Critical Response: Jack London

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Critical Response: Jack LondonJack London, a well known American author, has written a fair share of truly classic works. The Call of the Wild and White Fang are staples of middle and high school reading requirements. His other novels, such as The People of the Abyss and Sea Wolf are not as well known, but are still regarded as brilliant pieces of literature by many scholars. Lesser known are his many volumes of short stories; “To Build a Fire” being the most popular. I cannot say that I have read even a small percentage of London’s works, but from what I have read, I noticed some recurring similarities.

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During the semester in class, we have learned how authors utilize various elements of writing to make their point more prominent. For Jack London’s earlier works, his Yukon setting and rugged, adventurous characters appear quite frequently. Such is the case with the three stories I chose to study; “Love of Life,” “The League of the Old Men,” and “To Build a Fire.” Along with this, I believe that the theme of survival appears in these three, as well as many other stories from London. I took it upon myself to try and find out why London used survival as his main theme. To demonstrate this recurring theme, I will give a brief synopsis of the three stories.

“To Build a Fire” is a story about a man who is traveling alone in the frozen Yukon. He knows that it is not safe to be traveling when it is so cold, but stubbornly keeps moving. He falls through a crack in the ice, wetting his feet. In order to stay alive, he must build a fire, warm his feet and move on. Despite several attempts, the man fails and dies. Of the fourteen pages within “To Build a Fire,” eight of those are devoted to the events of the man trying to make a fire; the other six mainly focus on the setting. The man’s determination to build the fire is evident-a simple annoyance at the beginning leads to a frantic demise at the end. The plot was as simple as one man’s attempt to survive against nature.


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