Synopsis of To Build a Fire by Jack London

About the Author Jack London

Jack London (1876-1916) was an American novelist, journalist and social activist. He was an advocate of Socialism. He is famous for his adventurous stories, which are powerful and thought-provoking. He won national acclaim for his short stories about the brutal and vigorous life of the Yukon. London's best books include the semi-autobiographical Martin Eden, and John Barleycorn, The Call of the Wild, The Sea Wolf and The White Fang. They became popular for their theme and style of writing. Man's insignificance, when faced with the fury of nature, is a recurrent theme in his works and this is portrayed vividly in the short story, To Build a Fire'.

Summary of To Build a Fire

In the extreme cold of Yukon, walks a solitary man with extraordinary courage and confidence in his ability to travel on his own. It was a clear but dark day, as there was no hint of the sun. The landscape was white with wide expanse of ice and snow. The man lacks imagination and visualizes the consequences of his foolhardy nature. He cannot just admit his weaknesses as a human being, when confronted with the menacing power of nature. He even laughs it off when his cheeks and nose turn numb. He only thinks of his lunch and the necessity to build a fire. His practical mind tells him that temperature is below minus fifty but he doesn't panic. Once the ice below breaks, his feet are immersed in icy cold water. His boots are frozen and when he tries to remove them his fingers become numb. He builds a fire but an ice-laden branch falls on it and snuffs it out. Now he remembers the warning words of the old man at Sulphur Creek. Again he succeeds to build a fire with great difficulty, using the whole bunch of matchsticks but that also fails. Then he gets a wild idea of killing the dog and warming his hands in its innards, but he cannot use his frozen fingers or hold a knife or strangle it. He lets it go. That makes him run like a chicken with its head cut off but doesn't send the circulation up. The certainty of death stares at him; he realizes the futility of his attempts to remain alive. He decides to face death with dignity. He slumps to the ground, on the wet snow. The dog waits for some time, sniffs death and runs away seeking warmer fires and food.


exceedingly - very much, extremely;
orb - any of the heavenly bodies, as the sun or moon;
undulations - waves;
chechaquo - newcomer:
frailty - the condition of being weak and delicate;
moccasins - a soft leather slipper or shoe:
speculatively - in a thoughtful manner;
protruding - sticking out, projecting:
plunged - jump or dive quickly and energetically:
numb - frozen, insensitive:
trotted - cause to proceed at a pace faster than a walk, lifting each diagonal pair of legs alternately: menacing - threatening:
unwonted - unusual;
appendage - addition, attachment;
reiterated - say something again or a number of times:
shied - a sudden startled movement;
crypts - deep reserves, recesses;
outwitted - defeated;
smote - to strike down, injure, or slay:
caresses - touch or stroke gently or lovingly:
apprehension - anxiety:
floundered - slipped and struggled to escape:
extremities - ends, tips of fingers and toes:
willy-nilly - without particular direction or planning:
ebbed - gradually decrease;
conflagration - extensive fire;
agitation - disturbance:
imperceptible - slight, gradual, unperceivable;
wistfulness - regretful longing:
excruciating - extremely painful:
spasmodically - sudden but brief;
cherished - cared for:
peremptorily - positivity or assertiveness in speech, tone, manner;
throttle - attack or kill (someone) by choking or strangling them;
poignant - sharp feeling of sadness;
drowsed off - becoming lethargic. 
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