Study Guide

To Build a Fire Pride

By Jack London


It was a clear day, and yet there seemed an intangible pall over the face of things, a subtle gloom that made the day dark, and that was due to the absence of sun. This fact did not worry the man. He was used to the lack of sun. It had been days since he had seen the sun, and he knew that a few more days must pass before that cheerful orb, due south, would just peep above the sky line and dip immediately from view. (1)

It's been days since the man saw the sun, but he's not all that concerned about it. Now this wouldn't be such an important quote, if it weren't for the fact that this guy is still a newcomer to the Yukon. This lack of concern suggests that he thinks he knows more about the Yukon than he actually does.

He was bound for the old claim on the left fork of Henderson Creek, where the boys were already. They had come over across the divide from the Indian Creek Country, while he had come the round-about way to take a look at the possibilities of getting out logs in the spring from the islands in the Yukon. (4)

This quote is really easy to miss, but it tells us a crucial piece of information about the main character. He has voluntarily separated from the boys he so badly wants to get back to in this story. This is very surprising, considering that the man is still new to the Yukon. Perhaps more than any other detail in the text, this one conveys just how cocky (and possibly reckless) the man is about his chances for survival in such a harsh climate.

He had had no chance to take a bite of biscuit. He struck his fingers repeatedly and returned them to the mitten, baring the other hand for the purpose of eating. He tried to take a mouthful, but the ice muzzle prevented. He had forgotten to build a fire and thaw out. He chuckled at his foolishness, and as he chuckled he noted the numbness creeping into the exposed fingers. (14)

In this quote, the guy chuckles at the fact that his face is frozen. Um, excuse us? He really doesn't seem to be getting the point, which is that it's really, really cold out. He even chuckles as he notices his fingers getting numb. This one line, in a sense, is a microcosm of everything that's about to happen. The cold creeping into his fingers is exactly what will destroy his last failed attempt to build a fire and save himself. This early in the story, though, the man is still chuckling about this, finding it all pretty hilarious.

He remembered the advice of the old-timer on Sulphur Creek, and smiled. The old-timer had been very serious in laying down the law that no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below. Well, here he was; he had had the accident; he was alone; and he had saved himself. Those old-timers were rather womanish, some of them, he thought. All a man had to do was keep his head, and he was all right. Any man who was a man could travel alone. (21)

This quote draws a direct connection between the man's pride and his sense of masculinity. He criticizes the old-timer for being too womanish, and doesn't seem to have any appreciation for the fact that this old-timer probably knows a lot more about the Yukon than he does.

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