To Build a Fire

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  • Q1

    ‘To Build a Fire’ delineates a man’s adventure in the Yukon Territory on an excessively cold day. Do you agree with the usage of the word ‘adventure’? Elucidate.

    Marks:20
    Answer:

    The story ‘To Build a Fire’ tells us about a man’s journey to a faraway base camp on a terribly cold day in the Yukon Territory in Canada. It is more of a misadventure than an adventure as many things go wrong in that journey. Ultimately, the man ends up losing his life because of his overconfidence. The man is a chechaquo, or a new person in the Klondike region. He does not understand the gravity of the warning of the old timer from Sulphur Creek who advises him against going out that day. The temperature is fifty degrees below zero and it is certainly too cold to travel. The old timer from Sulphur Creek knows the territory well and can foresee the dangers of going out on such a day. The man however, decides to ignore the warnings and laughs at the old man’s cautiousness.

    The adventure starts to turn into a misadventure soon after he falls into a concealed spring. He gets soaked up to his shins and his efforts to light a fire after that do not go well. Things become so bad that he even considers killing his only companion – the dog so that he can warm his hands. When he realises that his hands are too numb to do anything, he considers running to the base camp. Since his shoes, socks and his pants are soaked thoroughly, he cannot run for too long. Nor does he have the endurance to make it to the base camp- which is miles away. He realises the pointlessness of his endeavours and decides to accept his death with dignity. Therefore, the story begins as a daredevil adventure which soon turns into a misadventure leading to the eventual death of the protagonist.

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  • Q2

    Describe the dog’s relationship with the man in the story.

    Marks:20
    Answer:

    In the story, ‘To Build a Fire’, there are only three characters – the man, the dog and the old timer from Sulphur Creek. The dog is one of the main characters in the story. It is the companion to the man who sets out on a journey to a faraway base camp in the Klondike region. The dog represents the instinct whereas the man represents logic. One of the most interesting features of this story is the fact that the characters are representational. The dog can be viewed as a symbol which stands for all animals and their instinctive behaviour.

    The dog is the only companion of the man and doesn’t quite agree with or trust his judgement. Since, it is by nature an obedient animal, it follows the man. It knows that the weather is deadly and the consequences of going out on such a day can be nothing short of disastrous. It is also dependent on the man as it cannot light a fire. It has thick fur and strong instincts which enable it to sustain itself and protect itself against the cold. The dog knows that it cannot trust the man and it is proved right when the man secretly plans to kill it in order to warm his hands. It knows that to the man, it is expendable. Therefore, despite its dependence on the man for food and fire, it does not really trust him and that is why it runs off to a base camp it knows where it can find other food providers and fire providers when the man dies.

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  • Q3

    What can you say about the role of the man from Sulphur Creek in the story?

    Marks:20
    Answer:

    The man from Sulphur Creek is a wise old man who has probably lived in the Klondike region for a long time. He knows the territory well and he understands the consequences of setting out on a day when the temperature is nearly fifty degrees below zero. He warns the man against his journey. The man is a chechaquo, or a newcomer to the territory and does not take the seriousness of the extremely cold weather seriously. The old timer warns him and gives him a piece of his mind. The old man represents experience and wisdom. The man sets out despite the warnings of the old timer and eventually comes to realise that he should have paid heed to the advice of the older and more experienced man.

    The man is full of ego as he considers himself part of the supreme species which can conquer anything with the help of logic and intellect. The old timer not only has experience of knowing the territory, but also is able to see beyond the appearance of things. He understands the shortcomings of human beings and knows too well that one should not underestimate the power of nature and nor should we take too pride in our intellect. As the man proceeds in his journey, things get more and more difficult for him and he gradually comes to realise that the old timer was right. Through the character of the old timer, Jack London aims to teach us the importance of learning from the experience and wisdom of the older people. The man’s death at the end of the chapter is the best example of the same.

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  • Q4

    Do you agree that the story ‘To Build a Fire’ is mostly about struggle for survival? Give reasons for your answer.

    Marks:20
    Answer:

    Yes. To Build a Fire is mostly about the struggle for survival. It talks about the man’s journey to a base camp in the frozen Klondike region of the Yukon Territory in Canada. Despite warnings from an old timer from Sulphur Creek, the man sets out with just a wolf dog as a companion. The man is accustomed to giving his thoughts much importance. He prefers to act. He is an excessively logical person. Therefore, he is only aware of the dangers that he might face during his journey; he does not fear them. He considers himself a survivor and perhaps that is why he does not feel afraid despite the old timer warning him against the journey. He is prepared for the journey and is equipped with warm clothes, matches, food, etc. He plans to reach the camp to be reunited with ‘the boys’ by 6:30 that evening. He walks cautiously as he is aware of the concealed springs beneath the snowy surface. Despite being cautious, he falls into a concealed spring and gets soaked up to his shins. He lights a fire to dry himself with immense difficulty, but when he starts to take twigs from the trees, the snow on the boughs falls down and extinguishes his fire. In his desperation, he is reminded of a man who killed a bull and crawled inside the carcass for warmth. He considers killing the dog to warm his hands, but is unable to do so as his hands are nearly frostbitten. We can see that after he falls into the concealed spring, his journey becomes immensely perilous. In a state of panic, he decides to run to the base camp, but does not have the endurance, so ends up falling multiple times. After the last fall, he realises the inevitability of death and decides to accept his fate. He is, despite his struggle, overpowered by nature and he faces the consequences of ignoring his instincts.

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