5. As the man starts to remove his frozen moccasins to dry them by the fire, disaster strikes: It was his own fault. High up in the tree one bough capsized its load of snow causing a domino effect as several branches dump their loads of snow onto the fledgling fire below. The fire was blotted out! The man was shocked. It was as though he had just heard his own sentence of death. (Excerpt from ‘‘To Build a Fire’’) The man thinks of killing the dog and thawing his hands in its carcass, but when he approaches the dog, it instinctively recoils at the fear in his voice and backs away. When the man at last catches the dog, he is unable to kill it; his hands have grown so numb that they are useless. 6. Once the man fully realizes that he will die, he panics. He runs frantically, hoping to regain the feeling in his feet and to reach camp. Then he drops in exhaustion. The dog remains with him throughout his panic, and the man feels jealous anger at the animal’s warm and healthy condition. Finally the man accepts his fate, letting the warmth and sleepiness of death-by freezing overtake him.
1. ‘‘To Build a Fire’’ begins on a winter morning in the Yukon Territory. The man is a newcomer on his way to join the rest of his companions at an old mining camp. 2. The man is accompanied only by a dog, which despite its heavy fur, dislikes traveling in brutally cold weather. It knows instinctively that the temperature is actually seventy-five below zero and that no one should be out in such ‘‘tremendous cold.’’ 3. When the man stops for lunch he is startled at the speed with which his fingers and toes go numb, and for the first time he becomes frightened at the intensity of the freezing weather. He remembers that he must build a fire ‘‘and thaw out’’ before trying to eat. 4. After resuming his trek, the man breaks through the ice himself, getting soaked ‘‘half-way to the knees.’’ Heeding the advice he’d been given by an ‘‘old-timer’’ from Sulphur Creek, the man builds another fire to save his frozen feet. He is angered yet unafraid of this unexpected delay. He feels confident in his ability to save himself.