Perhaps the most enthralling literary movement in American history was the movement of Naturalism. Naturalism is a writing style that aims at recreating nature in its entirety. An element similar to naturalism, determinism is a style which expresses that all outcomes are the result of an unbroken chain of previous actions. Yet another extension of naturalism, social Darwinism takes the theory of Charles Darwin, survival of the fittest, and applies it to characters in a story.A story that utilizes all of these styles is Jack London’s To Build a Fire; and it does so quite beautifully. First, we observe the use of naturalism in To Build a Fire. The most obvious use would have to be the very descriptive environment.
The use of exact temperatures makes this story all the more chilling (no pun intended). Another would be the descriptive repercussions of said temperatures on his body. When these two are used together, we know exactly what our protagonist is going through, and why.A final use of naturalism that seems to stick out would be the snow fell and foiled our poor hero’s fire. All of these, used in conjunction, create a complex setting that is hauntingly descripted in its actions.
Next, we observe the use of determinism in To Build a Fire. Perhaps one of the most prevalent uses of determinism would be the symbolism in the quote “Never travel alone”. Given that determinism aims to express that humans are doomed for previous actions, it is clear to see the brilliant use in said quote.Because Vincent has set out alone, it is implied that all of the horrible, nature-induced torment is a result of him setting out alone.
Determinism is also reflected in Vincent’s gloves. As he removes them, the proper use of his fingers slowly declines, thus demonstrating another decision induced hardship. Finally, we must consider the use of social Darwinism in To Build a Fire. As things begin to look ill for our hero, we observe Vincent going to extremes to keep himself alive. Vincent displays social Darwinism quite well in his undeniable persistence in keep himself alive.In the harsh weather, Vincent decides he must build a fire, which he accomplishes rather soon. However, the harsh spells of nature and gravity cast snow onto his fire, thwarting his attempt. He then continues to try and light the fire, despite the declining use of his fingers.
Already, we see Tom Vincent going to great lengths others wouldn’t, acting more fit, if you will. In the moments following, Vincent goes to extremes including running in the snow and rubbing himself with snow in order to sustain consciousness.After several vain attempts, Vincent finally succeeds in securing his survival: he completes his fire. Vincent, in the particular point in the story, utilizes all that he says to save his life.
This is a perfect example of social Darwinism; especially because of his survival. After reading To Build a Fire, it is plain to see that Jack London had a firm grasps on the elements of naturalism, determinism, and social Darwinism. All of these elements are reflected in the harsh pursuit of survival, as pursued by Tom Vincent.