To Build a Fire

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“To Build a Fire” Theme Analysis

Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
-New Testament: James 3:5

“To Build a Fire” is a short story written by Jack London. This story was originally published in 1902, with the famous version being published in 1908. When London was a student at the University of California, Berkeley, he had discovered the name of his biological father and wrote to him in an attempt to establish a relationship. His letter was returned with the man denying paternity. This denial negatively overwhelmed London, resulting in him dropping out of college and sailing to the Yukon in Canada to pursue the gold rush. This location had a profound impact on London and has resulted in his naturalist writing type. The Yukon has been the setting in many of his stories including “To Build a Fire.” This short story details a logger new to the Yukon Territory and his trek down a trail with his wolf dog. While walking down the trail, the man breaks through the ice and plunges shin deep into the frigid water. Knowing frostbite would set in, he is forced to take up camp and start a fire to dry off and warm up. His first fire is extinguished and he is unable to light a new one. Frostbite and hypothermia set in and the man eventually succumbs to his fate. This short story showcases the theme of Man vs. Nature. London is able to support this theme with his use of setting, foreshadowing, and irony. This theme is confirmed by the published analysis “To Build a Fire” written by James Welsh, which was published in 2004.

London’s detailed use of setting has the greatest influence in showcasing the theme of Man vs. Nature. This story takes place in the Yukon Territory of Canada where “There was no sun nor hint of sun, though there was not a cloud in the sky” (London 127). His initial meticulous detailed setting of the trail and weather virtually puts the reader in the boots of the logger. “He spat again. And again, in the air,...
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