Author Jack London wrote "To Build a Fire," the heart-wrenching story of a man's struggle to overcome the power of nature in the most extreme temperatures. Throughout his journey along the trail in the Yukon, he underestimates nature and overestimates himself. Almost immediately his fate is revealed when London writes, "But all this---the mysterious, far-reaching hair-line trail, the absence of sun from the sky, the tremendous cold, and the strangeness and weirdness of it all---made no impression on the man" (977).
The man is new to the area and he does not realize the danger of this journey. Despite the man's carelessness, the reader hopes his rescuers will come. However, at the story's end, he meets death; he lays frozen in the Yukon and his faithful husky has left. Even a first-time reader can recognize the more obvious clues that foretell the man's demise, but the real cause of his death is his inability to recognize boundaries.
This is the man's first winter in the Yukon, and he is "green" to the land. Twelve inches of snow had fallen since the last tracks were made on the trail. Despite the warnings of the native of Sulfur Creek "that no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below" (982), he travels only with his husky. He writes his own death sentence when he proudly refuses to take a friend. As he begins his attempt and is blind to the fact that no human could survive such a challenge "He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances" (977). He thought those old-
timers were "womanish" (982) since they wouldn't ...
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...res or the exhaustion from the stress on his body. Even his dog knew the conditions were not right for traveling.
Although this work's ending is very predictable, the reader holds on to a strand of hope that the man will overcome this great challenge. Even the dog stays with the man as he lays motionless until it smells death. The reader is left to wonder why the man did not heed to the old man's advice....pride or ignorance, maybe. He regrets not listening in the end, but never mentions turning back despite all the struggles he faces. In his final words, he mumbles to the old man his last words, "You were right, old hoss, you were right" (987). He finally realizes that Nature does not give or receive as he accepts his human boundaries.
Norton, The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Sixth Edition, Volume C. 2003.