To Build a Fire by Jack London

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Describe the main character in "To Build a Fire" by Jack London.

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Jack London spent time in the Yukon looking for gold. These experiences enabled London to write his classic stories like “To Build a Fire.”  The setting of the story includes temperatures that often drop below 120 degrees below zero. With this kind of problem facing the main character, the conflict involves man versus nature.

The narration of the story is third person omniscient point of view. The protagonist is a newcomer.  The man has made a plan to travel to meet his friends at a mining camp some distance away.

By introducing his reader to the setting from the first sentence of the story, the story's tone is depressed and frightening. Isolated by an environment of frigid weather, the main character is completely unprepared mentally and physically for the challenges that he faces.

Key to the story is the old timer’s instructions that the man chose to ignore: “Do not travel in this kind of weather [50 degrees below zero] by yourself.” Thinking that he is more rugged than this experienced miner, he scoffs at the other man’s advice. Even the man’s companion, the large husky dog, instinctively knows that it is too cold to travel in this weather.

It is important to understand that this story is based on naturalism.  Nature is harsh; however, it does nothing to cause the man his problems because what happens to the man is his own fault. The natural world is not out to entrap the man.  It is nature. If the man chooses to challenge it, then it will be up to him to make the decisions that will get him through.

The man‘s personality is an important aspect of the story:

  • Intelligent-He prepares for his journey with matches and appropriate dress.  He knows...

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