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 To Build a Fire Study Guide (Choose to Continue)

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To Build a Fire: Pages 17-18

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Summary (pages 17-18)
The man thinks how the frozen parts of his body are now increasing, but this makes him panic and is afraid of this. He cannot help but think of his whole body being frozen and this makes him run again.
 
The dog is still with him and when the man falls he sits near him. The man gets up, runs for a hundred yards and falls again. He thinks of how he has been ‘making a fool of himself running around like a chicken with its head cut off’ and thinks he may as well die ‘decently’. He then thinks it is ‘a good idea’, ‘to sleep to death’. He imagines his body being found and also imagines himself looking for his body.
 
He then thinks again of how the old-timer was right. He falls asleep and the dog stays. By the time it is twilight, the dog yearns more for fire and whines softly and then loudly. It comes closer to the man and smells death. The dog turns and goes in the direction of the camp, ‘where were the other food providers and fire providers’.
 
Analysis (pages 17-18)
Before falling asleep to his death, the man is at last able to invoke his imagination as he considers the thought of finding his own dead body. At this crucial final point, he is given the redeeming characteristic of being able to step outside of himself as he considers what it must be like to find his corpse. His thoughts also return to the old-timer for one last time as it is repeated that he thinks his advice was right.
 
This use of imagination and the ability to see that he should not have travelled alone give the story some poignancy as the man is seen to be aware of his failings and the error he made.
 
The dog’s recognition that the man is dead leads him to leave for the camp, for fire and food, and because it survives and the man does not the moral of the tale is made secure. The man is punished for his arrogance by death, whereas the dog is rewarded with life because it acts on instinct.  
 




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