Honors 9 English
To Build a Fire Notes
· Today’s assignment for EuroLit:
o Read “1984”
o Check out “The Heart Goes last”
· Today’s assignment for English 9 Honors:
o Re-read “To Build a Fire”
o Pre-write your essay rough draft.
o Bring only your story tomorrow.
o Setting: “The unprotected tip of the planet”
§ How cold it is in the wild.
§ The man is a newcomer to Alaskan winter.
§ The man is lazy, out of shape, and unprepared.
§ The old man from Sulfur Creek’s advice is ignored.
§ The man is “without imagination”(168)
o Complication in the rising and falling action:
§ The temperature
§ The time it will take for the man to complete his trip.
§ The distance the man has to travel.
§ The vicious cycle of the man’s oncoming hypothermia, causing him to panic.
· The more the man panics, the more he makes mistakes, increasing his hypothermia and his panic, ultimately leading to freezing to death.
All complications are objective (have to do with his body) but have an effect on his mind (subjective).
§ The dog waits for the man to move, but smells “the scent of death” and delays shortly before going off to where it knows the other “food providers” are (181).
· The dog howls when it smells the scent of death. Why?
o We don’t know why the dog howls.
o Page 169: “no difference from its wild brother, the wolf”
o Page 171: “This was a matter of instinct… It did not know this. It merely obeyed the mysterious prompting that arose from the deep crypts of its being…”
o Page 181: “Under the stars that leaped and danced and shone brightly in the cold sky…”
· Imagination is more important than knowledge, for knowledge is limited to what we understand.
o Ideally, you would want to do both the “A comes back to A” analysis simultaneously with the Homeric Pattern analysis.
o The man’s moment of anagnorisis is right before he slips into the most confortable “sleep” he has ever known (180).
o The man has arête due to his being a mortal being, pursuing the immortality of fame.
o The man is a negative example of the theme, being unable to overcome his natural proclivity towards having hubris.
o The dog is a foil to the man.
§ The dog survives, because it relies on instinct, while the man dies by relying purely on judgment.
· Man has instinct, but we choose to ignore it.
§ The dog does not push the boundaries of nature.
· Page 172: The man takes “his comfortable time over a smoke”
o The man doesn’t want to die. Why did he choose unwisely?
§ The man is overconfident in his ability to survive the cold.
· Page 174: “The cold of space”
· There are three kinds of naturalists:
o Some say that there is nothing else but the objective world.
o Some believe that there is a mind, and nature is out to get us.
o Some believe in a mind, but that nature does not care one way or another about the existence of the mind.
· “They seemed remote from his body and from him…”(174).
o Quotations from Hemmingway:
§ “How did you feel, hand?”
§ “I’ll eat some more for you.”
§ “He was comfortable, but suffering, although he did not admit the suffering at all.”
§ “The punishment of hunger…”
§ “There was a moment when I could not find… You.”
o The man thinks that the cold’s effect on his body “doesn’t matter”.
o Naturalists tend to see nature as a machine-like existence.
o “All which counted for little…”(174).
· Page 175: “It was his own fault…”
o The man was so full of hubris that he could not imagine that, by building the fire underneath the tree, the snow above him would melt and blot out the fire.
§ The man thought that it would be easier to build the fire under the tree, being lazy.
o “The man was shocked. It was as though he had heard his own sentence of death… Perhaps the old-timer at Sulfur Creek was right…”(175).
· Page 176: “Try as he would, he could not clutch hope…”
o “The thought… put him in a panic, but he fought against it and kept calm…”
o “The dead fingers could neither touch nor clutch… He drove… out of his mind…”
o The man’s mind is willing his body to do something, but it does not respond.
· Page 177: “The old timer from Sulfur creek was right… Controlled despair…”
o The difference between knowing and doing…
o “He cherished the flame… It meant life…”
· Page 178: “It struck him as curious that…”
· Page 179: “He would soon be stiff and dead… Sometimes it pushed itself forward…”
o The man doesn’t give up, but he wasn’t very smart.
o “He tried to keep this thought down…”
· Page 180: “It was his last panic… He sat up and entertained in his mind the conception of meeting death with dignity…”
o “He pictured the boys finding his body… He found himself with them… Looking for himself… Found himself lying in the snow… he was out of himself…”
o Man: Humanity, hubris.
o Dog: Nature, instinct
o Cold: Nature, nature’s attitude towards us.
o Leaving the main trail: Arête
o Fire: Knowledge, life…
o The setting: Nature’s limits on the world.
o The old man from Sulfur Creek: The passing on of knowledge to others, a way of knowing or learning things vicariously.
· People with arête tend to have a natural inclination towards having hubris.
· According to existentialists:
o Umwelt: Objective world
o Eigenwelt: Subjectivity (mind)
o Mitwelt: shared world (love)
· Page 168: “It did not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man’s place in the universe.”
· Why did Jack London have the man be alone and not survive? Why is man predetermined to be a social animal?
· Does man have a chance at immortality? If so, how?
· We have predetermination, yet are predetermined to be free.
o We are predetermined to have natural limits, unable to live outside of a small range of temperatures.
o We are predetermined to have a predisposition towards hubris.
· We have the freedom to know our predisposition towards hubris, and surpass that hubris by knowing ourselves. Alternatively, we can choose to die blissfully, and not surpass ourselves.
· Page 172: The man chooses unwisely to do nothing about his hubris, even though he knows that the old man’s advice was true.
o Page 174: “He remembered the advice of the old man at Sulfur Creek, and smiled… All a man had to do was keep his head…”
§ Simply knowing something is not enough; we must do something with that knowledge.
· Theme: When messing with nature, we cannot have overconfidence in our ability to surpass the limits of nature with knowledge.