Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Man Can't Beat Natural

Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” tells the story of an arrogant young man who, despite the advice of seasoned prospectors, attempts to cross the sub-zero Arctic wilderness with only his dog for support. He is counting down the hours until he reaches his destination when he falls through the ice and into the freezing river—a death sentence in this climate unless he can build a fire to dry off. With only minutes until his hands and body succumb to frostbite, the man rushes to gather wood and is finally able to start a roaring blaze when the snow hanging in the tree above him chooses that exact moment to fall; covering his fire and sealing his fate. Panicked and with hands too numb to accomplish even the simplest of tasks, he is only dimly aware of the flames singeing his skin as he attempts to light a match with his wrists. After his last match flickers to nothing, the man flees in an insane rage toward camp but cannot run for long before he succumbs to hypothermia and collapses. The story ends as the dog cheerfully sets out toward home, ignoring its master’s frozen corpse.

I found the following synopsis of this gut-wrenching story tossed in the recycling bin of the eighth grade special ed room:

In the short storty “To Build a Fire” [A helpful teacher has added in the title] By Jack london,” A man is walking to camp. He Has to walk in sevendy five degree Below zero wether. He tries to biuld a fire to warm up But it is on segsecful. Jack london thought man can’t beat naturl.

Somehow, existential statements about the futility of mankind take on a simple fortitude when written by an eighth grader with capitalization issues.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

One of the Last Real Men

"Mr. Rogers, have you given anyone a detention today?"

"...Day ain't over yet."

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Let's Help Them Marry Young

I’d hate to be 22, and in love, these days. How could I support a bride? How could I find a place to live? How could I train for a profession—in a day where more and more training is essential?

Without financial help I couldn’t.


The case for making marriage available to hundreds of thousands of the blocked generation is not built on sentiment: it is a serious business of saving young people from frustration, of preserving the American home, of stemming the tidal waves of promiscuity, delinquency and divorce.

We surround boys and girls in their late teens and early twenties with ideals of marriage and home building. We admit that our Hal Smiths and Jean Fosters are biologically mature, that they possess growing and compelling urges toward mating and parenthood. We lure them toward marriage in our movies, our fiction, in the whole romantic gloss with which we daub youthful life. Then we snatch away this illusion with: “Don’t be a fool, Alice. It’s ridiculous to marry a boy who’s making only $30 a week!” Or, “Out of the question, Ned. You can’t marry until you’ve finished your internship!”

The result is a sexual dilemma. Psychiatrists’ offices teem with men and women suffering from guilt complexes because they indulged in premarital sex relations, and with equal numbers who are frigid or impotent because they were too long repressed.

From the files of Dr. Janet Fowler Nelson come these case histories:

Tom and Lillian were in love and wanted to marry, but couldn’t because Tom, an architect, was working out his apprenticeship at $28 a week. Faced with a wait of five years or more, Tom and Lillian realized that they had to make a decision. Either they would (1) have extra-marital relations, thus breaking the rules of society, or (2) stifle their emotional and physical drives, with the resultant frustration. They chose the first alternative.

When they finally married, Lillian was oppressed with the fear that “Tom only married me because he thought he ought to,” and Tom unhappily remarked, “If she was that way with me, maybe she’d be the same with any man.”

Equally bitter is the case of conscientious Arthur and Margaret, who chose the second alternative. Margaret’s parents refused to allow her to marry until she had a college diploma and had taught school for at least a year. She and Arthur “went steady” from the time she was 19 until she was 23. Then they were married. A few years later Margaret was in Dr. Nelson’s office relating a sorrowful story of their failure to reach mature sexual adjustment. “You see,” Margaret said, “we ruled out all petting before we were married. We knew that was the only way to keep out of difficulty. I suppose it was puritanical, but anyway we prided ourselves on never showing any sign of physical affection.”

Arthur and Margaret had fallen into a familiar trap. They had reined in their impulses by labeling them evil and tawdry. “This carried over into their married life and completely blocked a happy adjustment,” Dr. Nelson explains.


Promiscuity, sociologists agree, is the greatest foe of successful marriage. But a YMCA poll among men in their early 20’s indicated not only that extramarital relations were “greatly increasing” but that 80 percent of the young men blamed financial bars against early marriage for the upward trend.

Our communities, up to their necks in delinquency, scream alarm at the number of wayward girls, young sex offenders, unmarried mothers. “Yet what is this,” asks Will C. Turnbladh, of the National Probation Association, “but an indication of the stone wall many young people are up against.”

- From “Let’s Help Them Marry Young” by Howard Whitman. Taken from The Reader’s Digest condensed version, October 1947.


Discussion Questions:

1. Whitman cites an increasing trend towards later marriage and independence among Americans in 1947, stating financial barriers to be the cause. Discuss ways this observation has changed and remained the same in the last sixty years.

2. How have society’s opinions about premarital sex and promiscuity changed since 1947? How does this change affect the author’s argument? Do Tom and Lillian’s fears still sound realistic today?

3. Have the parental arguments in Paragraph 4 become ingrained in our concept of marriage, or are they remnants of the 1940’s? Include specific examples in your response.

4. Why did Ian include such an obviously outdated article in his blog?