“To Build a Fire” Write Up by Anaya Bonds

A man and his dog, a wolf-dog, are travelling through the Yukon, making their way towards a camp he will meet his friends at. His dog is aware of the danger of travelling in the conditions, and longs for the man to stop a build a fire instead of continuing on. The man flinches back from a frozen creek as he hears it crunch under his weight, knowing it would be dangerous to get wet in this temperature. He carefully crosses it, and continues this for several other possible traps. At one crossing, he shoved his dog onto the ice to check to see if it was stable. The dog fell through the ice and its legs became wet, the water immediately froze onto its legs. The dog began to chew at the ice to get it off and the man took off his mittens to help remove the ice, but stopped and pulled his mitten back on as his hand began to numb quickly. When they arrive at the forks of Henderson Creek, the man sits down to eat his lunch. He starts a fire and eats his lunch and smokes his pipe. The man gets up and prepares to set off again, but the dog doesn’t want to, once again not happy with travelling in the cold, but complies out of fear. The man misjudges a patch of snow in front of him, and falls through, becoming wet down halfway to his knees. He pulls himself out and starts to make a fire. He manages to get the fire going, and begins to take off his wet footgear. He had made his fire under a tree, against his better judgement, and snow falls on top of him and his fire. He moves to a clearing where there are no trees to drop snow on him, and begins to make a fire again, though at this point he is freezing and struggling to control his fingers. He attempts to grab a piece of birch bark out of his pocket, and his hands are so numb he can’t grab it. He begins to beat his hand against himself until some feeling returns to his hand, and he grabs the bark. He began to struggle with the matches then managed to press the pack of matches between his two hands and struck them against his leg, lighting the entire pack at once. He held the matches to the bark and kept doing so despite knowingly burning his hands. He manages to start a small flame, but ends up poking the center of the flame, causing it to fizzle out. He looks to his dog and thinks of cutting it open and warming his hands inside of the dog so he could use them again and make another fire. He manages to grab the dog but then realizes he isn’t physically able to hold his knife and cut the dog open so he lets it go. He begins running, hoping to manage to run to the camp his friends should already be at, and then begins to feel better from the movement. He grew tired and had to stop, unable to continue running for the moment. He realized running would not unthaw his nose, cheeks, hands or feet, but continues anyways and starts to run. He falls down again shortly after starting, and looks to his dog, once again envying its warmth. He feels himself beginning to slip off to sleep, and thinks about how his friends will find his body in the morning. He drifts into a comfortable sleep, his dog waiting by him for the rest of the day. The dog wonders why the man had sat down and not made a fire, and approached the man, the scent of death scaring the dog back a bit. The dog howled for a few moments, and then headed off in the direction of the camp.

Throughout his trip in the Yukon, the man only seems to be thinking about reaching the boys’ camp. Even as he’s dying, he doesn’t seem to be able to think about anything else. “He pictured the boys finding his body next day. Suddenly he found himself with them, coming along the trail and looking for himself. And, still with them, he came around a turn in the trail and found himself lying in the snow. He did not belong with himself any more, for even then he was out of himself, standing with the boys and looking at himself in the snow. It certainly was cold, was his thought.” When he isn’t thinking about reaching the camp, he’s thinking about how cold it is, or about the lunch he has tucked in his shirt. The man is almost developed to be this disconnected from an actual life and feelings just so when he is killed in the end, the reader isn’t too attached. The narrator in the beginning even mentions how unimaginative he is. “The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances. Fifty degrees below zero meant eighty odd degrees of frost. Such fact impressed him as being cold and uncomfortable, and that was all. It did not lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man’s frailty in general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold; and from there on it did not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man’s place in the universe. Fifty degrees below zero stood for a bite of frost that hurt and that must be guarded against by the use of mittens, ear-flaps, warm moccasins, and thick socks. Fifty degrees below zero was to him just precisely fifty degrees below zero.” Adding to his lack of imagination, he tends to be very ignorant of his surroundings. He brings up an experienced man from Sulphur Creek and how he said never to travel alone when it’s fifty below, and then he goes on to think of the advice as false. “He remembered the advice of the old-timer on Sulphur Creek, and smiled. The old-timer had been very serious in laying down the law that no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below. Well, here he was; he had had the accident; he was alone; and he had saved himself. Those old-timers were rather womanish, some of them, he thought. All a man had to do was to keep his head, and he was all right. Any man who was a man could travel alone.” The man also seems quite ignorant of the temperature he is travelling in. “In reality, it was not merely colder than fifty below zero; it was colder than sixty below, than seventy below. It was seventy-five below zero.” Even his dog seems to know better than him in this case. “The animal was depressed by the tremendous cold. It knew that it was no time for travelling. Its instinct told it a truer tale than was told to the man by the man’s judgment.” It really seems like London is trying to make the man seem very careless and foreshadows his death.

Many times throughout the short story, we hear from the dog’s point of view how much the dog wants the man to make a fire and stop travelling, yet the dog continues to follow he man anyways. Even after the man attempts to cut the dog open to warm his hands inside of the dog, the dog follows the man as he runs in a blind panic. “On the other hand, there was keen intimacy between the dog and the man. The one was the toil-slave of the other, and the only caresses it had ever received were the caresses of the whip- lash and of harsh and menacing throat-sounds that threatened the whip-lash. So the dog made no effort to communicate its apprehension to the man. It was not concerned in the welfare of the man; it was for its own sake that it yearned back toward the fire. But the man whistled, and spoke to it with the sound of whip-lashes, and the dog swung in at the man’s heels and followed after.”

