How have the right to we review “To Build a Fire” as a cautionary tale about the exploitation of nature?


Jack London’s story “To Build a Fire” cautions not just versus trekking via a wilderness at seventy-five below however also versus seeing nature sindicate as a source to be exploited and managed.

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Jack London (1876–1916)


Jack London, “To Build a Fire,” 1908

Text Type

Literary Fiction; Quick Story

Text Complexity

Grades 4–5 intricacy band also.

For more indevelopment on message intricacy check out these resources from

In the Text Analysis section, Tier 2 vocabulary words are identified in pop-ups, and Tier 3 words are defined in brackets.

Click below for criteria and also skills for this lesboy.


Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9–10.1 (Cite proof to support explicit and inferential references)CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9–10.2 (Determine advance of a theme over the course of a text…)CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9–10.3 (Analyze how complicated personalities develop…)CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9–10.4 (Meaning of words and phrases… figurative and also connotative…)

Teacher’s Note

This lesboy develops what could be called an environmentalist interpretation of “To Build a Fire.” The analysis turns on the namemuch less protagonist’s absence of creativity and also his inability to respond to the organic world in anypoint even more than superficial and also utilitarian terms. In the start of the story the narrator describes a landscape that sends effective signals of peril and doom, yet the protagonist, inqualified of apprehending the “significances” of points, responds just to the cold, which he sees, not as somepoint that might kill him, but sindicate as a source of discomfort. Regardless of being devoid of self-awareness and also curiosity, but, he can review nature in a particular way, as a commodity, a source of gold and also lumber, to be exploited. His perspective toward nature is better defined by his connection to the dog that accarriers him: the pet is his “toil-servant,” conquered and also managed by the “whip-lash.”

Having establiburned the protagonist’s perspective toward nature, the analysis transforms to the “old-timer from Sulhair Creek,” that, though unseen, is a significant character in the story. The lesson difficulties students to infer the old-timer’s perspective toward nature from the advice he uses and to compare it to the protagonist’s see of the organic world. Noting the juxtaposition of imeras of the two guys at the end of the story — one dead on a scurrently bank, the other safe and also heat in his cabin — the leschild asks which watch of nature the story endorses.

The leskid establishes this interpretation by analyzing nine brief excerpts, extended with four sets of cshed reading concerns. It could be supplied in class by assigning one team of students sets 1 and 2 and also a second sets 3 and also 4.

The textual analysis does not explore the story’s naturalistic aspects, yet the interenergetic exercise contrasts naturalism through romanticism and realism and also asks students to identify passperiods as examples of each. It uses a wonderful opportunity to assess students’ expertise of naturalism and also to testimonial romanticism and also realism. It is composed so that it have the right to be detached from this leskid and also offered as a stand-alone exercise.

The lesboy is separated into two components, both available listed below. The teacher’s guide contains a background note, the interenergetic exercise defined above, a message evaluation with answers to close analysis inquiries, and an optional follow-up assignment. The student variation, an interactive PDF, contains every one of the above, except for the answers to the close analysis concerns and also the follow-up assignment.

Teacher’s Guide (continues below)Student Version (click to open)

Background QuestionsWhat sort of message are we dealing with?When was it written?Who created it?For what audience was it intended?For what objective was it written?

The word “pedestrian” has actually 2 definitions. As a noun, it denotes a person who is walking; as an adjective it means unimaginative. The protagonist of Jack London’s short story “To Build a Fire” dies because both interpretations use to him. A pedestrian accident — he steps right into a spring once the temperature is seventy-five listed below — is the immediate reason of his death. His pedestrian intellect — he cannot grasp the “significances” of things — is the ultimate cause of his death. Focusing on the last, this leschild explores just how his lack of creative thinking leads to his death.

Jack London (1876–1916) based “To Build a Fire” on his suffer in the Klondike region of northwestern Canada. The discovery of gold there in 1896 collection off a frenzy that led thousands of prospectors to difficulty its harsh climate and also terrain. In the late 1890s London’s efforts to launch a writing career had actually stalled, and also he yearned for an adventurous and also perhaps lucrative escape from publishers and also rejection letters. His brother-in-regulation likewise dreamed of striking it well-off and also agreed to finance an exploration that would take both of them to the gold areas. They left San Francisco on July 25, 1897. On the trip north they befriended 3 various other prospectors, and also the five determined to pool their talents. They arrived in Juneau, Alaska, on August 2 and set out for the Klondike. After climbing mountains, shooting treacherous rapids, and also enin the time of miserable living problems, London and his companions put up camp close to Dawboy City in October. While tright here he invested a lot of his time in saloons listening to prospectors’ tall tales around living in the wilderness. A winter in cshed quarters through four various other males and a stable diet lacking fresh vegetables left him emotionally worn down and also enduring from scurvy. In June 1898 he began his journey earlier to San Francisco, arriving tright here the complying with month. He stepped off the boat via only $4.50 worth of gold dust1 however via a treasure of material that would certainly fuel his imagination for years to come.

