ISC Echoes workbook answers Irony in ‘To Build a Fire’


To Build a Fire : by Jack London

Question: what are the examples of irony in the story “To Build a Fire”.

Answer: In the short story ‘To Build a Fire’ Jack London artfully placed irony to illustrate and emphasise the human frailty against a harsh environment.

    The man thought that fifty degrees below zero is just cold and a mere inconvenience and ” that must be guarded against by the use of mittens, ear – flaps, warm moccasins and thick socks.”

     The man was without imagination as he didn’t imagine the brutal cold being fatal. While ironically he resigned to the power of nature and slipped into frozen sleep in the same cold weather and died.

   “He was bound to freeze anyway and he might as well take it decently……… he thought to sleep off to death.”

     Although the man was “keenly observant” as he constantly on the lookout for signs of the hidden dangers.
  ” he noticed the changes in the creek, the curves and bends……. he sharply noted where he placed his feet. 

     Every time he came across with such underground springs he shied abruptly so he moved along the sides “stepping gingerly and testing the footing for each step.” 

       Ironically the man ” falls through the ice” in an area without       ” treacherous signs “.
    As the author describes the incident –
” And then it happened. At a place where there were no signs where the soft unbroken snow seemed to advertise solidity beneath, the man broke through. “
     Then the man painstakingly starts a fire which is ironically extinguished by falling snow from the “treacherous tree”, just as he is about to begin thawing out his freezing feet. Only then he realised that it was no longer a mere matter of freezing his fingers and toes ……..but it was a matter of life and death with the chances against him.”

     At time  when he did not pay any heed on the advice of the Old timer that “no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below” rather he made fun of this by calling it quite  ” quite womanish ”   and thought   ” any man who was a man could travel alone. “

      But within a few hours he was wet and freezing to such an extent that he could not build a fire to warm himself he ironically realised that ” the old timer on Sulphur Creek  was right …….after fifty below a man should travel with a partner “. 

      The man could not survive the seventy – five degrees below zero temperature while the dog , living only by instinct, saved itself.

    The man who had a well developed brain, immense knowledge had the support of technology and tools and also he could build the fire using matches yet he failed to survive in that cold weather. Ironically the four foot brute who had only his instinct survived.

     The dog simply obeys his instinct. It had less developed brain and so did not have much  knowledge which could not hinder it’s instinct. Because of this fact  the dog was closer to nature as if it was a part of the nature itself.

    This way the story proves the man’s intelligence useless as he relied on his knowledge while he  should have  disregarded it in favour of his instinct.  It was the man’s arrogance which made him afflicted with ‘hubris’ and thus he failed to overcome nature. 

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