To Build A Fire Summary by Jack London

Story of A Traveller

Set in the glacial environs of wintry Canada, this is a tale of pride getting the better of sound judgment. The area normally has temperatures far below freezing point and is a dangerous area to traverse alone.

The story charts the journey of a traveller who is new to the area but is confident in his ability to survive the weather on his own. He is advised by an old man in Sulfur Creek to find a travel partner in order to tackle both the temperature and arduous journey but he ignores the sage advice.

The Journey Begins

In his hubris, he plans to travel the length till the next camp where his friends are staying in a day. He begins his journey early morning and plans to reach his destination by 2 o’clock in the afternoon. He is accompanied by a canine which seems to be a reluctant traveller in the dangerously cold temperatures.

Having travelled at four miles an hour speed, the man feels confident in his ability to reach in time. However, he soon feels that his face is becoming numb due to cold. He regrets not wearing a face mask.

His spit turns into ice and his lungs seem heavy. The area is known for its frozen springs and lakes and he is wary of the threat because getting wet in sub-zero temperature is fatally dangerous. As a precaution, he pushes the dog in front of him to sniff out any pitfalls or thin sheet of ice. 

Extreme Climate

Unfortunately, he slows down due to extreme cold and has to stop for momentary rest. He readjusts his time of arrival at the camp at 6 o’clock in the evening.

As soon he starts again, he falls into spring and gets drenched till his waist. He remembers the old man’s advice of drying his feet in case he got wet and rushes to build a fire under a nearby tree.

He feels proud of his ability to think fast but suddenly the snow collected in the foliage extinguishes the fire. His loses sensation in his fingers and loses grip over the matches again. 


He begins to panic and decides to run to the camp before his whole body goes to waste due to frostbite. The old man had advised him against running as it accelerates freezing of the legs.

And soon he drops to the ground unable to stand up. He tries to lure the dog toward his failing body for some warmth. But the dog walks away ensuring its own survival. 

In the end, the man accepts his impending end and gives up trying to find an escape. The dog stays with him till the man breaths his last. As soon as he passes away, the dog loiters toward the next settlement for some much-needed fire and hot food.