The way London managed to make you disconnected enough from the character to not be devastated or upset with his death, but invested enough to keep reading. It also made me realize I am really too nice to my characters and I could definitely //abuse// them more.

Discussion questions:

Why do you think London chose to make the man’s companion a wolf-dog?

Does the man admitting the “old-timer of Sulphur Creek” represent a change of character?

“Hunters in the Snow” Write Up by Anaya Bonds

In the third-person narrative “Hunters in the Snow” by Tobias Wolff, three friends, Kenny, Frank, and Tub, go on a hunting trip. Kenny drives his truck up onto the sidewalk, and might have run over Tub if he hadn’t jumped out of the way, and then make their way to the hunting site. Kenny and Frank begin to search for tracks on one side of the creek, and Tub on the other. Because of his weight, he ends up sinking into the snow, and forgets to check for tracks. As they walk back towards the truck, the group comes across some deer tracks that Tub had crossed over on his way to find them. The tracks lead to someone’s property with a no hunting sign, and the group then goes to ask for permission. Obtaining permission, they then head after the deer. The property owner’s dog barks at them, and Kenny scares it away by dropping onto his knees and barking. They end up finding the tracks don’t lead to anything after walking for a while. Kenny being frustrated declares he hates a fence post, and shoots it, repeating this with a tree and the dog, killing it. He then says this to Tub, and as Kenny raises his gun, Tub shoots him first. They then return to the property owner’s house to call for an ambulance, but the hospital is too far away and all the ambulances are busy. Once Tub and Frank manage to haul Kenny into the trunk, they start off using some instructions to the hospital they were given by the property owner’s wife. Stopping twice to warm themselves, they discuss their personal problems while Kenny is forced to stay in the truck. At the first stop, Tub leaves the instructions to get to the hospital on the table, but Frank insists he remembers them well enough. They end up driving the opposite direction from the hospital, Kenny left believing he is going to the hospital.

Something that stood out almost right away was how different the three friends were. Kenny can’t seem to take anything seriously and feels superior to the other two hunters. Frank is more concerned about being accepted and his relationships than anything else, and always seems to be backing up the “alpha” of the group, who starts off as Kenny, then switches to Tub after he shoots Kenny. Tub is very emotional and sensitive, as when he shoots Kenny, he’s the one bawling his eyes out. He also is passive aggressive, as he is always the butt of the jokes in the group, because of his weight, and these jokes seem to be normal and he only snaps at Frank when he drops Kenny, and Frank calls him a “fat moron.” I also looked at a few biographies on Tobias Wolff, and they said as a child, he was abused by his step-father and often lied in a way of defending himself, which is reflected into Tub, who is verbally abused by his friends and lies, saying:

“What am I supped to do?” Tub said. “It’s my glands.”

When he later reveals that it wasn’t his glands, and that he just constantly ate and almost couldn’t stop himself. I also saw that he was in the U.S. army and fought in the Vietnam War, which might help explain Kenny neglecting the fact that Tub has emotions, and Tub later also neglecting Kenny’s health, as war is something people can’t forget, with all the horrific sights and actions he probably witnessed, and would only make sense to be reflected into his work, even if it’s not completely intentional.

All throughout this story, all three characters seem to be more concerned with their own well-being than anything. Although this could be seen as self-preservation, they seem to completely disregard that the others are alive. As we are introduced to Tub at the beginning of the story, Kenny greets Tub with:

“You ought to see yourself,” the driver said. “He looks just like a beach ball with a hat on, doesn’t he? Doesn’t he, Frank?”

which almost hints that this emotional degrading is probably normal for Tub. Not only does Kenny insult Tub, but he also tries to drag Frank into it, and he successfully does, as multiple times it’s Frank who brings in the insults first, like

“Stop bitching, Tub. Get centered.”

“Tub,” he said, “you haven’t seen your own balls in ten years.”

“You fat moron,” Frank said. “You aren’t good for diddly.”

After Kenny is shot, and Tub and Frank go to call an ambulance, they leave him alone outside instead of bringing him inside or at least one of them staying with him. Later, when they are carrying Kenny to the truck and Tub trips, Frank and Tub are too busy arguing to check on Kenny who is bleeding and rolling down the driveway,

Just past the house Tub slipped and threw out his hands to catch himself.

Instead of trying to keep Kenny from falling down the driveway, Tub prioritizes himself, who isn’t the injured one.

Outside in the parking lot there were several jeeps and trucks. A couple of them had deer strapped across their hoods.

He was jackknifed over the tailgate, his head hanging above the bumper. They lifted him back into the bed, and covered him again.

When I read over these two lines, I saw Kenny like a deer strapped onto the truck. Almost as if he was the game they caught for the year, because they were definitely treating him like a deer corpse. The way its described how they just slid him back into the trunk and cover him up is like he had just slid off the truck a bit and they need to push him back. Kenny is also described in a way that makes him seem like he is a corpse, “head hanging above the bumper” could probably be used to also describe the position of one of the deer on the other vehicles.

“I left the directions on the table back there.”

“That’s okay. I remember them pretty well.”

The dis-concern of not having instructions, and the almost inevitability of them becoming lost and Kenny coming closer to death is just horrible, and they have stooped down to being no better than animals.

By reading this story, I was able to see how the author’s life was intertwined with his writing, even though the story wasn’t about him, some things just seemed to overlap into it. I think trying to take a life experience I had and change it into something completely fictional, yet have some small relations to my life, as it might put some more interesting spins into the plot.

Do you think that Frank and Tub intentionally neglected Kenny?

What do you think the story is trying to teach us?

Do you think that Frank could have compelled Tub to shoot Kenny?