To Build a Fire
In the short story “To Build a Fire,” by Jack London, there are several instances in which the dog and the man show their different outlooks on the nature of the weather. The man, full of pride and unable to admit to the extreme cold, can be considered the foil of the dog, because the dog’s instincts allow it to know just how cold it really is. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that the dog’s natural instincts overpower the man’s pride, as the dog survives and the man does not.
One instance in which the dog’s instincts are clearly superior to the man’s judgment is when “the animal was depressed by the tremendous cold. It knew that it was no time for traveling. Its instinct told it a truer tale than was told to the man by the man’s judgment” (610). This quote reveals that the dog’s depressed attitude is a sign of its instincts that it is too cold to travel, despite the man’s self-assuredness that they will be fine and make it to the boys by six o’clock.
Another example of the dog having superior knowledge about the dangerous weather is when “the dog dropped in again at his heels, with a tail drooping discouragement, as the man swung along the creek bed... the man held steadily on. He was not much given to thinking...” (611). This quote shows how the man does not thoroughly contemplate the situation and acknowledge the dog’s unusual behavior to be an important clue that he should stop traveling. The man’s ignorance becomes his ultimate downfall, while the dog’s instincts allow it to survive the trip.
A final instance where the dog’s actions show its judgment to be better than that of the man’s is when it says, “This man did not know cold. Possibly all the generations of his ancestry had been ignorant of cold, of real cold, of cold one hundred and seven degrees below freezing point. But the dog knew; all its ancestry knew, and it had inherited the knowledge. And it knew that it was not good to walk abroad in such fearful cold”...