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Human Flaws and The Importance of The Open Mind in Jack London’s 'To Build a Fire'

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Jack London’s short story ‘To Build a Fire’ tells a tale of a man that perceives his self as perfect in every way. This stubborn individual decides to travel solo, with his dog through the treacherous and uninviting environment of the Yukon. The man clearly does not recognize the risk that he is taking. The bearded man becomes a victim to the ruthless and relentless power of nature. During his travels, he falls through the ice into the water of a hot spring. His feet get soaked and because of the severity of the cold, some ‘one hundred and seven degrees below freezing point,’ (London) the man’s life holds in the balance as he challenges his ability to promptly light a fire to keep his feet from freezing. After several pathetic attempts and one semi-successful fire-starting endeavor, the fate of the man’s long struggle against the hostile environment of the Yukon begins to become apparent. After an episode of panic in which the man attempts desperately to return the feeling to his hands and feet by ‘running around like a chicken with its head cut off’ (London), the man, at last, comes to terms and decides to meet death with dignity. The bearded man had a preconceived idea that he has it all, and failure was not an option. With that said, the man later finds himself contemplating his previous decision and dies in regret. London utilizes the protagonist’s personality to prove the inadequacy of human calculations and the importance of the open mind.

The man was filled with overwhelming pride and self-satisfaction, as most humans are. He was very stubborn and he ignored life attempting to tell him otherwise. Before the man left Sulfur Creek, he was confronted by an elder, with lots of experience, who had advised him that traveling alone in “fifty degrees below zero” (London) could be an extremely dangerous voyage. The bearded man ignores this advice, he took one look at the old man and judged him by appearance and by his age. The man, being younger and in better physical shape felt as if that advice only applied to the old and brittle. Another sign was that the man’s dog, who is half wolf, starts giving off instinctual calls. These calls were disregarded, this man truly believed he had more natural instincts than a beast.

These examples show that having an open-mind can expand one’s knowledge of making wise decisions. Human capabilities are far from perfect, and knowing his or her flaws may benefit one from making rash decisions. For example, the protagonist ventures his way through mostly solid ground and comes across a long plain of ice. He believes walking on ice was a good idea and fully trusts the ice’s durability. However, without considering the dangers, the ice cracks and plunges the man into the water getting his feet wet. This handicaps him from walking properly. Another example is his knowledge of building a fire. He successfully built a fire three times in order to cook and warm himself; but, every time he did so, he would accidentally put it out. Cases like these show that humans are imperfect, and miscalculations dwell in their lives. Only those who are able to accept it can lower the risk of making mistakes.

London carefully uses the protagonist’s character as a result to demonstrate the flaws in humans. The bearded man was led by his competence, leading him to believe anything is possible. He did not know the problems and risks outside of his spectrum. He lacked awareness in situations like these, creating more problems and eventually dying. If one understood what he or she is truly capable of, then he or she will likely survive.

Works Cited

  1. London, Jack. To Build a Fire. Generic NL Freebook Publisher. EBSCOhost, Accessed 7 June 2019.

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