To Build a Fire Questions and Answers
by Jack London

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What's the setting of the story "To Build a Fire" by Jack London?

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Philip Arrington eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The famous short story "To Build a Fire" by Jack London tells of a man, accompanied by a dog, struggling for survival in forbidding primeval wilderness. Its setting is "spruce timberland" in the Yukon Territory of Canada. The land is hidden under several feet of snow, and the man is so far north that the sun has been absent for days. The temperature is about 75 degrees below zero, cold enough to freeze spit before it reaches the ground. The man is following a trail that continues a long way through this wilderness, as London explains:

This dark hairline was the trail—the main trail—that led south five hundred miles to the Chilcoot Pass, Dyea, and salt water; and that led north seventy miles to Dawson, and still on to the north a thousand miles to Nulato, and finally to St. Michael on Bering Sea, a thousand miles and half a thousand more.

The man is making only a day trip, though, and expecting to arrive at "the old claim on the left fork of Henderson Creek, where the boys were already" by six o'clock in the evening, shortly after dark. The man travels through level stretches of woods cut by small creeks and streams, some of which contain treacherous small springs that never completely freeze over. One of these springs, which the man stumbles into, proves to be his downfall.

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Olen Bruce eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The story "To Build a Fire" takes place on the Yukon trail. The first line of the story is "Day had dawned cold and gray when the man turned aside from the main Yukon trail." Even for the Yukon, the day is very cold, and there is no sun. The Yukon lies under a thick blanket of snow and ice. The only thing that stands out in the whiteness of the snow is the black line marking the Yukon Trail, which travels 500 miles to the Chilcoot Pass and to salt water. It also leads 75 miles north to Dawson and then 1,500 miles further to the Bering Sea. The temperature is 75 degrees below zero, which does not mean much to the man in the story because he doesn't understand it. After all, he is a newcomer to the Yukon.

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