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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What is the setting of Jack London's "To Build a Fire"?

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"To Build a Fire" is set in the Yukon territory in west Canada.

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The famous short story "To Build a Fire" by Jack London tells of a man, accompanied by a dog, struggling for survival in forbidding primeval wilderness. Its setting is "spruce timberland" in the Yukon Territory of Canada. The land is hidden under several feet of snow, and the man is so far north that the sun has been absent for days. The temperature is about 75 degrees below zero, cold enough to freeze spit before it reaches the ground. The man is following a trail that continues a long way through this wilderness, as London explains:

This dark hairline was the trail—the main trail—that led south five hundred miles to the Chilcoot Pass, Dyea, and salt water; and that led north seventy miles to Dawson, and still on to the north a thousand miles to Nulato, and finally to St. Michael on Bering Sea, a thousand miles and half a thousand more.

The man is making only a day trip, though, and expecting to arrive at "the old claim on the left fork of Henderson Creek, where the boys were already" by six o'clock in the evening, shortly after dark. The man travels through level stretches of woods cut by small creeks and streams, some of which contain treacherous small springs that never completely freeze over. One of these springs, which the man stumbles into, proves to be his downfall.

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The story "To Build a Fire" takes place on the Yukon trail. The first line of the story is "Day had dawned cold and gray when the man turned aside from the main Yukon trail." Even for the Yukon, the day is very cold, and there is no sun. The Yukon lies under a thick blanket of snow and ice. The only thing that stands out in the whiteness of the snow is the black line marking the Yukon Trail, which travels 500 miles to the Chilcoot Pass and to salt water. It also leads 75 miles north to Dawson and then 1,500 miles further to the Bering Sea. The temperature is 75 degrees below zero, which does not mean much to the man in the story because he doesn't understand it. After all, he is a newcomer to the Yukon.

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What is the setting in "To Build A Fire"?

The short story "To Build a Fire" by Jack London is set in Yukon territory in west Canada. At the beginning of the story, we know the protagonist has come from the Yukon River, because the story begins with the main character stopping on the Yukon trail to look back toward the Yukon River. It is, the author states, an "exceedingly cold and gray" day, and the protagonist has foolishly ignored warnings and ventured out into the wilderness.

The author describes what the man looks back at as follows:

The Yukon lay a mile wide and hidden under three feet of ice. On top of this ice were as many feet of snow. It was all pure white, rolling in gentle undulations where the ice jams of the freeze-up had formed. North and south, as far as his eye could see, it was unbroken white, save for a dark hairline that curved and twisted from around the spruce-covered island.

The unnamed main character starts to walk toward what he calls the "old claim," on the left fork of Henderson Creek, where he is meeting his friends. He makes it to the "forks" in good time, but he then starts to suffer from frostbite in his fingers. The story ends with the man falling unconscious in the snow.

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What is the setting in "To Build A Fire"?

As the previous post points out, the story is set in the Yukon and in this case the man leaving town is a newcomer, someone not accustomed to the Yukon and its dangers.  he is confident and brash and he doesn't pay attention to the fact that it is also probably 50-60 degrees below freezing and even the dog knows they shouldn't be travelling in this type of weather.

The man is leaving the town to proceed on the trail to a fork of the Henderson Creek where his friends have set up a mining camp.  The story takes place along the trail as the man is alone except for a dog that travels with him.

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What is the setting of "To Build a Fire" by Jack London?

When the story opens, it is morning and the man and his dog are in the Yukon. The Yukon is the northwestern part of Canada and lies east of Alaska. London describes the sky as "cold and grey, exceedingly cold and grey." The man thinks it must be fifty degrees below zero. "Undoubtedly it was colder than fifty below—how much colder he did not know." 

There are no clouds, but there is no sun. The landscape is cold and covered in snow and ice. The sky is gloomy. "It was a clear day, and yet there seemed an intangible pall over the face of things, a subtle gloom that made the day dark, and that was due to the absence of sun." From the north to the south, all he can see is snow. There is only one strip of spruce trees that breaks up the ubiquitous ice and snow. London makes it a point to describe how cold and unforgiving the landscape and weather are. He also stresses how the foolish man is initially not concerned about this. He is new to this area. This is what will lead to his downfall. He does not understand how dangerously cold it really is.

This is a good example of Naturalism in literature. Whereas some Naturalist works focus on social forces, stories like "To Build a Fire" highlight the power and reality of nature. 

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