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A Tragic Idiot

Those old-timers were rather womanish, some of them, he thought. All a man had to do was keep his head, and he was all right. Any man who was a man could travel alone.
London, ''To Build a Fire'' -- Jerz: EL150 (Intro to Literary Study)

After repeatedly reading statements similar to this one, I was not surpised at all when the man actually died in Jack London's short story, "To Build a Fire." While this man could have easily prevented his own death by listening to the advice of the "old-timer," instead he stubborly ignores the fact that his life is in danger the moment he steps outside into the seventy-five below weather. Although the man physically dies from his this freezing cold, the true cause of his death is not the weather, but his own pride.

I think it is interesting that London takes the classic sin of hubris and places it in a modern day story. For example, while I was reading "To Build a Fire," the man's pride reminded me of characters such as Oedipus Rex and Creon from Sophocles plays Oedipus Rex and Antigone who both encounter tragic endings as result of their pride as well.

I also found it interesting that throughout the entire story, not a single character has a proper name. What do you think London acieved by leaving his characters nameless?

Comments (1)

Maybe the characters remained nameless so that they weren't strapped down to one solitary identity. This man could be anyone that puts pride above safety.

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