Significance of Words Dying and Death in 'To Build a Fire' by Jack London

Essay by Scott ShortCollege, UndergraduateA, January 1997

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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.


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...