To Build a Fire: Metaphor Analysis
Building a fire
In terms of the narrative, it is imperative that the man builds the fire after soaking his feet and legs as otherwise death will ensue. The ability to build the eponymous fire represents the man’s difference from the rest of nature; his failure to do so is a sign that his death will come soon.
The extreme environment makes it all the more difficult to build it and this symbolizes how although humans have learned to take some control over nature, the man will finally succumb to it.
The dog is the man’s only companion and is seen to be in thrall to his master. This is apparent in the descriptions of how the dog has only been shown the ‘caresses’ of the whiplash. This dog also acts as a symbol of nature and its instinctive awareness of its environment operates in contrast with the man’s arrogance. Whereas the dog knows it is too cold to be travelling far, the man believes it is possible to reach the camp he is heading for despite being warned against this by the old-timer.
The contrast is heightened by the detail that the dog is a native of the Yukon, but the man is a newcomer. The man has come from a different environment and fails to adapt, as the dog has done, to the surroundings. This lack of adaptation and the death of the man by what may be argued is natural selection is in keeping with Darwinian influences.
The freezing temperature highlights the folly of the man who chooses to travel alone in it. As extreme as it is, and as unused as the man is to this degree of cold, he still chooses to venture out and attempt to reach the camp he has decided on. This weather also symbolizes the insignificance of this man, and humanity generally, in relation to nature. He is unable to survive after his fire is extinguished by the snow and dies because he was arrogant enough to assume humankind is invincible.
The death of the man who chooses to travel alone could be interpreted as a figurative criticism of individualism and a guarded argument in favor of socialism. In terms of the plot, the man is depicted as arrogant for railing against the advice of the old-timer. If one reads this symbolically, however, the death of the man comes from his lack of imagination and foresight and this is tied to his streak of individualism.