The Short Story “To Build a Fire” by Jack London

Subject: Literature
Pages: 1
Words: 551
Reading time:
2 min
Study level: School


  • Objective – something that correlates with the reality or truth, an unbiased perspective.
  • Objective summary – a summary of events without analysis or interpretation, in the order that they occur.
  • Subjective – a view that is attempted through a specific lens, done in relation to a theory, a point of view or an idea.
  • Tone – a feeling that a text establishes through its use of words, pacing, themes and narratives.

Getting Started

  • Man leaves for the camp – man falls through ice – man fails to build a fire – man fails to build another fire – man attempts to kill dog – man runs in desperation – man dies – the dog leaves.
  • The main character is overconfident in his ability and considers the advice of others to be unnecessary.
  • Theme of foolishness and overconfidence, which came to me because of the man’s inner monologues and his decision to leave for the camp in the first place.
  • Man recounts the conversation with an older man from Silver Creek – Man does not return upon seeing the bad weather – Man is confident he can survive after wetting his legs
  • The man leaves for another camp in the middle of freezing weather. He falls on ice and wets his legs. He is in need of a fire in order to survive, but repeatedly fails to make it. He considers killing his dog companion but is not able to. Fear and despair claim the main character as he freezes in the snow.
  • Overconfidence.

Objective Summary

The story of “To Build a Fire” is centered on the battle of one man against the biting cold of the Yukon wilderness. Setting out to reach a camp, the man ventures out together with his dog despite the warning signs. The weather is extremely cold, and even minor mistakes can cost one their life. Ice breaks under the man’s feet, plunging him into the freezing water. In the race against time, he desperately needs to build a fire in order to survive. As soon as he succeeds, it is snuffed out by accident. Because of the freezing temperature, the man lacks even the ability to use matches to try and light another. A fear for his life and desperation make him consider killing his dog a viable option for warming up. This, too, fails, as he does not have enough dexterity. In his last attempt for survival, the man runs until he is out of breath, before slowly freezing to death, all alone.

Thematic Analysis

The central theme of the work is the folly of man. Despite the present danger, and the clear indication that taking the trip is ill-advised, the main character positioned himself as superior to the elements and paid dearly for it. The warning signs are seen early on, and by all means the man should have not attempted such a dangerous trip alone. Throughout the story, the audience can feel tension slowly building up as they realize the sure-fire nature of the man’s demise. With each attempt to better his situation, he only pushes himself closer to his doom. The unchanging nature of fate, the human instinct for survival and the visceral fear of death can all be seen as vital to this story.