To Build a Fire Summary
To Build a Fire Summary
To build a fire; a short story written by Jack London, resides in the harsh and unforgiving environment of the Yukon Territory, Alaska. There are only two characters in this story which are a Man and a Husky dog. The man is a know it all as well as new to the Yukon trail; while the husky is wise and understands the environment. An old man from Sulphur Creek warned the man that no person should travel alone when the temperature reaches fifty degrees below zero. The man decided to set out at nine am along the Yukon river one morning with the husky in the hopes of reaching his companions at a campsite on the left fork of Henderson creek around six pm. Though it is nine in the morning the sun is not up and will not show itself for a few days. He stops and looks back after going on for a little while when he describes everything being white except the “dark hairline.” This was the main trail that goes on until reaching the Bering Sea. He is then described as a Chechaquo, since this is his first winter there. As the man’s walking he spits casually then is startled by a strange crackling sound.
He continues to spit; every time he does so the spit dissolves in the air before hitting the snow. At fifty below the spit will dissipate when it comes in contact with snow. This spit, however, doesn’t even make it to the ground. The man knows the weather must be more severe than minus fifty, in fact it’s closer to seventy-five below zero. The man keeps moving not thinking twice of retreating back where he came. He considers himself more rugged than the old man and refers to him as “womanly.” The man is separated from “The Boys” because he took the roundabout way to look at the possibility of logging on the Yukon islands in the spring. To me this man is very naive and hot headed to come into an extremely dangerous environment and dismiss all advice given to him. The Husky, on the other hand, was instinctively prepared for this. The dog doesn’t want to travel because it understands the severity of the weather. Fire was the only desire that the dog contained; it was depressed by the cold. The man had a big red beard but it changed to an amber color due to his chewing tobacco spit that he didn’t care to wipe away.
His nose and cheekbones were first to gain numbness. Although the man is naive he is very careful of where he is placing his feet because of soft spots within the ice. Wet feet mean a certain death in these temperatures without a fire to dry them. He eventually comes upon Henderson creek which means he’s only about ten miles out from camp. Though his mind is blank of thoughts he is keenly observant. He comes up to a bend in the creek which makes him feel uneasy; then he decides to let the husky go in front to check it out. The husky goes forth but falls through the ice getting his feet wet. After breaking free from the ice he starts to lick his fur dry because if he does not the ice will make his feet sore. By that time it was then noon, which meant the day was at its brightest but still did not come above the horizon. After a half hour they reached the forks of the creek, pleased with the timing he had made he decides to sit on a log and remove his mittens.
His fingers quickly grew numb as well as his feet so he paced back in forth thumping his hands against his side to regain feeling. The man decides to take a rest and build a fire to warm himself as well as eat his lunch. His lunch consisted of two biscuits containing a slab of bacon and bacon grease. The only way he could keep them from freezing was to carry them underneath his gear and against his bare chest. After successfully building the fire he pulls out a tobacco pipe and casually smokes it while the husky lay close gathering the fires warmth. After doing so he reapplied his gear then set off down the left fork of the trail. For half an hour the trail showed no signs of sketchy ice spots until he fell straight through the ice wetting himself hallway up to his knees. He calmly but quickly bound up the bank and gathered dry firewood, sticks and twigs. He struck a match to a piece of birch bark he carried in his pocket then fed it to the pile. You cannot restore circulation just from running around; you need a fire to dry yourself. His exposed fingers grew numb while his feet began to freeze.
Eventually the flame grew to a decent size and he started to untie his moccasins. Since he built the fire underneath the spruce tree it was easier to pull out twigs and feed them to the fire. However it agitated the tree to a point where the load of snow fell from the top of the tree straight onto the fire, putting out the flame. He sat in shock for a few moments then thought maybe the old man was right. He then rose to his feet and made a new foundation for the new fire in the open. His fingers were so numb he couldn’t pick out the rotten twigs and impurities from the bundle he gathered. Meanwhile the husky waited patiently for a new fire to be constructed. He reached in his pocket fumbling for the birch bark but he couldn’t grip it. The man started threshing his arms and beating his hands against his side until he felt an excruciating pain which he accepted.
After this he drops the set of matches in the snow but can’t pick them up due to how numb his hands had gotten. He then tried to light the match by holding it within his teeth and striking his leg; eventually he got the match lit but only to drop them back into the snow. At that point he deicide to light them all at once and succeeds! He held the matches to the bark until the pain of burning flesh was too unbearable which made him drop the matches to the ground. The bark then caught fire so he fed it to the rest of the twigs; but at this point he was shivering uncontrollably. A piece of moss fell into the flame which he then tried to poke out with his lifeless fingers but ended up extinguishing the small flame. He was doomed but a thought arose in his head that if he could kill the dog, he could stick his hands inside the husky till they regained feeling. Meanwhile the husky knew something was wrong from the tone in the man’s voice.
Eventually the husky trotted over to the man; when he did this the man grabbed the dog and held him tight. It was no use, at this point he was so numb there was no way he could kill the dog or even grip his knife so he let the husky free. As he sat in the snow he kept thinking of death which scared him enough to get up running down the trail. He did this in the hope that it would return some sort of feeling or circulation to his body or at least get him to the camp but he had nowhere near the endurance to accomplish this. He falls to the ground and fails to get back up; his body starts to feel warm and he stops shivering.
He decides at that point to embrace death with dignity instead of running like a chicken with its head cut off. The first sign of drowsiness hits him then begins to drift off to sleep. Then the man starts having an out of body experience, picturing himself the day after with the boys finding his frozen body in the snow. After he pictures the old man smoking a pipe then states “You were right, old hoss; you were right.” After that he dipped into the most satisfying sleep ever, and then succumbed to death. The loyal husky remained by him until he caught the stench of death which sent him backing away. He took one last look at the man, howls at the moon then trots off down the trail in the direction of the camp and the other fire providers.
Subject: Short story,
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 26 December 2016
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