To Build A Fire Character Analysis Essay


could you please read my essay and give me some feedback?

the prompt is:

Students will write an original essay analyzing the man in "To Build a Fire" (Jack London) Students will convey their sense of the man's character and what details in the story led them to this view. Students will use quotes from the text to support their thesis.

thank you in advance.

To build a fire: To live and let die

The illustrious author Jack London journeyed to Alaska in 1897. Eleven years later, he wrote one of his most appreciated works, "To build a fire", based on his rich experiences in this sub-polar area. Although, at first sight, "To build a fire" appears to be a simple adventure story, the hero's end is rather puzzling. Actually, the finale paragraph takes aback: why is the main character suddenly desirous to die whereas he has strived to survive along the whole story? The man's intentions are not obvious at first glance. Nevertheless, traces can help the reader to discover the man's desire. The purpose of the subsequent analysis is to demonstrate that the man's character is a person with suicidal tendencies and therefore his plight is not the fruit of a thoughtless behavior.

Right after the first two paragraphs, which introduce the reader with a description of the situation, Jack London asserts that the man "was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances". This sentence's aim is to present the man's character as a person who does not realize the consequences of his actions.

However, the fourth paragraph proves he is far from being irresponsible. Indeed, the man's character conducts an experiment. He spits several times to verify that spittle "had crackled in the air". As a result, that test convinces the man that "undoubtedly it was colder than fifty below". Since he carries out experimentation and he is able to reach a conclusion, he confirms he can have a mature reflection and therefore he is responsible.

The next paragraph provides clues of his will to minimize his chances to achieve his travel. Actually, the man "was glad" to undertake a journey "without a sled, traveling light" whereas no evidence is given in the story that explains why this is an asset for him. The reader only knows that "a foot of snow had fallen since the last sled had passed over". The man never affirms that this amount of snow or a weighty load could slow down or hamper him. On the other hand, such an amount of snow exhausts a trekker who is not equipped with snowshoes and London never mentions such items in the text. Consequently, since the beginning of the story demonstrates he is fully responsible. He most likely wants to enter the forest with the deliberate intention to expose himself to serious danger.

Moreover, the reader is informed in the fifth paragraph that the man "carried nothing but the lunch" and the fourth paragraph stresses his food is only made of some "biscuits". In addition, in the eighth paragraph, the man is not particularly hungry but "he decided to celebrate" an event "by eating his lunch" although it could have been more valuable to him to restrain from eating at this time and keep his biscuits for a later meal. Therefore, once more he jeopardizes his survival because he deprives himself from keeping a reserve and deliberately runs the risk of lacking alimentary supplies in the future.

From the onset of the story, he is fully aware he is on the verge of commencing a progression in the forest although the temperature is extremely cold and he is bound to be short of supplies. At this very moment of his journey, not only did he ignore the advice of the old-timer from Sulphur Creek, who warned him that "no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below", but he also makes every efforts to reduce his chances of success. He could have decided not to engage in this journey and he can still make the choice to turn back. No forms of determinism govern the man because he can take his own choices and he can anticipate the consequences of his actions. Furthermore, he is presumably preparing his future predicament and his subsequent death. A strange parallel could be drawn between the not so evident London's suicide and the man's fate. One could argue that the man's character embodies Jack London and thus, the author could express a secret desire to lay down arms after enduring fights during his life. Could the short story "To build a fire" be a kind of swan song from a man who desires to "live and let die" his existence?


You've written a very insightful take on the man's character! I remember that when I read this story years ago, my main impression of the man was that he was stubborn to the point of stupidity--but you have delved deeper and discerned a very plausible motive for his somewhat implausible actions.

I'll make just a few editing notes:

Actually, the final [no "e"] paragraph takes one [or, the reader] aback: why is the main character suddenly desirous to die [better would be "why does the main character suddenly want to die"] whereas he has striven to survive along the whole story? - This brings up a good point: very few native English speakers know the past tense and past participle of "to strive." In fact, I had to look it up to be sure! It's strive, strove, has striven. Very strange word!

Consequently, since the beginning of the story demonstrates he is fully responsible, he most likely wants to enter the forest with the deliberate intention to expose himself to serious danger. [make it into one sentence]

he also makes every effort [delete "s"] to reduce his chances of success.

And a note re: British vs. American English, for any students who might be confused: in British English, the punctuation goes outside the quotation mark, unless the punctuation is part of the quote: "no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below",

In American English, periods and commas always go inside the quotation mark, unless it's a single letter, such as "a". For example, "no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below," but...

As usual, your essay is outstanding! Great job!



In Jack London’s To Build a Fire the setting of the short story plays a significant role. Jack London uses specific techniques to establish the atmosphere and tone of the story. By introducing his readers to the setting, London prepares them for a tone that is depressed and fear-provoking. Isolated by an environment of frigid weather and doom, the author shows us how the main character of the story is completely unaware of his surroundings. The only world the man is actually accustomed to is the world he has created for himself. Since many of us have never been exposed to such a harsh climate, London’s account that the environment is the determining factor of his survival paints an accurate picture. Anything that the man and his dog come into contact with creates an expectation for disaster in the story.

