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Use of Devices in London’s To Build A Fire

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Jack London uses the devices of plot, setting, and

characterization in this short story “To Build A Fire” to convey his

message that humans need to be social. London sets an average, middle-aged

logger in a deserted Yukon trail during a wintry season. The temperature

is seventy-five degrees below zero and the logger and his husky are

traveling towards Henderson Creek, about ten miles away, where the logger’s

companions are located. London places the man in this Yukon environment to

symbolize that in this cold, cruel world, we need to learn how to benefit

from each other.

Prior to embarking on his journey, the logger is given advice from

an old-timer at Sulfur Creek that “no man must travel alone in the Klondike

after fifty below”. The logger thinks this is “rather womanish” and

believes he can survive by himself. Along his journey, the man encounters

death as he falls into a spring, where “At a place where there were no

signs, where the soft, unbroken snow seemed to advertise solidity beneath,

the man broke through. It was not deep. He wet himself halfway up the

knees before he floundered out to the firm crust”. Then the man builds a

fire beneath a tree and snow falls over it putting it out. London creates

these natural events in the plot to prove they are not the cause of the

man’s death.

Using characterization, London is able to display on account of who

is alive at the end how one benefits from being social. The old-timer at

Sulfur Creek is alive because he is experienced and wise enough to benefit

from others’ experiences that it is not wise to travel alone in the Yukon.

The boys at camp are also alive because they are together and can benefit

from each other. The logger’s husky is alive because it is well-suited for

the Yukon environment, while the logger is not. Unlike the other

characters, London has the man die at the end of the story to display that

he dies because of his arrogance in his ability to travel alone.

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