(Name) (Professor) (Subject) (Date) An Analysis of Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”: Man’s Folly and Death Jack London’s 1908 short story “To Build a Fire” is more than a story of death of an unnamed man who travels to the Klondike in winter in order to meet up with his friends at a mining camp but ends up struggling for his life and eventually freezing to death in the cold…
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Various literary devices such as repetition, flashback and irony help reveal the idea that the man in the story is foolish and that his foolishness leads to his death. Repetition is one of the most obvious literary devices employed by London in order to somehow instill in the reader that the man in the story persists in being stubborn about not heeding the repetitive instructions that nature gives him. One of the most recurring statements in the story is “It certainly was cold” (London). This particular line appears several times throughout the story, is repeatedly rephrased in many parts, and is portrayed in such vivid imageries of cold. One line that particularly refers to this recurring coldness is “Once in a while the thought reiterated itself that it was very cold” (London). This particular repetition actually serves as a constant reminder for the man in the story to stop or turn back lest it should be too late to avoid death. Nevertheless, the man goes on and even thinks that the idea of the cold is funny and that trying to survive it is ridiculous: “What were frosted cheeks? A bit painful, that was all; they were never serious.” (London) Another instance of repetition that demonstrates the man’s folly is “Fifty degrees below zero was to him just precisely fifty degrees below zero” (London). This particular line shows how literal the man can get when it comes to interpreting the cold temperature. He knows that it is in fact cold but despite the repeating thoughts of coldness, he remains “without imagination” (London) and he cannot see through the “significances” of things. (London) Another particular instance of repetition that abounds in the story is found in the following line where the words “below” and “zero” are repeated several times somehow for the purpose of reminding this stubborn man that he must either turn back or die: “In reality, it was not merely colder than fifty below zero; it was colder than sixty below, than seventy below. It was seventy-five below zero. Since the freezing-point is thirty-two above zero, it meant that one hundred and seven degrees of frost obtained.” (London) Still, the following line with the word “cold” repeated four times is one more instance where the author finally hints that the man’s foolishness perhaps run in the blood because somehow he has repeatedly ignored nature’s warnings: “This man did not know cold. Possibly all the generations of his ancestry had been ignorant of cold, of real cold, of cold one hundred and seven degrees below freezing-point.” (London) Moreover, it is also possible that the repetition in the story has the purpose of achieving a sort of “hypnotic impact” and to “produce a mood that is at once somber and sinister” (Labor & Hendricks). The idea of coldness repeated several times in the aforementioned lines somehow help create this “somber and sinister” mood, and may even foreshadow the cold death that the man is to experience toward the end of the story. There is also a hint of irony embedded in this repetition. The repetitive mention of the word “cold” and the other elements of cold somehow “reinforce the irony of the man’s failure to recognize [the cold’s] ‘extended’ reality” (Pizer). In short, the irony is that regardless of the fact that the
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