Jack London had already established himself as a popular writer when his story "To Build a Fire" appeared in the Century Magazine in 1908. This tale of an unnamed man's disastrous trek across the Yukon Territory near Alaska was well received at the time by readers and literary critics alike. While other works by London have since been faulted as overly sensational or hastily written, "To Build a Fire" is still regarded by many as an American classic. London based the story on his own travels across the harsh, frozen terrain of Alaska and Canada in 1897-98 during the Klondike gold rush; he is also said to have relied on information from a book by Jeremiah Lynch entitled Three Years in the Klondike. Critics have praised London's story for its vivid evocation of the Klondike territory. In particular, they focus on the way in which London uses repetition and precise description to emphasize the brutal coldness and unforgiving landscape of the Northland, against which the inexperienced protagonist, accompanied only by a dog, struggles unsuccessfully to save himself from freezing to death after a series of mishaps. Involving such themes as fear, death, and the individual versus nature, "To Build a Fire" has been categorized as a naturalistic work of fiction in which London depicts human beings as subject to the laws of nature and controlled by their environment and their physical makeup. With its short, matter-of-fact sentences, "To Build a Fire" is representative of London's best work, which influenced such later writers as Ernest Hemingway. Part I
"To Build a Fire" begins at nine o'clock on a winter morning as an unnamed man travels across the Yukon Territory in Northwestern Canada. The man is a chechaquo (cheechako), a Chinook jargon word meaning "newcomer." This is the man's first winter in the Yukon, but because he is "without imagination" and thus unaccustomed to thinking about life and death, he is not afraid of the cold, which he estimates at...
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