Jack London’s short story, “To Build a Fire” haunts me. It is disturbing and sad, and quite frankly, not the kind of thing that I would typically read. And yet, I’m drawn to it. I’m drawn to the story of this man’s demise. I’m drawn to the universal question of “why”?
“Why did he not listen to the old-timer at Sulpher Creek?”
“Why do we let pride and arrogance have a place in our lives?”
Jack London’s character from To Build a Fire is a classic character whose own traits lead him down a path of which he is the most likely to suffer. He doesn’t pay attention to the dog’s slinking body as it follows him down the trail. He doesn’t stop to think about the spittle crackling in the air before it hits the snow. He doesn’t heed the warning of the flowing water below the fresh snow, and he certainly doesn’t stop to think, “What if something goes wrong?” Because of his focus on getting to the guys by 6pm, he ultimately dies a frozen death.
I can’t help but admire London’s writing in this short story. When I was done reading it, I felt cold. London took me through the stages of hypothermia alongside the main character. I could see the dog shying away from the smooth, cooing voice as it called to him. And as his life ended, I ran alongside him as he ran for his life, and fell with him as he fell to his death.
With excellent description and narration, its not hard to see why this story is known around the world.