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To Build a Fire


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Jack London (1876—1916) American novelist

 

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Short story by Jack London, first published in The Century (Aug. 1908) and collected in Lost Face (1910).

A chechaquo, as newcomers to the Arctic are called, travels on a little-used route off the main Yukon trail one sunless winter day of “tremendous cold” at 75 degrees below zero. His every action has to be careful, but nevertheless he accidentally steps into a spring hidden under the snow and so immediately has to dry his boots and feet. The fire he builds is put out by snow that falls from a bough and his hands and feet begin to freeze. With the heels of his frozen hands he awkwardly grasps and lights his matches but burns himself and the fire fails to catch the twigs and grasses painfully scraped together. To save himself he decides to kill his husky dog and to bury his hands in the warm body until the numbness might go out of them, but he cannot hold his knife, and the frightened dog evades him. In desperation he runs to restore circulation, but he flounders, lies down, and drowses off to death.

Subjects: Literature.


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