Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” is one of the most well-known pieces of the author. In this short story, London manages to narrate the events in such a dramatic way that the reader cannot but feel sympathy and empathy towards the main hero. Out of a variety of the elements depicted in the story, the greatest impression is made by the conflict between the man and his wolf dog. The author contrasts the man’s rational thinking with the dog’s primitive instinct, and this opposition creates the major topic of the piece. Therefore, the paper argues that through the use of a conflict between the man and his dog, London depicts the pivotal theme of the story. He indicates how the inability of people to consider animals smarter than themselves may lead to disastrous outcomes.
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The first indication of the conflict is mentioned when the author describes the two characters. The man is referred to as “a newcomer” (1) whereas the dog is characterized as a “proper wolf dog” (2). By using these indications, London makes it clear to the audience that the dog is more experienced than the man, even though the latter is considered the chief of their small group. The author makes the hint at the very beginning that animal instincts are more subtle than rational thinking, but the man refuses to pay attention to the dog’s intuition.
The second implication of the conflict is the description of characters’ reaction to the cold. The dog is “depressed by the tremendous cold” and knows that it is “no time for travelling” (2). Meanwhile, the man is described as having “no imagination” (1). He is “impressed,” but the idea of refusing to go does occur to him (1). For the man, “fifty degrees below zero” is “just precisely fifty degrees below zero” (1). The use of the disparity in this case is aimed at demonstrating how inconsiderate the man’s behavior is and how wise the dog’s instincts are.
The next time the author brings about the conflict is when the two travelers reach Henderson Creek. The follows the man with “a tail drooping discouragement” as if it knows that nothing good is awaiting them (3). At the same time, the man holds “steadily on” since he is not “given to thinking” (3). Again, the man decides to trust his own opinions instead of the dog’s animal instinct, which will inevitably lead to the sad ending.
There are several more instances when the author describes the conflict between the rationality and wisdom. Probably the most impressive one is when London mentions that “all the generations” of the man’s ancestry “had been ignorant of cold” whereas “the dog knew” and “all its ancestry knew” that it was not good “to walk abroad in such fearful cold” (4). In this case, the author emphasizes the whole idea of the story: the cold will surrender those who do not treat it with the appropriate fear and awe.
There are several crucial themes in the story, but the conflict between the man’s stubbornness and the dog’s natural grasp of the situation is the most striking one. London explains how people’s selfishness and regarding themselves as the wisest creatures can play a bad trick on them. Frequently, it is better to listen to nature and learn from it instead of persevering one’s wrong ideas and causing harm to oneself.