What is the role of setting in Jack London's "To Build a Fire"? What is a summary of the story?

Expert Answers
thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In  Jack London's "To Build a Fire", a man is traveling through the Yukon in the bitterly cold winter. He is accompanied by his dog, but is separated from his companions who he intends to meet in a camp 10 miles away. As he travels, he needs to struggle with several environmental factors, including dangerously thin ice that can break, causing him to fall into the water below; getting wet in such weather means swift death from hypothermia. The man sees fire as a solution to ward off hypothermia, but underestimates the dangers of the situation. As he starts suffering from bad frostbite, he tries to build a fire and fails, and he eventually dies of hypothermia. Once he is dead, his dog heads off to rejoin the party the man was seeking.

The main feature of the setting is the bitter cold, and the way snow and ice make progress treacherous. The man is clearly unprepared for the weather and underestimates the dangers he faces from it. The fact that the man finds the setting deadly and hostile but the dog does not makes an important point, that the wild beauty of the north is not itself hostile, but rather that is only accessible to those who adapt to it. 

Read the study guide:
To Build a Fire

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question