Imagery in To Build a Fire

Imagery Examples in To Build a Fire:

To Build a Fire 4

"A little longer it delayed, howling under the stars that leaped and danced and shone brightly in the cold sky...."   (To Build a Fire)

This image is fascinating in the way it blurs the line between man and nature. The stars, objects of nature, become personified, “leap[ing] and danc[ing]” like people. The sky, by contrast, takes on the “cold” indifference of nature that London has accustomed us to.

" The man looked down at his hands in order to locate them, and found them hanging on the ends of his arms...."   (To Build a Fire)

In this terrifying image, the protagonist’s dissociation from the natural world intensifies. The man is no longer only disconnected from the world around him; he is beginning to lose his connection to his own body. Considering the story’s themes, this development makes one wonder whether the body belongs to the man or to nature.

"with the sound of whiplashes in his voice,..."   (To Build a Fire)

London uses an interesting device here by comparing the man’s voice to the sound of whiplashes. London leaves it to us to imagine the sound itself—perhaps a series of short cracks. Sound and image blend here, and so we visualize whips beckoning the dog.

"an intangible pall..."   (To Build a Fire)

London uses “pall” in both senses of the word. On one level, we see the stark lighting that falls across the landscape. On another level, London evokes the image of a funereal pall, a piece of cloth lain upon a coffin, thus offering connotations and foreshadowings of death. There is also a subtle rhyme between the final syllable of “intangible” and “pall,” with a consonance between b and p.