Jack London’s Use of Repetition in “To Build a Fire” Essay

Jack London’s To Build a Fire follows an unnamed protagonist, who’s only referred to as “the man”, as he travels the Yukon Trail during a severe snow storm. Along with his husky wolf-dog, he determined to meet friends at an old junction by six o’clock. The man, who was warned not travel in the Klondike alone, presses forward through the terrain’s harsh weather. He later falls through the snow in what looked to be a secure spot. With his feet and fingers soaked, he starts a fire and begins drying himself. The man constructs the fire under a spruce tree in order to take its twigs and drop them directly onto the fire. Each time he pulled a twig a branch overturned its load of snow, eventually blotting out the fire. He grabs all his matches and lights them simultaneously to set fire to a piece of bark; it soon goes out. The man decides to kill the dog and use its warm body to restore his circulation, but is unable to kill the animal and lets the dog go. The man attempts to run from the thought of freezing to death but he quickly falls down. He decides he should meet death in a more dignified manner; the man falls off into a calm sleep.During the March 1986 edition of the Journal of Modern Literature, Lee Clark Mitchell of Princeton University opens his article “‘Keeping His Head’: Repetition and Responsibility in London’s ‘To Build a Fire’” by critiquing naturalism’s style of storytelling. Mitchell claims naturalism as a slow, dull, and plain way of capturing an audience; and Jack London is the epitome of this description. Mitchell states, “[London’s] very methods of composition prompt a certain skepticism; the speed with which he wrote, his suspiciously childish plots…have all convinced readers to ignore the technical aspects of h…

…ne that when reading from an objective point of view the audience is able to place themselves in a similar position as the man. A story about man without a name and a face to visualize leaves only his personality for the readers to connect with. In “To Build a Fire” the man’s determination is the character of the story, through all the events that transpire he is still willing to meet his friends, “the boys”, by six o’clock. Although it took another writer’s opinion to help me comprehend the true intentions of London’s “To Build a Fire”, my appreciation for the piece has grown along with my understanding of what sets naturalism apart from other writing styles.

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Works Cited

Mitchell, Lee Clark. “‘Keeping His Head’: Repetition And Responsibility In London’s ‘To Build A Fire.’.” Journal Of Modern Literature 13.1 (1986): 76. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Feb. 2012.


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