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Summary: To Build a Fire
Transcript of Summary: To Build a Fire
"To Build a Fire" by Jack London tells the story of a man and his dog struggling to survive in the Yukon as they travel to a mining camp at Henderson Creek. It is 75 degrees below zero, there is nine hours of walking ahead of them, and the man has brought nothing with him but a sandwich. All of this doesn't seem to matter since the man is looking forward to seeing his buddies at the camp. His lack-of-preparedness and inexperience begin to take a toll on his health as the cold hits hard and he begins to freeze. Literally. Throughout his journey, he learns the importance of building a fire and not traveling alone.
In the story, the man recalls what the 'old man at Sulphur Creek' told him about not traveling alone in freezing temperatures. He ignored this advice.
this was the man's first winter
in the beginning, the dog's instincts told him that it was not safe to be in this cold.
The author states that there is no 'intimate relationship between the dog and the man.' The dog simply sees the man as a provider, and the man is happy to use the dog as a heat pad.
the man realizes his faults in the end, and decides to meet death with dignity.
The man- He is the main character or protagonist in the story. We do not know his name or exact age. He is a 'newcomer' and this is his first winter. He is not much of a 'thinker'. He does not have a good imagination, so he does not look at the dangers of being in the cold, and he sees temperature as simply a number. His motivation in the story is to get to the camp, and he seems to put this before everything else. He is also a very dynamic and round character. Throughout the story he realizes his faults, and we know what motivates him.
The Wolf Dog- The wolf dog is described by the author as a big, native dog with a grey coat. He, with simply his animal instinct is aware of the dangers of the cold. He contrasts the man, who has no instincts at all. He was put in the story to make us more aware of the skills the man was lacking.
The old man at Sulphur Creek- we do not know much at all about the old man besides the fact that he warned the man about not traveling alone in cold temperatures.
The boys- The boys like the old man are not directly seen, and we do not know much about them. Getting to the camp to see them is the man's main motivation.
Examples of Indirect Characterization
There are several examples of indirect characterization in the story. We are never told the man's exact age , but we can guess that he is a younger man because of his lack of experience and wisdom. The author never directly describes the man as 'tough', but seeing that the cold temperatures don't phase him until it's too late shows us that he is pretty tough. Taking this into account, we can tell that he has a pretty laid back personality because he is calm despite all the conflicts he is facing. We are never directly told that he is arrogant, but we can tell because he doesn't realize that he is only human and can only take so much. He has weaknesses, but he doesn't think so. We never meet the old man, but we can tell that he has plenty of experience . We also never meet the boys, but we can guess that they are very important to the man, and he finds a sense of brotherhood in them.
man vs. nature
- The cold temperature is keeping the man and the wolf dog from reaching the camp, and is causing them to freeze to death. There is plenty of snow, and the creeks were frozen. When the man and the wolf dog tried crossing over the creeks, they fell in the water, getting soaked in dangerously cold water. The man tries to build a fire, but he picks an inconvenient spot underneath a tree that drops snow. Also, since his hands are frostbitten, he can't even properly light a match to start the fire. His face and feet are all frostbitten as well.
man vs. self
- The man lacks experience, instincts, and preparedness. He is also arrogant, and all these characteristics lead to his own death. His own poor judgement affects his health and his chances of reaching the destination he cares about so much.
exposition- The man and the wolf dog begin their journey to the mining camp at Henderson Creek. The man has little knowledge of the cold that he is going to face, and getting to the camp on time is what he is really focusing on. The wolf dog, however is aware of the dangers and is skeptical about how great of an idea this is. He builds a fire to keep them warm while he eats his sandwich, which is the only thing he brought with him.
rising action- The man wets his feet in a creek and he must build another fire to dry them. However, he builds the fire underneath a tree that is dropping snow. Snow falls on the fire, putting it out. He tries to make another one but fails because his hands are numb.
climax- The man finally begins to panic. He realizes that if he can't build a fire he is going to die. He tries running to the camp but he falls. Since his whole body is numb, he can't get back up.
falling action- The man realizes that he will never make it to the camp, and he decides to face death. He imagines himself at the camp and with the old man, where he finally admits that the old man was right.
resolution/denouement- The man dies. The wolf dog waits, thinking that he is asleep. He smells death on the man, and takes off toward the camp
The story takes place around 1900 in the Yukon. It is 75 degrees below zero. That being said, everything is deeply frozen. The author emphasizes this by describing the frost and tobacco juice that froze over the man's beard. His mouth is even frozen shut. There is plenty of snow, trees covered in snow, and frozen creeks that are extremely dangerous to cross over. The author is so descriptive with the setting, it makes you afraid to ever go out in the cold again.