To Build a Fire Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


To Build a Fire: Pages 13-14

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Summary (pages 13-14)
The ice around his mouth cracks as he forces it open. He scrapes the bunch to separate one of the matches, but this drops to his lap and, again, he is ‘no better off’. He picks the match up with his teeth and scrapes it against his leg. After twenty attempts, it lights but he drops it after coughing.
He thinks once more in ‘controlled despair’ of how the old-timer at Sulphur Creek was right about not having a partner with him. Suddenly, and although his hands are numb, he removes the mittens and takes the bunch of matches between the heels of his hands. He scratches them against his leg and they take light.
He holds the matches to the bark and becomes aware of his flesh burning. He drops the matches when it becomes unbearable, but the bark is lit. He adds fuel to it, but cannot select the driest twigs and rotten wood and moss are inadvertently included. He knows he must keep it alight, though: ‘It meant life, and it must not perish.’ However, a large piece of green moss falls on the small fire and in trying to move it he fragments the fire. Each twig goes out, and ‘the fire provider had failed’.
The man looks around and on seeing the dog he has a ‘wild idea’. He remembers a story of a man who killed a deer and crept inside the carcass to stay warm in a blizzard. He considers killing the dog to warm his hands and when they are no longer numb he thinks he will be able to build another fire. He calls to the dog, but the dog is suspicious of his tone (which is different to the usual way he speaks). The man then crawls toward the dog, and the dog sidles away.
The man struggles for ‘calmness’ and gets to his feet. This action, and the return to his normal voice of ‘whiplashes’, leads the dog to be trusting again.
Analysis (pages 13-14)
In these pages, it is possible to see the man begin to panic as his situation deteriorates. This fear culminates at this point when he tries to grab the dog to kill it, but the man’s fear is heightened furthermore in the next few pages.
In this passage, there is a detailed account of how he attempts to re-light the fire and his desperation is made increasingly evident. The tension is maintained by the man’s attempts to be the fire provider and with the repeated references to how he needs the fire to stay alive.  
The failure of the fire comes this time when the lit twigs are separated as he tries to remove the green moss. Metaphorically speaking, the separately ablaze twigs are comparable to the individual man as neither survive in this environment.


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