To Build a Fire Questions and Answers
by Jack London

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What does the dog symbolize in "To Build a Fire"?

In “To Build a Fire,” the dog symbolizes the superior power of instinct over intellect.

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“To Build A Fire” is a piece of short fiction written by American author Jack London at the beginning of the twentieth century. It tells the story of an unnamed hiker and his native dog who set out on a journey across the Yukon Trail in northern Canada. However, it is winter, and the hiker is unfamiliar with the area or the temperature, which is more than fifty degrees celsius below zero. Believing he is stronger than nature and ignoring warnings from an elderly local man, he sets out on his trek.

Those old-timers were rather womanish, some of them, he thought. All a man had to do was to keep his head, and he was all right. Any man who was a man could travel alone.

The story is an example of the naturalist movement in literature, which presents conflicts between man and nature.

The unnamed man represents intellect, whilst the dog symbolizes instinct. The man takes temperature readings, reads maps, and uses matches to light a fire, while the dog uses its instinct in order to survive. The dog understands the dangers of the cold and follows the man reluctantly.

The animal was depressed by the tremendous cold. It knew that it was no time for traveling. Its instinct told it a truer tale than was told to the man by the man's judgment.

Out on the trail, it burrows itself in the snow to escape the freezing temperatures and uses its senses to locate a nearby camp. The story proves that in such an environment, instinct is much more powerful than intellect, and, as such, the dog survives while the man dies of hypothermia.

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