To Build a Fire by Jack London

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Introduction

So you’re going to teach Jack London’s “To Build a Fire.” Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, London's short story has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. While it presents challenging material—the cruel indifference of nature, the flaw of excessive masculine pride—teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. Studying “To Build a Fire” will give them unique insight into naturalism, perseverance, and important themes surrounding free will, tragedy, and the enduring human instinct to survive. This guide highlights some of the most salient aspects of the text before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Publication Date: 1908 
  • Recommended Grade Level: 7-9 
  • Approximate Word Count: 7, 200 
  • Author: Jack London 
  • Country of Origin: United States 
  • Genre: Tragedy, Adventure 
  • Literary Period: Realism, Naturalism 
  • Conflict: Person vs. Person, Person vs. Nature, Person vs. Self 
  • Narration: Third-Person Omniscient 
  • Setting: Yukon Territory, Canada, Turn of the 20th Century 
  • Structure: Short Story 
  • Mood: Tense, Cold, Dispassionate


Texts that Go Well with “To Build a Fire”

The Call of the Wild (1903) and White Fang (1906) are both full-length novels by Jack London that explore similar thematic and geographical terrain as “To Build a Fire.” Both are set in the Yukon Territory during the Klondike Gold Rush and cast dogs as central characters, a narrative choice that allows London to widen his scope beyond merely human affairs. 

The Giver (1993) by Lois Lowry is a futuristic dystopian novel set in a society where everything from a citizen’s career to their spouse is designated by the central government. The novel follows Jonas, a twelve-year-old boy who is selected to carry the collective memories of his community. As Jonas realizes the drawbacks of living in an authoritarian society, he decides to leave his community and survive in the cold, bleak environment that lies beyond. 

The Grapes of Wrath (1939) by John Steinbeck is another iconic example of naturalism. Set during the Great Depression, The Grapes of Wrath follows the Joad family as they leave their home in the Midwest and travel to California in hopes of finding jobs and a prosperous life. The Grapes of Wrath considers the capacity for humans to be both cruel and kind in the wake of economic...

(The entire section is 581 words.)