Jack London’s short story “To Build a Fire” is a story full of conflict, turmoil, and determination. This story takes place in the Yukon, which is really important to understand the setting and the struggles that you about to read. Through London’s great descriptions about time, weather, and surroundings you actually get the feel that you are in the story. There are two main characters in this story the man and the dog.
The protagonist is “the man” . London does not describe him in detail, but one of the most important descriptions is at the very beginning the story. London tells us “he is a new comer to the land, a chechaquo, and this was his first winter.”(125) You already start to come to the conclusion he is going to be ignorant and stubborn. It is confirmed that he is throughout the entire story. The man ignores every clue around him and remains stubborn throughout the story. The “old timer” warns him in the beginning about the harsh weather and he should never be alone on the trail when it is that cold. The man also ignores the dog. The dog knows by instinct that there are multiple dangers and tries to show the man on multiple occasions. The dog, “a big, native husky” is the supporting character. Unlike the man the dog is constantly using its primal instincts to survive and warn the man of dangers. You see this through several instances in the story. When the weather starts to take a turn for the worse, the dog knew that they needed to stay by the fire and reluctantly followed the man.
“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.”(125) In another instance when the dog breaks through the ice it immediately jumps out and starts to bite the ice off between its toes. It made quick efforts to lick the ice off its legs, then dropped down in the snow and began to bite out the ice that had formed between the toes. This was a matter of instinct. To permit the ice to remain would mean sore feet. It did not know this. It merely obeyed the mysterious prompting that arose from the deep crypts of its being.”(127) The biggest example of primal instincts is when the man decides to kill the dog in order to warm his hands. The dog knew the man’s voice was wrong and his actions were way off, which ultimately kept the dog alive. The theme of this story is about diligence. It recommends that perseverance is vital while accomplishing an objective. The man is clearly determined to go to the mining camp however, his being unconscious of his surroundings places him in risk. He is likewise excessively certain and difficult to have disregarded the old-timer's recommendation.
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Regardless of how hard one endeavors to get something, if the objective does not bode well and isn't reasonable, he will come up short somehow. One should be relentless and mindful of his environment. Fire is the main symbol in this story. It represents life or death for the man in this extremely cold setting. Even the title refers to the fire to show the great importance of it. In the beginning he created fire and was able to continue on without any hardships. The first fire starts to show the importance of it. Once the man fell through the ice and his feet got wet, we really get to see the how important the fire really is and crucial role it would have. Even with nothing going wrong the importance of the fire is constantly shown. With the fire being the symbol of life, when the man could not start another fire we knew that it would be his greatest down fall. There are also plenty of examples of foreshadowing throughout this story. Right from the start, London tells us the man is a new comer. With that information and the title of the story you can make the assumption that the man is going to have misfortune with the fire. You also get the idea that things were going to go wrong when the weather was colder than expected. When the dog did not want to leave the fire because of its instincts on the cold, it confirms that fire was going to be a major issue later on. London use of hidden clues through this story, it leads to the assumption that the man will pay the ultimate sacrifice at the end. London keeps you intrigued throughout the entire plot of this story. In exposition the man and dog are on a jounery through the Yukon experinceing extreme cold tepatures. Along with the extreme cold the ignorant mindset of the man it gives you the information needed to start understanding the story.
The major complication is when the man falls through the ice and becomes wet to the his knees. With the extreme cold he starts to freeze and starts making unsound decisions. During this time the starts to climb in suspense even more when his hands are going numb and has the thought of killing the dog to bring back warmth to his hands. The climax happens when the snow fell from the spruce tree and put out his fire and the struggle for life began. Since he was too cold to start to another and could not run any longer the resolution becomes apparent. He was not prepared the way he should have been and wasn’t aware of nature leading to the man’s ultimate demise. The conflict in this story is with the man and nature and himself. In his conflict with himself he does not look at the warning signs that are around him. From the old-timer warning him about the tempatures to the dog several times being reluctant in situations. The man stood in his own way of surviving. Secondly the conflict with nature would be the deciding factor on his survival. The man seemed to be better than nature in his mind. One knows that mother nature can not be tamed. Since he did not have respect for the sudden changes of nature, it would bring him to his downfall. The tone used by London is straightforward and without emotion. He describes the cold tempatures and the struggles with the ice without putting emotion in it. With the lack of emotion from London you are not sure if you should feel bad for the man or the dog. London was straightforward with details of the story as well as the outcome. After reading you can’t help but feel if he there was any remorse for the man or not.
“To Build a Fire” is a great story to read and think about. From the plot to hidden meanings throughout it, it keeps you on your toes the entire time. The use of London’s foreshadowing is amazing. It makes the climax that much better. As the characters build in the story you cannot help but to start putting yourself in their place. The over all structure and the way this story read, you wish that it didn’t stop, but just continued.
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