In "To Build a Fire," why does the man have to build a fire before he can eat his lunch?

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timbrady eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This incident is important for advancing the plot.  By this time the dog had already fallen through the water, but had the sense to bite the ice that is on his feet.  The dog, part of nature, has instinct which tells him how to deal with the incredibly harsh conditions it is in, that if he does not get rid of the ice, his feet will get sore, he will not be able to walk, and he will die.  London makes a point of telling us that "It did not know this. It merely obeyed the mysterious prompting that arose from the deep crypts of its being."  When the man removes a glove to help the dog he is "astonished at the swift numbness that smote them."  His awareness of the severity of the cold leads him to build the first fire.  This fire is successful, and he is able to warm up and eat his lunch.  This just adds to his arrogance, his belief that he can "control" nature, that no matter how cold it gets, he is in charge.  Later, partly due to his careless and partly due to his alientation from nature, he finds out just how wrong he was ....

junebug614 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

He is wearing gloves to protect his hands, so he cannot eat until he takes them off; therefore, he must have the fire available to warm his hands or they may freeze in the severe cold.  At this point in the story, it is colder than 50 below zero.