Jack London uses the devices of plot, setting, and characterization in this short
story "To Build A Fire" to convey his message that humans need to be social. London
sets an average, middle-aged logger in a deserted Yukon trail during a wintry season. The
temperature is seventy-five degrees below zero and the logger and his husky are traveling
towards Henderson Creek, about ten miles away, where the logger's companions are
located. London places the man in this Yukon environment to symbolize that in this cold,
cruel world, we need to learn how to benefit from each other.
Prior to embarking on his journey, the logger is given advice from an old-timer
at Sulfur Creek that "no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below". The
logger thinks this is "rather womanish" and believes he can survive by himself. Along his
journey, the man encounters death as he falls into a spring, where "At a place where there
were no signs, where the soft, unbroken snow seemed to advertise solidity beneath, the
man broke through. It was not deep. He wet himself halfway up the knees before he
floundered out to the firm crust". Then the man builds a fire beneath a tree and snow falls
over it putting it out. London creates these natural events in the plot to prove they are not
the cause of the man's death.
Using characterization, London is able to display on account of who is alive at
the end how one benefits from being social. The old-timer at Sulfur Creek is alive because
he is experienced and wise enough to benefit from others' experiences that it is not wise to
travel alone in the Yukon. The boys at camp are also alive because they are together and
can benefit from each other. The logger's husky is alive because it is well-suited for the
Yukon environment, while the logger is not. Unlike the other characters, London has the
man die at the end of the story to display that he dies because of his arrogance in
his ability to travel alone. If the man travels with a companion, he can benefit from him
and possibly return safely to camp.
London's point is achieved through these three devices to prove that the cause
of the logger's death is his rugged individualism which concludes to not having anyone to
benefit from. London's message is that all of us need to learn how to be social and learn
how to benefit from each other in order to survive.
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