What are the metaphors and similes in "To Build a Fire"?

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cneukam1379 eNotes educator| Certified Educator


  • "The ice held his lips so tightly together that he could not empty the juice from his mouth. The result was a long piece of yellow ice hanging from his lips. If he fell down it would break, like glass, into many pieces."--This is a description of the ice that is forming on the man's face from the tobacco juice.  The simile here emphasizes the fragility of the ice; it would shatter just like glass shatters.
  • "The man was shocked. It was like hearing his own judgment of death. For a moment he sat and stared at the spot where the fire had been."--This simile is foreshadowing the man's death as the fire goes out. It's one of the first times that the man understands the danger of his journey.

The lack of many similes and metaphors is a reflection of the "lack of imagination" that Jack London uses to describe the man's outlook on life. Had he been able to imagine the extreme conditions in which he set out on his journey, he would not have died in the end. While the dog is an animal and therefore also lacks an imagination, it knows to follow animal instincts, like when it falls through some ice and gets its paws wet. The dog shakes off the ice and then chews the rest off because its instincts tell it to. The man, because he is human, ignores his animal instincts, which is another fatal flaw to his character.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator


  • "Once, coming around a bend, he shied abruptly, like a startled horse..." -- London compares the man's abrupt stop to that of a "startled horse."
  • "...the thick German socks were like sheaths of iron half-way to the knees..." -- The socks are being compared to iron.
  • "...the moccasin strings were like rods of steel all twisted and knotted as by some conflagration." -- The strings of the moccasin are being likened to steel.
  • "...and he wondered if Mercury felt as he felt when skimming over the earth." -- The man is comparing his own lightness of being as that of Mercury soaring above the earth.
  • "...running around like a chicken with its head cut off—such was the simile that occurred to him."


  • "The blood was alive, like the dog, and like the dog it wanted to hide away and cover itself up from the fearful cold." -- There are a pair of metaphors here: The blood is being compared to the living dog; the blood is also being shown its desire to hide itself from the cold as would the dog.