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Essay/Term paper: To build a fire: man's intelligence is foolish

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To Build a Fire: Man's Intelligence is Foolish

How many times have you seen birds flying south for the winter? They do
not read somewhere or use some computer to know that they must fly to survive.
In Jack London's "To Build a Fire", we see how that mans intelligence is
sometimes foolish. The man, who is walking in seventy-five degrees below zero
weather, lets his learned behavior override his instinct. Therefore, he dies.
London's theme is that no matter how intelligent society becomes, we as a
species should never discard our basic instincts.
In the beginning of the tale we see that the man realizes it is cold,
but only sees this as a fact and not a danger. The man spit on the ground to
test how cold it was. His test taught him that it was colder than he had first
thought, but he never thought of that as a danger only as a reality. "That
there should be anything more to it than that was a thought that never entered
his head" (119). To many times modern man plods along oblivious to the reality
that lies one moment or misstep away (Votleler 272).
The man sees that he is feeling the effects of the cold more and more as
he goes along, but more than ever he pushes on. Several times he comments that
the cold is making his hands and feet numbed, and frostbite is killing his
cheeks. He thinks "What were frosted cheek? A bit painful, that was all. . ."
(120). Again he chose to ignore an instinct that would have saved him.
The dog, on the other hand, although guided by his learned behavior
still retains his instincts. The dog follows the man throughout his ill faded
journey, but after the man perishes he relies upon his instincts to survive.
This is witnessed in the last paragraph by the statement "Then it turned
and trotted up the trail in the direction of the camp it knew, where there were
other food providers and fire providers" (129).
The theme of London's "To Build a Fire" is how we should all take heed
to modern knowledge and learned behavior has its benefits, but our primal
instincts should never have ignored. The man in the story had lots of knowledge
but neglected to pay attention to his "sixth sense." The dog on the other hand,
followed as long as he could but then let his instincts carry him to safety. We
can never have enough knowledge to replace the survival skill that nature has
provided us.


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