An Analysis of Jack London’s To Build a FireIn her cultural criticism of Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”, Jill Widdicombe explores the question of whether the story’s protagonist might have perished from the extreme cold of the Klondike winter even if with a traveling companion. She describes the brutality of the winter weather and, alluding to the man’s confidence in his ability to survive the weather, describes it as “behavior most of us can understand” – especially if we are accustomed to warmer surroundings. She states: “the extreme cold of frosty landscapes–or “The White Silence”, as London describes it–is so quiet and abstract that it does not immediately appear to be lethal”.
As the plot unfolds, I feel the story’s protagonist falls victim to several factors brought into play at once: his inexperience with the severity of the Klondike winters, his inability to envision the possible consequences of his decision to travel alone in such weather, a series of unfortunate events during his trip, and the misjudgment exercised in his attempts to survive those incidents. Though quick and alert, the man’s lack of imagination renders him unable to visualize what might happen to a man traveling without a companion should adverse circumstances arise in such severe weather in an uninhabited landscape. When he indeed finds himself in dire straits as a result of getting wet in the brutal freezing weather, he once again fails to imagine how quickly the cold will threaten his life and consequently misjudges the severity of his situation. His poor judgment causes him to make one mistake after another until he finds himself incapable of extricating himself from his situation. It seems obvious that had he made himself more familiar with the culture of the land and paid attention to the warnings of the old-timer on Sulpher Creek, he might have chosen to delay his trip and live to travel another day. Had he understood the importance of fostering a relationship with the dog, a native Husky with inbred instincts regarding the native climate, the dog would have interacted differently with him, maybe warning him of the danger of the weather through its actions or perhaps providing help, either by sharing its body heat or by going for help. However, instead he held little regard for the dog and the dog reciprocated: “there was no keen intimacy between the dog and the man.