Major Theme in to Build a Fire by Jack London Essay

1361 Words Jan 12th, 2011 6 Pages
Major Themes
Determinism
The movement of naturalism was greatly influenced by the 19th-century ideas of Social Darwinism, which was in turn influenced by Charles Darwin's theories on evolution. Social Darwinism applied to the human environment the evolutionary concept that natural environments alter an organism's biological makeup over time through natural selection. Social Darwinists and naturalists cited this as proof that organisms, including humans, do not have free will, but are shaped, or determined, by their environment and biology. Naturalists argued that the deterministic world is based on a series of links, each of which causes the next (for more on these causal links, see Causal links and processes, below). In "To Build a
…show more content…
Since the naturalistic world is based on causal links (see Causal links and processes, below), it should be possible, to an extent, to predict the consequences of our actions. The man could not have anticipated his falling through the snow, and therefore it is merely bad "luck." However, he should have anticipated that his other action--building a fire under a spruce tree--could carry potentially significant consequences: the snuffing out of the fire. Only in this anticipatory sense is he somewhat responsible. That London revises his judgment from "fault" to "mistake" suggests the gray area in the man's responsibility; while he should have anticipated the results of his actions, and thus be held liable, he did not, so he cannot be held liable.
Causal links and processes
"To Build a Fire" is, among other things, a virtual instruction manual on how to build a fire. It details specifically how one goes about gathering twigs and grasses, assembling them, lighting them, and keeping the fire going. The story, like many naturalist works, is obsessed with processes. These processes can be viewed as causal links--each event causes the next one. Causality is another preoccupation of naturalism, which grounds itself in the philosophy of determinism (see Determinism, above).
While the man in the story is adept with physical processes, he cannot make associative mental leaps and

Related Documents