What foreshadowing does the author use to let the reader know what's going to happen to the man?Jack London's "To Build a Fire"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As a Naturalist, Jack London presents human beings as subject to natural forces beyond their control.  As is evident in London's story, "To Build a Fire," this idea is at the center of the narrative.  In the exposition, there is clear foreshadowing of nature's forces being in charge of the day. 

  • It is cold and gray, exceedingly cold.  However, the "newcomer," the chachaquo, misjudges the temperature.  It is a clear day, and yet

there seemed an intangible pall over the face of things, a subtle gloom that made the day dark, and that was due to the absence of sun. 

  • Nevertheless, this fact does not worry the man.  Not the grayness of the sky, the lack of sun, the tremendous cold, or the strangeness of it all bothered him.
  • Because this is his first winter the man "lacks imagination."  He has not had to contemplate life and death.  The fifty degrees below zero means eighty-odd degrees of frost--that was all.  It did not impress upon him

to meditate upon man's frailty in general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold.

  • When he steps outside, the man spits.  At fifty degrees below zero, spit crackles on the snow at fifty below, but this spit crackled in the air.  Still the man thinks, "...the temperature did not matter."
  • The dog's instinct tells it a "truer tale than was told to the man by the man's judgment," London writes.
  • The dog questions every move of the man, expecting him to return to the camp.  The dog had learned about fire and yearned for one; it does not want to go out into this cold. 

All the elements of nature as well as the dog indicate the unfavorableness of going out into the brutal cold, yet "the man held steadily on."  With much foreshadowing of the danger of his setting out, Jack London's neophyte sets forth into the cold and ominous setting.

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