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.

Frequently Asked Questions about To Build a Fire

To Build a Fire

The narrative point of view adopted by London in “To Build a Fire” serves to give the story a clinically detached tone, which is not what readers might ordinarily expect in a tale that deals with...

Latest answer posted September 25, 2020, 11:40 am (UTC)

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To Build a Fire

In Jack London's short story "To Build a Fire," the protagonist makes the fatal decision to travel through the treacherous Yukon alone in freezing temperatures seventy-five degrees below zero. In...

Latest answer posted September 25, 2020, 12:14 pm (UTC)

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To Build a Fire

The protagonist’s fatal flaw, the personal quality that leads to his eventual downfall, is the fact that he is “without imagination,” according to the narrator. He is new to the Yukon Territory,...

Latest answer posted September 25, 2020, 12:54 pm (UTC)

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To Build a Fire

In “To Build a Fire,” as in many of Jack London's stories, the central conflict is between mankind and nature. And here as elsewhere, that conflict is resolved firmly in favor of nature, as the man...

Latest answer posted September 25, 2020, 11:25 am (UTC)

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To Build a Fire

In “To Build a Fire,” the protagonist is traveling to “the old claim on the left fork of Henderson Creek, where the boys were already.” This is an area in the Yukon Territory of Canada where there...

Latest answer posted September 25, 2020, 11:48 am (UTC)

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To Build a Fire

Jack London's short story "To Build a Fire" is a work of brutal, unrelenting naturalism, portraying the conflict of mankind against nature. The man is not given a name because he is not intended to...

Latest answer posted September 25, 2020, 11:30 am (UTC)

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To Build a Fire

This is the protagonist’s first winter in the Yukon, and he seems to believe, at first, that it is only about fifty degrees below zero. He spits into the air, knowing that spittle will freeze on...

Latest answer posted September 25, 2020, 11:23 am (UTC)

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To Build a Fire

While the unnamed protagonist in “To Build a Fire” believes that he can undertake a journey across the Yukon Territory in extremely cold conditions, the dog accompanying him understands the peril...

Latest answer posted September 25, 2020, 11:53 am (UTC)

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To Build a Fire

Jack London’s "To Build a Fire" is an example of naturalistic writing, a depiction of an elemental struggle between man and nature. In this story, published in 1908, London follows a nameless man...

Latest answer posted September 25, 2020, 2:36 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

To Build a Fire

Jack London's short story “To Build A Fire” tells the story of an unnamed man and his dog, a husky, who set out on a journey across the Yukon Territory in northern Canada. However, it is winter,...

Latest answer posted September 25, 2020, 12:24 pm (UTC)

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To Build a Fire

During the course of this short story, there are three fires—or rather, there are two fires and a third attempt at making a fire. The first fire is at the creek's divide, where the man and his dog...

Latest answer posted September 25, 2020, 11:35 am (UTC)

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To Build a Fire

I would argue that "To Build a Fire" suggests that death is inevitable in certain circumstances, despite one's best efforts to stay alive. It also reminds us of the importance of heeding warnings...

Latest answer posted September 25, 2020, 11:20 am (UTC)

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To Build a Fire

After the protagonist of "To Build a Fire" fails to rekindle his fire, he becomes desperate and looks for other solutions. In this compromised state, he decides to kill the dog so that he can place...

Latest answer posted September 25, 2020, 2:08 pm (UTC)

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To Build a Fire

"To Build a Fire" is more precisely described as a work of naturalism than one of realism. Realism is literary movement that tries to represent the world as it is, both externally—in terms of plot...

Latest answer posted September 25, 2020, 11:48 am (UTC)

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To Build a Fire

In Jack London's "To Build a Fire," the only two characters are a man and a dog, alone and freezing to death in the Yukon territory. The protagonist is the man, who remains unnamed throughout the...

Latest answer posted September 25, 2020, 11:53 am (UTC)

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To Build a Fire

The lesson of “To Build a Fire” is that humans must show proper deference to nature and understand that it cannot be overpowered. In addition, humans must not allow excessive pride to cloud their...

Latest answer posted September 24, 2020, 11:50 am (UTC)

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To Build a Fire

London's "To Build a Fire" is inspired by his time in the Klondike. While it is not strictly autobiographical, London did endure severe cold in the winter of 1897 in Dawson City. The story...

Latest answer posted September 24, 2020, 11:57 am (UTC)

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To Build a Fire

In Jack London's short story "To Build a Fire," a husky—or "proper wolf-dog"—obediently accompanies his owner on a treacherous journey through the Yukon in weather that is seventy-five degrees...

Latest answer posted September 24, 2020, 2:30 pm (UTC)

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To Build a Fire

Through the protagonist's struggle to survive his harsh, freezing environment, the fire comes to symbolize life in "To Build a Fire." At first, the fire is connected to the man's ability to eat, a...

Latest answer posted September 24, 2020, 11:45 am (UTC)

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To Build a Fire

The narrator of “To Build a Fire” is third-person omniscient. The narrator is not a participant in the events that take place, and they are not a real character, but they know—and can report on—the...

Latest answer posted September 24, 2020, 1:39 pm (UTC)

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