To Build a Fire
How we cite our quotes:
Empty as the man's mind was of thoughts, he was keenly observant, and he noticed the changes in the creek, the curves and bends and timber jams, and always he sharply noted where he placed his feet. (11)
This quote goes back to the narrator's criticism of the man as someone who doesn't think deeply about stuff. But even though he doesn't think deeply, the guy is still very aware of his surroundings. In fact, he's not all that bad for a chechaquo. The narrator reminds us that though he may be a rookie to these particular parts, the man definitely seems like a seasoned veteran of outdoor living for most of the story.
Working carefully from a small beginning, he soon had a roaring fire, over which he thawed the ice from his face and in the protection of which he ate his biscuits. For the moment the cold of space was outwitted. (15)
The man works carefully in a situation where most of us would be totally freaking out. The guy has to thaw out his face to eat his lunch, but he just takes it all in stride. We can't help but like him, even just a little bit, for this, which makes his eventual death all the more surprising.
He worked slowly and carefully, keenly aware of his danger. Gradually, as the flame grew stronger, he increased the size of the twigs with which he fed it. He squatted in the snow, pulling the twigs out from their entanglement in the brush and feeding directly to the flame. He knew there must be no failure. (19)
We still see the man working methodically, but this quote reminds us that the guy knows he's in deep now. In some of the other quotes, we might think that the reason he's so calm is because he's completely clueless. But this quote clears up the mystery for us and shows us that yes, he knows he's in danger, and yes, he continues to remain calm in spite of it. Nerves of steel, this one.