The significance of the words ‘dying and death’ in the story continuously expresses the man’s dwindling warmth and bad luck in his journey along the Yukon trail to meet his friends at camp. London associates dying with the man’s diminishing ability to stay warm in the frigid Alaskan climate. The main characters predicament slowly worsens one level at a time finally resulting in death. London places a strong emphasis on the setting in the introduction to the story. “Day had broken cold and grey, exceedingly cold and grey…” He repeats these phrases to emphase to the reader the impact the setting has on the lives of the characters. The gloominess of the setting causes the man and his dog to fight a constant battle in a world of depression. Lacking the virtue of imagination, the man is only gifted with his practical knowledge. This ignorance will hamper his ability to adapt to the conditions and stresses surrounding him.

Typically the man never wants to deal with reality especially when the reality is unpleasant. “But all this-the mysterious, far-reaching hairline trail, the absence of sun from the sky, the tremendous cold, and the strangeness of it all- made no impression on the man.” He is able to tolerate the troublesome temperatures and climate he is surrounded by, he never attempts to face monster within him. Facing what he would do if the inevitable were to happen is this mans worst fear. This fear causes the man to become selfish, only focusing on the actions and thoughts that are pleasurable to him. The man’s ignorance to his surroundings and self-indulgence foreshadows a possible downfall.

London provides us with subconscious hints that lead the reader to believe that the man will suffer a tragedy in the end of the story. Only relying on his previous experiences causes the man to be a disadvantage to his dog. A dog by nature is an animal that has the natural gift of instinct. Under these bitter conditions, the dog was capable of survival because of those instincts. The dog follows the man throughout his ill faded journey, but after the man succumbs to the weather, the husky relies upon his instincts to survive. Being placed in this type of environment is the main conflict of the story for both the main character and the dog.

Relying only on his judgment, the man can not prepare to prevent a disaster from occurring. London’s constant focus on the how the environment affected the man and his reaction to being unable to survive like his dog gives the reader certain hints. At this point London has already given an insight to the conclusion of the story. The theme of London’s ‘To Build a Fire’ is how we should all take heed to modern knowledge and learned behavior has its benefits, but our primal instincts should never have ignored. The man in the story had lots of knowledge but neglected to pay attention to his ‘sixth sense.’ The dog on the other hand, followed as long as he could but then let his instincts carry him to safety. We can never have enough knowledge to replace the survival skill that nature has provided us.

Lured in by the plot of the story the reader keeps on reading, waiting in anticipation of the danger of the climate to overcome the man. “On the other hand, there was no keen intimacy between the dog and the man. The one was the toil slave of the other, and the only caresses it had ever received were the caresses of the whip lash and of harsh and menacing throat sounds that threatened the whip lash.” Although the dog was obviously anxious, he was unconcerned with the safety of the man. If the man was to come upon serious danger, the dog would not be willing to help him. Not being concerned with anything somewhat inventive, the man put himself in a position to anticipate death. His selfishness and ignorance keeps him in a situation of danger and disaster.

The climax of the story is when the man falls through the ice, wetting himself up to his knees. Preparing himself in advance might have prevented the man’s accident in the water. The man ignorance once again caused him to be unprepared for this kind of situation. The man never took the proper precautions because he never thought of how to cope with a deadly situation. The only help he was given for a similar situation was the advice of an old timer from Sulphur Creek. Viciously, the man attempted to stop his appendages from freezing, but was unsuccessful as the dog watched.

London’s portrayal of the man does not initially give the reader the theme of dying, but slowly develops the theme as the story develops. The story doesn’t mention death until the last several pages. The main character changes from an enthusiastic pioneer to a sad and desperate man. The conclusion of the story portrays the man accepting his fate and understands the old-timer at Sulphur Creek had been right; “no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below.”

Using characterization, London is able to present why certain people are alive at the end and how one benefits from being social. The old-timer at Sulfur Creek is alive because he is experienced and wise enough to benefit from others’ experiences that it is not wise to travel alone in the Yukon. The boys at camp are also alive because they are together and can benefit from each other. The man’s husky is alive because it is well-suited for the Yukon environment, while the man is not. Unlike the other characters, London has the man die at the end of the story to illustrate that he dies because of his arrogance in his ability to travel alone. If the man travels with a companion or a companion of equal instinct, he can benefit from him and possibly return safely to camp.

In the opening paragraph London presents us with a scene that is gloomy, depressing, and ominous, these elements foreshadow an outcome that will be fatal to our protagonist. Our man has no name, but he does not need one, he could be any man that has bitten off more than he can chew; he does not considered the consequences of his actions until it is too late. By then there can be no return, he has crossed the line that cannot be uncrossed, because he trusts his intellectual thought process, not paying attention to man’s intuitive thoughts, the instinctual ones that some men consider less valid because they come from the unconscious mind. His unwillingness to contemplate the extreme cold, the barely used trail, his dog’s instincts, reflect the man’s inability to view the whole picture. As London puts it “the man had no imagination” he thought only to keep moving and stay dry, then he would be fine, however the man in the end could do neither.

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