The dog is a ‘‘big native husky’’ and the man’s only companion on the trail. While it depends upon the man for food and for warmth from campfires, the dog is ‘‘not concerned in the welfare of the man’’ and obeys him only to avoid being whipped. The dog is motivated by instinct. Critics Earle Labor and Jeanne Campbell Reesman describe the dog as a ‘‘foil’’ to the man. A foil is a character who sets off, or emphasizes, by way of contrast the traits of another character. In this case, the dog’s reliable instincts contrast with the man’s faulty human judgment. Unlike the man, the dog can sense that the temperature is below minus fifty degrees Fahrenheit, and despite the natural insulation provided by its fur coat, the dog does not travel willingly in such weather. After it falls into the water on the river trail, the dog instinctively knows how to save itself by cleaning the ice from its legs and feet. Later, while the man freezes to death as a result of his unreliable powers of reason, the dog instinctively knows how to survive by curling up in the snow; ultimately, it senses the man’s death and saves itself by leaving for camp on its own.
The protagonist in ‘‘To Build a Fire’’ is known simply as ‘‘the man.’’ He is a chechaquo, or newcomer, who undertakes a nine-hour walk in brutally cold weather to meet his companions at an old mining camp during his first winter in the Klondike. Accompanied by a dog but...
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