To Build a Fire Character Analysis Lesson Plan
- 21 pages
- Subject: Character Analysis, Historical Context, Plot, Setting, Themes, Lesson Plans and Educational Resources
- Common Core Standards: RL.9-10.1, RL.9-10.2, RL.9-10.3, SL.9-10.1
Identifying Theme through Character Analysis
This lesson plan focuses on London’s communicating themes in the story by developing the protagonist, “the man,” as a dynamic character. Students will identify the man’s character traits at the beginning of the narrative, determine how he changes as he experiences key events that occur chronologically in the plot, and explain how the changes in his character suggest major ideas and themes in the text. Students also will examine how his character is developed through two foils in the narrative—the old-timer who offers him advice and the dog who accompanies him on his ill-fated journey. By analyzing the man as a dynamic character, students will be better able to draw themes from the text.
Skills: close reading, contrasting, drawing inferences from the text, collecting evidence through internal research
Introduction to the Lesson
Like two of Jack London’s famous novels, White Fang and The Call of the Wild, “To Build a Fire” features themes developed from their settings in the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897–1898.
London’s knowledge of the frozen north was acquired through personal experience. An adventurer at heart, he dropped out of college during his first year at the University of California and joined the stampede to the Klondike gold fields in Canada’s Yukon Territory. He didn’t find gold, but he returned from his Yukon adventure with distinct impressions of the natural world and of human nature. These impressions shaped the philosophy and literary themes evident in “To Build a Fire,” probably his most enduring short story. London rejects the tenets of romanticism regarding the natural world and the basic nature of humans; nature, he contends, is a deadly force to be reckoned with in order to survive, and humans, subject to arrogance and bent on domination, are ill-equipped to prevail in the struggle.
Developing a classic person vs. nature conflict, “To Build a Fire” features a protagonist new to the Klondike gold rush. Identified only as “the man,” he sets out on the Chilcoot Trail during the winter, traveling to a claim on Henderson Creek where friends await him at their camp. Confident that he is prepared for the journey and ignorant of the extremity of the cold, he rejects the advice of an old-timer to never travel alone, a foolish decision he later regrets. Accompanied only by a dog, he makes his way toward the camp without incident until nature intervenes, dooming him to die. The setting is essential in the story as it generates the series of natural events that create in the man a growing awareness of his vulnerability and that lead directly to his death. London’s vivid descriptions of the vast, frozen Yukon as the man experiences it are memorable for their realistic details.
“To Build a Fire” is, in fact, a work of realism, the predominant literary movement in 20th-century American literature, and it develops themes associated with naturalism, a literary genre that can be described as an extreme form of realism in its philosophical views of human existence in an indifferent universe. The “man” in London’s story, who is denied a name that distinguishes him as an individual, can be interpreted as representing humans’ lack of autonomy in life as they respond to forces beyond their control in a world where only the fittest survive.
About This Document
Owl Eyes lesson plans have been developed to meet the demanding needs of today’s educational environment and bridge the gap between online learning and in-class instruction. The main components of each plan include the following:
- An introduction to the text
- A step-by-step guide to lesson procedure
- Previous and following lesson synopses for preparation and extension ideas
- A collection of handouts complete with answer keys
Each of these comprehensive, 60-minute plans focus on promoting meaningful interaction, analytical skills, and student-centered activities, drawing from the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and the expertise of classroom teachers.