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In “To Build a Fire,” Jack London expresses his perspective of the multitude of greenhorns who flocked to the yukon in a rush for gold. It is evident that he believed that these newcomers were too inexperienced and blinded by gold fever to survive the trip. Like many of them, “the Man” is driven by his own foolish ego to act irrationally and to not follow wise advice. Though his consience continually nags at him, his ego-driven way of thought keeps pushing him blindly forward. The Man is not only representative of other fortune hunters like himself, but he also repersents every person on this planet. All of us, at some point in time, pushed our own consience aside and followed our own selfish ego.
The Man was a newcomer to the land, yet when he was offered advice on how to survive the harsh conditions of the Yukon, he just laughed at it:
It certainly was cold, was his thought. That man from Sulphur Creek had spoken the truth when telling how cold it sometimes got in the country. And he had laughed at him at the time! That showed that one must not be too sure of things.
This shows that he is driven by his ego, and like many other young men, he thinks that he is so much better than everybody else that he does not even listen to the advice of an old man who has proably been living in the Yukon longer than the Man has been alive.
Fifty degrees bleow zero stood for a bite of frost that hurt and that must be guarded against by the use of mittens, earflaps, warm moccasins, and thick socks. Fifty degrees below zero was to him just precisely fifty degrees below zero. That there should be anything more to it was a thought that never entered his head.
The Man thinks little of the extreme temperature. He thinks of it as only “a bite of frost that hurt,” and nothing more. He doesn t realize that the cold can not only “hurt,” but it can kill.
During his fateful journey, the Man is given warnings first-hand of the extreme cold and of the consequences of his actions. The first is when he spits on the snow:
As he turned to go on, he spat speculatively. There was a sharp, explosive crackle that startled him. He spat again. And again, in the air, before it could fall to the snow, the spittle crackled. He knew that at fifty below, spittle crackled on the snow, but this spittle had crackled in the air. Undoubtedly, it was colder than fifty below – how much colder he did not know.
But as aforementioned, the Man thinks almost nothing of the extreme temperature. Also, the man was given advice by an old-timer at Sulphur Creek, who warned him to never venture out in the Yukon when the temperature dropped below fifty degrees. Nevertheless, he goes anyways. A warning that should have shocked the Man back into reality is when he first fell into one of the many springs that never froze:
And then it happened. At a place where where there were no signs, where the soft, unbroken snow seemed to advertise solidarity beneath, the man broke through. It was not deep. He wet himself halfway to the knees belfore he floundered out to the first crust.
He successfully builds a fire to thaw out his socks and boots, and, once again, his ego takes control of him:
The fire was a success. He was safe. He remembered the advice of the old-timer on Sulphur Creeek, and smiled. The old-timer had been very serious about laying down the law that no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below. Well, here he was; he had had the accident; he was alone; and he had saved himself.
He goes on to say, “All a man had to do was to keep his head, and he was al right. Any man could travel alone.” He still has not learned his lesson. Unfortunately for him, the Man does not realize his faults until his eleventh hour:
You were right, old hoss, you were right,” the man mumbled to the old-timer of Sulphur Creek. The man drowsed off into what seemed to him the most comfortable and satisfying sleep he had ever known.
Like the Man, we often follow our own egos and turn away wise advice. Fortunately for us, we often get another chance, unlike the Man. All of us have either experienced or heard the story about a child getting burned for the first time. The child disobeys his mother and touches something hot and winds up paying for his disobedience with pain. But, unlike the Man, the child learns from his mistakes. He probably will never test the limits regarding anything hot ever again.
The Man in “To Build a Fire” is a victim of his own self, which was transformed into his worst enemy by his selfish ego. He pays the highest price for his actions; his life. He could have saved himself had he heeded the old-timer s advice and waited for the temperature to rise or for a traveling companion. But, he let his ego take control of himself and pushed all of the wise advise which he had been given out of his head. The Man is symbolic of every living person in that we all usually learn things best the hard way. Fortunately for us, we often get another chance. We should cherish the advice and wisdom of others and blend them with our own knowledge to create our view of the world. If we could succeed at this, we would probably live much happier lives.
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