This paper analyzes and evaluates the development of a fiction story “To build the fire” by Jack London. It examines the impact the author’s choices and discusses how these decisions affect both story’s meaning and the reader’s experience. London has created a tragic and exciting story with the help of his classic style. This story illustrates a philosophic and extremely modern theme and it represents man’s need to find the meaning in his sufferings. “To build the fire” illustrates this theme in three ways: through imagery, the choice of setting and the placement of irony within the story.
“To build the fire” is the tragic story of a man, who traveled in an absolute loneliness so far north. Struggling with a frost and difficulties posed by the environment, he moves along a snowy trail in the camp to his comrades, and his only companion is a sled dog.
In the story here are only two main characters - a man and a dog. While some researchers believe that Nature is the third character. (May) In this story, nature appears as an antagonist, as an enemy against which man is fighting for survival. However, Nature does not make any deliberate actions. The main role is played by human stupidity, which leads him to death.
Other characters who appear in this story are an old man who tries to warn travelers about the dangers and fellow traveler with whom he met at the end of the journey.
The protagonist travels through one of the trails of the Yukon in a very cold day (-75 ° F / -59 ° C), accompanied by a dog. Cold does not scare the traveler, he is going to meet with his friends at six o'clock in the old park. He is on the trail along the creek, aware of the danger of natural traps, which are: underground mountain streams. Becoming wet in a cold would have meant certain death.
Continuing his way, the travels knee-deep in the freezing water. He recalls an old man who had warned him that no man should travel alone in the Klondike if the temperature is below -50 ° F (-46 ° C).
The traveler gets scared and he builds a fire to dry his clothes. Traveler lights the fire under the spruce, which is covered with snow. He pulls out the lower branches of spruce to feed the fire, but because of his careless movements spruce begin to shiver and snow falls on the fire. The man is trying to breed a new fire and. after several attempts to start the fire, the traveler finally burns all his matches. He decides to take a desperate step. He comes up with the idea to kill the dog, get inside its carcass and thus keep warm. But because of the extreme cold man cannot kill the dog because he is not able to pull the knife with his totally freeze hands. It allows the dog to leave and eventually the man to die.
In a desperate attempt to keep the warmth, the man begins to run the camp. However, soon the traveler stops and sits down. He imagines that his friends will find his dead body in the snow. Heat gradually leaves him, and the man is finally plunged into a deep sleep. The dog does not understand why a person does not continue the way. When night falls, she feels the smell of death, runs to the camp, where there were others who could give him food and warmth. However, the ending of the story is extremely depressing and tragic.
While the man was dying he was desperately angry with his dog companion because of it’s natural ability to be warm and the skills that the dog could use. It was a tragic shame that the main character had to suffer and die, which finally lead him to understand that man’s body can’t confront nature in spite of his psychological and physical health. This story is a prime example of the conflict between man and nature.
May, Charles E. "To Build A Fire': Physical Fiction and Metaphysical Critics". Studies In Short Fiction 15 (1978):