Man vs Nature
The central conflict of the story is one between human beings and their natural environment. The traveller believes in his own ability to rule his destiny and challenge Nature’s plan. He is confident that he can brave the challenge offered by the wintry and tumultuous weather of Yukon Territory.
He fails to recognize the fallibility of his own pride and physical limitations and succumbs to his mortal flaws. However, the contest seems to be lopsided throughout the story with the eventual death of the man.
The environment that the story plays out is represented by natural setting and events. It shows how brutal and unresponsive Nature can be as is the case in the tundra regions of Yuko territory.
It also signifies the need of a man to rely on its self for survival, an idea attached to the Darwinism. The description of arctic snow and unforgiving winds, frozen springs etc. produce a naturalistic arena for man to b tested and eventually fail in his quest to overcome his limitations.
Even the goal of the poor traveller to strike gold and rise to ruches is a classical trait of naturalistic writing.
In the story, the theme of determinism is represented by the ultimate death of the man who is advised at every stage to reconsider his plan to brave the cold.
All the characters and the signs foretell a painful end as if it is already fated for him to fail. In the end, the tragic fate is realized as nature seals the snowy grave of the traveller who thought he could master nature and rule his own destiny independent of nature’s plan.
The man ignores the old man’s advice, overlooks the dog’s reluctance to travel and his own instincts to protect his life. Therefore, even though the theme of the story is deterministic, the man is held accountable for his death.
He should have foreseen his fire being muffled with snow from the tree and the consequences of his running with wet feet in the snow.
All these were not mere accidents but avoidable mistakes based on his faulty thinking and overestimation of his own abilities. Thus, the responsibility lies squarely on his shoulders.
There is a theme of instinct versus intellect throughout the story. The man is intellectual and calculative but he is not instinctive.
On the other hand, the dog represents pure natural instinct and survival skills. It does not depend on scientific data and measurements of temperature to understand the dangers of travelling in the arctic cold.
It is able to use the sense of smell to find its way to the camp in the end. Even in direct confrontation when the man tries to lure the dog toward him (to kill it), the dog senses danger and stays out of his reach.