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What is the mood of the story "To Build a Fire?"

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mo0o0ny | Student, Undergraduate

Posted December 3, 2011 at 8:40 AM via web

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What is the mood of the story "To Build a Fire?"

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 28, 2012 at 8:06 PM (Answer #1)

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The mood of "To Build a Fire" changes slowly, as the man discovers how unprepared for the cold he really is. At first, the story is told with simple phrases, little excitement, and shows the man's unconcerned nature. He does not worry that it is not sunny, because that is normal so far North. In addition, he is so confident that he can reach the campsite by nightfall that he carries almost no supplies; just matches and his lunch. Even his early sense that the Yukon cold is worse than any he has experienced is not enough to sway him.

Later, as he falls into a spring, wetting his clothing, the mood turns darker, more frantic; the man tries to light another fire, fails, tries to keep calm and finally, as he runs out of matches and has no way to light a fire and thaw himself out, breaks into a desperate run:

He ran blindly, without intention, in fear such as he had never known in his life.... The running made him feel better. He did not shiver. Maybe, if he ran on, his feet would thaw out; and, anyway, if he ran far enough, he would reach camp and the boys.
(Quotes: London, "To Build a Fire," eNotes eText)

This fear becomes his final mistake. The story represents the man's descent from calm deliberation into panicked flight; his brief spots of hope are erased by his inability to to save himself. The simple descriptions of the extreme cold and the man's slow death of hypothermia create an almost claustrophobic mood, and certainly one of inevitability.

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simoncat | High School Teacher

Posted January 3, 2012 at 3:35 PM (Answer #2)

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Well, it's really cold. I know, cold isn't really a mood but that's all you are feeling buy the end of the story. There is a constant sense of apprehensiveness about this story. You know, like in a horror flick where you think "don't go into the scary house, you can't handle what's in there." This is just London's nature version. It's like 80 degrees below zero and the "newcomer" keeps plodding ahead. Even his dog thinks he is an idiot. So, as the man refuses to heed the obvious hints of nature, the mood gets darker and more threatening. The climax is a series of futile attempts that the man makes to do what he should have done much sooner. There is a sense of excitement here, especially when he tries to turn his poor dog into a sleeping bag. Despite the tension the increasing mood of futility, the sense that darkness has finally smothered this guy, ends the story.

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