Fire means the difference between life and death in a setting as cold and bleak as the one presented in London’s story. The title of the story also keys the reader into the important role of fire in the story. The goal of the protagonist is to build a fire, and as he fails in this later in the story, the man
attempts desperate measures to achieve this goal: like lighting all his matches at once, or attempting to kill the dog
. Fire is repeatedly associated with life and protection through the word choice of the story. The man’s first successful fire, which he builds when he eats his lunch, helps to establish its importance early on. Even when nothing has gone wrong, the man needs a fire to survive. His body, unlike the dog’s body, does not have the natural resources necessary to survive intense cold without a fire. Building a fire is an act of technical skill and technology, and fire in literature has also often been used as a symbol of knowledge. The building of a fire thus symbolizes life in the story, but also life through human knowledge, skill, and technology. And the failure of the man to build a fire is the failure of these things, as expressed in the man, and in the brutal cold of nature.