Jack London’s To Build a Fire: Theme
The significance of the words ;dying and death; in Jack London’s 1910 novel,
“To Build a Fire” continuously expresses the man’s dwindling warmth and bad luck
in his journey along the Yukon trail to meet ;the boys; at camp. London
associates dying with the man’s diminishing ability to stay warm in the frigid
Alaskan climate. The main characters predicament slowly worsens one level at a
time finally resulting in death. The narrator informs the reader that “the man”
lacks personal experience traveling in the Yukon terrain. The old-timer warned
the man about the harsh realities of the Klondike.
The confident main character
thinks of the old-timer at Sulphur Creek as “womanish.” Along the trail, “the
man” falls into a hidden spring and attempts to build a fire to dry his socks
and warm himself. With his wet feet quickly growing numb, he realizes he has
only one chance to successfully build a fire or face the harsh realities of the
Yukon at one-hundred nine degrees below freezing. Falling snow from a tree
blots out the fire and the character realizes “he had just heard his own
sentence of death.” Jack London introduces death to the reader in this scene.
The man realizes “a second fire must be built without fail.
” The man’s
mind begins to run wild with thoughts of insecurity and death when the second
fire fails. He recollects the story of a man who kills a steer to stay warm and
envisions himself killing his dog and crawling into the carcass to warm up so he
can build a fire to save himself. London writes, ;a certain fear of death, dull
and oppressive, came to him.;
As the man slowly freezes, he realizes he is in serious trouble and can no
longer make excuses for himself. Acknowledging he ;would never get to the camp
and would soon be stiff and dead,; he tries to clear this morbid thought from
his mind by running down the trail in a last ditch effort to pump blood through
The climax of the story describes ;the man; picturing ;his body completely
frozen on the trail.
; He falls into the snow thinking, ;he is bound to freeze
anyway and freezing was not as bad as people thought. There were a lot worse
ways to die.; The man drowsed off into ;the most comfortable and satisfying
sleep he had ever known.; The dog looked on creeping closer, filling his
nostrils with the ;scent of death.;
London’s portrayal of the man does not initially give the reader the theme
of dying, but slowly develops the theme as the story develops. The story
doesn’t mention death until the last several pages.
The main character changes
from an enthusiastic pioneer to a sad and desperate man. The conclusion of the
story portrays the man accepting his fate and understands the old-timer at
Sulphur Creek had been right; ;no man must travel alone inthe Klondike after
fifty below.; Typically, short stories written in the early 1900’s often
conclude the story with a death or tragedy. London’s story is no exception.
This story follows the pattern by illustrating events leading up to and
Thesis Statement- The significance of the words ;dying and death; in Jack
London’s 1910 novel, “To Build a Fire” continuously expresses the man’s
dwindling warmth and bad luck in his journey along the Yukon trail to meet ;the
boys; at camp.