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“To Build a Fire” by Jack London Essay

In Jack London’s short story, “To Build a Fire”, the setting is more than just a setting. It functions as many different things. Including, creating meaning by expressing the scenery, and by letting the reader become aware of the animal’s thoughts. Characterizing is another way the author used the setting. Weather was the truer antagonist in this story with its temperature and snow-hiding dangers to try and defeat the man. Even with everything against the unnamed man; his ignorance, meaning, and the weather he still keeps going past the point of return.

One way the setting functions in this story is how it creates meaning by telling us that this was not a good day to venture out on your own. As stated by London, “There was no sun nor hint of sun, though there was not a cloud in the sky. It was a clear day, and yet there seemed an intangible pall over the face of things, a subtle gloom that made the day dark, and that was due to the absence of sun.” (London, par.1) Even the dog knew that the man should not have gone out on this journey. “The animal was depressed by the tremendous cold. It knew that it was no time for traveling. Its instinct told it a truer tale than was told to the man by the man’s judgment.” (London, pg. 131)

Another way the setting functions is the way the author uses it to characterize the unnamed man as arrogant and ignorant. “This man did not know cold…had been ignorant of cold, of real cold, of cold one hundred and seven degrees below freezing point.” (London, par. 16) Even the dog knew better than the unnamed man. “But the dog knew; all its ancestry knew, and it had inherited the knowledge. And it knew it was not good to walk abroad in such fearful cold.” (London, par.16) The man’s ignorance was also shown when he had forgotten to build a fire to thaw out.

The man’s ignorance was not the only thing against him in the story. The landscape was against him by allowing the man to feel secure again and again, and then tear that feeling apart, as expressed when reading “And then it happened. At a place where there were no signs, where the soft, unbroken snow seemed to advertise solidity beneath, the man broke through.” Then again after the man built a fire underneath a spruce tree so that he could be near the twigs he needed, the tree dumps snow from its boughs and puts out the much needed warmth. The weather wasn’t any less of an antagonist in the story either. The man believed that with the temperature being fifty degrees below freezing it wasn’t a big deal. He was wrong. This, in the end, killed the man.

In conclusion, much can be learned from Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”. For instance, how the setting was used to create the meaning of the story. Secondly, how characterizing was shown by using the setting. Finally, the weather was shown to be the greatest antagonist to the man by ending up being the very thing that took his life.

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