To Build A Fire
Jack Landon, the author of To Build a Fire places his unknown man in the harshest climate almost any human could not endure. There are many conflicts that go throughout the story with nature as well as personal conflict of his own. The setting plays an important role in this short story because the way that the author describes when the man’s saliva freezes before it even touches the ground shows the reader that this is not just an everyday travel and this man is about to face a nine-hour hike through the snowy world of Yukon, northwestern Canada next to Alaska. This unknown man faces his worst days that laid ahead of him not knowing what is about to happen, how his thought process will start to change, and most importantly how he is affected by the climate surrounding him and his only four-legged companion on this journey.
The unknown man is pushed with many sorts of conflict, surrounding him is the Yukon Trail on a winter morning walking along a frozen creek. When the author says that the man is walking along a frozen creek, foreshadowing hits the reader; something is going to happen with the man and the creek. As he is walking through the frozen terrain, the setting portrays a very powerful mood and visual aspect, drilling into the readers’ mind to some extent on how cold it is.
The man’s egotism conflicts with his common sense; he does not understand humankind’s frailty and is too proud to admit his own. He does not comprehend the danger posed by an environment in which he can only survive through the full exercise of his native wit, instincts, skill, and cunning (Welsh). The unknown man is taken back by how many challenges he is facing, mostly fighting man vs. nature, or an outside force, which happens to be the frozen terrain. The many ways that nature has pushed him is how he got frostbite on his cheeks and fingers, so extreme that he cannot use his fingers nor hands to pick something up or light a fire. Since he decided that he wanted to take this journey on his own, it is only himself to blame, and so that is why another conflict in this story is man vs. himself. The man could have easily waited a few days and listened to the man before who warned him about how harsh the temperature was going to be, yet he did not listen, so, therefore, he is only fighting a battle with himself. The important last conflict that the man overcame is when he was debating with himself whether he should kill his only companion for warmth. When the man first made a fire, the dog wanted to stay longer, for obvious reasons, but the man was not having it and put the fire out, so he could get this journey over with. Later, realizing that it would have been smarter to stay the man contemplates what he should do, man vs. himself. At this point, the man is starting the slow process of freezing to death, after much consideration he resolves his own conflict by pushing himself as far as he can go. For this essay, symbolism is the use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal sense (Literary Devices). The author puts a few symbolic qualities into this story, so it makes the reader know that there are many underlined and deeper meanings than what is just read. The first symbolic quality is the most obvious, winter. Winter is not just a season that comes once a year there is further explanations and symbols that correspond to the word. Death is associated with winter, when thinking of something cold and unpleasant summer does not come to mind. As the reader knows the man does not end up making it to his destination alive, another hit of foreshadowing. The sunset at the end of the story is also a symbolic quality, along with winters meaning it is related, coming to an end, this symbol informs the reader that the man cannot travel or push himself any further than he has already gone. The last symbol is darkness, not meaning death but, fear and unknown. At the beginning of the story the man was not as fearful and did not think if this travels as much as he should have; but as he gets further into the terrain he starts to feel the fear inside of him as he continues as well as the fear of unknown if he could even possibly finish and make it there alive.
The unknown man was not given a name; it is almost as though the author did not want to give a personal attachment to the reader and character because he saw him as almost insignificant. Continuing to read, the reader is just reading a simple story with no attachment and remains distant and withdrawn from any character. There is no emotional involvement, so the author takes his opportunity and giving him so many conflicts leading to his slow death with no sense of loss for the reader. The author chooses to write in the third person point of view. The character in the story is a non-participant but we still know and see his outlook as well as some of the dogs. Going back to the author not giving him a name gives him an easy access to put his story in the third person.
Lastly, the character changes his personality and attitude towards his journey the further he goes on because of the climate he is facing. In the beginning, he is determined and already ready to finish this with no effort. Closer to the end of this short-lived journey he realized that he needed to listen to the man and get more prepared, and then maybe he would not be in this situation. This unknown man shows off both static and dynamic characteristics. He is dynamic because he realizes that he should have been more prepared and brought someone along with him, instead of a dog. On the contrary, he stays static because even after all that he has been through he still wants to push him to finish this journey, “but it didn’t matter, much after all. What were frosted cheeks, a bit painful, that was all they were never serious.” The unknown man states this as he continues to travel and show how persistent he is and how much he has not changed.
To conclude, the unknown man goes through and deals with most of the conflicts that are presented to him, expect death. The author, London shows many types of in-depth foreshadowing and analysis while reading, while also giving the distant relationship with the man and reader. The changing of the man is very noticeable and how he immediately regrets this decision while running to his death just to meet his friends.
Welsh, James M. “To Build A Fire.” Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition (2004): 1-3. Literary Reference Center. Web. 9 Feb. 2016″Symbolism – Examples, and Definition of Symbolism.” Literary Devices. N.p., 02 July 2013. Web. 09 Feb. 2016.
“To Build a Fire, by Jack London.” To Build a Fire, by Jack London. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2016.