Jack London's "To Build A Fire"

Essay by SmalLil888High School, 11th grade February 1997

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Jack London uses the devices of plot, setting, and characterization in this short

story 'To Build A Fire' to convey his message that humans need to be social. London

sets an average, middle-aged logger in a deserted Yukon trail during a wintry season. The

temperature is seventy-five degrees below zero and the logger and his husky are traveling

towards Henderson Creek, about ten miles away, where the logger's companions are

located. London places the man in this Yukon environment to symbolize that in this cold,

cruel world, we need to learn how to benefit from each other.

        Prior to embarking on his journey, the logger is given advice from an old-timer

at Sulfur Creek that 'no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below'. The

logger thinks this is 'rather womanish' and believes he can survive by himself. Along his

journey, the man encounters death as he falls into a spring, where 'At a place where there

were no signs, where the soft, unbroken snow seemed to advertise solidity beneath, the

man broke through.

It was not deep. He wet himself halfway up the knees before he

floundered out to the firm crust'. Then the man builds a fire beneath a tree and snow falls

over it putting it out. London creates these natural events in the plot to prove they are not

the cause of the man's death.

        Using characterization, London is able to display on account of who is alive at

the end how one benefits from being social. The old-timer at Sulfur Creek is alive because

he is experienced and wise enough to benefit from others' experiences that it is not wise to

travel alone in the Yukon. The boys at camp are also alive because they are together and

can benefit from each other.