From my understanding, To Build a Fire is one of Jack London’s more popular and well-known short stories. Having read a few of his stories in the past, the title gave me a general idea of what to expect. It was a man vs. wild story and from the beginning, I didn’t have to guess who was going to win.
The story follows a man known to his dog as the “fire-provider” as he trudges along the Yukon trail in -50 degree weather. He’s trying to get back to his “boys” at a logging camp. His “old-timer” friend from Sulphur creek has given him specific directions on how to survive. Directions he doesn’t heed.
The struggle and ultimate hopelessness build as the fire-provider’s efforts to warm his wet feet slowly wane. London’s descriptions of the stinging and numbness of the man’s hands and his gradual inability to use them are (sorry) chilling, as is the man’s gradual attitude change from “I can do this my way” to “there are worst ways to die”.
Anyone who has read anything by London probably knows how well he writes from a dog’s point of view. He’s able to do it in a way that isn’t cartoonish or cutesy. I loved the way he described the dog’s instinct as “the mysterious prompting that arose from the deep crypts of its being.” The dog followed his master’s orders even though he knew they would end up in disaster – for his master. The ability of the dog to adapt to the weather as opposed to the inability of his master develops as the main theme. The wild prevails.