To Build a Fire

From LitWiki
“To Build a Fire”
AuthorJack London
Genre(s)Adventure, short story
Publication date1902, 1908

To Build a Fire” is a 1908 short story by Jack London.



The Man

The man travels in the Yukon Territories with a husky. He is a “chechaquo," or a newcomer,[1] making him overconfident and inexperienced, but self-assured because he knows the “facts.”[2]

The Dog

The dog is a “big native husky”[3] that accompanies the man along on his journey; the dog operates based on instinct.[2]

The Old-Timer

Though he only appears in flashbacks, the Old-Timer from Sulphur Creek warns the man about the cold and traveling alone. [4]

Major Themes

A major theme of “Fire” is man versus nature, specifically, that man’s arrogance blinds him to nature and its potential.[5] The Klondike is an area that is a grasping story of the battle of the frozen Yukon trail.[6] It is an account of man versus nature, yet inside that story is one more story about a man's pride and unreadiness to acknowledge nature for what it is. [5] At the point when the man dismisses the law of nature, the discipline managed out naturally is serious. [7] The punishment of death comes to about because of attempting to stay away from it. [8] There is a big contrast between the information and that man has and the information he ought to have had.[1]

The importance of community, as opposed to self-reliance in survival and growth, is emphasized in “Fire.”[5]

Critic Donald Pizer explains how the limit of individualism is a key theme in this story. [9] The protagonist of the novel frequently claims his ability to travel alone and feels he can survive the harsh winter conditions. [10] Despite the cautions of the old man at Sulphur Creek, he refuses to travel with a companion, which ultimately leads to his death. [11]The man is unaware of the value of receiving assistance from others and believes that his own abilities will assure his survival. Apart from declining to go with a companion, the man demonstrates independence by dismissing the old man's wisdom and ignoring experience and guidance. The fact that the old man is an American in unfamiliar terrain is one piece of information that we are provided with. Individual freedoms and liberties are prized in American culture, and London's experience exemplifies the risks that these beliefs can engender.

A theme of "To Build A Fire" by London, is self-destruction. The protagonist not only ignores the old-timers warning to travel with a partner, lacks imagination but he is incapable of companionability. [12] He traveled alone except for a wolf dog, which he treated with contempt and hostility. [12] Not only by trying to use him to check for faults in the ice, at the end he thought about killing him to warm his hands. The protagonist also contuses to chew tobacco causing an amber beard to form, which later obstructs his mouth when tries to eat. [13] Then we are presented by the repetition of him trying to build a fire and failing again and again at his own despise. first by having the fire blotted out by an avalanche of snow, second, by having his book of Sulphur matches extinguished in one fell, and third by having fire snuffed out by a large piece of moss. [12] These failed attempts show that his arrogance and unwillingness to listen to others will lead to his own downfall.

Another theme for "To Build A Fire is a pride. It is the man's pride that allows him to start his uncertain journey, prevents him from moving back when he realizes how cold it is which ultimately leads to death. The man was warned not to travel alone but instead of preventing the man from making the trip he set out anyway and after soaking his feet he thought about the advice, given by that man.[4] Few hours into his trip when he has a chance to turn back, he finds that it is very cold and still has overconfidence which puts him in a danger because the temperature matters.[1] The man's pride is deep-seated after the falling snow put out his fire and his hands and feet are freezing totally he thought that old-timer from Sulphur creek was right and even after knowing that the death is not so far he doesn't realize that he was wrong. [4]

Development History

Publication History

Explanation of the Work's Title

The title “to build a fire” can symbolize the building of hope. [14] The main character can be seen chasing this hope to escape the hell of the snowy Yukon territory with his repeated attempts to spark a fire. However, as we see that hope appears we also see that it does not take long for it to be destroyed by the environment around him.

Literary Significance and Reception

Awards and Nominations


"To Build A Fire" was adapted into a multi-award-winning short film in 2016. The making of the film was to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of Jack London. It was directed and written by Fx Goby.[15]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Sipiora 2002, p. 149.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Sipiora 2002, p. 160.
  3. Sipiora 2002, p. 150.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Sipiora 2002, p. 154.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Sipiora 2002, p. 161.
  6. Sipiora 2002, p. 157.
  7. Sipiora 2002, p. 156.
  8. Sipiora 2002, p. 158.
  9. Pizer 2010, p. 219.
  10. Pizer 2010, p. 220.
  11. Pizer 2010, p. 221.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Hillier 2010, p. 173.
  13. Hillier 2010, p. 175.
  14. symbolism of fire.
  15. Gatrell 2018.

Works Cited

See also: Annotated Bibliography.

  • Gair, Christopher (2011). "The Wires Were Down: The Telegraph and the Cultural Self in "To Build a Fire" and White Fang". In Bloom, Harold (ed.). Jack London. Bloom’s Modern Critical Views. New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism. pp. 73–90.
  • Hillier, Russell (2010). "Crystal Beards and Dantean Influence in Jack London's 'To Build a Fire (II)'". American Literature. 23 (3): 172–178.
  • London, Jack (2002) [1908]. "To Build a Fire". In Sipiora, Phillip (ed.). Reading and Writing about Literature. Upper Saddle Creek, NJ: Prentice Hall. pp. 149–160.
  • Mitchell, Clark Lee (March 1986). "'Keeping His Head': Repetition and Responsibility in London's 'To Build a Fire.'". Journal of Modern Literature. 13 (1): 76–96. Retrieved 2021-10-14.
  • Pizer, Donald (April 2010). "Jack London's "To Build a Fire": How Not To Read Naturalist Fiction". Philosophy & Literature. 34 (1): 218–227.
  • Sipiora, Phillip, ed. (2002). Reading and Writing about Literature. Upper Saddle Creek, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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