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 To Build a Fire Study Guide (Choose to Continue)

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To Build a Fire: Novel Summary

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As this is a short story with no chapter breaks, the summary and analyses are divided according to page numbers.
Summary (pages 1-2)
The story begins with a long sentence introducing ‘the man’ who is the central character. He turns off the main Yukon trail and climbs up on to a steep bank. He stops for breath and excuses this by looking at the time. It is 9 o’clock in the morning and there is no sun or cloud in the sky.
He looks back to where he has come from and the Yukon, which is described as being under three feet of ice and snow is on top of this. Everything is white except the ‘dark hairline’ which is the main trail that goes on for over a thousand miles to the Bering Sea.
The ‘strangeness and weirdness’ of the view and the cold make no impression on the man, but this is not because he is used to it. He is a newcomer, and is described as a chechaquo, and this is his first winter in the area. He is also described as having no imagination. The extreme cold does not lead him to think about ‘his frailty as a creature of temperature’ or about immortality.
He spits and hears a ‘sharp explosive crackle’. The spit is freezing in the air and he realizes it is even colder than fifty degrees below zero as he knows that at fifty degrees below the spittle would ‘crackle on the snow’.
He is heading for the ‘old claim’ on the left fork of Henderson creek, ‘where the boys were already’. They have come from Indian Creek country, whereas he came a ‘roundabout way’ as he looked for logging work for the spring. He thinks he will get to the camp by six and has his lunch (of biscuits and bacon) with him. This is kept wrapped under his shirt to stop it from freezing.
Analysis (pages 1-2)
These first two pages set the scene as the area and extreme temperature is referred to. The setting of the Yukon implies that the man, who is a newcomer, has come to the area as part of the gold rush and is unfamiliar with the freezing environment.
It is telling that this man is never named. He is depicted as one of thousands who came to stake a claim in the hope of finding gold. His lack of imagination is at this point the abiding impression the readers are given of him and he is unable to perceive the full danger he is in. As the story progresses, it is also possible to see that arrogance has led him to believe in the likelihood that he will reach the camp without a companion.




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