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“To Build a Fire”
In “To Build a Fire” by Jack London, the setting plays a significant role throughout the entire short story. Jack London uses certain techniques to establish the atmosphere of the story. By introducing his readers to the setting, prepares them for a tone that is depressed and frightening. Isolated by an environment of frigid weather and doom, the author shows us how the main character of the story is completely unaware of his surroundings. The only world the man is truly accustomed to, is his own. Never being exposed to such a harsh climate, draws us to the conclusion that the environment is the determining factor of his survival, as well as his dog’s too. Anything that the man and his dog comes into contact with, creates an anticipation for disaster in the story.
London places a strong emphasis on the setting in the introduction to the story. “Day had broken cold and grey, exceedingly cold and grey...” He repeats these phrases to redefine to his readers the impact the setting has on the lives of the characters. The gloominess of the setting instills feelings in the man and the dog, of a constant battle with this world of depression they are in. Being given no sense of imagination, the man is only gifted with his practical knowledge. He therefore is shown to lack the experience and thought to adapt to the conditions encompassing him.
Typically, man never wants to deal with the reality, especially when it is unpleasant. “But all this-the mysterious, far-reaching hairline trail, the absence of sun from the sky, the tremendous cold, and the strangeness of it all- made no impression on the man.” Blocking out the bothersome temperatures and climate he is surrounded by, he never really attempts to face this personal monster of his. What he would do if the inevitable happened to him, is his personal monster. This situation causes the man to become selfish, only focusing on his present actions and thoughts. The man’s ignorance to his surroundings foreshadows a possible downfall.
London provides us with subconscious hints in his writing, that lead his readers to believe that the man will suffer a tragedy in the end of the story. “Its instinct told a truer tale than was told to the man by the man’s judgment.” Having only the knowledge of his previous experiences, the man is at a disadvantage to the dog. The dog by nature, is an animal that has an innate gift of instinct. The setting placed in this type of habitat, is the main conflict of the story. Under the cold conditions, the dog has the ability to survive because it has always known how. Only using his judgment, the man can’t understand how to prevent a disaster from occurring. London has already given away the ending, as a result of his constant focus of the effect the environment has on the man not knowing the means of survival that the dog knows.
Lured to the plot of the story, we keep on reading always anticipating the danger of the climate to overcome the man. “On the other hand, there was no keen intimacy between the dog and the man. The one was the toil slave of the other, and the only caresses it had ever received were the caresses of the whip lash and of harsh and menacing throat sounds that threatened the whip lash.” Feeling apprehension toward the man, the dog was not concerned with the welfare of the man. If the man was to come upon serious danger, the dog would not be eager to offer itself for help. Not being concerned with anything remotely imaginative, the man put himself in a position to expect death. His selfishness and ignorance keeps him in an array of danger and disaster.
The climax point of the story, London causes the man to fall through the ice and wet himself up to his knees. Preparing himself in advance, might have prevented the man’s horrible downfall. However, the man never took the precautions in his mind to even begin to think of how to cope with the deadly situation. The only help he was given for the situation, was the
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To Build a Fire
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