The man recalls things that the old timer from Sulpher Creek had told him he should do in order to survie in the Yukon.
There is not much that the man could have done, realistically speaking, because he "lacks imagination." In the Darwinian world of "To Build a Fire," this man is meant to expire because he lacks instinct or the power to consider the wisdom of taking someone with him and not lighting the fire under a snow-laden tree. The dog, on the other hand, survives because of the natural selection of his breed which has incorporated into his genetic instincts the need to retreat from such brutal cold.
Um, ... point blank, he should have listened to everything the old-timer from Sulphur Creek told him. Let's look at those nuggets of wisdom, shall we? What's interesting is we don't hear this advice through quotation, so we have to filter it through the speaker's failing thoughts:
If his feet are dry, and he fails, he can run along the trail for half a mile and restore his circulation. But the circulation of wet and freezing feet cannot be restored by running when it is seventy-five below. No matter how fast he runs, the wet feet will freeze the harder. ...
All this the man knew. The old-timer on Sulphur Creek had told him about it the previous fall, and now he was appreciating the advice. Already all sensation had gone out of his feet. ...
The old-timer had been very serious in laying down the law that no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below. Well, here he was; he had had the accident; he was alone; and he had saved himself.
Not so fast, not so fast! Ha! Most likely, the old-timer from Sulphur Creek is a man of few words. So, although we can surmise other parts of the old-timer's advice, the short list of advice we can be sure of is this:
- Being dry is life. Being wet is death.
- Feet (especially dry feet) are the most important part of the body to keep safe.
- "No man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below."
- If he insists on doing so, he MUST do it with a partner.
I absolutely adore London's progression through the speaker, ... London goes from using "perhaps" the old-timer was right, to "the old timer ... was right," to the actual words (within delirium) actually spoken to the old-timer. Mastery of characterization! Let's look at it:
Perhaps the old-timer on Sulphur Creek was right. If he had only had a trail-mate he would have been in no danger now. The trail-mate could have built the fire. ...
The old-timer an Sulphur Creek was right, he thought in the moment of controlled despair that ensued after fifty below, a man should travel with a partner. ...
He drifted on from this to a vision of the old-timer on Sulphur Creek He could see him quite clearly, warm and comfortable, and smoking a pipe. "You were right, old hoss; you were right," the man mumbled to the old-timer of Sulphur Creek.
It is in this way, then, that the man admits his own failings. Unfortunately, he admits them too late.
This is an interesting question! My first thought was that the guy should have done his homework. He should have done some research, taken lessons, or asked people what to do. He has false confidence, and that can get you killed more than anything.
The man is called chechaquo meaning newcomer. His first mistake was not having any fear:
...he is not afraid of the cold, which he estimates at fifty degrees below zero.
He has no extra supplies. He should have had extra socks and shoes. Then when he wet his feet, he could have changed into dry socks and shoes:
The man is traveling on foot; all he has by way of supplies is his lunch.
Even the dog knows it is too cold to be out:
It knows instinctively that the temperature is actually seventy-five below zero and that no one should be out in such ‘‘tremendous cold.’’
The man was warned by the old-timer not to travel alone. He remembers thinking how feminine the old-timer was. He remembers his words now:
...he remembers the old-timers ‘‘womanish’’ injunction against traveling alone in temperatures colder than minus fifty.
He did at least heed to the old man's advice about building a fire. However, he built the fire under the tree. The man should have built the fire out in the opened space. As he pulled twigs from the tree, the snow on the tree limbs fell into the fire:
It was his own fault, or, rather, his mistake. He should not have built the fire under the spruce-tree. He should have built it in the open. But it had been easier to pull the twigs from the brush and drop them directly on the fire.
This meant the man was in serious danger. Without a fire, he could not survive. When the fire went out, the man was overcome with fear:
The man was shocked. It was as though he had just heard his own sentence of death.