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Jack London- “To Build a Fire”

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    In many of Jack London’s stories, he displays the constant struggle between man and nature. In the short fiction, “To Build a Fire,” London demonstrates the human race’s inability to listen to nature when needed. The opening of “To Build a Fire” uses vivid imagery, giving you a strong idea of the cold and harsh weather. “There was no sun nor hint of sun, though there was not a cloud in the sky. ” this sentence alone could set chills to the reader. (London 127-137) The imagery is meant to bring the reader with the main character, make them feel as though they are experiencing his struggles.

    Although the setting is highly important for the story, it would be lacking without London’s use of imagery. As the audience is reading, they feel an overwhelming sense of empathy for the main character, due to the explicit imagery. Similar to many of London’s stories, the setting in “To Build a Fire” is cold and bleak. The setting is seen as one of the focal points in the story. The story is specifically set on the Yukon trail in the dead of winter, at its’ coldest. The setting describes vaguely the dangers of the cold and the area that the main character must travel.

    In London’s attempt to paint a picture for the audience he writes, “The Yukon lay a mile wide and hidden under three feet of ice. On top of this ice were as many feet of snow. ” Not only does this paint the picture of the setting, but it also conveys the dangers of nature. In the short story it is obvious that the man is oblivious to his fate that lies ahead, and he continues to ignore nature’s warnings. The man, after deciding to trudge through the bitter cold with a dog along his side, begins to face difficulties with his surroundings. Some of his first struggles begin early, mostly due to his lack of knowledge and respect for nature.

    This was the man’s first winter in the land, and he was unconcerned by the cold and the dark. The man intuition lead him to believe the temperature was colder than fifty below, as the audience knows, it was seventy-five below zero; he chose to go on anyway, even though his nose and cheekbones were numb. During his travel, the man stops to eat his lunch that was packed in a handkerchief, while eating, London narrows in on the fact the man is alone; “There was nobody to talk to, and, had there been, speech would have been impossible because of the ice muzzle on his mouth. (London 127-137) The idea of being alone in this weather was the man’s first mistake, although he did not notice his mistake at first, it should have been apparent at this point in time. The dog that walked with the man was very uneasy about traveling in the weather, this should have been a huge indicator to him that the trip was not meant to happen in that harsh of conditions. “At the man’s heels trotted a dog, a big native husky, the proper wolf-dog, gray-coated and without any visible or temperamental difference from its brother, the wild wolf. The animal was depressed by the tremendous cold.

    It knew that it was no time for travelling. Its instinct told it a truer tale than was told to the man by the man’s judgment. ” (London 127-137) The man had knowledge of the icy waters that would lie below thick snow, and the dangers they posed. “And to get his feet wet in such a temperature meant trouble and danger. At the very least it meant delay, for he would be forced to stop and build a fire, and under its protection to bare his feet while he dried his socks and moccasins. ” (London 127-137) To ensure he did not endure the pain of the cold waters, the man forced the dog across any areas that seemed untrustworthy.

    Upon doing so, the dog’s backside sunk in to the water, and almost instantly froze to his feet and legs. This should have been enough warning from nature to the man to stop him from continuing on. The real danger happens at the climax of the story when the man himself falls through the ice. Not only had nature been telling him that he should not pursue this trip, but the old-timer on Sulphur Creek had even warned of the possibility of falling in the stark cold waters and the precautions to take afterward. Not only did the old timer warn of the waters, but he warned of the dangers of traveling alone.

    If the man had listened to any of the warnings he was given, he would not have been in this exact predicament. The man immediately knew he had to act fast if he wanted to preserve his time, his foot and his life. He tried his hardest to kindle a fire with numb hands. After much preservation he had built a fire, but in a lazy manner. The man had ignored nature and the way it works. He had built a fire under a tree, taking and using its’ branches by throwing them to the ground below. Upon adding a branch to the fire, the man pulls a heap of snow that extinguishes the fire altogether.

    At this point the man could no longer feel his fingers from the cold and slowly began to realize his fate that lie ahead. Without feeling in his hands, he was unable to grasp the branches, much less the match to strike them with. The man still has hope for building another fire against the will of nature. The man attempts to fight nature in every possible manner, such as attempting to use the dogs’ carcass as a source of warmth, but the dog realizes that something is off-putting and refuses to come close; natural instinct working against the man.

    In the man’s final moment he recollects on all the things he did wrong, as far as the trip goes. He remembers the old-timers advice and how he chose to ignore it. In an almost harsh attempt to get the point of man versus nature across, London specifically states, “He was losing the battle with the frost. ” As the man drifted off to what we assume was his last sleep, the dog is noted as an important part of the story. Because of its natural instinct to leave the man as he lay and move on, the dog will survive. The dog is a guideline to show man’s inability to listen to nature, when all other species live based on nature.

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    Jack London- “To Build a Fire”. (2017, Jan 11). Retrieved from

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