That treacertain would certainly have actually seemed like a paltry point to the protagonist of “To Build a Fire.” As the narrator points out, the “trouble” with “the man” is that his reasoning has continued to be resolutely earthbound. He has actually never before launched himself into “the conjectural field” to condesign template such matters as human frailty, fatality, or his location in the cosmos. Why does the narrator tell us that? After all, just how helpful are deep thoughts once you are plodding through deep snow? Practical knowledge rather that philosophic speculation sustains the guy through a lot of the story: he have the right to, for instance, navigate overland through exceptional accuracy, and also he deserve to start a fire in a fuel-starved setting with a single match. Had he avoided the accident, those skills, not musings around immortality, can have acquired him to the old case, frostbitten, to be sure, but alive.

Mention of the old insurance claim reminds us that the protagonist is a prospector, and, as we learn, he hopes to come to be a logger also. His perception of nature is as utilitarian as the knowledge that almost gets him to that heat camp and also dinner via the boys. He does not make it, but, and also with his fatality the story says that a utilitarian conception of nature is not sufficient. The herbal world, as we check out, exacts a destructive toll on those who cannot recognize its power and mystery and also who attempt to reduce it to nothing even more than an economic resource.

1 Andrew Sinclair, Jack: A Biography of Jack London (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), p. 51.

Text Analysis

Part 1: The Yukon
Close Reading Questions

1. What are the chief features of the landscape in which the protagonist finds himself?It is grey and also very cold; note the repetition in the initially sentence. It is strange: there is no sunlight on a clear day. It is dark, gloomy, foreboding, and also ominous. Excerpt 2 highlights the landscape’s vastness — “a thousand also miles… a thousand miles and half a thousand more” — and also its desolation — “all pure white.” It is mysterious and dangerously deceptive: its gentle undulations conceal the water that will certainly later on prove fatal.

2. What foreshadowings does excerpt 1 include?The protagonist finds himself winded as soon as he climbs the earth-bank, foreshadowing his lack of endurance once, late in the story, he contemplates running to his location. Words “pall” refers not only to the overarching setting of gimpend however also to a shroud that covers a coffin, foreshadowing his fate.

3. Excerpt 1 is composed from the point of see of the omniscient narrator, excerpt 2 from that of the protagonist. Thus it records what he concentrates on as he looks earlier over the route he has took a trip. What he picks out of the landscape is considerable and also, as we shall see, uses insight right into his perception of nature. What functions does he note?It is necessary to have actually students note the protagonist’s concentration on the Yukon River: its ice jams, its twists and curves, and its relationship to the spruce-covered islands. Furthermore, he locations these details in the context of distance to salt water and also to cities.

The significance of these observations will end up being clear in the lesson’s evaluation of excerpt 4, wbelow we learn that the protagonist is a would-be logger. As someone who wishes to cut lumber on the islands, he is, in excerpt 2, assessing the river’s capacity to lug logs to industry. Hence right here at the exceptionally opening of the story the narrator argues the protagonist’s practical check out of nature in addition to his obliviousness to the risk posed by the desolate white landscape he is surveying. His perception of nature as a source blinds him to its power.

1. Day had actually broken cold and also gray, exceedingly cold and also gray, once the man turned aside from the main Yukon trail and climbed the high earth-financial institution, wbelow a dim and little-took a trip trail led eastward through the fat spruce timberland. It was a steep bank, and he paoffered for breath at the height, excmaking use of the act to himself by looking at his watch. It was nine o’clock. There was no sun nor hint of sunlight, though tright here was not a cloud in the skies. It was a clear day, and also yet tright here appeared an intangible palmost everywhere the confront of things, a subtle gimpend that made the day dark, and also that was due to the absence of sunlight. This truth did not problem the man. He was used to the absence of sunlight. It had actually been days given that he had watched the sun, and he knew that a few even more days have to pass prior to that cheerful orb, due south, would simply peep above the sky-line and dip automatically from see.

2. The guy flung a look ago along the method he had actually come. The Yukon lay a mile wide and covert under three feet of ice. On optimal of this ice were as many kind of feet of snow. It was all pure white, rolling in gentle undulations wright here the ice-jams of the freeze-up had actually created. North and south, as much as his eye might see, it was undamaged white, conserve for a dark hair-line that curved and also twisted from about the spruce-extended island to the southern, and also that curved and also twisted amethod into the north, wright here it disappeared behind another spruce-spanned island also. This dark hair-line was the trail — the primary trail — that led south five hundred miles to the Chilcoot Pass, Dyea, and salt water; and also that led north seventy miles to Dawson, and also still on to the north a thousand miles to Nulato, and finally to St. Michael on Bering Sea, a thousand also miles and also half a thousand also even more.
Close Reading Questions4. In the story’s opening paragraphs the narrator describes a landscape supposed to impress, and also he seems to think that it should impress the protagonist. Why does he think that?He thinks that the landscape have to impush the protagonist bereason of its mystery and also strangeness and also bereason its attributes are new to him; it’s his first endure through winter in the Yukon.

