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Essay/Term paper: Significance of words dying and death in "to build a fire"

Essay, term paper, research paper:  English Papers

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The significance of the words "dying and death" in Jack London's 1910

novel, "To Build a Fire" continuously expresses the man's dwindling warmth

and bad luck in his journey along the Yukon trail to meet "the boys" 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.

The narrator informs the reader "the man" lacks personal experience

travelling in the Yukon terrain. The old-timer warned the man about the

harsh realities of the Klondike. The confident main character thinks of

the old-timer at Sulphur Creek as "womanish." Along the trail, "the man"

falls into a hidden spring and attempts to build a fire to dry his socks

and warm himself. With his wet feet quickly growing numb, he realizes he

has only one chance to successfully build a fire or face the harsh

realities of the Yukon at one-hundred nine degrees below freezing. Falling

snow from a tree blots out the fire and the character realizes "he had just

heard his own sentence of death." Jack London introduces death to the

reader in this scene. The man realizes "a second fire must be built

without fail." The man's mind begins to run wild with thoughts of

insecurity and death when the second fire fails. He recollects the story

of a man who kills a steer to stay warm and envisions himself killing his

dog and crawling into the carcass to warm up so he can build a fire to save


London writes, "a certain fear of death, dull and oppressive, came to him."

As the man slowly freezes, he realizes he is in serious trouble and can no

longer make excuses for himself. Acknowledging he "would never get to the

camp and would soon be stiff and dead," he tries to clear this morbid

thought from his mind by running down the trail in a last ditch effort to

pump blood through his extremities.

The climax of the story describes "the man" picturing "his body completely

frozen on the trail." He falls into the snow thinking, "he is bound to

freeze anyway and freezing was not as bad as people thought. There were a

lot worse ways to die." The man drowsed off into "the most comfortable and

satisfying sleep he had ever known." The dog looked on creeping closer,

filling his nostrils with the "scent of death."

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." Typically, short stories written in the

early 1900's often conclude the story with a death or tragedy. London's

story is no exception. This story follows the pattern by illustrating

events leading up to and including death.

Thesis Statement- The significance of the words "dying and death" in Jack

London's 1910 novel, "To Build a Fire" continuously expresses the man's

dwindling warmth and bad luck in his journey along the Yukon trail to meet

"the boys" at camp.


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