog is to show the direction towards the camp in exchange for food and warmth. The author is sure to inform the reader that the relationship between the dog and the man is not that intimate. The dog instinctively knows that to be outside in such weather is dangerous. The reader is made to know that the dog silently resents the man for forcing it accompany him and expose itself to extreme elements when it would prefer to dig a hole in the snow and wait until the weather gets better. Nature gets the upper hand after the man sinks into a pool of water that freezes on his socks and moccasin. He makes fire to undo the freeze on his foot wear, only for it to be put out by falling snow. The cold eventually defeats him, and he freezes to death despite having had tools to control nature. The dog is unable to assist him in his time of need and seeks its own survival by moving towards the camp after his death.
The nature as presented in this story seems oblivious of the presence of the traveller as it unleashes cold terror on his path. The fire he builds does not have any effect on the effect of nature beyond the immediate surroundings. The harshness of nature is depicted in the description made by the author of there being ice that is three feet thick, which is covered by snow of the same thickness. The temperature is so low that even the steam breathed out by the man and the dog is converted to crystals almost immediately. These ice crystals then lodge themselves on the beard of and fur of the man and the dog respectively. The savageness of the cold is further illustrated by the attempts of the man to pour water on the ground, which freezes midair and hits the ground as lumps of ice.
The same nature also has contradictions in the sense that there are streams that never freeze despite the extremely low temperature. These streams end up forming pools of water that are loosely covered by ice and snow, acting as traps for the traveller. These pools of water combined with the extreme cold are the greatest hazard facing this traveller. He has fire to find against it. One thing he lacks is the intelligence to navigate through that path or wisdom to realize that it is better to wait until the weather is better. The absence of other travellers on that route, including the natives should be a warning to this man. He is a stranger after all, and should be twice as cautious as the persons used to living in Yukon.
Furthermore, the man should have at least enlisted the help of another person more familiar with the landscape of Yukon to increase the chances of having a successful expedition. Such a guide might have assisted in making the fire and in advising on the best location to place the fire to avoid the tragedy that befalls the man. Going up against nature in a strange territory ensures that the man is destined to fail, which unfortunately leads to death. Just as nature barely notices the struggles of the man as he tries to reach the camp, it is oblivious to his passing on and most probably covers him in snow to be discovered weeks later. Nature neither seems to loose nor gain as a result of the actions of this single person. However, it is known that when men are many, they can exploit nature to the extent of altering it. This shows the indifference of nature to the efforts of one person where many individuals would have a profound effect on it.
From the discussion above one observes the folly of the character in the story of ignoring the advice of an experienced old man to avoid travelling in the cold or to at least seek a companion. This is caused by his pride and greed. He feels self-sufficient to take on the harsh weather just because he has fire to warm him and a dog to guide him towards the camp. These two prove futile after he sinks into a pool of water and fails to warm himself on time. Lastly the unforgiving and harsh character of nature is revealed in the way that it renders the efforts of the man at survival useless.
Higgins, E Tory et al. ‘Achievement Orientations From Subjective Histories Of Success: Promotion Pride Versus Prevention Pride’. European Journal of Social Psychology 31.1 (2001): 3–23. Print.
London, Jack. To Build A Fire. 1st ed. Raleigh, N.C.: Alex Catalogue. Print.
Maloof, Terri L, Timothy Baker, and John F Thompson. ‘The Dublin Gulch Intrusion-Hosted Gold Deposit, Tombstone Plutonic Suite, Yukon Territory, Canada’. Mineralium Deposita 36.6 (2001): 583–593. Print.