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Jack London's "To Build A Fire" Analysis

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To Build A Fire – Jack London
Analysis

Leno Bozzer
Ms. A. Timmins

ENG 2DAa
February 10th, 2014

Questions:

1) In a paragraph of 3-5 sentences, prove that the introduction fulfills its purposes
2) From the three first paragraphs, quote three examples of foreshadowing.
3) Identity two flashbacks in the story. For each flashback, identify its purpose.
4) What is the main conflict in the story? Defend with examples from the plot.

1) All good short story introductions serve several purposes. In Jack London’s “To Build A Fire”, a story about a man who is alone on a journey through to forest in -50 degree weather, the introduction does a great job at briefly introducing the story’s main character, setting, and tone and engaging the reader. It does so by presenting the main character, the man, in the first sentence with “…when the man turned…”, and the same for the setting and tone. Jack London writes about the main characters surroundings, saying that it is “cold and gray” and that the man is on “the main Yukon trail” in “subtle gloom”, setting the tone. Also, he engages the reader by using time as a so-called “carrot on a stick”. He wisely writes “he knew that a few more days must pass before the cheerful orb, due south, would peep above the sky” so the reader, being human and wanting the good protagonist to succeed, would keep reading to find out if he does so or not. He does all this briefly, in a paragraph of eight sentences, therefor not tempting the reader to stop reading. In conclusion, the introduction in Jack London’s “To Build A Fire” is very successful in introducing the key elements to a short story. The main character, setting, tone, and engagement of the reader are all presented very well and expertly.

2) In “To Build A Fire” by Jack London, foreshowing is frequently used. For example, in the second paragraph, London writes, “North and south, as far as his eye could see, it was unbroken white…”. This example shows that the man is no were near civilization, and that he must fend for himself. Another example, making the reader pick up an idea of how the short story might end, is in the third paragraph when the author writes “…the absence of sun from the sky, the tremendous cold, and the strangeness and weirdness of it all – made no impression on the man. It was not because he was long used to it. He was a newcomer in the land, a chechaquo, and this was his first winter.”. This foreshadow tells the reader that there is a conflict, man vs. nature, to follow. A third foreshadow strategically written by Jack further engages the reader; sparking empathy and curiosity within, he writes “…able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold…”. In conclusion, Jack London’s “To Build A Fire” deliberately uses foreshadowing to engage the reader, a very intelligent way of writing since it motivates he or she to keep reading therefore helping Jack in his struggle to make ends meet, whilst improving the story.

3) In Jack London’s “To Build A Fire”, the main character, the man, does not have many flashbacks. This is because London wanted the reader to focus more on the present situation of the man, and less on the past. Although, he does write a few. One is when the man has a severe conflict after falling through the ice/snow layers into the frigid water. He thinks back to the old man at Sulphur Creek, having a conversation in which he suggests several things that he should think about before embarking on his journey. The purpose of this flashback is to show how much danger the man is facing, having not listened to the Sulphur Creek elderly, and to spark interest within the reader. The second flashback in “To Build A Fire” is when the man falls much further into grave danger, he thinks of how the old man was right, that he should have prepared himself better. The purpose of this flashback was to foreshadow that the man will probably perish, and again, to spark interest.

4) The main conflict is Jack London’s “To Build A Fire” is man vs. himself. Many argue that it is man vs. nature due to the central idea that the -50 degree weather is the main cause of harm and crisis to the man, but it progresses to show that if the man would relinquish his pride and stop thinking that he can accomplish the unimaginable without many of the necessary tools, the preparation, and the help, he would still be alive. If the man would have listened to the old man at Sulphur Creek or brought another person along, he would most likely not be dead. Therefore, it is evident that the conflict that many believe to be the main conflict in London’s short story, man vs. nature, is not so, and is actually man vs. himself.

Plot Analysis

Introduction:

The man starts out with minimal awareness of the extreme cold. He is on a journey with a dog in the Yukon off road to a camp where the boys are waiting for him. He becomes slightly more aware of the cold, realizing that his cheeks are beginning to sting, and stops to build a fire and eat lunch. His fingers go numb, and the man begins to continue walking. There begins to be a subtle gloom while reading, sparking a prediction that he may not make it out alive.

Rising Action:

As the man is walking, the man falls into sheets of ice/snow, which have water under them. He gets his feet wet, and delays to build another fire and dry off his boots. His fingers get too cold to bend and feel anything, and he tries to build another fire. He does not succeed in building a fire this time, thanks to his poor planning. He tries again, but again, fails.

Climax:

The man knows he cannot make another fire, and becomes desperate for warmth. He remembers a story in which a freezing man killed a horse, cut it open, and warmed up inside. He tries to do the same with the dog. He is unable to do so, not being able to move his fingers to strangle the dog. In a final act of desperation, he tries to run to the camp so the boys can help him, but eventually has to stop.

Falling Action:

The man lies down in the snow, slowly and unknowingly freezing to death, which he perceives as falling asleep. As he dies, he sees himself with the boys, walking down from the camp to find his blue body. He then sees himself in a warm room with the old man from Sulphur Creek who gave him advice that he did not take, and admits that the old man was right and he should have taken his advice. The man then dies, in what seems to him to be very warm and comfortable.

Resolution:

The dog waits, confused at the sight of the man sitting in the snow without a fire. The dog howls and then walks away towards the camp, where it knows will find fire and food.

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