Men Will Be Men? London’s “To Build a Fire”
LitMUSE
4

Characteristic or Expectation?

The story “To Build a Fire” by Jack London depicts the stereotypical image of men through the character’s stubborn and overconfident actions. The analysis reiterates such stereotypes by highlighting the many moments that the man choses superiority over logicality. However, one must consider in reading the story and analysis if it a characteristic of the male sex or the simple act of men conforming to society’s expectations of the male role.

There is evidence to support the analysis, “Men Will Be Men? London’s ‘To Build a Fire’,” that the man felt he was above all the other men of his camp. He dismisses the advice given to him about the dangers of travelling alone in weather below fifty degrees. He refers to the others in a feminine manner calling them “womanish” and stating, “All a man had to do was to keep his head, and he was all right” (154). He further emasculates his fellow men by saying, “Any many who was a man could travel alone” (154). His arrogant attitude regarding his peers demonstrates the ideology that men need to prove their masculinity by defying the odds and overcoming impossible feats. However, society has played a role in this thinking over the years. For centuries, competitions in love and war has built on and encouraged the concept of the alpha male. The best man wins the prize.

The man knows that the temperature is continuing to drop. As pointed out in the analysis, one way he realizes this is when he spits but it freezes before it hits the ground. Despite the obvious signs of the inclement weather, he continues on his route to camp, determined to make it there before the day’s end. His actions, yet again, demonstrates the arrogant mindset that men typically have. Not only does the man feel that he is above the advice of the elders, but he feels that he can overcome environmental obstacles. On the other hand, men of most cultures and societies are expected to be the protectors and providers for their families. Without men pushing the boundaries in nature, many families would not survive.

After series of unfortunate events, the man begins to understand why he was advised not to travel alone in the weather and realizes he will not make it back to camp alive. Even in his awareness of the severity of his situation, his ego is present. He does not fear his fate but rather views it matter-of-factly. He accepts that death is near and “entertained in his mind the conception of meeting death with dignity” (158). His pride, another common characteristic of men, is a factor in his outcome, yet he continues to center himself on it. Dying with dignity is not uncommon to the male mentality, though. Many cultures over the centuries emphasize the concept, especially during battle.

There is no doubt that the man in the story demonstrated many of the typical characteristics of the male role. However, it is difficult to say definitively whether his arrogance and superiority was due to a basic male instinct or a result of society’s constant pressure that men should be strong, resilient, and dominant. Regardless of the reason, it was those characteristics that ultimately led him to his death.