Read On, Reader, Read On
Written with clear, descriptive language, Jack London’s To Build a Fire is both readable and understandable. The underlying themes relate both to human nature and often to the reader personally, thus drawing the reader into the story. The problems with a lack of foresight and plans too defined often reveal themselves in my daily life, while the plot of the story itself is exciting and believable. Such a combination of language, meaning, and plot allow any reader to thoroughly enjoy the story as a whole.
Jack London’s style plays an important role in the clarity of the experience conveyed and in the detail expressed. While sentences are direct, the language is not so simple as to divulge the subtle, underlying themes woven into the story. The prose, clear and concise, manages not to confuse the reader but instead to allow him to enjoy the plot and the description. London’s descriptive passages, especially those concerning nature and the landscape, are to be particularly admired:
North and south, as far as his eye could see, it was unbroken white, save for a dark hairline that curved and twisted from around the spruce-covered island to the south, and that curved and twisted from away into the north, where it disappeared behind another spruce-covered island. (1277)
Such a passage as this allows the reader to see what the narrator sees and no less. And, while such a descriptive style is not specific to London alone, it does bring the reader closer to the story through the vivid imagery used to communicate the setting and experience. An unobtrusive, clear, descriptive choice of language and style involves the reader in what proves truly important in the work—the events that take place and their meaning.
Still, while the style does not interfere with the story, the themes present in To Build a Fire are truly what allowed me to enjoy the piece. More specifically, the fact that a reader can most likely relate in some way to the characteristics of the main character at one time or another in his life draws the reader closer to the page, thanking perhaps some higher power that they did not experience the same fate. The man in the work displays a gaping lack of foresight as he travels in weather with over a hundred degrees of frost and dismisses the early signs of cold. He continues without regard for his frozen cheeks, for “what were frosted cheeks? A bit painful, that was all; they were never serious.” Yet even the dog, acting on instinct, knows the consequences of such extreme cold:
[The dog] made quick efforts to lick the ice off it’s legs, then dropped down in the snow and began to bite out the ice that had formed between the toes. This was a matter of instinct. To permit the ice to remain would mean sore feet. (1279)
Perhaps it is the man’s own ignorance or even his arrogance, as he tries to defeat nature when nature seems to have “home-field advantage,” that allows him to continue in such harsh conditions, but it can be said, with little or no exaggeration, that every person has experienced the same to some degree, whether in not listening to the advice of an old-timer or in biting off more than they can chew.
Yet, still other themes such as this allow a reader to relate to the main character’s folly. As “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” the man in the story does not plan for any misfortune in his journey, for he convinces himself that he can make it by six, as long as he maintains his pace. And at least I can remember a countless number of times when I have said to myself that I will be done with an English paper by two just when a favorite television show comes on or friends drop in for a visit. But it is precisely this that allows a reader to associate himself with the man and therefore bring himself into the story.
The story itself is also exciting. While not sure why readers find it so enjoying to read about others in life-threatening situations, it is precisely for this reason the I enjoyed it so much. While not a story that throws a reader to the edge of his seat as he bites his nails at the page turn, the plot still provides enough suspense and interesting, unexpected situations that keeps a reader interested; it is unlikely that anyone expected the snow to fall and blot out the man’s fire—or at least I did not. More than just a descriptive passage, the story contains enough “plot” to force a reader to read on.
Such a conglomeration provides readers with a truly intelligent, perceptive, and vivid story. A combination of exciting, well-described events and character traits to which nearly anyone can relate involves the reader in the story itself. And with little to get in the way of such a story line, To Build a Fire can be little but enjoyable.