To Build A Fire Story Summary In An Essay

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Jack London uses certain techniques to establish the atmosphere of the story. By introducing his readers to the setting, prepares them for a tone that is depressed and frightening.  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 truly accustomed to, is his own. Never being exposed to such a harsh climate, draws us to the conclusion that the environment is the determining factor of his survival, as well as his dog’s too. Anything that the man and his dog comes into contact with, creates an anticipation for disaster in the story.

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 redefine to his readers the impact the setting has on the lives of the characters. The gloominess of the setting instills feelings in the man and the dog, of a constant battle with this world of depression they are in. Being given no sense of imagination, the man is only gifted with his practical knowledge.  He therefore is shown to lack the experience and thought to adapt to the conditions encompassing him.

Typically, man never wants to deal with the reality, especially when it 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.” Blocking out the bothersome temperatures and climate he is surrounded by, he never really attempts to face this personal monster of his. What he would do if the inevitable happened to him, is his personal monster.  This situation causes the man to become selfish, only focusing on his present actions and thoughts. The man’s ignorance to his surroundings foreshadows a possible downfall.

London provides us with subconscious hints in his writing, that lead his readers to believe that the man will suffer a tragedy in the end of the story.  “Its instinct told a truer tale than was told to the man by the man’s judgment.” Having only the knowledge of his previous experiences, the man is at a disadvantage to the dog.  The dog by nature, is an animal that has an innate gift of instinct. The setting placed in this type of habitat, is the main conflict of the story. Under the cold conditions, the dog has the ability to survive because it has always known how.  Only using his judgment, the man can’t understand how to prevent a disaster from occurring. London has already given away the ending, as a result of his constant focus of the effect the environment has on the man not knowing the means of survival that the dog knows.

Lured to the plot of the story, we keep on reading always anticipating 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.”  Feeling apprehension toward the man, the dog was not concerned with the welfare of the man. If the man was to come upon serious danger, the dog would not be eager to offer itself for help. Not being concerned with anything remotely imaginative, the man put himself in a position to expect death. His selfishness and ignorance keeps him in an array of danger and disaster.

The climax point of the story, London causes the man to fall through the ice and wet himself up to his knees.  Preparing himself in advance, might have prevented the man’s horrible downfall. However, the man never took the precautions in his mind to even begin to think of how to cope with the deadly situation. The only help he was given for the situation, was the advice of an old timer from Sulphur Creek. Violently, the man attempted to stop his appendages from freezing, but failed as the dog just watched. “The sight of the dog put a wild idea into his head. He remembered the tale of the man, caught in a blizzard, who killed a steer and crawled inside the carcass, and so was saved.”  Using such a suspicious tone when calling to the dog, the dog grew fearful of the man sensing a danger it had never experienced before.

Exposition (Initial Situation)

Biscuits, Bacon, and the Boys

The man starts out with only a slight awareness of how cold it is. He wants to get to the mining camp at Henderson Creek so he can whip his biscuits out of his sweaty shirt and fill them with greasy bacon. Yum! Plus is buddies are waiting for him there, keeping the fire warm. There's a dog walking at his heels, and only the dog seems to realize how crazy cold it is. The narrator in these early scenes is very (perhaps overly) expository in its direct commentary on the man's "trouble" (3), insisting before the story's even underway that the man is "without imagination" (3). Way to let us decide for ourselves, dear narrator.

As the plot unfolds, our main man becomes a little more aware of the sting in his cheeks, although he's not exactly quick on the uptake. When the man stops to build a fire and eat his lunch, he chuckles (that's right, chuckles) when his fingers go numb. Then he takes out his pipe and sits there in the warmth of his fire, thinking about how great he is. Meanwhile, the dog continues to have its doubts about traveling on such a cold day, and it doesn't want to leave the fire when the man gets up to keep walking.

All this exposition tells us that this is a guy who's keenly unaware of his surroundings, while his canine companion totally knows what's up. That sets us up for what can only be coming down the pike: consequences for this guy's hubris in the face of good ol' Mama Nature.

Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

Uh-Oh, My Feet Are Wet

The man gets his legs wet and curses his luck, knowing that he'll be delayed an hour while he stops to build another fire and dry his boots. He succeeds in building another fire, but his fingers are getting too cold to bend or feel anything. When his next attempt similarly fails (thanks to some poor planning on his part), the man's really in it now. 

Soon enough, sheer panic starts to rise up in him, and we readers are on the edge of our seats. He manages to calm his fears and take another stab at building a fire, but when that attempt fails, we know this is going nowhere good, and it's going fast. It's called dread, ladies and gentlemen, and we're feeling it.

Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

Come here, Doggie

Now that the man knows he can't make another fire, he becomes more desperate. He looks to his dog and decides to warm his hands by killing the thing and plunging his hands into its warm guts. But after tackling the dog, he realizes that he has no way of killing it without his hands. So he has to let it go. In a final act of desperation, he takes off running for the camp, but eventually gives up.

Falling Action

The Old-Timer's Revenge

The man lies down in the snow and allows himself to slowly freeze to death, which he experiences as a drifting off into sleep. As he drifts away, he can see himself among his friends, the boys, walking down the creek from the camp and finding his own body. Then he finds himself inside a warm room with the old-timer from Sulphur Creek, and he admits out loud that the old-timer was right about not traveling alone on such a cold day. After making this admission, the man dies. But hey, at least he learned his lesson.

Resolution (Denouement)

Man's Best Friend?

After the man has floated off to a frosty death, his dog waits for a while, confused at the sight of a human sitting in the snow without a fire. But when it smells death on the man, the dog howls for a few moments. Then it eventually trots off toward the camp, where it knows it will find food and a fire. Not exactly the most loyal dog in the world, but he's a survivor.


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