Write a note on the character sketch of the protagonist in the story ‘To Build a Fire’ .

‘To Build a Fire’ by Jack London highlights the conflict between man against nature as its major theme. The unnamed man who is the protagonist in the story, decided to face the brutal cold temperature of the Yukon Territory despite being warned by an older man. The story depicts his battle of life and death while highlighting the importance of fire.

Though throughout the story, the natural world is presented as unemotional and unaware of the fate of the man. The nature is shown without sentiments and without projecting human characteristics of love, care and sympathy.

Another theme illustrated in the story is of human’s sense of judgment contrasted with the instinctive knowledge. Throughout the story, London has associated the quality of instinctive knowledge with the dog and power of judgment is associated with the man. The dog’s instincts do warn it from hiking further ahead on the Yukon Territory but the man ignores it. This judgment verses instinct theme is evident when the man builds fire for the first time. While the dog wants to stay by the fire to keep warm, the man is determined to keep moving. As the dog reluctantly follows the man across a frozen river, the dog is more cautious than the man.

‘Chance and Human Error’ is another major theme of this story. The man’s initial mistake of travelling alone in crude, cold weather that is unsafe for independent hiking does not initially speak about the man’s fate. The gradual deterioration of the man’s condition involves both chance as well as human error. This can be seen when he had to cross creeks which had streams of water under the snow that could soak him and, hence threaten his survival. Yet, he stumble into an unexpected stream that was essentially invisible before he got his leg drained up to his knees.

The protagonists’ desperation is evident through the story. It is noticeable soon after the man falls into a frozenover river. In order to save himself, he scrambles to build a fire but is too busy worrying about his health to notice the mistake of building a fire underneath a tree which has collected an enormous amount of snow. After the first fire is put out, his desperation becomes more defined as he’s seemingly will to do anything to service, including an attempt to kill his dog for warmth. He uses all his matches at once in a final attempt to light his last fire. His desperation for survival and the perseverance despite several mistakes and also getting frostbite in his fingers and toes is also aptly shown.

Arrogance and lack of imagination are also one of the themes which are depicted as personified in the protagonist. For instance, he laughs off the crucial advice of travelling without an acquaintance for he feels over-confident out of sheer arrogance. This leads to him confronting the severe situations which were actually preventable. The protagonist lacked the power of imagination for had he priorly imagined and given some thought to the possible obstacles that he might have to face at the Yukon Territory, he might have escaped death. Ultimately, it was his arrogance that led to his fatal end.

Succumbing to death and more specifically that may be found in death is another theme in the story, that is the fact about how his emotional state oscillates between determination and acceptance. When the snow falls on the fire, the man’s initial shock reflects his certainty of his death: but, his calm reaction and productive response seem optimistic. Since his death does not come as a surprise to him, the man finally drifts off into a calm, peaceful slumber, devoid of suffering and pain.

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