Tone in To Build a Fire
In many types of fiction, the narrative merges with the consciousness of the character in a third-person point of view known as “free indirect discourse.” London’s writing, particularly in this story, is notable for how separate the narrative is from the mind of the character. The language of the narrative only tells us of the character’s mental states of panic and calm without imitating those states. This style reflects the character’s lack of awareness of his environment.
London employs a carefully controlled prose style. Notice the calm, repetitive nature of the sentences. London’s purpose here is to reflect the protagonist’s lack of concern. Despite the horrific nature of these events—frostbite, numbing cold—the character is calm, and therefore so is the language of the narrative.
Note how London uses repetition throughout the story. By repeating certain words and actions, such as the cold and the numbness he later feels, London emphasizes not only the intense coldness of the setting but also the danger the man is in.