Intelligence (Book: To Build A Fire) There are characters at many levels of intelligence in literature. In Jack London's short story "To Build a Fire" the character lacks any intelligence. The cold "did not lead him to mediate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man's frailty in general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold" (483). This weak minded character thinks that, "Any man who is a man could travel alone" (484). Some people think that the character is just unlucky, but he made his own poor decisions throughout his journey. The three most obvious examples of his lack of intelligence are his decision to travel alone in the extreme cold, his decision to walk on thin ice, and his placement of the fire under a tree.
What man with any commonsense would travel alone in such extremely cold weather "Fifty degrees below zero meant eighty-odd degrees of frost. Such fact impressed him as being cold and uncomfortable, and that was all" (483). The character realized his cheeks were quickly starting to freeze along with the rest of his body. "But it didn't matter much, after all, what are frosted cheeks" (486). These expositions of ignorance are just some of the many examples of his dull-witted thought process.
Some people feel sorry for the character and interpret these series of events as unlucky, but they are due to his stupidity rather than his lack of luck. After falling through the ice numerous times he never comprehended that is was dangerous. "Once again, however he had a close call" (486). How many close calls does he need to realize that it is safer to walk along the creek rather than on top of it Once the man fell through the ice and wet himself to his knees he was more worried about being late than he was for his well-being. "He was angry... he had hoped to get into camp with the boys at six o'clock, and this would delay him an hour". (487).
Those examples should make it evident that luck was not his problem but that he consistently made very poor choices. "When it is seventy-five below zero, a man must not fail in his first attempt to build a fire-that is, if his feet are wet" (488). "All a man had to do is keep his head, and he was all right" (484). What "man" of any intelligence who was "keeping his head" and knew how important it was to succeed in making a fire would not know that building a fire under a tree was a dangerous concept He did not realize that the heat from the fire would cause the snow to fall off and put out his only source of warmth.
That obvious example of his stupidity is just one more of the many displayed in the short story. In his short story, Jack London created a character who suffered from a poverty of intellect. "Despite the mysterious far reaching hairline trail, the absence of sun from the sky, the tremendous cold, and the strangeness and weirdness of it all, it made no impressions on the man" (483). Seeing a man that oblivious to the dangers of traveling alone in colder than fifty below weather, walking on ice, and making a fire under a snow covered tree should be enough to substantiate that he was not unlucky but just plain stupid!