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A Critical Analysis of “To Build a Fire” by Jack Landon

By  Alessandro

10659152_844793488888037_1985401570972656319_n* A 5th Semester student

A man, along with his dog, wanted to get to a mining camp where his friends had been waiting for him. He knew that once he got to the mining camp, he would enjoy delicious bacon and the warmth of campfires. Before the man made his journey, an old-timer reminded that under no circumstance should one go to Yukon. Nevertheless, the man ignored the advice owing to his notion that the old timer was just womanish and powerless. He knew that there was no sun while he was traveling. The absence of the sun did not seem to worry the man. It was only the dog who appeared to perceive the danger of the very cold weather in Yukon. The man was adequately shocked when his saliva had frozen even before it hit the ground. The man did not know how crazily cold the weather could be. He began to be more aware of the weather as his fingers went numb. He stopped for a while to build a fire to feel the warmth it could radiate. While he was sitting, he thought how great and brave he was to travel alone in Yukon when nobody else dared. The dog, on the other hand, kept wondering whether they had to continue the journey on such an undoubtedly cold day. The dog did not want to leave the warmth radiated by the fire when the man got up to continue walking. The man harshly forced the dog to leave the fire somehow.

Conflict

As the man was walking, he broke through the ice unintentionally. Accordingly, his legs were wet and he felt like his legs were frozen. There was nothing else he wanted to do other than to build a fire. He took out his match from his pocket while looking for a place to sit down for a while. The colder the weather was, the more he was reminded of the old-timer from sulfur creek.

Rising Action
The man was sitting under a spruce tree whose branches were covered by clumps of snow. As he was feeling the warmth of the fire, the heat of the fire caused the clumps of snow to melt. As a result of this, the clumps of snow fell down, putting out the fire. He stopped to think how unlucky he was because the fire he built was gone. Besides, he also thought how stupid he had been for not being aware of the spruce tree with clumps of snow on its branches. His fingers were so numb that it was very hard for his fingers to make movements. He attempted to build a fire again. He took out his box of matches. He could not even take a single match from the box because of his very cold fingers. What he did instead was to take a single match from the box by means of his teeth. However hard he tried to light it, he could not. Having no other choice, he tried to light all the matches simultaneously. Consequently, he successfully built a fire. He no sooner did a stupid thing than he built a fire. Because of his carelessness, he scattered them and the fire was pathetically gone.

Climax

He did not have any match to build a fire anymore. He realized that there was no other way he could build a fire, making him feel greatly desperate. The situation got much more serious than before. He had to find what could possibly make his body warm one way or another. Otherwise, he would inevitably die. Then, he found a crazily bright idea to kill the dog so that he could put his hands inside the dog’s warm body. He looked at the dog carefully and called out to him. The dog seemed to ignore the man, but suddenly the dog approached the man after the dog had been frightened enough by the man’s fearful voice. He tried to tackle the dog and kill it by attempting to give a killer bear hug. He failed anyway. The next attempt was to kill the dog by means of his knife. Without his flexible fingers, he could not use the knife to kill the dog. He let the dog go and ended up giving up killing the dog. He tried to run to the mining camp as fast as he could in hopes of restoring the blood circulation in his body. The camp was not so far away from the man at that time. All he wanted was to get to the camp and block out the thought that he would die soon enough. Unfortunately, he felt that his feet began to get frozen. He could not run anymore and decided to take a rest for quite some time. Having had enough rest, he forced himself to walk. He soon fell down again. Panicking, he run again for the last time. He fell down again miserably.

Falling Action

As the man knew that he had no other way to succeed in getting to the mining camp, he decided to meet death with dignity. He remembered that the told-timer from sulfur creek reminded him about the danger of traveling alone in Yukon when it was too cold. He could find himself being surrounded by his friends from mining camp. He genuinely admitted that the old timer was completely right and yet he did not seem to feel regretful for what he had done so far. Having made this sincere admission, he died.

To build a fire

 

Resolution

The dog was still sitting beside the man. Never had the dog seen a man sitting that way in such a very cold day without building a fire. The dog was confused about what exactly was going on. The dog looked at the man very closely and smelled the death on the man. After that, the dog howled and soon run towards the mining camp where it knew it could enjoy bacon and the warmth of fire.

Characters

The man: The character of the man is confidently stubborn because he ignores a piece of advice from the old-timer. Besides, he is so perseverant that he keeps trying despite difficulties. The man is the protagonist in the story, meaning that he is the main character of the story. He is in external conflict with the nature. The nature, therefore, is considered to be the antagonist. There are a lot of small chances made by the nature to kill the man. The man seems to also have internal conflict with himself because he does not want to feel regretful for ignoring the old-timer’s advice. He tries as best he could to prove that he has made a right decision to ignore that advice. The development of the man is static since he has changed nothing from the very beginning to the end of the story. He remains stubborn throughout the story. The appearance of this character is major because he is the protagonist and plays a very important role in the story. The side of the man is flat. The man does not meet many characters so it is not easy to get solid evidence for the man’s flat side. However, looking at the man’s character in the story, it can be said that it is flat. In addition, the character is not described in detail.

