Jack London is a really interesting writer who normally uses the outdoors for his settings in each book. “To Build a Fire” is set in the heart of Alaska during the coldest of times. London using the outdoors as a setting also means that nature can become a character during the story as well as an actual person. Jack London is a writer who really brings out the characters’ personalities and can bring so much more to each character. Not only did he write such a great short story, but the story teaches the reader a moral by the time they are done reading.
In Jack London’s story “To Build a Fire” the reader knows right from the introduction that the story will be set outside in harsh conditions. “The Yukon lay a mile wide and hidden under three feet of ice… Fifty degrees below zero meant eighty-odd degrees of frost” (London 120). This quote shows the conditions that the man in the story will be traveling through. The Yukon is an area in Alaska where the weather is the strangest and the harshest. Only, this quote is not truthful because he only wanted to think it was fifty below.
Later on is where the narrator tells the exact temperature and the man knows it’s dangerous; “It was seventy-five below zero” (121). This cold of weather is where the problem in the story rises. The man got advice from an older man who told him it’s unsafe to travel in this harsh of weather, but if you have to you should travel with a buddy. The man did not follow the elder’s words, and went off with just his dog. This is where readers see the character’s personality coming out. There are three main characters in “To Build a Fire. Not all the characters are human though, which is okay.
Characters do not have to be human, and when they aren’t all human, it makes the story more interesting. The characters consist of the man, the dog, and the cold weather, or just the weather in general. First the man is the main character; you could call him the protagonist. Even though he does not really do anything right in the story, he has good intentions. The man is an ignorant person though. The reader sees this first when refuses to believe how cold it is outside and how harsh the conditions really are (London 120).
Because he refuses to believe how cold it is, he refuses to listen to the man who gave him advice about traveling. The reader can see how unaware he is of what’s going on after he breaks through the ice. The dog instantly gets out of the water and takes care of himself by removing ice chunks. The man just tries to build a fire in impossible weather with freezing fingers (123). The man only makes mistakes after this point, but at least he realizes that he did wrong. “It was his own fault or, rather, his mistake. He should not have built the fire under the spruce tree” (125).
This is when the snow from a branch fell and put his fire out-cold. After this moment, the man literally was done for. Not everyone can survive in a story, and this character is the one that does not. He tries to get a fire going again, but fails. The reader sees desperate emotion come from the man when he knows he is going to die, but will do anything to try and survive. The man knows that blood flow is what keeps you alive and warm when you’re walking, so he tries to run and warm himself up (128). The character shows fear of death by trying so hard to survive.
Running around only made things worse, he was already tired and freezing. “He fell down a second time… this time the shivering came more quickly upon the man. He was losing the battle against the frost” (128). The dog on the other hand had much better instincts the man and he actually listened to them. The dog is another character in the story because he participates in what is happening, and the narrator follows what he does as well. The dog is the man’s partner while traveling. Sure it’s nice to have company, but the man should have had a human with him.
Any animal has instincts when the weather is too bad to travel or when the weather is good enough to be playing or hunting. The dog knew it was too cold out, but because he was traveling with the man, he knew he had to follow or he could get beaten. “This man did not know cold. Possibly all the generations of his ancestry had been ignorant of cold, of real cold, of cold one hundred and seven degrees below the freezing point. But the dog knew; all its ancestry knew and it had inherited the knowledge. And it knew that it was not good to walk abroad in such fearful cold.
It was time to lie snug in a hole in the snow” (London 123). The dog just wanted to be able to keep himself warm, and he knew exactly what to do to survive. “It made quick efforts to lick the ice off its legs, then dropped down in the snow and began to bite out the ice that had formed between the toes. This was a matter of instinct” (122). The dog knew what to do to save himself from freezing to death after an event occurring that should kill anybody. The dog is smarter than the man and definitely not ignorant for the way he reacts to a situation.
The way the dog acts throughout the whole story shows how instincts beat anything in such excessive conditions. The dog is the first survivor of the three characters, but none of these events would have happened if it wasn’t for the third character. The weather is a character in this story because it’s treating the man and the dog with such cruelty that the reader can call the weather the antagonist. The severely cold conditions are what first cause any difficulty for the two tangible characters. The cold is also what results in the death of the man in the end of the story.
The weather is the antagonist because the weather is what causes so much trouble for the man and the dog. Only the man doesn’t know how to do right, so he is defeated by a non-tangible character. The weather is what makes the dog smarter than the man. The weather brings out instincts in the dog, so he will defeat the weather. The weather survives the story, because weather will never die. Weather may have not done what it should, such as kill both man and dog, but the weather succeeded in the death of the ignorant man.
Jack London is a writer of nature and especially nature during the winter months. “To Build a Fire” is a short story that in the end, teaches the reader a moral about life; a moral about what to do during harsh conditions, and a moral about elders. The moral or morals of this story is to follow your instincts. If you follow your instincts during such harsh times, you might have a better chance of surviving. The other moral is to listen to your elders. Elders know best because they have experienced almost everything.
If you listen to advice from somebody who knows what they are talking about, you should be sure to survive. If the man would have just done everything he was told, maybe he wouldn’t have frozen to death in the middle of nowhere. The dog was smart and followed his instincts; this is why he survived weather that is almost impossible to survive. There are three characters in this short story, all with their own personality and all with a different ending. This is why Jack London writes such interesting stories and why he can write a story with a moral.