Instant Resources for To Build a Fire by Jack London!
Whether you're looking for a short story to pair with the novel you're teaching, or you need a 2- to 3-day sub plan to use with the stories in your textbooks, Prestwick House Instant Short Story Packs go beyond basic comprehension to help students learn how to analyze literature.
Each downloadable pack addresses key skills through 5-10 standards-based analysis questions by guiding students through a series of scaffolding graphic organizers and in-class activities.
This Instant Short Story Pack for To Build a Fire by Jack London includes:
- Scaffolding graphic organizers and in-class activities
- Standards-based objectives
- Introduction and pre-reading notes
- Complete short story text
- Rigorous analysis questions
- Detailed teacher's answer guide
About To Build A Fire
Jack London’s “To Build a Fire,” is an extremely popular story for high school textbooks and anthologies. Two versions of the tale exist, one published in May of 1902 and a revision published in August 1908. The first version appeared in The Youth’s Companion, a magazine intended for what today would be called a young-adult readership. The 1908 version is the one most often included in anthologies—and the one presented here.
Both versions tell the story of a young prospector traveling to camp. In the 1902 version, however, the protagonist has a name—Tom Vincent. The weather is not as dangerously cold. The traveler is not accompanied by a dog, and he does not die at the end. Instead, he suffers irreparable frostbite but lives as a warning to other inexperienced young men and women not to act foolishly and to listen to the advice of those who are older and wiser.
In issuing his 1908 version, published in The Century Magazine, London turned his boys’ moralistic adventure story into an exploration of the principles of naturalism. They key changes London made to emphasize his new focus on naturalism include:
- turning the protagonist into a nameless everyman;
- intensifying the cold to highlight the apparent cruelty of nature;
- ending the story with the protagonist’s death;
- contrasting the man’s supposed knowledge and skill with the dog’s wiser instinct.
London’s language is fairly straightforward and shouldn’t pose a significant problem for you. He does provide a few scientific explanations for some of the circumstances of the story: Why is it noon on a clear day and there is no sunlight? Why is it so brutally cold—even for the arctic? What exactly causes the snow to fall from the tree? Certainly, you can understand the plot, the characters, and London’s theme without the science, but these details are perfect illustrations of naturalism at work in literature.
“To Build a Fire” does not lose any of its adventure or suspense between the 1902 and 1908 versions. But in stripping away the moral story of a youth’s foolishness and instead telling the story of a person in a situation, London actually increases reader sympathy for the characters and understanding of the circumstances they find themselves in.