Jack London, like the unnamed man described in the story “To Build a Fire,” lived on the edge. Born in 1876, he died a short forty years later. As a young man, he was a full-fledged participant in the Yukon Gold Rush of 1897. Like many others at the time, London made the incredibly arduous journey by foot and handcrafted boat from Dyea in Alaska over Chilkoot Pass—a three-quarter-mile 45-degree-angled obstacle course—and eventually down the Yukon River into the Northwest Territories. The only gold he brought back, however, was an experience that he would mine for gems of literature for much of his writing life, as evidenced in his well known novels like Call of the Wild and White Fang, as well as in “To Build a Fire” (1908), all of which draw on the places he saw and the people he met during those hope-filled and brutal times in the Northwestern Yukon territory.
Watch editors Amy A. Kass and Leon R. Kass converse with guest host William Schambra (Hudson Institute) about the story. For more about Jack London and “To Build a Fire,” visit whatsoproudlywehail.org/curriculum/the-meaning-of-america/freedom-and-individuality.