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To Build a Fire by Jack London Literary Analysis

To Build a Fire by Jack London
Literary Analysis
Jack London
Jack London's full name was John Griffith London, and he was born in San Francisco. He briefly
enrolled in a university and took English classes, for he loved to read and write. However, he was not
happy with this formal education and he soon dropped out.
In 1897 and 1898, London, like many other American and Canadian men, went north to Alaska
and the Klondike region of Canada to search for gold. This was the Alaska Gold Rush. Although, London
never found any gold, his experience in the extreme environment of this cold part of the world gave him
ideas for the stories he would write when he decided to return to California.
Upon his return to the San Francisco area, he began to write about his experiences. After winning
a writing contest, he succeeded in selling some of his stories and in 1900, he published a collection of
his short stories, The Son of the Wolf.
London wrote in a Naturalistic style, in which a story's actions and events are caused mainly by
man's internal biological needs, or by the external forces of nature and the environment. Many of his
stories, including his masterpiece The Call of the Wild (1903), deal with civilized man getting back in
touch with his deep, animal instincts.
London wrote more than 50 books and novels were translated into many different languages.
Despite his success, however, alcohol and two broken marriages added to his growing unhappiness. In
1916, at the age of only 40, Jack London committed suicide.
To Build a Fire, short story by Jack London, published in Century Magazine in 1908 and later
reprinted in the 1910 collection Lost Face.
Third person omniscient. The narrator knew about all the characters, the mind of the man and the mood
of the dog; and he referred to them in third person.
A man travels from Yukon, Canada to Alaska, US.
He has to meet his friends at 6:00 PM at Henderson Creek.
The weather is extreme, it’s -70 ºF (-56.7 ºC)
Rising action: He took a detour.
He finds a dog that tagged along.
He builds the first fire eat his lunch.
He passed a stream and he sank in it, to his knees.
The water on his boots started to froze.
His fingers started to froze.
He started a second bonfire under a tree to unfroze his frozen boots and to keep him
Pulling the wood caused the snow on the branches on the tree to fall onto it and this
extinguished the fire.
The climax: The matches fell onto the snow because he couldn’t grab them, his fingers were frozen.
He started the last bonfire with much struggle.
Some green grass had fallen onto the fire and he push them aside by kicking them and
this caused the fire to extinguish.
He couldn’t start another fire.
Falling action: He wanted to kill the dog to put his frozen hands inside him.
He hugged tingly the dog with his arms, but he couldn’t hold his knife to kill the dog.
“The fear made him lose control of himself and he turned and ran along the creek bed
on the old trail.”
The dog ran along.
“He ran no more than 100 feet, when he fell head first.”
Resolution: He started to think about the old timer and his advice.
“He sat and thought about meeting death with dignity.”
He died of cold. (He finally accepted he was going to die alone.)
The dog caught the smell of death in the man and “it turned and ran along the trail
toward the camp it knew, where there were the other food providers and fire providers.”
The man: protagonist (and antagonist, his cockiness).
The old man (old timer).
The boys.
The dog-wolf.
The weather/Nature: antagonist.
The man
He’s a flat character: He never changed his attitude. He took another path; he didn’t take the advice the
old man gave him. He was stubborn, too confident; maybe had some experience traveling long
distances and alone. He was fearless and reckless. He couldn’t see what was coming. He didn’t a
companion with him. He mistreated the dog; he didn’t like the dog that much.
The dog
The dog kind of liked the man. At the end, the dog smelled dead and left his corpse.
The old timer
He is wise.
The weather
Nature is the antagonist, against whom the man must battle for survival. The man makes valiant efforts
but to no avail.
External: (The weather). The man fighting nature. The man fighting himself.
In a stream in Alaska. Seems winter. Happening in 1908.
Cold story. We knew about the temperature and the place.
Attitudinal irony: Because he thought a man alone could travel that path and made it to the end, but he
was wrong, because a companion would’ve helped him to light a fire at much better places for the fire
to hold and stand to kept both warm. Also, a companion would’ve maintained them both motivated to
keep on the journey. He was too cocky.
Situational irony:
He ignored the advice.
He wanted to kill the dog, but the latter survived.
Fire represented life.
Dog represented nature (?)
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