5. The landscape does not impress the protagonist. What does, and how does it impush him?The cold impresses him, and also it does so only to the extent that it makes him uncomfortable. He experiences the world only on the level of the senses; he responds with no intellection.

6. What does the narrator suppose when he claims that the protagonist is “without imagination” and also that he is not alert to the “significances” of things?The narrator is referring to an intellectual dullness, a pedestrian, matter-of-truth vision that never before transcends or inquires past the earthbound, the obvious, and also the superficial. Later in the paragraph he broadens his critique to include a absence of self-awareness: the protagonist never contemplates matters prefer huguy frailty, death, or his location in the world. As we shall check out, his ordeal leads him to contemplate all of these matters.

7. Clearly on, the narrator thinks that the protagonist’s response to the landscape is inadequate: “But all this… made no impression.” In what ways is it inadequate?The protagonist falls short to identify the mystery, strangeness, and peril in the landscape. For him nature is nothing more than the cold.

8. The protagonist interprets the cold as just something that causes discomfort, somepoint to be guarded versus by bundling up. Had he been alert to “significances,” how might he have understood the cold?He can have actually checked out it as an effective force that can kill him. This misreading of the cold is emblematic of his faitempt to provide the organic civilization its due and also to comprehend his precarious place in it, and that faientice sets him up for the tragedy that ensues.
3. But all this — the mysterious, far-getting to hairline trail, the absence of sun from the sky, the remarkable cold, and also the strangeness and also weirdness of it all — made no impression on the man. It was not bereason he was long offered to it. He was a newcomer in the land also, a cheechako, and this was his first winter. The trouble through him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and also alert in the things of life, however just in the points, and also not in the significances. Fifty levels listed below zero meant eighty-odd levels of frost. Such reality 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 also upon man’s frailty in basic, able only to live within specific narrow boundaries of warm and also cold; and from there on it did not lead him to the conjectural area of immortality and man’s area in the cosmos. Fifty degrees listed below zero stood for a bite of frost that hurt and that need to be guarded against by the use of mit10s, ear-flaps, heat moccasins, and also thick socks. Fifty degrees listed below zero was to him just precisely fifty degrees below zero. That tbelow must be anypoint more to it than that was a assumed that never gotten in his head.…
Cshed Reading QuestionsAs we have actually viewed therefore far, the protagonist is inqualified of reading the clues of risk and doom the wilderness is sfinishing him. But he is nonetheless qualified of knowledge the landscape in a certain method.

9. In excerpt 4 we discover why the protagonist is trekking throughout the frigid Yukon: he is heading for an old mining insurance claim, but he has taken a roundabout method — a fatal alternative, as it turns out — to recognize how he can move logs, reduced in the location, to sector. How does this reality explain the landscape details he notes in excerpt 2?Remind students of their responses to question 3. As we provided tbelow, the protagonist is assessing the river’s capacity to lug logs to market.

10. Excerpt 2, which is the second paragraph in the story, says exactly how the protagonist perceives nature. Excerpts 4, 5, and also 6 tell us explicitly. In excerpt 4 we learn that he is a prospector and also a would-be logger. In 5 we learn that the dog is no pet: the guy imdangers the dog’s life by sending him throughout dangerous ice. The summary of the dog as a “toil-servant,” mastered with the “whip-lash,” in excerpt 6 specifies the connection in between the protagonist and also the dog and also, by extension, between the protagonist and also the organic civilization. Based on these passeras, exactly how would certainly you characterize the protagonist’s perspective toward nature?He sees the natural human being as a source — a repository of gold and also hardwood — to be exploited. Instead of viewing nature as a living thing through its own power, deserving of respect, he sees it as a commodity to be mined, cut, and offered. In addition, his treatment of the dog says that he views nature as something that exists just to serve him, somepoint he have the right to regulate and dominate.
4. But the temperature did not issue. He was bound for the old case on the left fork of Henderchild Creek, wbelow the boys were currently. They had come over throughout the divide from the Indian Creek nation, while he had come the roundaround way to take a look at the possibilities of gaining out logs in the spring from the islands in the Yukon.…5. Normally the snow over the covert pools had actually a sunken, candied appearance that advertised the hazard. Once aobtain, however, he had actually a close call; and when, suspecting hazard, he compelled the dog to go on in front. The dog did not want to go. It hung ago till the male shoved it forward, and then it went easily throughout the white, unbroken surconfront. Suddenly it damaged with, floundered to one side, and also obtained away to firmer footing.…6. it was the time to lie snug in a hole in the scurrently and also wait for a curtain of cloud to be attracted throughout the face of outer space whence this cold came. On the other hand also, tbelow was no keen intimacy between the dog and also the guy. The one was the toil-slave of the various other, and also the just caresses it had actually ever before obtained were the caresses of the whip-lash and also of harsh and also menacing throat-sounds that threatened the whip-lash.
Cshed Reading QuestionsAlthough we never before watch the old-timer from Sulfur Creek, he is a significant character in the story. He shows up over and over again as the protagonist recalls the advice he offered him.

