Early in "To Build a Fire," Jack London writes, “The animal was depressed by the tremendous cold. It knew that it was no time for traveling." This passage alerts you to the possibility of trouble ahead. Locate four other passages that foreshadow events.
“To Build a Fire” by Jack London reinforces the conflict of man versus nature. Nature does not intend to best the man. The natural world “is what it is.” If man makes the decision to try to outwit or outdo nature, he probably will lose. In the story, this arrogant man, who does not listen to the warnings of an experienced man of the Yukon, believes that he is thoroughly prepared for everything.
Foreshadowing is an authorial device to hint at the events to come. Many times the foreshadowing does not become apparent until the story is completed. The main character himself through the third person point of view provides the reader with clues to his eventual demise.
1st example of foreshadowing
“Once in a while the thought reiterated itself that it was very cold and that he had never experienced such cold. As he walked along he rubbed his cheek-bones and nose with the back of his mittened hand.”
The reference to the cold prefaces the man’s stepping into the stream and getting wet. In addition, his hands later become useless when he loses his fire. This costs him the matches when he drops them in the snow because of the lost feeling in his hands. Without fire, the man will not be able to survive.
“He unbuttoned his jacket and shirt and drew forth his lunch. The action consumed no more than a quarter of a minute, yet the numbness laid hold of the exposed fingers.”
Again, the exposure of his hands to the cold and the immediate numbness hints at the loss of the hands and eventually the loss of the potential fire which might have saved the man’s life. Until the man experiences 75 degrees below zero, he does not understand the peril in which he places himself.
“The old-timer on Sulphur Creek had told him about it the previous fall, and now he was appreciating the advice. Already all sensation had gone out of his feet.”
The main character felt that he had the intelligence and preparedness to beat the cold. The other man who knew what the cold could do to a man tried to warn him to never travel alone in this kind of cold. In the beginning, the man called the old-timer womanish; now, he begins to see that the man understood the depth of the dangerous cold.
“He spoke to the dog, calling it to him; but in his voice had a strange note of fear that frightened the animal, who had never known the man to speak in such way before. Something was the matter, and its suspicious nature sensed danger—it knew not what danger, but somewhere, in its brain arose an apprehension of the man.”
When the dog sensed that something was going on with the man, the heart of the story comes to light. The difference between animal instinct and man’s ability to solve problems. In this situation, the dog’s instincts win by far. The dog knows that something is not right with the man.
The man did not try to establish a relationship with the dog which was not smart. The story never mentioned the man feeding the dog. If he took the dog with him for company or protection, he should have prepared for this part of the trip as well.
When the man realizes that he is not going to make it, he understands that the conflict with nature was a lost cause from the beginning. It was not a battle on the part of the natural world. It was a fight between the man and his own ability to listen, think, and prepare.