What is an example of foreshadowing in "To Build a Fire?"

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belarafon's profile pic

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

Posted on

One good example of textual foreshadowing comes early on:

He plunged in among the big spruce trees. The trail was faint. A foot of snow had fallen since the last sled had passed over, and he was glad he was without a sled, traveling light. In fact, he carried nothing but the lunch wrapped in the handkerchief. He was surprised, however, at the cold.
(London, "To Build a Fire," eNotes eText)

Referring to the trail as "faint" shows that the area has not been traveled much recently; others know how dangerous the cold can be. The man's lack of a sled, and his only item being his lunch, shows the lack of preparation that leads to his death; he is not mentally prepared for the extreme cold of the Yukon and so does not bring enough matches, or a flint-and-steel which cannot burn out. Finally, his "surprise" at just how cold it is shows his ego and his failure to prepare; if he had listened to the advice of the Old-Timer, or simply used more common sense in preparing, he might have survived.

Each of these points indicates his later failure; he has no sled, and so only one dog -- he might have been able to snuggle in with multiple sled-dogs and survive that way. He only has his lunch and no other supplies -- he was not thinking ahead. He is surprised at the cold -- because he didn't listen to advice, and so the cold is what kills him.

simoncat's profile pic

simoncat | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Honors

Posted on

Well, to begin with, this picturesque mountain setting is described like the gates of Mordor from Lord of the Rings, "It was a clear day, and yet there seemed an intangible pall over the face of things, a subtle gloom that made the day dark..." This pretty well tells us that this guy isn't in for a pleasant journey. The next thing we notice is that it's  really damn cold,

"Fifty degrees below zero meant eighty-odd degrees of frost. Such fact impressed him as being cold and uncomfortable, and that was all. It did not lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man's frailty in general."

Okay, so he had his long johns on; this is still death cold and not merely travelling cold. This tips the reader off that not only is this guy a "newcomer" but he is smug about what nature can throw at him. Rule #1 in the Yukon is don't give nature any attitude, she'll back slap you every time. She, of course, ends up doing this but I called it in the first paragraph!

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