The dog: The dog is quite faithful to the man because he accompanies the man to travel in Yukon in spite of the danger. The dog has no conflict in this story. The development of this character is the same with the man, which is static. The dog has made no changed at all. The appearance of the dog is major because it is always together with the man, who is the main character of the story. The side of the dog is flat. The dog always accompanies the man and has shown different attitude towards no body.

The old-timer from sulfur creek: The old-timer is a wise and caring person. The old-timer is in no conflict. That the old –timer gives advice to the man is no conflict whatsoever. The development of this character is static because the old timer remains the same all the time. The appearance of this character is minor as the old-timer does not appear in the story as much as the man and the dog do. The side of the old-timer is flat. Despite the minor appearance in the story, the old-timer can be considered as a wise man. A wise man mostly shows the same attitude towards everybody.

The boys (the friends waiting in the camp): The boys have no particular character. The boys do not have any conflict. The development of the boys’ character is static because they are waiting in the camp all the time and there is no reason to say that their characters have changed. The appearance of the boys is minor because they only come at the end of the story. They seem to have met no body. It is evident to say that their side is flat.

Point of view

The story uses the third point of view instead of the first point of view because the narrator does not use the pronoun ‘I’. That pronoun is used when the story uses the first point of view, in which the narrator takes a role in the story. This story does not use the pronoun ‘I’; therefore, it uses the third point of view. The point of view in this story is not limited but omniscient for some reasons. The narrator seems to know everything in the story. Not only does the narrator know what is happening, but also what the characters are thinking about. “The dog knew that it was no time for traveling” proves why the narrator is omniscient. “He paused for breath at the top, excusing the act to himself by looking at his watch” is another proof. The omniscience of the narrator can also be seen by how the narrator judges the man, making the readers feel that the narrator knows everything about the man before he dares to judge. The narrator in this story is heterodiegetic because the narrator is not involved in the story at all.

Setting

Place: The stoker takes place in Yukon, a place somewhere in Alaska. The setting is really important in the story. The readers can feel how cold the weather in Yukon is. When the narrator tells that the fingers of the man went numb, the readers begin to imagine what it feels like. The setting plays an important role since it not only makes the readers emotionally involved in the story, but also makes the readers physically feel what the man is feeling in the story. There is a relevancy between the setting and the title. If the setting were in a place with hot weather, it would not make so much relation to the title “To build a fire”.

Time: It is during the great Klondike Gold Rush when there were a very large number of people who were eager in search of fortune.

Social: As a matter of fact, the social setting of this story does not depict any strong social value. How everybody behaves in the story is not different from most people in the world. The social setting in this story is not much of a particular social setting.

Tone and Style

The tone used by the narrator in this story is candid and unemotional. The narrator tells everything as the way they are, without much emotion involved. Sometimes, the narrator is subjective to some extent. The narrator judges the man based on what the narrator thinks. The writing style used by Jack London as the writer is direct and straightforward. The writer tells almost everything to the point whereas other writers tend to make things quite complicated so that it requires the readers to think critically. Despite the straightforward writing style, the sentence construction and the words make the readers imagine the situation in the story very vividly. Consequently, the readers feel as if there were in story and could position themselves as the man in the Yukon.

Symbolism

In this story, fire represents life. The story makes the readers somehow feel how important fire is. The man tries as hard as he could to build a fire because he knows that the presence of fire is what could make him survive in such a cold day. Fire is definitely essential, which is why the absence of it could bring misfortune to the man.

Hands, on the other hand, represent power. The man could not kill his dog because of his numb hands. One is powerless and defenseless without having much control of hands.

Themes

The theme of this story is about persistence. It suggests that persistence is necessary while achieving a goal. The man is surely persistent to go to the mining camp, but his being unaware of his surroundings puts him in danger. He is also overly confident and stubborn to have ignored the old-timer’s advice. No matter how hard one tries to get something, if the target does not make sense and is not realistic, he will fail one way or another. One needs to be persistent and aware of his surroundings.

Other important things to discuss

Type of arrangement in the story is foreshadowing. The story uses foreshadowing because there are a number of hints of what is going to happen next in the story. One of the hints is when the readers are told about the dog’s instinct that it is better not to travel in Yukon in such a cold day. The second one is the old-timer’s advice that under no circumstance should one go to Yukon without companion when it is very cold. In the middle of the story, the readers are made surer about the trueness of the earlier hints because of coincidentally unlucky occurrences the man experiences. The use of foreshadowing in this story is amazingly perfect because it builds up the climax.

The title of the story is to build a fire. The title is in to infinitive form instead of gerund form. This most likely suggests that it focuses more on the effort to build a fire rather than the success in building a fire. On the other hand, it also means that the process of building a fire is unfinished.

Closing

“To build a fire” is a very nice story to read. Not only does it have a plot which is well built, but it also has a deep meaning or a moral lesson to convey. Seldom could such a story be found in these days. The use of foreshadowing is amazingly perfect since it builds up the climax. This story teaches the readers that not only is one supposed to be persistent, but also aware of one’s surroundings. Persistence and awareness of surroundings have their own power and seem to complement each other. There is no doubt in mind why Jack London was famous and admired by readers loving to read works of literature. It makes the readers enjoy the paradise of literature. The analyzer of this paper knows that this analysis is far from perfection. Therefore, any kind of correction is warmly welcome.

 


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