To Build a Fire: Overview

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Author: Karen Rhodes
Editor: Noelle Watson
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Work overview; Critical essay
Length: 921 words

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During his relatively short life, London produced numerous novels and stories as well as political journalism and travel writing. Though most of his work is both eloquent and compelling, some obviously was written so that London could survive in a world he increasingly came to see as "red in tooth and claw." Perhaps because of these hack productions, but more likely because of the exotic settings and characters of even his best work, few critics have given him a place of high acclaim in American literature. He writes of the Klondike and South Seas islands, of pirates, boxers, hobos, and Socialists, not the home town fare of such contemporaries as Sinclair Lewis or Sherwood Anderson. London was a man of the Pacific before America knew how important that ocean was to become.

The Pacific and the down-and-out were what London knew best. "To Build a Fire" was drawn from the year he spent in Canada's Yukon Territory, aged 21 and suffering from scurvy, during the height of the gold rush there in 1898. One of his finest short stories, it reflects the heavily Naturalistic flavor he has come to be known for, and it pits one man, alone, against the overwhelming forces of nature, a setting many critics have claimed to be his best. Yet "To Build a Fire" is more than a naturalistic story of "one against nature," more...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420005062