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To Build a Fire Summary
In northern Canada, a solitary hiker and his dog depart from the main Yukon trail. The man is a newcomer to this area and unfamiliar with the extreme cold temperatures. A weather forecast of fifty degrees below zero does not mean much to the man, who is competent but lacks imagination. Such extreme temperatures promise discomfort, but do not cause him to reflect on the risks, his own death, and his role in the natural world. The man, therefore, thinks very little as he walks, considering only his destination for the evening, and his lunch, which he carries inside his jacket against his skin to keep it from freezing. He chews tobacco as he walks, and his spit freezes in an icicle from his mouth in the extreme cold. The temperature is, in fact, seventy-five degrees below zero.
During his journey, the man gets his feet wet as he falls through the ice into the water of a hot spring London The word existentialist , as well as the subject of existentialism itself, evades definition. For the sake of brevity, perhaps a short, simple definition would be best; according to the American Heritage Dictionary 3rd ed. At the conclusion of the story we finally see the man come to the realization, in a round about way, that it was best to meet his fate with dignity, thus giving meaning to an otherwise meaningless and cruel death. So it is no accident that at the heart of the story lies an existentialist theme. London places his solitary human character in the perilous setting of the wilderness of the Yukon, which is enough to begin to illustrate his theme, but when London combines this unforgiving environment with the deadly cold of the Yukon winter, he creates a setting which is the epitome of the hostile, existential environment. The remoteness of the Yukon wilderness, as well as the absence of a human travel companion for the man, serve to illustrate the existentialist idea that man is alone in the universe.
There are two versions of this story, one published in and the other in The story written in has become an often anthologized classic, while the story is less well known. The version is about an unnamed protagonist who ventures out in the subzero boreal forest of the Yukon Territory. He is followed by a native dog and is en route to visit his friends—ignoring warnings from an older man about the dangers of hiking alone in extreme cold. The protagonist underestimates the harsh conditions and slowly begins to freeze to death. After building one fire and leaving it to venture on in his journey he later on attempts to build another but fails.
A man travels in the Yukon near the border of current day Alaska on an extremely cold morning with a husky wolf-dog. The cold does not faze the man, a newcomer to the Yukon, who plans to meet his friends by six o'clock at an old claim. As it grows colder, he realizes his unprotected cheekbones will freeze, but he does not pay it much attention. He walks along a creek trail, mindful of the dangerous, concealed springs; even getting wet feet on such a cold day is extremely dangerous. He stops for lunch and builds a fire.