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To Build a Fire Essay

  • Submitted by:
  • on September 12, 2013
  • Category: English
  • Length: 531 words

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In Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”, the author incorporates the greater metaphor of the man (the superior being) representing nurture, and the dog (inferior being) representing nature, a metaphor which conveys the overall idea that man’s arrogance leads to his ultimate demise and is done so through the use of irony and foreshadowing.
London uses irony after first recognizing that the man is the superior being in terms of intellect, and the dog is the inferior. From there, irony occurs when, even after a Yukon territory veteran warns the traveler that it is unwise to travel alone when it is 50 degrees below zero, he ignores his superior intellect and goes anyway. The dog, however, knew instinctively that it was too cold to be trekking through the frigid wilderness, even though he is intellectually inferior. We know this due to the third person POV letting us know how the dog felt “depressed” by the cold. Nature does not want to go on the trail, yet nurture overrides it. Secondly, the fact that the one with superior intellect dies and the intellectually inferior survives is definitely ironic. On a related note, it is ironic that the man greets death openly and comfortably, when his instinct should tell him to get out. The dog, however, listens to his instinct which tells him to escape the scent of death and return to the “food providers” at the camp.

London also incorporates foreshadowing to show how the man’s ego is a precursor, binding him to his ultimate demise. For example, when the man decides to take the high-earth trail instead of the main Yukon trail, we get a sense that he made an unwise decision, especially because we fully understand the foreboding conditions of the territory and thus do not share his confidence. It is as if he is stating that he was better than the Yukon and there is no need to consider the elements. The nonchalant manner in which he leaves his friends foreshadows his downfall in that it gives the reader an initial feeling of doubt,...

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