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To Build a Fire

To Build a Fire

by Jack London

Analysis: Genre

Adventure, Tragedy, Quest

In this story, Jack London puts a tragic spin on the classic tale of wilderness survival. The original 1902 version of this story was just straight-up adventure, with the man surviving because of his toughness and skill (although part of his face is missing, but hey, you can't win 'em all). In this later version, London decides to up the tragedy, having the man die because he is too proud to travel with a companion or listen to sage advice.

The only thing that really makes the story not seem like a tragedy is London's cold tone (no pun intended). Classic tragedy is usually pretty melodramatic and emo, but London's story lays out the facts in a straightforward manner, even at its most intense moments: "The man looked down at his hands in order to locate them, and found them hanging on the ends of his arms. It struck him as curious that one should have to use his eyes to find out where his hands were" (34). Really? You react to losing your hands with curiosity? Oh well, different strokes.

The story is also a quest of sorts, even though it's a colossal failure. Still, the man has a very clear goal toward which he strives in the face of all adversity. There's just that little snafu of him dying at the end. Quest? Failed.

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