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Essay on Setting in 'To Build a Fire' by Jack London

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One of the biggest struggles people deal with in life is getting through an obstacle and doubting themselves in the process. Whether it be a physical, emotional, or mental struggle, having the strength to persist through it is a very important characteristic that will give you the confidence to get through anything that comes along the way. Each of these works portrays aspects of perseverance in different scenarios but has the same universal theme.

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In “To Build a Fire” the man is enduring sub-zero degree conditions and still has the courage to want to conquer and make it out alive through his tenacious efforts. Similarly, the song “Eye of the Tiger” shows the boxer’s determination to survive through fighting and not to give up physically and emotionally no matter how discouraged. Lastly, “The Old Guitarist” shows the old man grasping onto his guitar in the hope to get through a rough period in his life. The common theme of man vs. nature and aspects of survival/perseverance are displayed in Jack London’s “To Build a Fire,” Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger,” and Pablo Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist”.

Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” showcases the hardships of a man going through the Yukon trail in Alaska enduring seventy-five below zero weather. His mindset going into this is strong, courageous, and tenacious. The old-timer tells the man that under no circumstance should one go to Yukon. The man’s pride and overconfidence get in the way and he does not abide by the advice and continues towards these extreme conditions. This hostile environment can be deadly but this story shows moments of survival and what the man had to do to get through this challenging circumstance. The freezing cold and absence of the sun could only not phase him for so long. It did not bother him and he continued to persevere through miles and miles of trail. The key to survival was fire. The man constantly built him and the big native husky that he found along the way a fire so that the numbness would go away in his body and he would defrost. Many times the fire would fail; this would be life-threatening, and time was ticking. London describes the man’s many attempts, “Well it was up to him to build the fire over again, and this second time there must be no failure. The dead fingers could neither touch nor clutch. He was very careful. He drove the thought of his freezing feet, and nose, and cheeks, out of his mind, devoting his whole soul to the matches” (5). Through his actions, you can sense the man’s persistent spirit and motivation to not give up. Undergoing excruciating pain, he was still determined to continue the trail. He kept failing over and over again while numb all over his body, but still kept going. This exemplifies the basis of the story and its theme showing the man’s tenacious approach to the situation. He needed to be tactical about time, food, warmth, and many other things in order to survive these treacherous conditions. London states, “He was making four miles an hour, and he calculated that he would arrive at the forks at half-past twelve. He decided to celebrate that event by eating his lunch there” (2). The man was very keen on time and had a set routine for his daily adventure and meals. He struggled to battle extreme conditions against nature as one lonely man and his once pride turned into fear and doubt to make it out alive. Nevertheless, desperately came bizarre thoughts; his last hope of surviving was the dog. He schemed out a plan. London describes the man’s state of mind at this point of desperation, “The sight of the dog put a wild idea into his head. He remembered the tale of the man, caught in a blizzard, who killed a steer and crawled inside the carcass, and so was saved. He would kill the dog and bury his hands in the warm body until the numbness went out of them” (6). Survival mode geared him towards this idea but he was helpless to the fact he could not kill the dog because his hands were too weak and numb. In times of desperation, people will think of and do anything in order to survive, as they would not usually just think of an idea so cruel. Survival is heavily present in “To Build a Fire” and it teaches the lesson no matter what the circumstances, persist and fight your hardest through it no matter the result.

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Essay on Setting in ‘To Build a Fire’ by Jack London. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 24, 2023, from
“Essay on Setting in ‘To Build a Fire’ by Jack London.” Edubirdie, 21 Apr. 2023,
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Essay on Setting in ‘To Build a Fire’ by Jack London [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Apr 21 [cited 2023 Sept 24]. Available from:
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