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Geth Simmons
Mr. Thompson
English 1302.10
Nov. 9, 2016
Cold Confidence
Man vs. Nature. This is something that humans encounter every day. Whether it be in a
survival situation or just in everyday life, it affects the world nonetheless. In most cases of man
vs. nature, man is ultimately overtaken when it is all said and done. This is the case in the story
To Build a Fire, by Jack London. Jack London (1876-1916) was arguably the most successful
writer in America in the early 20th century (Rollyson). He is best known for his short stories
about his experience in the Klondike. In the story To Build a Fire, London uses his thirdperson perspective to tell the reader how the human sense of pride leads to the inability to use
natural instinct and that will eventually lead to man succumbing to the power of nature.
Mans sense of pride has, in many events throughout history, led to his downfall. Take for
example, General George Custer; his pride and excessive confidence leading to his death and
also the death of over 200 of his men in the battle of Little Big Horn. In this particular instance,
the character in the story fails to heed the Old Man from Sulphur Creeks warnings to not travel
alone when it is 50 below (London, 7). It is mentioned in the story that the protagonist had been
warned but due to his prideful thoughts, he believes that he can go through with the trip on his
own and come out alive. The Old Man from Sulphur Creek warned him that when it is 50 below,
you do not travel alone but the man does not heed this warning (Kreidler). At one point in the
story London shows this pride through the mans thoughts after a mistake was made and he

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saved himself. "Those old men are rather womanish, he thought," after deciding that he was the
exception to the travel alone rule (London, 9). This was just the beginning of his mistakes. The
reader can see that the man is cocky and arrogant and paying no mind to the old mans warnings,
but simply keeps going. As stated early on in the story, this is the man's first time in the Yukon
wilderness (2). This alone should make the man more cautious and careful because of the fact of
him not being very experienced but many times as he comes to realize how cold it really is, he
does nothing but put the thoughts of real danger aside. Even after realizing that the severity of
the cold is greater than he thought, the man, presumably a prospector, continues onward toward
his claim, (Puchalik). His God-given instincts are being clouded by his pride. This is what leads
to his downfall.
In life or death situations, natural instincts may be the key to survival. Jack London
shows first that the characters pride is very apparent and is what the man is solely depending on.
He shows this through the man's thoughts and actions. For most of the story the man's thoughts
are being shown through the perspective of the narrator. At the beginning his thoughts are
focused only on how it was "cold and uncomfortable," not thinking about his "weakness of being
a creature affected by temperature," (2). As the story continues though, the man begins to show
little hints of using his instincts. But, just past noon when he is most confident of arriving at the
meeting place, he sinks into the snow and crashes through the ice, (Kreidler). The reader can
start to feel that his fear or worry is growing by the minute. When he fell through the ice, he
"worked slowly and carefully, realizing his danger," (London 8). He knows that he must warm up
quickly before hypothermia sets in, which happens when your body temp drops, causing the
heart, nervous system and other organs to stop working. His instincts are starting to kick in and
take effect, instincts which would have told him to stay out of the cold, to seek shelter, or to

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build a fire; however it may be too late. (Puchalik). When the snow puts his fire out he must
think quickly. By this point "he is somewhat frightened," (London, 8). He looks to the dog and
"he remembered the story of the man, caught in a storm, who killed an animal and sheltered
himself inside the dead body and thus was saved," (13). But unlike the man, the dog is using his
natural instincts. For example, earlier in the story the dog gets water on his paws and licks the ice
out. With no scientific knowledge he is acting only on the commands which come from the
"deepest part of his being," his instinct (6). The dog cannot understand or reason, but his instincts
direct his survival throughout the story (Champlin). This keeps the dog alive through the cold
and is now protecting him from the man when the dog senses the mans change of body language
when he decides to make an advance toward the dog and decides to run away. Once again,
Mother Nature, the dog's instinct, is victorious in the man vs. Nature battle.
As stated Mother Nature is victorious in several ways in this story. In this case of man vs.
Nature, man is defeated in a perilous battle with the frigid cold of the Yukon Wilderness. From
the beginning London states "50 below," referring to the temperature (London 2). This is
repeated several times throughout the story to show the importance of how cold it really is. This
cold, combined with the man's inability to use his instincts because his mind is clouded with
pride is how he loses the fight with nature. The point at which he starts losing the battle with
nature is at the beginning of the story, when the man decides that he will indeed take on the
journey despite being inexperienced and despite the warnings both from the Old Man from
Sulphur Creek and from his inner self. Nature has no mercy for anyone. Mother Nature doesn't
care in the least whether the protagonist makes it to the camp or whether he manages to build a
fire or whether he freezes to death," (Delaney). The cold doesnt care whether or not the man is
warm or whether he is cold, it only does what nature intends for it to do, and that is to freeze

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everything in its path. Man is not the exception. The only advantage that the man had was his
natural-born instinct, which was clouded from the beginning by his ego. Leading up to the end
all signs were ignored by the man. Signs that he knew and signs that he was unaware of. These
signs, had he listened to them would have saved his life from the cold. In the end, it is not
merely the man's mistakes which bring about his downfall, but instead the very inadequacy of
the intellect in coping with the brutal natural surroundings of the Yukon, (Puchalik).
In conclusion, Jack Londons story To Build a Fire, can be interpreted in several ways.
It can be said that it is just a tale of a man in the Klondike. It can also be said that the story serves
as a lesson for listening to inner instinct and not being egotistical. Nonetheless, the man was
defeated in the end by a relentless Mother Nature. This has happened many times and will
continue to happen between mankind and nature. For this case, it was the mans pride that led
him to abandon his instincts given to him by nature and drove him to his grave.

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Works Cited
Champlin, Nikola. To Build a Fire Themes: Instinctual Knowledge vs. Scientific
Knowledge. LitCharts. LitCharts LLC, 21 July 2015. Web. 1 Nov 2016.
Delaney, William. What is the relationship between man and nature in To Build a Fire?
eNotes. 10 July, 2012.
Kreidler, Michele L. "Jack London's "To Build A Fire." Literary Contexts In Short
Stories: Jack London's 'To Build A Fire' (2009): 1. Literary Reference Center.
Web. 14 Nov. 2016.
London, Jack. To Build a Fire. Mankato, MN: Creative Education, 1980. Print.
Puchalik, Robert S. "Survival Of The Fittest." Literary Theme: Survival Of The
Fittest (2006): 1-6. Literary Reference Center. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.
Rollyson, Carl. "Jack London." Salem Press Biographical
Encyclopedia (2016): Research Starters. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.

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Outline
1. Introduction
a. Introduce main topic; Man vs. Nature.
b. Thesis: In the story To Build a Fire, London uses his third-person
perspective to tell the reader how the human sense of pride leads to the
inability to use natural instinct and that will eventually lead to man
succumbing to the power of nature.
2. First body paragraph
a. Topic sentence: Mans sense of pride has, in many events throughout history,
led to his downfall
b. Give examples of how the protagonist is being prideful
c. Explain how being prideful leads to his downfall
3. Second body paragraph
a. Topic Sentence: In life or death situations, natural instincts may be the key to
survival
b. Show how the man is using his instincts
c. Explain how different the dog and the man are in how they use their instincts
d. Show how this helps and hurts each one
4. Third body paragraph
a. Topic sentence: As stated Mother Nature is victorious in several ways in this
story
b. Explain his fight with Mother Nature
c. Explain the ways of Mother Nature and how they affect the man
5. Conclusion
a. Restate Thesis
b. Conclude and tie together ideas