Historical Context in To Build a Fire
This is an outdated term used to describe geological features such as large boulders or cliff faces. In 1962 the U.S. Board on Geographic Names eradicated such place names because of their racist and offensive connotations.
In 1897, 21-year-old Jack London sailed to the Yukon as a gold prospector. He never found gold and was soon stricken with scurvy, nagging hip pains, and a gum ailment that lost him four of his teeth. Despite these setbacks, his Klondike experiences provided him fodder for many of his early stories.
“To Build a Fire” is set during the Klondike Gold Rush, a surge of gold-mining activity in the Yukon region of Northern Alaska between 1896 and 1899. One-hundred thousand prospectors traveled to the Yukon to make their fortune. The majority came away with little or nothing to show for their efforts.
In the original version of “To Build A Fire,” published in 1902, the protagonist is called Tom Vincent. London later revised the story, deepening his descriptions of the setting and the character while removing his name. In this second version, published in 1908, the protagonist remains unnamed throughout the story.