To Build a Fire

Chain-smoking: Causality in "To Build a Fire"

The modern fireplace is a marvel of invisible technology, a contained conflagration sparked by the flip of a switch and without human error or intervention. Only recently, and in the comforts of home, has building a fire been so simple. As the title implies, Jack London's 1908 short story contains within its narrative a literal set of sequential directions on how "To Build a Fire." London extends this sequential conceit to his fatidic vision of the universe. Unlike the dog in the story, who can rely on its pure-bred arctic instinct as it navigates through the dangerous tundra, the anonymous man possesses a duller, myopic instinct which is unable foresee the consequentiality of the environment. This instinctual flaw in mankind (relative to that of a husky) is a given, but the man fails to compensate by integrating intellectuality into his journey. Were he to use all his resources efficiently, as the dog does, the man could anticipate the chain of events that leads to his demise, and then alter his literal and figurative course. Such a deconstruction of a pre-ordained universe is possible, London suggests, since the reader is made aware - through parallelism, choice wording, and other stylistic and suspenseful...

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