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To Build a Fire

To Build a Fire


by Jack London

The Man Timeline and Summary

  • The man begins the story at nine a.m. sharp, with more than nine hours of hiking lying between him and the mining camp on Henderson Creek.
  • We don't know how long he's been walking, or if it's too late for him to go back the way he came.
  • He spits and hears his saliva crackling in the air, which tells him that it's more than fifty degrees below zero.
  • When he comes to Henderson Creek, he decides to follow it to the mining camp. But he's wary of the pockets of warm spring water that lie beneath the snow, so he makes the dog walk in front of him. The dog breaks through the ice and wets its feet.
  • The man takes off his mittens to get the ice of the dog's feet, and is surprised at how quickly he loses any feeling in his fingers.
  • The man makes it to the forks of the creek and celebrates by whipping out his biscuits and stopping to chow down. He lights a fire and smokes his pipe.
  • Brimming with confidence, the man sets off again. This time though, it's his turn to break through the ice. He curses the delay this will cause, but calmly builds another fire beneath a spruce tree, where he can easily pull off branches and twigs to throw on the fire.
  • While pulling on a branch, the man disturbs the snow that's been sitting in the boughs of the tree. The snow tumbles down onto his fire and smothers it.
  • The man can't believe his terrible luck. He realizes (still pretty calmly) that he'll probably lose a few toes because of the delay in warming his feet.
  • Still, he collects himself and gets ready to build another fire.
  • Now his fingers are completely gone. His hands hang from his arms lifelessly. He holds his pack of matches between his frozen stumps of hands and tries to pull one away with his teeth. But he drops the whole bunch into the snow!
  • Next, he lights all of his matches at once and manages to start a fire. While adding fuel, though, he knocks the fire apart with his clumsy hands and scatters the flaming bits in different directions. They all go out, and the man realizes for the first time that he might really be doomed.
  • Out of desperation, the man tries to kill the dog so he can plunge his hands into its body. But without hands to begin with, he has no chance of killing the animal.
  • With the last of his strength, the man makes a run for the camp, but falls a couple of times and eventually gives up, deciding to die with dignity, as if anyone's watching.
  • In his final moments, he sees himself coming back down the creek with the boys and finding his own body.
  • Then he sees himself in a room with the old man from Sulphur Creek, who told him not to travel alone in such cold weather. He tells the old man that he (the old man) was right, and then goes to sleep and dies.