To Build a Fire

Introduction

"To Build a Fire" is a short story by American author Jack London. There are two versions of this story, one published in 1902 and the other in 1908. The story written in 1908 has become an often anthologized classic, while the 1902 story becomes less known. The 1908 version is about an unnamed protagonist who ventures out in the subzero tundra of the Yukon Territory, accompanied by his dog, to visit his friends—ignoring warnings from an older man about the dangers of hiking alone. The protagonist underestimates the harsh conditions and slowly begins to freeze to death. After trying and failing to build a fire, he slips into unconsciousness and dies of hypothermia.

The 1902 version describes a similar situation, but with a different plot. Though the structure and storyline are similar in both, in 1902 the weather is not as cold and horrendous, no dog follows the protagonist, the fire is not doused, and the man (named Tom Vincent) suffers only from permanent frostbite and survives to become a more melancholic but wiser person.

The 1908 "To Build a Fire" is an oft-cited example of the naturalist movement that portrays the conflict of man vs. nature. It also reflects what London learned in the Yukon Territory.[1]


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