illustration fo a man in winter clothes lying on the snow under a tree with a dog standing near him

To Build a Fire

by Jack London

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In "To Build a Fire," what old-timer's advice does the man ignore?

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The newcomer foolishly ignores the old timer's advice by traveling throughout the Yukon territory alone when it is below fifty degrees in order to meet his friends at the next human settlement by six o'clock. The old man on Sulphur Creek had warned him that it is unsafe to travel alone in the wilderness when it is below fifty degrees. Despite the warning and valuable advice, the newcomer laughs at the old man and considers the old man "womanish" after he successfully starts his second fire underneath the pine tree. The newcomer foolishly ignores the old man's advice by traveling through the treacherous Yukon territory in negative seventy-five-degree weather alone. The newcomer travels alone with his dog, which is a terrible decision in such severe, dangerous conditions. Tragically, the newcomer gets his feet wet and cannot successfully build a third fire after his second fire goes out. The foolish newcomer ends up freezing to death alone in the wilderness when he is unable to successfully build a fire and should have listened to the old man's advice.

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The "old-timer" in the story gives the man a very important piece of advice that he chooses to ignore.  According to the old-timer on Sulphur creek, "No man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below." This was for safety's sake.  When conditions are that cold a man can die very quickly should anything happen.  Traveling with a partner can save your life.

At first the man actually scoffs at the advice "Those old-timers were rather womanish, some of them, he thought. All a man had to do was to keep his head, and he was all right. Any man who was a man could travel alone." But after the snow falls on his fire and puts it out he realizes the geezer was right: "Perhaps the old-timer on Sulphur Creek was right. If he had only had a trail-mate he would have been in no danger now."

So there's your answer.  The man ignores the old-dude's advice to never travel alone when it was so cold out.

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In "To Build a Fire," why did the man not follow the advice of the old timer from Sulfur Creek?

Inexperience is the reason the man did not follow the old-timer's advice. Ignorance is dangerous. It leads to the man's downfall. By the time he realized he should not have traveled alone, it was too late. Also, as mentioned above, the man "thinks" he knows best. He referred to the old-timer as "womanish." The man is convinced that the old-timer is exaggerating. It is the same old story. Wisdom comes from experience and age. The man learns the hard way and loses his life.

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In "To Build a Fire," why did the man not follow the advice of the old timer from Sulfur Creek?

Arrogant, naive, self-absorbed, some or all of these traits enter into why the man could recall advice yet not follow it. In addition, there is the suggestion in him of the sense of the superiority of youth. This sense of understanding feels (perhaps not thinks ...) that age remembers only weakness and failure, thus precluding the opposite understanding, which is that age might have mined preservation and wisdom.

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In "To Build a Fire," why did the man not follow the advice of the old timer from Sulfur Creek?

Why does anyone ignore advice?  He thinks he knows better!  This is a perfect example of hubris.  He can figure it out, and he doesn't need help from anyone else.  Remembering the advice and not following it is an act of defiance.

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In "To Build a Fire," why did the man not follow the advice of the old timer from Sulfur Creek?

As a "chequaquo"--a newcomer--the man is inexperienced to the region and oblivious to the deadly hardships he faces. Much like a teenager who believes that bad things only happen to other people, the man chose not to believe the advice from the old timer, thinking it was only an old wives' tale rather than wisdom gained through hard-earned experience. 

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In "To Build a Fire," why did the man not follow the advice of the old timer from Sulfur Creek?

Two words:  pride and stubbornness.  The answer to your question is the exact thing that makes the man such a tragic character.  In regards to pride, the man thinks far too much of himself to admit that another character has far more experience, knowhow, and even instinct where the weather of the arctic is concerned.  Further, in regards to stubbornness, even after the realization that the Old Timer from Sulfur Creek might be right, the man is too stubborn to change his ways.

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In "To Build a Fire," why did the man not follow the advice of the old timer from Sulfur Creek?

Jack London tends to write characters like this into his books and stories.  He often has characters like this who do not know what they are doing and are too arrogant to admit it.  We see that in this story as well as in The Call of the Wild, where Charles, Hal and Mercedes get themselves killed because of their arrogance just like in this story.

London is trying to emphasize the rigors of nature and the idea that those who can deal successfully with nature are those who are both skilled and intelligent.

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In "To Build a Fire," why did the man not follow the advice of the old timer from Sulfur Creek?

Throughout the story we are presented with the central unnamed protagonist and his arrogance and over-confidence. It is this, above all, surely that made him ignore the advice of the old timer in Sulfur Creek who is far more experienced than he is and has the respect and understanding of nature that the protagonist lacks. Again and again, throughout the story, the protagonist refers back to the old timer at Sulfur Creek and the advice that he had been given. Consider the following example after the fire was extinguished by the falling snow:

Perhaps the old-timer on Sulfur Creek was right. If he had only had a trail mate, he would have been in no danger now. The trail mate could have built the fire.

At each stage we see the advice that was given, such as this bit of advice, was sensible and wise, but at each stage, the man shows himself to be lacking in humility and understanding of the bleak territory he is entering:

He was a newcomer to the land, a cheechako, and this was his first winter. The trouble with him was that he was without imagination.

For him, as a newcomer who had never experienced a winter at all, it must have been his own belief in himself and his abilities that caused him to ignore the advice from one so experienced as the old timer.

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