Winter Will Be Here Soon -- Study hard as finals approach...


 
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To Build A Fire

 

by 
 Jack London
 
The significance of the words "dying and death" in Jack
London's 1910 novel, "To Build a Fire" continuously
expresses the man's dwindling warmth and bad luck in his
journey along the Yukon trail to meet "the boys" at camp.
London associates dying with the man's diminishing ability
to stay warm in the frigid Alaskan climate. The main
characters predicament slowly worsens one level at a time
finally resulting in death. The narrator informs the reader
"the man" lacks personal experience traveling in the Yukon
terrain. 

The old-timer warned the man about the harsh realities of
the Klondike. The confident main character thinks of the
old-timer at Sulphur Creek as "womanish." Along the trail,
"the man" falls into a hidden spring and attempts to build
a fire to dry his socks and warm himself. With his wet feet
quickly growing numb, he realizes he has only one chance to
successfully build a fire or face the harsh realities of
the Yukon at one-hundred nine degrees below freezing.
Falling snow from a tree blots out the fire and the
character realizes "he had just heard his own sentence of
death." Jack London introduces death to the reader in this
scene. The man realizes "a second fire must be built
without fail." The man's mind begins to run wild with
thoughts of insecurity and death when the second fire
fails. He recollects the story of a man who kills a steer
to stay warm and envisions himself killing his dog and
crawling into the carcass to warm up so he can build a fire
to save himself. London writes, "a certain fear of death,
dull and oppressive, came to him." As the man slowly
freezes, he realizes he is in serious trouble and can no
longer make excuses for himself. Acknowledging he "would
never get to the camp and would soon be stiff and dead," he
tries to clear this morbid thought from his mind by running
down the trail in a last ditch effort to pump blood through
his extremities. 

The climax of the story describes "the man" picturing "his
body completely frozen on the trail." He falls into the
snow thinking, "he is bound to freeze anyway and freezing
was not as bad as people thought. There were a lot worse
ways to die." The man drowsed off into "the most
comfortable and satisfying sleep he had ever known." The
dog looked on creeping closer, filling his nostrils with
the "scent of death." 

London's portrayal of the man does not initially give the
reader the theme of dying, but slowly develops the theme as
the story develops. The story doesn't mention death until
the last several pages. The main character changes from an
enthusiastic pioneer to a sad and desperate man. The
conclusion of the story portrays the man accepting his fate
and understands the old-timer at Sulphur Creek had been
right; "no man must travel alone in the Klondike after
fifty below." 

Typically, short stories written in the early 1900's often
conclude the story with a death or tragedy. London's story
is no exception. This story follows the pattern by
illustrating events leading up to and including death. 
 

 




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