What is the crisis and the resolution in Jack London's short story, ''To Build a Fire''?

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Concerning London's "To Build a Fire," a crisis is, according to a college textbook I have:

The point of uncertainty and tension--the turning point--that results from the conflicts and difficulties brought about through the complication of the plot.  The crisis leads to the climax--that is, to the decision made by the protagonist to resolve the conflict.

If the climax of the story is when the snow puts out the protagonist's fire (his last hope of survival), then the crisis is whatever most directly leads up to that point. 

At least two possiblities exist:

  1. When he makes the decision to build the fire under the tree without first shaking the snow off of the limbs, which leads to the fire being put out (this moment is one candidate for the climax, as well, according to the above definition), or
  2. When he breaks through the ice and gets wet. 

I suggest the crisis is when he gets wet, but you might disagree.

Concerning the resolution, that includes everything that occurs after the conflict is decided.  In other words, it includes everything after the man is doomed--when the fire goes out.

He attempts to survive, coming up with a few ideas and trying to put them into effect.  But his situation is hopeless, and at last he resigns himself to his fate. 

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

CRISIS.  The crisis in Jack London's "To Build a Fire" concerns the "Chechaquo"--a newcomer--and his attempts to cross the frozen Yukon River and complete a day-long trek to Henderson Creek, where his friends are waiting. However, the man has broken one of the ironclad rules of the Yukon: Never travel alone in extreme, sub-freezing temperatures; in case of an emergency, there will be no one else on whom to rely. On this day, the temperature is 75 degrees below zero. The man will fall through the ice, have to stop and build a fire to dry out, and delay the completion of his trip by several crucial hours... that is, if all goes well.

RESOLUTION.  I hate to spoil the ending of this great story, so I will only add that all does not go well while the man attempts to build the fire. The extreme cold becomes evident, and the man remembers the advice given him by "the old-timer on Sulphur Creek"--advice that he does not heed. His attempts to continue onward to Henderson Creek are met with disastrous results. 

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