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To build a fire

Chelsey Sayers

Short Story

Assignment #1

"To Build a Fire"

In "To Build a Fire" by Jack London, the setting plays a significant role throughout the entire short story. Jack London uses certain techniques to establish the atmosphere of the story. By introducing his readers to the setting, prepares them for a tone that is depressed and frightening. Isolated by an environment of frigid weather and doom, the author shows us how the main character of the story is completely unaware of his surroundings. The only world the man is truly accustomed to, is his own. Never being exposed to such a harsh climate, draws us to the conclusion that the environment is the determining factor of his survival, as well as his dog's too. Anything that the man and his dog comes into contact with, creates an anticipation for disaster in the story.

London places a strong emphasis on the setting in the introduction to the story. "Day had broken cold and grey, exceedingly cold and grey..." He repeats these phrases to redefine to his readers the impact the setting has on the lives of the characters. The gloominess of the setting instills feelings in the man and the dog, of a constant battle with this world of depression they are in. Being given no sense of imagination, the man is only gifted with his practical knowledge. He therefore is shown to lack the experience and thought to adapt to the conditions encompassing him.

Typically, man never wants to deal with the reality, especially when it is unpleasant. "But all this-the mysterious, far-reaching hairline trail, the absence of sun from the sky, the tremendous cold, and the strangeness of it all- made no impression on the man." Blocking out the bothersome temperatures and climate he is surrounded by, he never really attempts to face this personal monster of his. What he would do if the inevitable happened to him, is his personal monster. This situation causes the man to become selfish, only focusing on his present actions and thoughts. The man's ignorance to his surroundings foreshadows a possible downfall.

London provides us with subconscious hints in his writing, that lead his readers to believe that the man will suffer a tragedy in the end of the story. "Its instinct told a truer tale than was told to the man by the man's judgment." Having only the knowledge of his previous experiences, the man is at a disadvantage to the dog. The dog by nature, is an animal that has an innate gift of instinct. The setting placed in this type of habitat, is the main conflict of the story. Under the cold conditions, the dog has the ability to survive because it has always known how. Only using his judgment, the man can't understand how to prevent a disaster from occurring. London has already given away the ending, as a result of his constant focus of the effect the environment has on the man not knowing the means of survival that the dog knows.

Lured to the plot of the story, we keep on reading always anticipating the danger of the climate to overcome the man. "On the other hand, there was no keen intimacy between the dog and the man. The one was the toil slave of the other, and the only caresses it had ever received were the caresses of the whip lash and of harsh and menacing throat sounds that threatened the whip lash." Feeling apprehension toward the man, the dog was not concerned with the welfare of the man. If the man was to come upon serious danger, the dog would not be eager to offer itself for help. Not being concerned with anything remotely imaginative, the man put himself in a position to expect death. His selfishness and ignorance keeps him in an array of danger and disaster.

The climax point of the story, London causes the man to fall through the ice and wet himself up to his knees. Preparing himself in advance, might have prevented the man's horrible downfall. However, the man never took the precautions in his mind to even begin to think of how to cope with the deadly situation. The only help he was given for the situation, was the advice of an old timer from Sulphur Creek. Violently, the man attempted to stop his appendages from freezing, but failed as the dog just watched. "The sight of the dog put a wild idea into his head. He remembered the tale of the man, caught in a blizzard, who killed a steer and crawled inside the carcass, and so was saved." Using such a suspicious tone when calling to the dog, the dog grew fearful of the man sensing a danger it had never experienced before.

Chelsey Sayers

Short Story

Assignment #1

"To Build a Fire"

In "To Build a Fire" by Jack London, the setting plays a significant role throughout the entire short story. Jack London uses certain techniques to establish the atmosphere of the story. By introducing his readers to the setting, prepares them for a tone that is depressed and frightening. Isolated by an environment of frigid weather and doom, the author shows us how the main character of the story is completely unaware of his surroundings. The only world the man is truly accustomed to, is his own. Never being exposed to such a harsh climate, draws us to the conclusion that the environment is the determining factor of his survival, as well as his dog's too. Anything that the man and his dog comes into contact with, creates an anticipation for disaster in the story.

London places a strong emphasis on the setting in the introduction to the story. "Day had broken cold and grey, exceedingly cold and grey..." He repeats these phrases to redefine to his readers the impact the setting has on the lives of the characters. The gloominess of the setting instills feelings in the man and the dog, of a constant battle with this world of depression they are in. Being given no sense of imagination, the man is only gifted with his practical knowledge. He therefore is shown to lack the experience and thought to adapt to the conditions encompassing him.

