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To Build A Fire Essay

1679 words - 7 pages

Author Jack London wrote "To Build a Fire," the heart-wrenching story of a man's struggle to overcome the power of nature in the most extreme temperatures. Throughout his journey along the trail in the Yukon, he underestimates nature and overestimates himself. Almost immediately his fate is revealed when London writes, "But all this---the mysterious, far-reaching hair-line trail, the absence of sun from the sky, the tremendous cold, and the strangeness and weirdness of it all---made no impression on the man" (977).

The man is new to the area and he does not realize the danger of this journey. Despite the man's carelessness, the reader hopes his rescuers will come. However, at the story's end, he meets death; he lays frozen in the Yukon and his faithful husky has left. Even a first-time reader can recognize the more obvious clues that foretell the man's demise, but the real cause of his death is his inability to recognize boundaries.

This is the man's first winter in the Yukon, and he is "green" to the land. Twelve inches of snow had fallen since the last tracks were made on the trail. Despite the warnings of the native of Sulfur Creek "that no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below" (982), he travels only with his husky. He writes his own death sentence when he proudly refuses to take a friend. As he begins his attempt and is blind to the fact that no human could survive such a challenge "He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances" (977). He thought those old-

timers were "womanish" (982) since they wouldn't travel alone. He fails to recognize that the body has limitations, and slowly his body loses circulation. His heart only pumps the blood as hard as it needs to. His energy reserve is eventually empty. London writes, "All a man had to do was keep his head, and he was alright" (982). The reader knows the man's body is shutting down as it freezes and the numbness in his feet migrates further and further up to his trunk.

The dog is able to recognize cold, however. "The animal was depressed by the tremendous cold. It knew that it was no time for traveling" (978). Using instinct, the dog expects the man to seek shelter somewhere and knows that it needs warmth. "Its instinct told it a truer tale than was told to the man by the man's judgment" (978). The dog knows how to survive by inheriting the knowledge of the cold. It looks upon the man as the "fire-provider," but the man is unable to provide an adequate fire for them. The husky apprehensively questions the man's every move, but stays with him until the man's last breath.

Later in the story, the man admits that the old man at Sulfur Creek had been right. As a native of the Yukon he should have been seen as a reliable advisor. The old man was...

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