“To Build A Fire” Story Analysis

892 words - 4 pages

The story “To Build a Fire” written by Jack London has two nearly identical versions published in 1902 and 1908 respectively. The latter is better-known and more thought-provoking because of the protagonist’s death. To begin with, the journey takes place on a cold winter day in Klondike, consists of a man and his dog. The man is ignorant of the extreme coldness and feels confident about travelling alone at fifty degrees below zero. However, he breaks through a thin skin of ice unexpectedly and wets himself halfway to the knees. In order to dry his feet, the man builds a fire, only to have it extinguished by a pile of snow unloaded from a tree. He tries to set up another fire, yet all attempts has failed. The man panics and strives to unfreeze his body by running. Not surprisingly, his efforts are useless, and the man dies of hypothermia at last. The author effectively supports the central conflict of man versus nature and gives hints about the man’s death as resolution by using appropriate title, descriptive setting, and a large amount of foreshadowing.
First of all, the title is well-chosen, for it gives the readers an overview of the story and supports the plot effectively. Detailed descriptions of how to set up a fire and the man’s continuous attempts to do so reflect that the story evolves around the phrase “to build a fire”. Throughout his journey, if the man succeeds in making a fire, it brings warmth, hope, and life; on the other hand, if he fails, it means coldness and death. The seemingly ordinary flame is vital and powerful, because “it meant life, and it must not perish”. Therefore, the action “to build a fire” is crucial and it represents the protagonist’s struggles to survive. Hence, the title expresses the central conflict: the man strives for his life in the exceedingly cold weather. The story also states, “a man must not fail in his first attempt to build a fire.” This sentence shows the importance of his success in building a fire ― it determines the man’s fate. As readers can find out at the end, the man’s death is the result of his inability to build a fire and unfreeze himself. In summary, the title is powerful, concise, and is closely related to the main storyline.
In addition, the setting plays a big role in developing the conflict in this story. The man’s adventure happens on an extremely cold day in Klondike during gold rush. First of all, if the man isn’t travelling in Klondike, he will not have the concerns of freezing to death and the story will not happen. Moreover, gold rush explains to the readers...

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