To Build a Fire by Jack London tells the story of a man who perishes in extreme whether conditions because he fails to take precaution before setting out on a journey on cold weather. The story is both naturalist and realist.
The naturalism movement in literature concerned itself with the struggles that a man had to go through to survive in the world. The nameless protagonist in the story goes through struggles as he encounters biting cold on his way to meet some boys. He walks through snow yet he had not dressed appropriately for the cold. The man uses his knowledge in order to fight the severe cold just as naturalism shows the struggles of man against nature.
At the end, nature subdues him (An Introduction to Realism and Naturalism, n.d.). The man who has set out to seek gold becomes preoccupied with the cold that threatens his life. The nature is indifferent to the man as he starts to suffer from frostbite as it continues to be cold anyway. The dog that accompanies the man is also indifferent to the man even though it seems to be have more aware of the danger posed by travelling in that kind of weather than the man who underestimates the danger.
The emphasis of naturalism is narrative rather than the individual (An Introduction to Realism and Naturalism, n.d.). The author does not bother to tell us the name of the man. He remains nameless and the author concentrates on telling the story about the struggle with nature. Moreover, just as the characteristic of naturalism is writing about the middle class the man obviously belongs to the middle class because he venture sets to get gold just as the boys. He is an ordinary person and not a hero who triumphs against the odds he faces.
The other characteristic of naturalism is determinism (An Introduction to Realism and Naturalism, n.d.). A man does not have a free will when it comes to nature, which shapes their behaviour. The behaviour of man is determined by nature. All the actions of man have results and the man’s actions such as building a fire under a tree leads to the destruction of the fire he had made and eventually he freezes to death, as he is unable to make another one successfully.
On the other hand, realism is evident in the story. Realism attempts to portray life as it is (Duiker & Spielvogel, 2008; An Introduction to Realism and Naturalism, n.d.). The story tells the fate of the man honestly. For instance, the man faces his death, which maybe could have been avoided because he lacked imagination. He failed to know or make judgments about the consequences of temperatures below 50 degrees Celsius.
Unfortunately, when he began to think critically it was already too late for him to overturn his fate. The author describes the environment and the actions of the man such that one can actually form a mental picture of the man trying to save himself desperately from the cold as he tries frantically to light a match but his frozen hands cannot help him.
Realism deals with ethical choices made by man rather than the emotions (An Introduction to Realism and Naturalism, n.d.). In the story, we see the choices that the man makes. For instance, he decided to go out despite the obvious looming danger.
He ignores the cold that bites his nose and instead of turning back or finding a shelter to keep warm, he continues with his journey. The choices he makes have consequences and one of them is death. Moreover, the story talks realistically about an ordinary man making an effort to improve the condition of his life by going the gold rich Yuken.
An Introduction to Realism and Naturalism. Web.
Duiker, J.W. & Spielvogel, J.J. (2008). World History, Volumes 1-2. Ed. 6. Canada: Cengage Learning.