To Build a Fire by Jack London

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Key Plot Points

The Man Enters the Yukon Wild: An unnamed man hikes through Canada’s frozen Yukon, headed for a camp on Henderson Creek. It is more than fifty degrees below zero, so cold that his saliva instantly turns to ice when it leaves his mouth. He can feel his face freezing and regrets not wearing a nose guard. A husky, described as a wolf-dog, travels with him. The dog senses danger. 

A Fall through the Ice: Despite being careful, the man falls through a thin patch of ice and gets wet up to his knees. He is forced to stop and light a fire in order to warm himself and survive. Unfortunately, he builds his fire beneath a pine tree, and snow falls from the pine tree onto the fire, extinguishing it. The man remembers advice an old man gave him before he left: that no one should hike alone in such cold conditions. 

Fire in the Clearing: Now that his hands are completely numb, the man struggles to ignite another fire. He lights a match with his teeth, but it falls into the snow. He is able to light the entire matchbook book at once, holding it between his wrists and burning his fingers in the process. However, without his hands, he is unable to feed the fire, and it dwindles and quickly goes out. 

The Man Desperately Attacks the Dog: The man remembers a story of another traveler who, caught in a storm, killed an animal and took shelter within its carcass. The man tries to follow suit and attack his dog. He plans to warm his hands within the dog’s carcass. Though the dog can sense the anxiety in the man’s voice, he approaches the man. The man attempts to grasp the dog, but, without the use of his hands, the man is unable to kill the dog. 

The Man Accepts the Inevitability of Death: In a last attempt at survival, the man tries to run the rest of the way to the camp at Henderson Creek but fatigues. Falling into the snow, the man realizes his foolishness in making the trek alone and decides to meet death with dignity. The man drifts into a comfortable sleep, freezing to death. The dog howls before setting off for the camp.