Typically, man never wants to deal with the reality, especially when it is unpleasant. "But all this-the mysterious, far-reaching hairline trail, the absence of sun from the sky, the tremendous cold, and the strangeness of it all- made no impression on the man." Blocking out the bothersome temperatures and climate he is surrounded by, he never really attempts to face this personal monster of his. What he would do if the inevitable happened to him, is his personal monster. This situation causes the man to become selfish, only focusing on his present actions and thoughts. The man's ignorance to his surroundings foreshadows a possible downfall.

London provides us with subconscious hints in his writing, that lead his readers to believe that the man will suffer a tragedy in the end of the story. "Its instinct told a truer tale than was told to the man by the man's judgment." Having only the knowledge of his previous experiences, the man is at a disadvantage to the dog. The dog by nature, is an animal that has an innate gift of instinct. The setting placed in this type of habitat, is the main conflict of the story. Under the cold conditions, the dog has the ability to survive because it has always known how. Only using his judgment, the man can't understand how to prevent a disaster from occurring. London has already given away the ending, as a result of his constant focus of the effect the environment has on the man not knowing the means of survival that the dog knows.

Lured to the plot of the story, we keep on reading always anticipating the danger of the climate to overcome the man. "On the other hand, there was no keen intimacy between the dog and the man. The one was the toil slave of the other, and the only caresses it had ever received were the caresses of the whip lash and of harsh and menacing throat sounds that threatened the whip lash." Feeling apprehension toward the man, the dog was not concerned with the welfare of the man. If the man was to come upon serious danger, the dog would not be eager to offer itself for help. Not being concerned with anything remotely imaginative, the man put himself in a position to expect death. His selfishness and ignorance keeps him in an array of danger and disaster.

The climax point of the story, London causes the man to fall through the ice and wet himself up to his knees. Preparing himself in advance, might have prevented the man's horrible downfall. However, the man never took the precautions in his mind to even begin to think of how to cope with the deadly situation. The only help he was given for the situation, was the advice of an old timer from Sulphur Creek. Violently, the man attempted to stop his appendages from freezing, but failed as the dog just watched. "The sight of the dog put a wild idea into his head. He remembered the tale of the man, caught in a blizzard, who killed a steer and crawled inside the carcass, and so was saved." Using such a suspicious tone when calling to the dog, the dog grew fearful of the man sensing a danger it had never experienced before.

Losing all sensation in his hands, the man quickly realized he could not kill the dog. "A certain fear of death, dull and oppressive, came to him. This fear quickly became poignant as he realized that it was no longer a mere matter of freezing his fingers and toes, or losing his hands and feet, but that it was a matter of life and death with the chances against him." Without a doubt, the man now realized that this place had already defeated him. Panicking, the man ran around with great effort, for the last time trying to change his inevitable fate. Not having any success, the man tries once again to block out his meager view of what was left of his last moments of life by thinking of other things.

Both the dog and the man understood the horrible fate of what was happening to the man. He was utterly, and hopelessly losing his battle with the frost. London turns over the story to the dog and its thoughts. By doing this, he leaves us with the concept of the man dying alone, with the boys finding his body the next day. Painting a picture of pity, London causes his readers to empathize and feel sorrow for the man. The man's last thoughts are of him rationalizing his forthcoming destiny of death. The man does come to terms with his doom, and finds his peace of mind.

"Then the man drowsed off into what seemed to him the most comfortable and satisfying sleep he had ever known." It was made obvious that the man had no escape from his sad and scary death. London shapes the end of the story so that his readers could feel two different ways about the man. Believing that the man's own ignorance and lack of imagination brought about his downfall, while the other opinion is that the setting and its effects created the man's downfall. We are left to ponder what the author's reason is for the protagonist's downfall and why he focuses on the dog's point of view at the end.

There is a strong significance placed on the dog at the end of the story. "Later the dog whined loudly. And still later it crept close to the man and caught the scent of death." Through the eyes of the dog we can see the process of the man dying. The dog is almost thought of as a person, feeling lonely and depressed after the man is gone. With one last hope, the dog waits to see if what its instinct says is true. It appears that it is. Trotting along the trail, the dog survives as it finds its way back to the camp where the others are.

In closing, the setting is the most probable cause why the man could not overcome his death. Lacking the ability of instinct and imagination, the man was unable to survive death. Never thinking about the reality of the situation also contributed to the man's downfall. The dog was the triumphant figure here, surviving the extremely, harsh weather conditions. Since the man didn't listen to the advice of experienced people, he was ignorant and never expected to be defeated by the climate. If the man had prepared himself for the worst, his death would not have been inevitable. Providing the separation between survival an death, the setting was the most important factor in "To Build a Fire" by Jack London.

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