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The Importance of Setting in Jack London’s To Build A Fire

In “To Build a Fire” by Jack London, the setting plays a

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significant role throughout the entire short story. Jack London uses

certain techniques to establish the atmosphere of the story. By

introducing his readers to the setting, prepares them for a tone that is

depressed and frightening. Isolated by an environment of frigid

weather and doom, the author shows us how the main character of the story

is completely unaware of his surroundings. The only world the man is truly

accustomed to, is his own. Never being exposed to such a harsh climate,

draws us to the conclusion that the environment is the determining factor

of his survival, as well as his dog’s too. Anything that the man and his

dog comes into contact with, creates an anticipation for disaster in the


London places a strong emphasis on the setting in the introduction

to the story. “Day had broken cold and grey, exceedingly cold and grey…”

He repeats these phrases to redefine to his readers the impact the setting

has on the lives of the characters. The gloominess of the setting instills

feelings in the man and the dog, of a constant battle with this world of

depression they are in. Being given no sense of imagination, the man is

only gifted with his practical knowledge. He therefore is shown to lack

the experience and thought to adapt to the conditions encompassing him.

Typically, man never wants to deal with the reality, especially

when it is unpleasant. “But all this-the mysterious, far-reaching hairline

trail, the absence of sun from the sky, the tremendou…

…he man didn’t listen to the advice of experienced

people, he was ignorant and never expected to be defeated by the climate.

If the man had prepared himself for the worst, his death would not have

been inevitable. Providing the separation between survival an death, the

setting was the most important factor in “To Build a Fire” by Jack London.

Works Cited and Consulted

Hendricks, King. Jack London: Master Craftsman of the Short Story. Logan: Utah State U P,

1966. Rpt. In Jack London: Essays in Criticism. Ed. Ray Wilson Ownbey. Santa Barbara:

Peregrine, 1978. 13-30.

London, Jack. “To Build a Fire.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry and Drama.

6th ed. Ed. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. New York: Harper Collins, 1995. 118-29.

Perry, John. Jack London: An American Myth. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1981.

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