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To Build a Fire

To Build a Fire


by Jack London

To Build a Fire Foolishness and Folly Quotes

How we cite our quotes: (Paragraph)

Quote #1

He was a newcomer to the land, a chechaquo, and this was his first winter. The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only the things, and not in the significance. (3)

The man is a newcomer to the Yukon. The narrator uses a Native American (Chinook) word to describe him, suggesting that the narrator is more knowledgeable about the Yukon than the man. The narrator then builds on this narrative distance by pronouncing judgment on the man before we've even had a chance to see him in action and judge for ourselves. What is all this about the man's trouble? Why should we care if he doesn't appreciate the significance of things? What's wrong with just wanting biscuits and bacon? Biscuits and bacon are delicious.

Quote #2

Fifty degrees below meant eighty-odd degrees of frost. Such fact impressed him as being cold and uncomfortable, and that was all. It did not lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man's frailty in general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold; and from there it did not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man's place in the universe. (3)

This quote builds on the narrator's earlier claim that the man doesn't appreciate the significance of things. Only here there's a connection between the man's lack of imagination and the fact that he might be foolishly endangering himself in the frozen Yukon. The man's inability to appreciate the significance of things makes him mistake the difference between fifty degrees below zero and seventy-five, a difference that might be enough to cost him his life.

Quote #3

The furrow of the old sled trail was plainly visible, but a dozen inches of snow covered the marks of the last runners. In a month no man had come up or down that silent creek. The man held steadily on. He was not much given to thinking, and just then particularly he had nothing to think about save that he would eat lunch at the forks and that at six o'clock he would be in camp with the boys. (9)

This passage shows us the man's thought process at work. He's not dumb, for starters. He can very keenly see that no one has traveled along the creek in some time. But his mind does not draw any conclusions from this, such as: hey, maybe this means I shouldn't be traveling today. Time and again, the man shows very clear perception, but then foolishly neglects to draw a helpful conclusion from it.

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