To Build a Fire: Pages 3-4
Summary (pages 3-4)
The man carries nothing else with him apart from his food and is feeling the cold on his face although his facial hair partly protects. He has a dog with him that is described as ‘a big native husky’ and is barely different to ‘the wild wolf’. The dog feels the cold too and knows that it is no time for travelling: ‘Its instinct told it a truer tale than was told to the man by the man’s judgement.’
It is seventy-five degrees below zero and as the freezing point is thirty-two degrees above zero, ‘it meant that one hundred and seven degrees of frost obtained’. The dog knows nothing of thermometers, but it has its instinct. It has learned the benefits of fire and if there is no fire it knows the need for shelter at such times.
The moisture from the dog’s breath has settled as fine frost on its fur. The man’s red beard and moustache are similarly ‘frosted’, ‘but more solidly’. The man is also chewing tobacco and the juice of this has formed ‘a crystal beard’ like amber. We are told he does not mind about this ‘appendage’.
He walks for several miles through the woods and goes down to a frozen stream that was Henderson Creek. He knows he is ten miles from ‘the forks’ and it is now ten o’clock. He has been walking at four miles an hour and knows he will be at the forks by half-past twelve. The dog walks behind him again and his tail is ‘drooping discouragement’. No man has been down here for a month and he walks steadily on; he thinks only of his lunch. Now and again he thinks of the temperature and ‘that he has never experienced such cold’.
Analysis (pages 3-4)
At this stage, the dog is introduced and it is emphasised that the dog’s instinct is superior to the man’s. Whereas the dog knows the dangers of the temperature, the man continues walking and the dog follows. Because of this differentiation between the man and the dog, where the dog is seen to be superior, the arrogance of this man and humanity generally is demonstrated.
The man’s inability to see beyond himself has already been referred to in the earlier pages. His lack of imagination means that he does not see beyond the thought of his lunch and thinks of the cold only in terms of how he has never experienced this climate before.