Modern Lit. Paper
Significance of Words Dying and Death in “To Build a Fire Essay”
Dying and Death in “To Build a Fire”
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 “the man” lacks personal experience
travelling 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
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 his extremities.
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.
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 in
the 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 including death.
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. .