Methodology Approach to "To Build a Fire
In this essay a Formalist (New Critical) approach is being employed in an analysis of Jack London's "To Build a Fire. It will be used to explicate how this story is an example of Naturalism; in which Nature is conceived as the world of objects, actions, and forces which yield the secrets of their causation and their being to objective scientific inquiry. Also, by analyzing specific language imagery it will illustrate the concept of Naturalism from a Darwinian perspective. Charles Darwin's theory of the Survival of the Fittest and Natural Selection will be used to help gain a sense of understanding for this story.
"We have seen that man by selection can certainly produce great results, and can adapt organic beings to his own uses, through the accumulation of slight but useful variations, given to him by the hand of Nature. But Natural Selection, as we shall hereafter see, is a power incessantly ready for action, and is as immeasurably superior to man's feeble efforts, as the works of Nature are to those of Art. (Charles Darwin)
As an outstanding practitioner of naturalistic fiction, Jack London depicts the Darwinian perspective of Natural Selection and the Survival of the Fittest in "To Build a Fire. London shows through powerful imagery and metaphor man's continual struggle for existence against the A-Moral fist of Nature mocking our human efforts at taming or controlling it.
This story begins first with an image that shows how feeble man is compared to Nature:
¦ When the man turned aside from the main Yukon trail and climbed the high earth-bank, where a dim and little-traveled trail led eastward through the fat spruce timberland. It was a steep bank, and he paused for breath at the top, excusing the act to himself by looking at his watch. (London 486)
The man is shown here as a small creature compared with the high banks and fat timberland; that hasn't