The Flame of Life Essay

A single word inserted or removed can change the feeling of a story in an instant; creating tingles that trickle along the length of your spine or even a compulsive movement to put down the piece and never pick it up again. In many cases an author will write and rewrite their tales until they are perfect. Jack London was very much one of these authors, sending his first version of “To Build a Fire” to a magazine before rewriting it into the masterpiece of which many are more familiar with today. However, only one of the versions strongly exemplifies the hard truth and fight against uncontrollable and unpredictable nature which is realism and naturalism. In many ways are London’s two distinct pieces of work similar, but also in many ways are they different. Of all edits and changes with which London reconstructed his masterpiece the most prominent involved the main character, the brutal descriptions of the cold, and plot variations.In “To Build a Fire” there are numerous differences between the main character of the 1902 and 1908 versions. When London first set out to publish his work in 1902 for a magazine, he called the main character by name, Tom Vincent, as well as describing him as a “strapping young fellow, big-boned and big muscled, with faith in himself and in the strength of his head and hands” (116). However, the main character in the 1908 version was much more inconspicuous than its primary draft counterpart, as the main character is now stripped of his name going only by the man, with no other indicators as for his physical appearance. His personality, on the other hand, seems to be somewhat of a constant with only a slight difference between the two adaptations. In the initial work London inserted so…

…f cold one hundred and seven degrees below freezing point” (487). The dog then goes on to curl up in the snow and not warn the man of the danger leading to his eventual demise. Then, in the 1902 version the lone protagonist survives the cold, but the man in the better known version has a companion and dies, losing and accepting his loss in his battle against nature.In these two works, Jack London demonstrates his capabilities to turn one short story into a masterpiece by tweaking a key few things. Even the slightest of changes he made to the plot, setting descriptions, and the main character can make everything better and even more fascinating, and makes us want to pick it up again and again.Works Cited

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London, Jack. “To Build a Fire.” Adventures in American Literature. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1989: 483-493London, Jack. “To Build a Fire.” (1902) Handout.


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