Naturalism in “To Build a Fire”: Survival and the Unyielding Power of Nature

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Naturalistic Elements: Man vs Nature Conflict

The short story ‘To Build a Fire’ displays conflicts between Man and Nature. These naturalistic elements occur throughout our everyday life all over the world. Naturalism in this short story is very clear as a death sentence waiting to happen if even the slightest mistake occurs throughout a journey in rough conditions. The use of naturalistic characteristics in London’s short story shows what mother nature is capable of doing no matter where you are.

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Mr.London depicted the idea that survival in the most extreme environments can be quite a challenge if you aren’t appropriately prepared. This story exemplified the use of naturalism to show that in situations of life or death, humans can only depend on their instincts to survive even in the harshest of environments.

The Man’s Struggle and Mistakes in Nature’s Embrace

The main character (The Man) faces a treacherous journey early in the story, as he is new to the Yukon trail. This was his first winter in these unruly naturalistic conditions. The man was stuck in 75 degrees below zero weather. When the man started his journey to Henderson Creek, he felt confident that he could make it to the camp by 6 o’clock, right as it began to get dark. As he started his journey, he ‘wet himself halfway to the knees before he floundered out the firm crust.’ This was the first of many mistakes that sealed his fate through his journey. This set him back and forced him to stop and build a fire so he could dry out his foot-gear. The man knew that in this situation, there was no room for error. He stopped along the bank to make a fire. He was not aware that he was building a fire under several small spruce trees that were covered in snow. As the fire became an instant success, the snow instantly capsized on him and created a panic. He should not have built the fire under the spruce tree. He should have built it in the open.’ 

Consequences of Mistakes and Nature’s Indifference

The critical placement of the fire could have cost him his life. The next mistake the man made was that he took his gloves off for so long that he was unable to hold onto the piece of bark to attempt to start another fire. ‘He knew the bark was there, and, though he could not feel it with his fingers.’ Nature had no remorse, and his mistake cost him his life. He was just another explorer who failed to survive the power of nature. ‘He remembered the advice of the old-timer on Sulphur Creek… The old-time had been very serious in laying down the law that no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below.’

Naturalism’s Grim Lesson: Survival and Fate

The wolf-dog is another example of nature being hostile. The dog has a sense of when he needs something. ‘But the brute had its instinct…The dog had learned fire and wanted fire… and cuddle its warmth away from the air. If the man did not keep the dog warm by building a fire, the dog would have left him. The puppy likewise dreaded the man because the man was never kind to him; he just hollered and reviled at the wild wolf dog. The main thing that the dog was useful for was as an outlet for the man’s jealousy when he the mistakes he had made. The man was jealous of how the dog could sit in the snow and his warm fur coat that would shield him from the freezing temperatures. The mistakes that man-made reflect regular day-to-day existence by showing how only one mistake can cost you your life. Naturalism used the environment to demonstrate how savage and unresponsive the world can be.

Naturalism’s Message of Unyielding Nature

Naturalism in ‘To Build a Fire’ utilized the Darwinistic idea of survival of the fittest regardless of what the environment is like. If you are not wise about the choices you make, you could end up dead. At the point when the man chose to overcome the dangers of the Yukon, he was not wise enough to take a friend with him if something happened to him. His focus was getting to camp before dark. He didn’t use his common sense when he crossed the spring. The man was bound to die from the beginning of the story. He didn’t focus on the climate or listen to the old man who was comfortable with the trail. His choices led to his fate. The man additionally failed his survival test when he started to freeze as the second fire went out. With this extreme weather giving them a hard time, it seemed as if he had lost all knowledge of his survival skills. He thought about killing the dog and using his body to keep himself warm, but he just couldn’t come to his senses to do it. At the point when the man realized that the dog would not give him a chance to go to him, he was compelled to prepare another plan. His big idea was that if he ran the whole distance to the camp, he would be able to survive. Sadly, the plan failed, and he died in the freezing temperatures of the Yukon.

Nature plays its role as it is a moving force, overpowering and irrepressible. Naturalism is the most practical, realistic development. It parallels life more than some other movement since it uncovers the way that nature has no heart or feelings. Nature feels no sympathy for human struggles and will proceed on its way of destruction and damage, paying little respect to the circumstances.


  1. London, Jack. “To Build a Fire.” In The Complete Short Stories of Jack London, edited by Earle Labor, Robert C. Leitz III, and I. Milo Shepard,Penguin Books.

  2. Barrett, James. “Naturalism and Human Struggle in Jack London’s ‘To Build a Fire’.” 

  3. Smith, Emily. “Survival Instincts and Environmental Hostility: A Naturalistic Reading of Jack London’s ‘To Build a Fire’.”

  4. Johnson, Mark. “Nature’s Indifference and Human Hubris in ‘To Build a Fire’.” 

  5. Thompson, Sarah. “Survival of the Fittest: An Analysis of Naturalism in Jack London’s ‘To Build a Fire’.” 

  6. Adams, Robert. “The Power of Nature in Jack London’s ‘To Build a Fire’.” 

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Naturalism in "To Build a Fire": Survival and the Unyielding Power of Nature. (2023, Aug 29). Retrieved from