To Build a Fire: Pages 9-10
Summary (pages 9-10)
The man lights a small piece of bark and feeds the flame with ‘wisps of dry grass and with the tiniest dry twigs’. He works ‘slowly and carefully’ and it is repeated again how he knows the dangerous situation he is now in. If his feet were dry, he could run to get his circulation moving but he knows that because his feet are wet in this temperature they will ‘freeze the harder’.
He was given this advice by the ‘old-timer’ at Sulphur Creek in the previous fall and appreciates it. While building the fire, his hands turn numb whereas when he was walking at four miles an hour his blood was pumping. Now the fire is burning, though, he feels safe.
It is mentioned again how he remembers the old-timer’s advice and smiles this time. He remembers the old man told him that nobody should travel alone on the Klondike when it is ‘after’ fifty below. He then thinks of these old-timers as ‘rather womanish’.
The fire is burning and he starts to untie his moccasins. The strings are frozen and he takes out his knife to cut them. However, before he does this, ‘it happened’. He made the mistake of building the fire under the spruce tree and should have done so in the open.
Analysis (pages 9-10)
The need to build a fire is repeated as is the danger attached to having wet feet in this temperature. It is imperative that he builds the fire and was advised by the old-timer not to run in such a situation as it will make his feet freeze.
It is of interest that the man is seen to have taken this advice, but once the fire takes hold he becomes over-confident in his view of the old-timer and the warning that he should not travel alone when it is ‘after’ fifty below. Once he feels the danger has passed, that is when the fire is lit, he regards the old-timer as ‘rather womanish’ in his anxiety over the threat of nature.
This belief that he does not need another person with him may be interpreted as a metaphoric representation of individualism. The man believes that he does not need to do this and sees the advice to do so (at this point) as emasculating.