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Themes

Throughout "To Build a Fire," the man exhibits quite a bit of pride in his abilities, and this sense of pride is connected to his sense of being a Man with a capital M. Ultimately, the man seems to do everything in his power to make his journey successful, but his fatal mistake has been made before he even began his journey. He didn't heed the old-timer's advice, and decided to travel in temperatures lower than fifty degrees below zero without a traveling partner. It's a bad call, to be sure, but it's also just plain old hubris.

Questions About Pride

  1. In classical tragedy, the main character's great flaw is often hubris, which is a sort of egotistical pride that brings about that character's downfall. In this sense, should we read "To Build a Fire" as a classical tragedy? How might it be different?
  2. If it is pride that causes the man to ignore the old-timer's advice, how does this relate to what the narrator says about the man's "trouble" being a lack of imagination? Do those two ideas contradict each other or can you make them jibe?
  3. Is the man's pride enough to make us dislike him as a character, or do his skill and perseverance still draw our admiration?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In having the man criticize the old-timer for being too "womanish," Jack London draws a direct link between the man's death and his need to feel masculine.

The story ultimately suggests that human pride cannot compete with the cold and brutal indifference of nature.

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