The Harsh Reality of Life in To Build a Fire, Genesis of the Tenements, and Men in the Storm

Topics: To Build A Fire

Reality is one of the harsh struggles of life that humans have to deal with. The harsh reality of life is inescapable to mankind and there is no way to avoid it. Authors choose to manipulate this idea of a harsh reality in their writings to convey certain messages to readers. Many stories including “To Build a Fire,” “Genesis of the Tenements,” and “Men in the Storm” are all stories that manipulate the use of realism in their own individual way for readers to understand the messages they are trying to convey.

The authors use various style in their writing to convey realism, but the more common portrayal of realism is the technique of conveying the common man struggling to survive in the real world using vivid descriptions of weather, situations, suffering, and photos to have the reader recognize that reality is unforgiving, harsh, and can also be improved.

Authors use a variety of techniques in their writing and in Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” captures this realism through his use of vivid description of the setting and the harsh conditions that the main character struggles through.

The man in the story is stuck in the wilderness during a harsh winter which is described to be “a subtle gloom that made the day dark, and that was due to the absence of the sun (lines 8-9).” The scene portrayed from the description gives the reader a sense of what kind of weather the main character is facing as he enters the wilderness which is a realistic aspect of the story.

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The weather foreshadows the incoming disasters that could befall upon the man. London also includes the man’s way of thinking as he wonders about the advice the old man gave him in the past and his desperation to survive by thinking of gutting his only companion which shows his arrogance. He implements the dog into the story to symbolize the loneliness that the man may feel and to also show the theme portrayed throughout the story which is survival of the fittest. As the man attempts to build the fire, he is suffering from the frostbite and numbness from the harsh winter weather and when he lights the his matches, he “so held it, he became aware of sensation in his hands. His flesh was burning (lines 406-407).”

The pain described and the desperation the man is going through is the realism portrayed throughout the story by a common man struggling to survive that supports the message being conveyed that reality is unforgiving with his death in the end. Other authors use real life images to convey their messages to the public such as the muckraker, Jacob Riis in his story “Genesis of the Tenement.” Riis describes the harsh conditions that many americans have to go through as they live within the tenements of New York. The message that Riis tries to convey to public is that the tenements need reform and that the American Government should focus more on reforming the the living conditions in their own country before they try to assist and benefit from others such as the countries in Africa. He states that the tenements“harbored no less than forty families” which made the tenements overcrowded and prone to illness and to provide the readers with descriptions of the conditions they are living in (Lines 140-150). Many immigrants lived in these tenements and Riis provides the reader with actual photos and child mortality rates to get his message across. He championed reform in living conditions because it greatly affected a huge population of the country even as an immigrant himself. His technique of using photos and statistics for his realism aspect conveyed the message of an unforgiving reality to his audience and led to the reforms on living conditions today.

Another author that uses vivid descriptions to get his point across would be Stephen Crane is his short story “Men in the Storm” that portrays the average man’s struggle to survive in a harsh storm and show their desperation to get into shelters. His vivid descriptions of the men huddled together in groups awaiting their shelters is often seen throughout the story. He describes that in the “dark west-side street, there was a collection of men to whom these things were as if they were not (lines 35-40).” He begins the story with describing the fortunate citizens that were able to go home to a nice warm house with their family and food on the table, but he then goes into detail about the less fortunate huddled off on the side. His description of the storms and the “wanderers in the street” give the readers a realistic image of the streets being filled with homeless in a harsh storm. Crane includes the different types of shelters so that he can convey that not all men are fortunate enough to afford the luxury no matter how cheap. He applies realism through his description of the setting and the conversations that the men have about their desperation to survive and patiently wait for the shelters to open. The men “crowded to the doors in an unspeakable crush…(lines 105-110)” which shows their desperation to get in and also supports that theme of survival of the fittest by showing that reality can be unforgiving for those that cannot fend for themselves.

The authors of “To Build a Fire”, “Genesis of the Tenement,” and “Men in the Storm” portray the same aspect of reality. They use various styles of writing which include vivid descriptions of setting and “average person” characters to convey the message to the reader that reality is unforgiving in the aspects of desperation that is portrayed in each and every story. These messages of reality allow the readers to think about the problems of life and strive to reform it.

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The Harsh Reality of Life in To Build a Fire, Genesis of the Tenements, and Men in the Storm. (2021, Dec 23). Retrieved from

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