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To Build A Fire Man

To Build A Fire: Man’s Intelligence Is Foolish Essay, Research Paper

To Build a Fire: Man’s Intelligence is Foolish

How many times have you seen birds flying south for the winter? They do

not read somewhere or use some computer to know that they must fly to survive.

In Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”, we see how that mans intelligence is

sometimes foolish. The man, who is walking in seventy-five degrees below zero

weather, lets his learned behavior override his instinct. Therefore, he dies.

London’s theme is that no matter how intelligent society becomes, we as a

species should never discard our basic instincts.

In the beginning of the tale we see that the man realizes it is cold,

but only sees this as a fact and not a danger. The man spit on the ground to

test how cold it was. His test taught him that it was colder than he had first

thought, but he never thought of that as a danger only as a reality. “That

there should be anything more to it than that was a thought that never entered

his head” (119). To many times modern man plods along oblivious to the reality

that lies one moment or misstep away (Votleler 272).

The man sees that he is feeling the effects of the cold more and more as

he goes along, but more than ever he pushes on. Several times he comments that

the cold is making his hands and feet numbed, and frostbite is killing his

cheeks. He thinks “What were frosted cheek? A bit painful, that was all. . .”

(120). Again he chose to ignore an instinct that would have saved him.

The dog, on the other hand, although guided by his learned behavior

still retains his instincts. The dog follows the man throughout his ill faded

journey, but after the man perishes he relies upon his instincts to survive.

This is witnessed in the last paragraph by the statement “Then it turned

and trotted up the trail in the direction of the camp it knew, where there were

other food providers and fire providers” (129).

The theme of London’s “To Build a Fire” is how we should all take heed

to modern knowledge and learned behavior has its benefits, but our primal

instincts should never have ignored. The man in the story had lots of knowledge

but neglected to pay attention to his “sixth sense.” The dog on the other hand,

followed as long as he could but then let his instincts carry him to safety. We

can never have enough knowledge to replace the survival skill that nature has

provided us.