Good Advice Not Heeded in “To Build a Fire”

A Story of Ignorance or Arrogance?

Man and His Dog

Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” follows an unnamed man and his husky on their trek along the Yukon Trail in Northwestern Canada in the dead of winter. The journey was destined for doom from the beginning, but the question arises to why? Was it because of the man’s ignorance or was it his arrogance that led to his demise?

The analysis “Good Advice Not Heeded in ‘To Build a Fire’” points to not only this man’s ignorance, but the stupidity and stubbornness of most men. The beginning of the analysis states that “men seem to be either too embarrassed to ask or just plain stubborn” in regards to asking for directions. It continues on to mention that most information given to a man “goes in one ear and out the other. The argument of the analysis is that the journey was deadly for the man because of his lack of listening to the advice given to him by the old-timer at Sulphur Creek. The author defends this argument by describing the bad decisions the man makes before realizing that the old man was right.

However, the latter may be the true answer and his ego got in the way of being able to listen. It is not his ignorance that leads to his death, but the arrogance that he is manlier than the “womanish” old-timers and that he can make it out on his own. The man accepts and acknowledges that he was wrong in regards to the cold and that he should have listened to the old man at Sulphur Creek because the seventy five below that the temperature reached on his journey showed “that showed one must not be too sure of things.” (152) But even knowing this, he still continued on believing that because he managed to build a fire once to thaw himself out. His ego blocked his rational thoughts and made him believe that because he could do it once, he could do it again if necessary.

Although by the end of the story the man had finally accepted the ignorance of his decision to travel alone in such cold, his arrogance remained until the very end. His final showing of ego comes when contemplating his own death. “When he had recovered his breath and control, he sat up and entertained in his mind the conception of meeting death with dignity.” (158) His conceit and superiority remained even as he gave into the cold and realized that death was inevitable. Yes, the man was stubborn and did not listen to the advice of the old man as pointed out in the analysis. However, it was not his ignorance that caused this stubbornness, it was his arrogance.

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