Summary of the Short Story Called "To Build a Fire" by Jack London

by Michael Belcher Google

"To Build a Fire" by Jack London is about a man traveling alone in the Yukon. First published in 1902, the most famous version appeared in "The Century Magazine" in August 1908. The story follows the unnamed protagonist and his dog along a trail as he attempts to meet up with his friends. The story is well-known for its portrayal of man against nature.

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Introduction

The story begins by describing the Yukon in sunless winter, and introduces "the man," who is "a newcomer in the land, a 'chechaquo.'" He is described as a man of logic, who understands life in the Yukon, but is inexperienced. His dog, a husky, travels with him along the frozen creek that is used as the trail in winter. He is cautious when traversing along the creek because some springs that feed into the waterway create patches of thin ice.

Thin Ice

The man finds several spots of thin ice along the frozen creek. Several times he hears the cracking of the ice and quickly backtracks. He sits down to lunch and realizes his toes and fingers are numb from the extreme cold. He builds a fire to warm his face and hands and to heat up the bacon and biscuits he brought for food. Continuing along the creek, at a place that did not seem to present any danger, the man breaks through the ice up to his shins. He quickly starts to build a fire to dry out his moccasins before his feet freeze. He thinks of the "old-timers" who had warned of traveling alone on the Klondike, and how he had admonished them for their lack of independence.

Extinguished Fire

The man works to build the fire and realizes his hands and face are quickly becoming numb. The heat from the small fire softens the snow on the branches of a nearby spruce tree. The resulting mini-avalanche snuffs out the fire. The man immediately sets about starting another, but realizes that he will likely lose a few toes because of the delay. Trying to light the second fire the man loses all feeling in his fingers. Meanwhile the dog remains curled up a little ways distant. The man becomes unable to hold onto single matches, so he strikes almost all of them at once to light the fire. Hands still numb, he drops small sticks and moss onto the fledgling fire. He accidentally drops some green moss on the fire. Attempting to remove it, he scatters the small flame.

The Dog

The man looks at the dog and thinks of killing it and warming up his hands inside the cadaver before building another fire. The dog becomes nervous of the looks, but comes to the man anyway. However, the man cannot grasp his knife to stab the dog so he lets it go. The man begins to run toward his destination, his friends' camp, hoping to make it before he freezes to death. His endurance does not hold out and he stumbles several times before falling into the snow. There he becomes delirious from the frost and dies, thinking of how they will find him the next day. The dog continues onto camp where he knows there will be food and warmth.

About the Author

Michael Belcher has been a public relations professional since 2008 working for university groups and volunteer groups. He has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from Murray State University and is in Dublin, Ireland to finish a Master of Science in mass communications.

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