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To Build A Fire Commonlit Answers

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  • 9th Grade
  • Lexile: 960

Source: To Build A Fire by Jack London

Assessment Answers

Which of the following best describes a central theme of the text?In the struggle of man against nature, nature always wins.
Which quotation from the text best highlights the man’s ignorance to the potential dangers of nature?“Fifty degrees below zero was to him just precisely fifty degrees below zero. That there should be anything more to it than that was a lack of imagination.” (Paragraph 3)
The author’s descriptions of the cold weather suggest that –the cold should never be underestimated.
Which of the following quotations develops the fire as a symbol of survival?“The dog had learned fire, and it wanted fire, or else to burrow under the snow and cuddle its warmth away from the air.” (Paragraph 6)
How does the narrator’s point of view develop the short story’s tone?The story is told through an omniscient, third person narrator, and through this point of view, the tone can be both distanced and judgmental as it weighs the dog’s thoughts against the man’s.

How does the conclusion of the story contribute to its overall meaning? Consider the fates of both the man and the dog in your answer.

Based on the full text of “To Build a Fire,” the conclusion significantly contributes to the story’s overall meaning in several ways:

1. Reinforcing the power of nature: The man’s demise due to the extreme cold underscores the environment’s immense power and unforgiving nature. Despite his initial confidence and lack of concern, the harsh reality of the Yukon winter overpowers him.

2. Highlighting the importance of instinct vs. ignorance: The dog’s survival, despite lacking human reasoning, emphasizes the value of instinct and adaptation in harsh environments. The man’s lack of imagination and underestimation of the situation, in contrast, contribute to his downfall.

3. Exploring the consequences of underestimating danger: The man’s failure to recognize the true severity of the cold and the potential risks leads to his tragic fate. This reinforces the message about the **importance of awareness, preparation, and respect for the power of nature.

4. Adding a layer of irony and tragedy: The man’s initial optimism and confidence, along with his dismissal of the cold’s true danger, create a sense of irony when he eventually succumbs to it. This adds a layer of tragedy to the story as the reader witnesses the consequences of his underestimation.

5. Leaving a lasting impact on the reader: The bleak and unforgiving ending serves as a stark reminder of the potential consequences of human limitations and the power of nature. It leaves a lasting impression on the reader, prompting reflection on the importance of respecting nature’s power and acknowledging human limitations.

In conclusion, the ending of “To Build a Fire” is crucial to understanding the story’s central theme. It reinforces the power of nature, highlights the importance of instinct and awareness, and delivers a powerful message about the potential consequences of underestimating danger.

The bleak and impactful ending stays with the reader, prompting reflection and leaving a lasting impression.

Discussion Answers

What is more integral to survival: instinct or imagination? Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.

While both instinct and imagination are valuable for survival, determining which is more integral is complex and depends greatly on the specific context. However, based on the provided text, “To Build a Fire” by Jack London, and considering broader examples, we can argue that imagination plays a more crucial role in long-term survival, while instinct offers a vital advantage for immediate threats.

Evidence from “To Build a Fire”:

  • The man’s lack of imagination contributes to his demise. He underestimates the severity of the cold, focusing solely on the literal temperature (“Fifty degrees below zero meant eighty-odd degrees of frost”) and ignoring its broader implications. He lacks the foresight and critical thinking to recognize the danger and take necessary precautions.
  • The dog’s survival instinct guides it to seek warmth and avoid prolonged exposure to the harsh environment. Despite lacking human reasoning, the dog’s innate understanding of the danger prompts it to search for shelter and stay close to the man, hoping for fire.

Examples from broader contexts:

  • Early humans: In prehistoric times, instinctual responses like fear of predators and seeking food and shelter were undoubtedly crucial for immediate survival. However, as humans developed imagination, they were able to planinvent tools, and build communities, leading to long-term advancements and improved chances of survival beyond just immediate threats.
  • Modern disaster management: While instinctual reactions like fleeing from danger are important in disaster situations, it’s imagination that allows for preparednessrisk assessment, and planning evacuation routes or developing disaster response strategies.


  • Instinct provides a primal advantage for immediate threats, prompting basic survival responses like seeking shelter or avoiding danger.
  • Imagination allows for planning, learning, and adaptation, enabling us to understand potential threats, develop strategies, and improve our chances of long-term survival in complex and evolving environments.

Is this story a tale of survival or of the power of nature? Explain your answer.

While “To Build a Fire” certainly explores aspects of survival, it can be more accurately described as a tale of the power of nature. Here’s why:

Focus on nature’s power:

  • The harshness of the Yukon winter is the central element of the story. The extreme cold and unforgiving environment are constantly present, creating a sense of oppression and danger.
  • The narrative emphasizes the man’s struggle against the cold, highlighting his vulnerability and limited agency in the face of its immense power.
  • The man’s ultimate failure to survive further underscores the overpowering force of nature, demonstrating that even with some preparation and effort, humans can be easily defeated by its harshness.

Survival as a secondary theme:

  • While the man’s attempts to build a fire and reach the camp represent his will to survive, these efforts are ultimately thwarted by the power of nature.
  • The story focuses more on the inevitability of the man’s demise rather than showcasing successful survival strategies.
  • The dog’s survival, despite lacking human reasoning, can be seen as a result of its instinctive understanding and adaptation to the environment, further highlighting the power of nature in determining survival.

Therefore, although the story features a character fighting for survival, the overarching theme and the tragic conclusion point towards a narrative that ultimately emphasizes the immense and unforgiving power of nature. The man’s struggle is a stark reminder of human limitations and the potential consequences of underestimating the natural world’s power.

In the context of this story, who’s in control- man or nature? Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.

Based on the story “To Build a Fire” and considering broader concepts, nature is ultimately in control. Here’s why:

Evidence from “To Build a Fire”:

  • The harsh and unrelenting cold dominates the story, posing a constant threat and significantly influencing the characters’ actions and choices.
  • The man’s attempts to build a fire and reach shelter are ultimately futile against the overwhelming power of the environment.
  • The story ends with the man succumbing to the cold, highlighting nature’s unyielding power and the limitations of human control in the face of its immense forces.

Examples from broader contexts:

  • Natural disasters: From earthquakes and floods to hurricanes and wildfires, nature demonstrably displays its power to devastate human settlements and reshape landscapes, often beyond our ability to control.
  • Climate change: The ongoing issue of climate change serves as a stark reminder of humanity’s limited influence over larger-scale natural processes and the potential consequences of disrupting the delicate balance of the environment.
  • Literature and art: Works like J.M.W. Turner’s paintings of powerful seascapes or the novel “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville often depict the awe-inspiring and uncontrollable forces of nature.

While humans possess the ability to adapt, innovate, and build within certain parameters, the story and broader examples highlight that:

  • Nature exists on a larger scale and operates according to its own principles, often beyond full human comprehension or control.
  • Human actions can have unintended consequences that disrupt the natural balance and ultimately reaffirm nature’s power to respond and reassert itself.

It’s important to note:

  • This doesn’t diminish the importance of human agency and responsibility. We can strive to understand the natural world, adapt to its challenges, and minimize our negative impact.
  • The concept of “control” can be complex, and collaboration with nature, rather than seeking absolute dominance, might be a more sustainable approach for the future.

In conclusion, while humans possess certain capabilities within the natural world, “To Build a Fire” and broader examples demonstrate that nature ultimately holds the greater power. The story serves as a reminder of the importance of respecting the environment and acknowledging the limitations of human control in the face of its immense and often unpredictable forces.

Other Commonlit Answers

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