11. How is the protagonist’s perspective toward nature reflected in excerpt 7, and just how does his attitude assist to define his dismissal of the old-timer’s advice?His satisfaction at saving himself mirrors his idea that he have the right to prevail over nature. Firmly believing that, why need to he listen to the “womanish” (note the gendering of weakness) advice of an old man?

12. From the advice he supplies, what deserve to we infer around the old-timer’s perspective towards nature? Compare it to the protagonist’s.He is an “old timer,” whose lengthy endure has actually taught him to understand also and also respect the power of nature. Unchoose the protagonist, he is mindful of huguy frailty and also knows that the human control of nature cannot be counted on, especially in too much circumstances.

13. We started this analysis by noting that the protagonist lacked self-awareness. How can we say that, with his ordeal, nature has lugged him to self-awareness, has actually led him to see his place in the universe?In excerpt 8 we check out that his ordeal has, fairly literally, allowed him to envision his location in the world, which happens to be a scurrently financial institution in the Yukon on which he is sprawled, frozen to fatality.

14. The story ends through the juxtaposition of two images: the protagonist lying dead in the snow and the old-timer comfortable in his cabin. How does the story judge the two attitudes toward nature represented by these men?Here is wbelow we view that the story can be check out as a cautionary tale. Clbeforehand, by killing off the prospector / potential logger as a result of his pedestrian, utilitarian principle of nature, it is warning against reducing nature to a mere commodity. In enhancement, it dramatizes the folly of reasoning that human beings have the right to grasp the organic people. By picturing the old-timer puffing on his pipe in a heat, comfortable cabin, the story illustprices the wisdom of a perception of nature informed by an awareness of and also respect for its power and mystery.

Activity: Recognizing Romanticism, Realism, and NaturalismExamine wright here miscellaneous authors set their stories and just how they present the natural human being.
7. He was safe. He remembered the advice of the old-timer on Sulphur Creek, and smiled. The old-timer had actually been extremely severe in laying down the regulation that no guy have to travel alone in the Klondike after fifty listed below. Well, here he was; he had had the accident; he was alone; and also he had saved himself. Those old-timers were quite womanish, some of them, he thought. All a man had actually to do wregarding keep his head, and also he was all ideal. Any man who was a male might take a trip alone.…8. Then the believed pertained to him that the frozen portions of his body must be extfinishing. He tried to keep this believed down, to forgain it, to think of somepoint else; he was aware of the panicky feeling that it led to, and he was afraid of the panic. But the thought asserted itself, and also persisted, till it produced a vision of his body completely frozen. This was also much, and also he made one more wild run along the trail. Once he slowed dvery own to a walk, but the believed of the freezing extfinishing itself made him run aget.…9. He pictured the boys finding his body following day. Suddenly he uncovered himself via them, coming alengthy the trail and in search of himself. And, still with them, he came approximately a rotate in the trail and uncovered himself lying in the snow. He did not belengthy with himself any kind of even more, for even then he was out of himself, standing via the boys and looking at himself in the scurrently. It definitely was cold, was his thought. When he got earlier to the States he might tell the folks what actual cold was. He drifted on from this to a vision of the old-timer on Sulphur Creek. He can see him rather plainly, warmth and also comfortable, and cigarette smoking a pipe.

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Follow-Up Assignment

Like Jack London, Stephen Crane (1871–1900), the writer of the Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage, wrote in a naturalistic vein. In an untitled poem of only twenty-four words, recreated below, he captured much of naturalism’s attitude towards the natural civilization and also the location of human beings within it. As either a composed or discussion assignment — your teacher will decide which — define just how “To Build a Fire” shows the mindsets expressed in Crane’s poem.

A guy said to the universe:“Sir, I exist!”“However before,” responded the cosmos,“The reality has not developed in meA feeling of obligation.”

Vocabulary Pop-Ups

intangible: incapable of being touched, not solidpall: gloomy atmosphereundulations: hillsconjectural: interpretative