To Build a Fire: Top Ten Quotes

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  1. It was a clear day, and yet there seemed an intangible pall over the face of things, a subtle gloom that made the day dark, and that was due to the absence of the sun.p. 1 This quotation appears in the first paragraph. It sets the tone of a sense of foreboding and does so with references to the weather and light. This use of pathetic fallacy also emphasises how vulnerable the man is to his environment.
  2. The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances. p. 2 In this reference, the man who is never named and is the central protagonist is given at least some definable characteristics.
  3. The animal was depressed by the tremendous cold. It knew that it was no time for travelling. Its instinct told it a truer tale than was told to the man by the man’s judgement. p. 3 The folly of the man (and humanity generally) is encapsulated here as the dog’s instinct is seen to be more reliable the man’s. This also demonstrates a sympathy and understanding of the natural world and a preference for this over civilization.
  4. The dog had learned fire, and it wanted fire, or else to burrow under the snow and cuddle its warmth away from the air.p. 3 The reliability of the dog’s instinct is reiterated once more in this reference.
  5. This man did not know cold. Possibly all the generations of his ancestry had been ignorant of cold, of real cold, of cold one hundred and seventy degrees below freezing point. But the dog knew; all its ancestry knew, and it had inherited the knowledge.p. 7-8 The man’s lack of knowledge or appreciation of this extreme environment is reiterated by the dog’s awareness of the dangers.
  6. When it is seventy five below zero, a man must not fail in his first attempt to build a fire – that is, if his feet are wet. p. 9 This reference to the title reminds the readers of the central importance of the fire to the man and the short story.
  7. These old-timers were rather womanish, some of them, he thought. All a man had to do was to keep his head, and he was all right. Any man who was a man could travel alone.p. 10 The arrogance of the man epitomizes an arrogance of youth. It also establishes how he believes incorrectly in the superiority of men over nature. The reference to being ‘womanish’ in disparaging terms further highlights the man’s embrace of masculinity over femininity.
  8. The fire provider had failed.p. 14 This reference to the man as the ‘fire provider’ demonstrates his status in the eyes of the dog.
  9. He would kill the dog and bury his hands in the warm body until the numbness went out of them. Then he could build another fire. p. 14 The man’s desperation is seen to become heightened here as he contemplates killing the dog to save himself.
  10. Then it turned and trotted up the trail in the direction of the camp it knew, where were the other food providers and fire providers. p. 18 In the final sentence, the dog heads for food and security having scented the death of the man. The dog’s instinct for self-preservation is seen again to be more attuned than the man’s.

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