To Build a Fire by Jack London: Climax, Theme & Analysis

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  • 0:04 Loyalty and Pride
  • 0:27 'To Build a Fire'
  • 0:57 Climax
  • 2:02 Themes
  • 3:00 Analysis
  • 3:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

All alone in the Canadian wilderness, with only a dog for company, a young miner struggles to build a fire to keep warm. But, when the fire fails, a decision the man makes will put his very life on the line.

Loyalty and Pride

When it comes right down to it, what is loyalty? What price does pride collect? These questions are examined in the short story To Build a Fire. A man, alone against the Canadian winter, learns that nature is the most formidable enemy of all. This lesson will focus on the climax, theme, and analysis of To Build a Fire by Jack London.

To Build a Fire

To Build a Fire is the story of a young miner who has come to the Yukon to find gold. He is traveling toward his camp on a cold, windy afternoon, against the advice of a seasoned miner. He falls through some ice and gets his feet wet, necessitating building a fire to dry off and warm up. Unfortunately, his fire fails, and the man ends up freezing to death. When it is clear he's dead, his dog deserts him, heading for the warmth and food of the mining camp.

Climax

The climax in this story happens when the man's fire fails. He has decided to build his fire under a tree to make pulling branches off the tree to burn easy. But his decision has backfired, because all that pulling on the branches dislodges a pile of snow. It comes cascading down, and puts out his fire. Now, the man is really in trouble. His hands are nearly frozen and useless, and unless he is able to get them warmed, he will surely die.

So, he makes a decision that ends up being his undoing. He decides that the only way he will be able to stay warm is to call the dog over and kill it, then slice open its stomach and warm his hands inside the dog. But luckily for the dog, the man is unable to use his hands at all. He tries to crush the dog with a bear hug, but it doesn't work. The dog is safe, but the man is doomed.

He tries to run to the distant camp, but fails. This climax, and its poor decision, has brought about the resolution: the man freezes to death, and the dog leaves him to find food.

Themes

There are several themes prevalent through this short story. First and foremost, it is a story of man versus nature. The theme of survival is central, as the man tries and fails to stand up against the elements in the brutally cold Canadian Yukon. This environment turns out to be too much for the unseasoned miner.

Another theme shown in this story is the theme of pride. The young miner's pride got the best of him, as he headed out into the cold against the advice of a more seasoned miner, who told him to never travel alone in temperatures lower than 50 degrees below zero. But the young miner thought he could beat the cold and headed out, and it cost him his life.

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