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Symbolism in "To Build a Fire"

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by

Somaly Tum

on 2 November 2012

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Transcript of Symbolism in "To Build a Fire"

By: Somaly Tum Symbolism in "To Build a Fire" Jack London Real World Connection "One of America's most prolific and beloved authors, London was born in 1876 in San Francisco, California" ("The Call of the Wild" 42). One of these stories is "The White Silence", in which Malemute is traveling in the Yukon with Mason and his wife, Ruth The Larger Picture For example, people who are married wear wedding rings Real World Connection The Use of Symbolism in "To Build a Fire" The Use of Symbolism in "To Build a Fire" The Larger Picture Author Info: Quit school at the age of 14 and took a job as a longshoreman instead In 1987, he took part in the Klondike Gold Rush, which gave him plenty of ideas for his stories Known for his adventure novels that deal with survival under horrendous conditions "To Build a Fire" Symbolism Short Summary An unnamed man is traveling in the Yukon, ignoring the old timer's advice to never travel alone He falls through ice, so he needs to build a fire to stay warm He builds the fire under a tree piled with snow, the snow falls on top of the fire and effectively snuffs it out He is unable to build another fire, so he decides to meet death by drowsing off into a comfortable sleep A symbol is a person, object, or word that does not only represent the thing itself but has a deeper meaning Symbols are used to help the reader gain a better understanding of the underlying point of the story Snow is used as a symbol of death to help project nature's power over the characters in London's stories, which make the stories so fascinating to read The man stumbles upon traps that "hid pools of water under the snow", which causes him to break through (London 3) He builds a fire, but a tree piled with snow falls on top of the fire, so the man "was shocked. It was as though he had just heard his own sentence of death" (7) When the fire was snuffed out, it symbolized the man's death, so when he tries to build another one, he is unsuccessful Nature's force was so strong that it took over his life, his last effort was "meeting death with dignity" by drowsing off into a satisfying sleep (11) In all of London's adventure stories, mankind individually faces the harsh conditions of the Klondike environment Snow is repeatedly used as symbol of death in his stories Earle Labor and Jeanne Campbell Reesman refer to the frozen landscape as a powerful enemy, asserting that the characters "fall into misfortune because of . . . blindness to a dark, nonrational powers of nature, chance, and fate" (Widdicombe 345) This means that the characters do not comprehend how powerful nature is in an environment where temperatures are below zero, which causes them to encounter disasters While on their way, Mason is crushed by a pile of snow that falls from an old pine, which symbolizes his death After a couple of hours, Mason finally dies and his death is marked by a sharp report, then followed by silence Symbols are not only seen in literature, it is seen in real life as well As we've seen, snow is a symbol of death used quite often in Jack London's adventure stories These wedding rings represent their love and commitment to one another London successfully uses snow as a symbol of death, but with different plots within his stories The snow tricked the man into thinking that the groud was solid, but in reality it was death waiting to happen Snow symbolizes the unnamed man's death in this story
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