One of my favorite authors is Jack London because his stories are filled with conflict. Many of us are met with some form of conflict every single day of our lives, and the lessons we learn from our own conflict shapes who we are as a person. In the story “To Build a Fire” there is major conflict between man and his relationship with his surroundings. He finds himself in a new and desolate region of the Yukon facing a bitter cold. It is through his struggle against his environment that we can learn about our own struggles in daily life.
The Yukon is a region of Canada known for its desolate winters. It is an area that was explored for gold and other natural resources during the 19th century. This man is traveling alone in a winter like he as never seen before. Even though he has survived many winters in less harsh areas, he isn’t prepared for what his faces in the Yukon. Although he is very cautious and remains vigilant, he is also a bit overconfident in his abilities. He is not built to survive the environment that surrounds him. The man can attempt to adapt to his surroundings, but ultimately it isn’t enough. After battling the cold with every last bit of effort he has, he ends up freezing to death.
Now there is a character in this story that I have yet to mention. It is the man’s sole companion, a dog. The dog is very aware of what it takes to survive in this wilderness, because the dog was built to survive harsh winters. Unlike the man, the dog is in its element. This is the dog’s world and because of this, the dog is not overconfident and knows exactly what it takes to survive. Even when the man falls to the cold, the dog survives and lives on.
So we have two characters in this story, one lives and one does not. Which one do you want to be? We can all be the man. In fact, that is the role most of us take in our daily struggles. We assume things will be how they have always been, and only once we are faced with conflict do we alter our behavior. Sometime it works, and being adaptable can be very important. Even in the story, the dog is adaptable and in certain ways it helps him survive. However, we can not rely solely on adaptability. If we are always modifying our behavior in response to conflict, we are never truly prepared for it. So we must be a dog. The dog lives in the world that it was created to live in. It is not overconfident, and it does not live outside its means. The dog lives its life exactly how nature intended. This means it doesn’t have to adapt to conflict, but has been prepared its entire life. The dog is just a dog, but by being just a dog, it is true to itself. So be true to yourself, know who you are, and do not live a life that was meant for someone else. That doesn’t mean that you should avoid conflict, but rather you should live in a way that the conflict you encounter is such that you can handle it. Do not attempt to be something or someone you’re not, because you will constantly facing conflict and it might be your undoing. Follow the path that you were meant to take, and that path will allow you to become the best version of yourself. All the gold in the Yukon doesn’t matter to the dog, because it gets to survive another day [and because it’s a dog].
My next blog will be going deeper into the idea that we do not have to adapt to our surroundings if we make our world adapt to us. I’ve linked the full text of “To Build a Fire” below for anyone who wants to check out the inspiration for this blog. Its a fairly short story and a pretty easy read.
Thanks for reading!
– E.G. Scholl