Naturalism in To Build a Fire

Table of Content

Throughout the entire story, there are aspects about it that classify it as naturalism rather than the idea of “new’ realism. The unique storyline contains two common examples that appear in naturalist writings. The conflicts between man and nature and man against himself, plus the character of the dog make To Build a Fire into a naturalist text.

First, the conflict between man and nature shown in naturalist texts lays a huge part in the main Story Of TO Build a Fire. The unnamed character battles nature throughout the entire story and nature holds no favor for the man and its authoritative power over the man. London presents the idea that death happens in nature and man cannot do a thing to stop it. In the story, the elements of nature are clearly shown as the bitter, cold temperature, snow, and the water from springs that the man is unTABLE to see.

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Each one of these things plays a part in the man’s death no matter how hard he tries to avoid them. For example, the man is aware of the dangerous springs that are around him. In the story London says, “He knew that the coldest snaps never froze these springs, and he knew likewise their danger” (London 3). The man definitely knows parts of the springs are not frozen, but he is unTABLE to avoid them and falls into the water. This ends up leading to his death because he freezes from his wet clothes.

The man knows that the temperatures are at least 50 degrees below zero. To combat the cold and dry off from falling into the springs, he tries to make a fire and no matter his effort, the fire either goes not light or it keeps going out, and during his final attempt snow falls from a tree and puts it out. Nature antagonizes the main character, leading to his tragic demise, thus making the text and example of naturalism. Along with the idea of nature versus man, man faces a conflict with himself.

Before his long journey through the tundra, the man seeks advice from a wise old man who knows about the entire area and how to survive the harsh weather conditions. The old timer tells the man he should not travel alone with the temperature being dangerously cold. London tells of the man ensconcing about what the old-timer told him, “The old-timer had been very serious in laying down the law that no man must travel alone in the Cloudlike after fifty below. Well, here he was; he had had the accident; he was alone; and he had saved himself’ (London 6).

Instead of listening to the old timer, the man decides to go off on his own, ultimately leading to his demise. This definitely shows the naturalistic idea of man versus man, or himself. The man’s own stubbornness and disregard to the advice of the old man causes his death. If he had listened to the old man, he most likely would have revived because there would have been another person with him to help start a fire in order for him to dry off. Lastly, naturalism shows up with how the dog in the story acts.

Animals typically act on instinct and in this case the dog does just that. The dog has a very instinctive sense of the cold and setting around it. It realizes that the temperature conditions are too cold to be traveling in. Through instinct the dog know to bite the ice off its feet from when its feet get wet and freeze. Along with that, the dog instinctively knows the man is attempting to kill it for aroma. Unlike the man who acts more on intellectualism, the dog uses its instinct throughout the entire story, thus causing it to survive.

Overall, To Build a Fire clearly can be classified as a naturalistic text. Almost all of the elements prove this. These elements are shown multiple times throughout the story. Things like the man versus himself and man versus nature conflicts and the character of the dog all show how naturalism plays an important part in the story.

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Naturalism in To Build a Fire. (2018, Feb 01). Retrieved from

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