"To Build a Fire" Reading Questions


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“To Build a Fire” Reading Questions

  1. Why do you think the protagonist is referred to as “the man” as opposed to being given a name?

  2. What is the weather like at day break when the story begins? What do you think this foreshadows for the rest of the story?

  3. London writes, “He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances” (498). What does this tell us about the man? What is his character like?

  4. How are the man and the dog similar? How are they different?

  5. Why doesn’t the man worry more about the cold? What is alarming/absurd about his reaction to the frostbite?

  6. Why do you think London continues to emphasize the coldness, and how the man had never felt such cold before?

  7. Why does the man “shy like a horse” from certain parts of the road?

  8. Do you agree or disagree with the man when he sends the dog ahead of himself to aid in his own safety? What would you do?

  9. Why does London point out that the dog acts from instinct?

  10. While eating, what startles the man? Why is this important?

  11. After deciding not to eat his lunch, how does the man’s outlook of his situation drastically, albeit briefly, change?

  12. What do you think London means when he says, “This man did not know cold”?

  13. When he falls in the river, the man curses his bad luck. Do you agree with where he places his blame? Why or why not?

  14. In the paragraph where the man reflects on “old-timers” and “men who are men” what do you think of his mentality and beliefs?

  15. What happens to the man’s fire and why?

  16. What difficulty occurs when the man finally lights all of his matches at once?
  17. When the man contemplates “using” his dog for survival, how does London emphasize the qualities of naturalism?

  18. What is the flaw in the man’s plan when he begins to run to camp?

  19. Why does the man start to berate the dog?

  20. How does the dog know to leave and head to the camp?


  1. He represents all people; the reader doesn’t attach as much to a nameless man

  2. dark; the absence of sun…a negative outcome for the man

  3. He is over confident; he pays no attention to detail

  4. Both are in a desperate situation, but the dog is acutely aware of it b/c of survival skills.

  5. He’s been out in two snaps before. He is ignoring the danger he’s in.

  6. To emphasize that the man continues to ignore the signs of nature.

  7. B/c he knows the ice is thin underneath, and he cannot get his feet wet.

  8. ---

  9. To show that from his natural being, he understands how to tend himself and he heeds those warnings.

  10. His fingers are freezing quickly; he is more susceptible to the cold.

  11. He becomes frightened from the cold, and realizes he underestimated it.

  12. ---

  13. ---

  14. ---

  15. Snow falls on it from a tree and it goes out.

  16. He lights his own hands on fire.

  17. The dog senses that something is not right, and knows to escape. The man lacks the dog’s instincts.

  18. He has no endurance left.

  19. He is jealous of the dog’s warmth and endurance.

  20. The dog smells death.


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