The Role of Setting and Character in Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”

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Setting and characterization are two pivotal aspects of any literary work. Setting and characterization are instrumental in the development of the plot of any given literary work. The main objective of this essay is to illustrate the importance of these two aspects of literature with the help of Jack London’s short story “To Build a Fire”. The given literary work is a powerful story that depicts the tragedy that befalls a human being due to his inner weaknesses.

The plot of this short storyis powerfully driven by Jack London through a graphic description of the setting and the main character. A traveler appears in very cold conditions, and he is unaware of the immense danger he is exposing himself to. From the very beginning, the author creates a sense of tragedy in the story. Despites it is daybreak, it is dark everywhere, and there is no sun. It is almost suicidal for anybody to travel under such weather conditions.

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The setting affects the course of events in this story. Staying in the dark and cold surrounding full of snow and ice drives the main character into a certain course of action. The author follows this course of action, thus perpetuating the plot of the story. The traveler decides to make a fire in order to quell the biting cold. He, therefore, sets about making a fire under a tree; however, he is unaware that snow has accumulated on the same tree.

As the fire grows in size, the man begins to mend it by plucking twigs from the tree. This action upsets a delicate balance making the branches tipple. The snow that has accumulated on the tree falls into the fire beneath, extinguishing it with an immediate effect. The cold now seems too severe for the man, and, therefore, he has to make another fire. However, this time round, his fingers are frozen, making it very difficult for him to do anything.

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The story develops into a tragedy as the man is completely unable to make a fire. He ends up using all the matches he has. In despair, he even contemplates killing his dog and burying his hands into its warm flesh. However, the man cannot do it as well. Then, he decides to run towards the direction of the nearest camp, hoping to find some shelter and warm up. Unfortunately, the man burns out,  falls on the ground and is shut down by the cold. He freezes to death.

The characters of this story also drive the plot. To begin with, the man’s weakness of character affects the course of events in the story. He suffers from the inability to understand the implications of the cold environment on his life. It is so many degrees below zero but this does not change his mind. He, consequently, continues travelling regardless of the extreme weather conditions that put his life at risk. When he decides to make a fire, he does it without much thought. He starts it under a tree loaded with snow and goes ahead to disturb its balance by carelessly pulling twigs from the tree. Thus, the man fails to make a fire or find any shelter, and finally, he is frozen to death.

The dog also develops the plot of the story. It senses danger, when the man fails to make a fire for the second time. However, when the traveler starts running, the dog faithfully runs along with him. When the man finally collapses and dies, the story does not end there but is carried on by the dog, the only survivor. The story ends as the dog runs to the safe place.

Therefore, the setting and the characters of this short story are essential in developing the plot as they influence the course of events.

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