Foreshadowing in "How to Build a Fire"

Snow-blind In Jack London’s short story “To build a fire” a man sets out with his dog in extreme cold temperatures confident in arriving at their campsite where the man’s friends are waiting. London uses the element of foreshadowing to hint at the traveler’s impending doom. The first example of foreshadowing can be found where the man acknowledges that there certainly are risks that are included in the undertaking of his adventure.

London writes “he knew that there were springs that bubbled out from the hillsides and ran along under the snow and ran along under the snow and on top of the ice of the creek. He knew that the coldest snaps never froze these springs, and he knew likewise their danger. (586)” The man ignores his primary instincts when he notices that there is a spring flowing over a creek he must cross. The man acknowledges the danger and admits that he was already too far to turn back however, had he followed his instincts he would have survived to adventure another day.

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The second example of foreshadowing comes after the man has fallen through the frozen creek he had previously cautioned himself about. The man struggling to build a fire thinks back to words spoken by an old-timer in the town he departed from who had said; When it is seventy-five below zero, a man must not fail in his first attempt to build a fire—that is, if his feet are wet. If his feet are dry, and he fails, he can run along the trail for a while and restore his circulation.

But the circulation of wet and freezing feet cannot be restored by running when it is seventy-five below. No matter how fast he runs, the weak feet will only freeze the harder (588). The man tries in vain and against the old-timers wisdom to improve his circulation and more than or less only wears himself down. The man celebrates a short lived success after getting another fire to light only to have snow from overhead trees put it out and lashes out with a final act of desperation.

The final foreshadowing of the man’s death comes from a desperate idea of survival when he thinking back on stories of others who had survived in his situation. The man thinks to himself “the man, caught in a blizzard, who had killed a steer and crawled inside the carcass and so was saved (591). ” This crazed idea of survival triggers an impulse within him; the man attempts to strangle the dog but is unsuccessful. Little hope remains when he realizes he doesn’t have the strength to execute his plan; the man only then comes to grips with his fate.

In the story “to build a fire” by Jack London a man fails take the proper precautions against events and that foreshadow certain demise for the protagonist. Throughout the story the man experiences setbacks that should have deterred him however he was blinded by his pride, extreme cold and snow.

Work Cited London, Jack. “To Build a Fire. ” Literature for Composition. Ed. Sylvan Barnet, William Burto, and William E. Cain. 9th ed. New York: Longman, 2010. 583-593. Print.

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