illustration fo a man in winter clothes lying on the snow under a tree with a dog standing near him

To Build a Fire

by Jack London

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What three actions could have made the man's trip in "To Build a Fire" more successful?

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In the first place, he could have listened to the warnings of the people who told him that he should not make the trip when he did. He should have waited until the weather was warmer. The fact that the path had not been recently traveled should have been an indicator to him, just as it was a foreshadowing to us, that making the trip at this time of the year was not something other people did and therefore not the best idea. He set himself out for failure by not listening to good advice.

Secondly, if he still felt he had to try to make the trip, he should have learned a bit more about the simple facts of nature such as where to build your fire. Had he taken the time to think about it, he might have realized that building a fire under a tree that had branches laden with snow was not the best idea.

Lastly, he could have let go of his arrogance and superiority and learned to watch the reactions of his dog who knew how to survive against the odds.

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1. The first and most important change the man could have made is to heed the warning of the Old Timer who told him not to travel alone when it was so cold outside.  If the man had listened to the Old Timer, then he most likely would have had someone with him who could build the fire for him after his accident.

2.  He could have delayed his trip until better weather conditions moved in.  His dog's instinct tells the dog to burrow into the snow until the cold snap passes--something the man should have done (stayed under the shelter of the camp).

3.  He should have taken more supplies with him--food, matches, kindling, dry clothing.  He could have done so without weighing himself down too much, and those supplies most likely would have saved his life.

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One of the simplest is well known by Boy Scouts the world over, be prepared.  His lack of understanding about certain aspects of life in the wild, particularly in the Arctic, get him into serious trouble.  It might have saved him from his first poor decision, going out in this insanely cold weather, and it might also have helped him a great deal while he was trying to build a fire knowing not to do it under a tree with snow likely to fall and to actually build the fire on open ground.

Even if he hadn't been willing to prepare himself well for the journey, he could have listened to the old man back at Sulphur Springs and delayed his journey until the weather was more suitable.

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In "To Build A Fire," what are three things the old timer told the main character to do in order to survive, and what could he have done differently?

The old timer from Sulphur Creek gave the "Chechaquo" some good advice during their earlier meeting, and when the time came, the man did his best to follow the directions. However, the man failed to follow the most important one from the start:

  • No man must travel alone in temperatures of lower than 50 degrees below zero.

The man's failure to adhere to this steadfast rule sealed his fate. The other catastrophes that followed could have been prevented had he traveled with a partner. When he broke through the ice, he remembered another of the old timer's rules:

  • Wet feet must be dried immediately in such low temperatures.

The man realized this quickly, and he set about to make a fire. It was then that he remembered the old timer's third rule:

  • A man must not fail in his first attempt to build a fire.

By building the fire underneath the branch laden with snow, causing the snow to fall and destroy the fire, the man found himself unable to build another. His luck had run out.

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