Epiphany in to Build a Fire

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An Analysis of the Man’s Epiphany in "To Build a Fire"

The short story "To Build a Fire," written by Jack London, is a tragic tale of an overconfident, inexperienced man traveling through the brutal, sub-freezing conditions of the Yukon with only the companionship of a dog. The man, un-named in this story, arrogantly decides to break from the main trail to take a less traveled route against the advice of the seasoned old-timer of Sulfur Creek, who warns of traveling alone in such severe conditions. The man is described as being without imagination and not aware of the significance of the things around him, how frail his life is. As his journey prolongs, his confidence builds as he continually cheats nature, but the temperature extends lower and lower below freezing. He inevitably is caught by the fierce cold when he breaks through some ice and is wetted, in dire need of warmth and to dry his moccasins, the man must build a fire. Successful in his attempt, the man’s ego grows but the unforgiving antagonist of the story steps in and snuffs out the flames, as melted snow falls from the branches above. The man’s overconfidence starts to dwindle as his hands become unresponsive due to the extreme cold, and the cruel reality of death sets in as he fails to ignite another flame. As his limbs become rigid, he wrestles with the idea of killing the dog to thaw his unmoving hands, but once within his grasp, his frigid hands prevent him from drawing his knife. In a last ditch effort to not freeze to death the man begins to run in a panic, fighting the cold for his life. Then it happens, the realization, in an epiphanic moment the man comes to grip with the fact that his end is near and rather than flailing about like a fool, he decides he wo...

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...s and explications focus on the setting of the narrative and its graphic description, but few point out the undeniable change that takes place within the man as he attempts to ward off death. London incredibly sets up this realization as he builds the man to be overconfident, yet green to the Yukon. Tragedy is unavoidable for the man, it is how he reacts and deals with struggles of his journey that define his character and ultimately allow him to prevail with dignity. Though this change is short-lived in the story, the man dies almost instantaneously as the revelation is made, I am certain that the man would have a greater appreciation and sense of significance for his delicate life had he miraculously survived.


Kennedy, X., & Giona, D. (Eds.). (2007). Literature an Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing (10th ed.). New York: Pearson Longman
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