To Build a Fire Study Guide
Introduction to To Build a Fire
“To Build a Fire” is one of Jack London’s best-known short stories. He first published “To Build a Fire” in 1902, but his 1908 revision of the story is generally considered the authoritative version. “To Build a Fire” is about an unnamed man who journeys through the Yukon to a camp, accompanied by a dog. Faced with extremely cold temperatures, the man’s margin for error is miniscule.
London drew on his own experiences in the Klondike Gold Rush in the 1890s, when roughly one hundred thousand prospectors traveled to the Yukon territory in search of gold. The resulting story is considered an exemplar of naturalism, a literary movement that emerged in the late nineteenth century and that emphasized a realistic, objective view of human experience. Accordingly, “To Build a Fire” attends only to the cold, hard facts of the man’s grim situation as he struggles to survive against the immense and indifferent forces of nature.
A Brief Biography of Jack London
Jack London (1876–1916) wrote rugged adventure stories, and that comes as no surprise. He was mainly raised by a formerly enslaved woman named Virginia Prentiss due to his mother’s illness. His father left the family when Jack was just a baby, and London began working in a cannery when he was just thirteen. After that, he spent several years as a sailor. He went back to his birthplace of California a few years later and began writing about his experiences. London joined in the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897 and developed several health problems, including scurvy. A year later, he began his writing career in earnest and went on to author many short stories and novels, including his best-known works, The Call of the Wild and White Fang, which are still popular to this day.