Jack London’s To Build a Fire: ThemeThe significance of the words “dying and death” in Jack London’s 1910 novel,”To Build a Fire” continuously expresses the man’s dwindling warmth and bad luckin his journey along the Yukon trail to meet “the boys” at camp. Londonassociates dying with the man’s diminishing ability to stay warm in the frigidAlaskan climate.
The main characters predicament slowly worsens one level at atime finally resulting in death. The narrator informs the reader that “the man”lacks personal experience traveling in the Yukon terrain. The old-timer warnedthe man about the harsh realities of the Klondike. The confident main characterthinks of the old-timer at Sulphur Creek as “womanish.” Along the trail, “theman” falls into a hidden spring and attempts to build a fire to dry his socksand warm himself. With his wet feet quickly growing numb, he realizes he hasonly one chance to successfully build a fire or face the harsh realities of theYukon at one-hundred nine degrees below freezing. Falling snow from a treeblots out the fire and the character realizes “he had just heard his ownsentence of death.” Jack London introduces death to the reader in this scene.
The man realizes “a second fire must be built without fail.” The man’smind begins to run wild with thoughts of insecurity and death when the secondfire fails. He recollects the story of a man who kills a steer to stay warm andenvisions himself killing his dog and crawling into the carcass to warm up so hecan build a fire to save himself. London writes, “a certain fear of death, dulland oppressive, came to him.”As the man slowly freezes, he realizes he is in serious trouble and can nolonger make excuses for himself.
Acknowledging he “would never get to the campand would soon be stiff and dead,” he tries to clear this morbid thought fromhis mind by running down the trail in a last ditch effort to pump blood throughhis extremities.The climax of the story describes “the man” picturing “his body completelyfrozen on the trail.” He falls into the snow thinking, “he is bound to freezeanyway and freezing was not as bad as people thought. There were a lot worseways to die.” The man drowsed off into “the most comfortable and satisfyingsleep he had ever known.” The dog looked on creeping closer, filling hisnostrils with the “scent of death.
“London’s portrayal of the man does not initially give the reader the themeof dying, but slowly develops the theme as the story develops. The storydoesn’t mention death until the last several pages. The main character changesfrom an enthusiastic pioneer to a sad and desperate man.
The conclusion of thestory portrays the man accepting his fate and understands the old-timer atSulphur Creek had been right; “no man must travel alone inthe Klondike afterfifty below.” Typically, short stories written in the early 1900’s oftenconclude the story with a death or tragedy. London’s story is no exception.
This story follows the pattern by illustrating events leading up to andincluding death.Thesis Statement- The significance of the words “dying and death” in JackLondon’s 1910 novel, “To Build a Fire” continuously expresses the man’sdwindling warmth and bad luck in his journey along the Yukon trail to meet “theboys” at camp.