Professor Donald Carey
1 October 2012
In the short story “To Build a Fire” Jack London writes of a man who attempts to journey on the Yukon trail at a time of year when the Yukon is at a temperature of, at most, fifty degrees below zero. The man is hubristic and does not listen to the old-timer on Sulphur creek who warns him to always travel with a partner when the temperature is more than fifty degrees below zero. Though the man has no human companion, he is not alone. His fury comrade is a wolf dog. The canine considers his master nothing more than a provider of fire and one that has the “sound of whip-lashes in his voice” (London 131). The story documents the success that the man experiences during the beginning stages of his journey; however, after he falls through ice and into freezing cold water it becomes clear that an ominous fate awaits him. His attempt to build a fire is blotted out when snow that is suspended in a spruce tree suddenly falls directly on top of his fire. As a result of this failure the man freezes to death in the harsh cold of the Yukon. His furry companion, not knowing what to think of the lifeless human, follows his natural survival instincts and hurriedly heads to the nearest encampment to seek out warmth and food. In “To Build a Fire” London purposefully creates a nameless character in order to make him a generic representation of the whole of humanity to ultimately emphasize humanity's insignificance in a struggle against nature.
One of the first things one notices when reading this story is the lack of information given about the protagonist, the man. Particularly his lack of a name. When being introduced to the man the only physical description the reader receives regarding him is that he has high cheek bones and a red beard and mustache. The lack of information that London gives about the man shows how little he is concerned with this man as a unique individual. Rather, London creates...