How does the author, Jack London, begin building suspense in the short story "To Build A Fire"?

1 Answer

pmiranda2857's profile pic

pmiranda2857 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

In this story, a man makes a journey across the frozen landscape of the Yukon territory, to meet his friends.  As a stubborn, know-it-all newcomer, the man does not take the advice of more experienced travelers and makes the journey alone except for the company of a dog.  It is so desolate and cold, that the man and the dog appear lost before they begin.

The author builds suspense, first, through the setting, the Yukon territory is frigid, cold, cold, cold, 50 below Fahrenheit kind of cold.  This creates an edgy feeling for the reader, it is a wonder how anyone can breathe in weather that cold, let alone make a journey and expect to survive.  Being lost in this wasteland of snow and ice is similar to being lost at sea, the man is drowning in snow and ice. There is danger everywhere, even though he can't see it, pitfalls are everywhere.

" He knew that the coldest snaps never froze these springs, and he knew likewise their danger. They were traps. They hid pools of water under the snow that might be three inches deep, or three feet." (London)

So suspense is built through the reader wondering if the man and the dog will make it to the camp. The story is very repetitious regarding the cold, which acts as the antagonist in this story.

The author uses the third person narrator to build suspense by repeating the warning of the old-timer.

"The old-timer’s advice against traveling alone is frequently repeated, adding a sense of foreboding to the story. Even more ominous is the use of the phrase ‘‘it happened’’ to introduce the two disasters— first when the man breaks through the ice, and next when his fire is extinguished."

The man's lack of willingness to listen to reason from the old-timer and the dog's behavior, he does not like the man, indicate that the man is heading for a serious fall in this story.

The stupidity of the man is highlighted by the author, who allows the narrator to express the dog's thoughts, the dog is smarter than the man.