illustration fo a man in winter clothes lying on the snow under a tree with a dog standing near him

To Build a Fire

by Jack London
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How does setting affect/contribute to the plot of Jack London's "To Build a Fire"?

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The famous short story "To Build a Fire" by Jack London is a tale of survival in the Far North. A man and a dog journey on foot through a frozen wasteland in the Yukon. Their objective is a claim on Henderson Creek. It is the man's first...

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The famous short story "To Build a Fire" by Jack London is a tale of survival in the Far North. A man and a dog journey on foot through a frozen wasteland in the Yukon. Their objective is a claim on Henderson Creek. It is the man's first winter in this intensely cold land. As London describes him, he lacks imagination and is overly optimistic about his strength and skill on the trail. Eventually he falls into some water and freezes to death. The dog journeys on alone.

The setting is integral to the plot of this story because it is the antagonist against which the man struggles. Although in truth it is indifferent, the setting is presented as the man's adversary, ever ready to take the man's life if he commits a misstep.

London provides numerous details about the setting as the story unfolds. The day is "cold and gray," and there is "no sun or hint of sun, though there was not a cloud in the sky." The ground and the frozen river are covered under many feet of snow, a landscape of "unbroken white," except for the faint dark line of the trail that the man is following. The nearest town is seventy-five miles away. The man thinks that it is fifty degrees below zero, which is already dangerously cold, but in fact, as London explains, it is seventy-five degrees below zero, and even the native husky dog that the man travels with knows that it is perilous to be out in such intense cold.

If the severe cold were the only problem the man faces, he might be able to successfully complete his hike and survive. However, London describes another hidden peril in the setting for which the man is not prepared. Under the snow and on top of the frozen creeks are hidden springs that never freeze. They are traps that would get the man wet and force him to stop and attempt to build a fire. It is one of these springs that proves to be his undoing.

Your thesis will be a statement about the setting of the story that you intend to support and prove in your essay. It will probably have something to do with the peril of the frozen wasteland and the necessity of the man respecting the dangers as he travels. If he commits one misstep, as he does, he will die.

As you write your essay, present your thesis; describe the frozen landscape of the Yukon, the man's attempts to traverse it, and his ultimate failure. I have already offered you some support from the text, and with a careful reading of the story, you will find more. Your conclusion will be a summing up of what you have written in the main body of your essay.

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