“To Build a Fire” is a short story written by Jack London, published in 1908. The story takes place in the Yukon when a man mistakenly ventures off the main train during the freezing winter with only a dog, who he shares no bond with, as a companion. His goal in to meet up with some friends who have set up in an old camp on Henderson Creek by 6 o’clock that night. It is seen from the beginning that he is incredibly inexperienced and overly confident when he underestimates the dangers of the treacherous weather even though he has been warned by a more knowledgeable old man on Sulphur Creek.
It is not until it is certain that he will die that he truly realizes how much dangler he foolishly put himself in. This man ignores multiple warning signs and makes numerous naive and senseless assumptions about the dangerous weather that directly leads to his pain, fear and ultimately, his death. At the beginning of his excursion, the man makes several ignorant assumptions about the severe weather that ultimately lead to his death. It is nine o’clock in the morning when he looks at the sky. He sees there is no sun and even though the sky is clear, he does not expect the sun to rise because of its absence over the last couple of days.
This fact combined would worry most people, especially if they are alone, but it does not even phase this man. He is so confident in himself that he falsely believes doesn’t need the sun even though this is his first winter in this land. He also sees the fifty degree below zero temperature as “uncomfortable, and that was all” (London 65). He does not truly understand what fifty degrees below zero means because “50 degrees below zero was to him nothing more than 50 degrees below zero” (London 65).
He knows the temperature means he has to wear warmer clothes to protect himself against the frost but that is it. Even when the temperature got to seventy-five below zero he thought to himself, “What was a little frost? A bit painful, that was all. It was never serious. ” (London 68). The man believes that he is invisible to the weather and nothing will seriously affect him in any way. He is not even phased when he discovers that the water freezes before it hits the ground and he is unable to spit his tobacco out of his mouth because his lips, along with the rest of his face, are frozen.
As his journey continues he finds his fingers have become numb and expresses surprise as if he believes the temperatures would not affect him. This attitude of invincibility against the weather, without a doubt, would lead to his death. It is not until he realizes his toes are also numb that he begins to feel “somewhat frightened” of the temperature and its possible permanent affects. Even after his first fire is put out by the falling show from the tree, he knew each second without the fire were freezing more and more but he never truly accepted this fact into his thoughts.
He would never be able to survive the journey to Henderson Creek because of his assumptions that the weather is a weak and powerless element that could not affect him. In addition to the weather, there are numerous warning sign that this man foolishly choses to ignore. The first is the fact that the train he takes is rarely taken on a good day let alone during the harsh conditions of winter. He makes his journey even more difficult by choosing a train that is not well marked and that collected several inches of snow since the last sled went by.
He even continues to walk along a frozen stream them no one had been by in at least a month. When locals who are familiar with the land stop taking a certain trail, there is usually a good reason why. Unfortunately, this man neglects to recognize this act which leads to him falling through the ice into the Henderson Creek. Of course this does not bother the man at first because of his ignorance he believes this will only set him back a few hours which is a huge underestimation because this mistake is what ultimately leads him to his death.
The man is also given a lifesaving tip from an old man on Sulphur Creek, a tip that would save his life if he chooses to take it. The knowledgeable old man on Sulphur Creek tells him before his journey that he should not travel alone in that area after the temperature reaches fifty degrees below zero. Because f this man’s ignorance he chooses to ignore the old man’s warning leaving him with no one but the dog to help him when he falls into the creek. His ignorance even leads him to believe he is fine being alone after he falls in because he starts the fire on his own.
He is so confident that he thinks to himself, “he had had the accident; he was alone; and he had saved himself. Those old men were rather womanish” (London 72). He soon realizes how wrong he is when the snow falls from the tree and smothers his fire leaving him helpless because his hands are completely numb. After several failed attempts at starting a new ire and all of his matches are gone he finally wishes he had a companion to help and realizes, “Perhaps the old man on Sulphur Creek was right” (London 73). If he chose to listen to the old man’s warning, he might have made it to the camp alieve.
Throughout the man’s journey, even his dog shows signs of hesitation and fear of the treacherous weather and terrane. The dog does not know anything about how temperature works or what temperature is considered freezing but it does know that it is dangerous and that they should find shelter or build a fire. The animal is more worried about the temperature then the man. It knows that they should not be out even though it does not have full understanding like a human. He only follows the man reluctantly with its tail low to the ground.
The man has to push him to walk across the iced over creek because it could since the danger that it is walking into. Even though it does not have the same understanding as the man, the dog “knew that it was not good to walk outside in such fearful cold” (London 70). If the man would have paid attention to the dog’s instincts he might have avoided the dangerous situations he puts himself in. The man’s false assumptions about the weather and his lindness to the various warning he is provided is what ultimately leads to him to his death.
If he had just recognized one of the warning signs he is provided with or realized at some point that he is not invincible he could have made it to the camp alive. Instead he chooses to believe everything will be fine and a little cold cannot hurt him. He is provided with sigh after sign which he chooses to ignore again and again. It is not until the end, when he is about to die and it is too late to go back, that he realizes his foolish mistakes. In the end, the only person the man has to blame for his death is himself.