Early in the story, the man is identified as not being a “thinker” and as “unimaginative.” He is aware of the world around him and of the terrible cold, but he does not imagine the possible outcomes of this cold. Because the man eventually dies due to his initial mistake of traveling on such a cold day, his failure to imagine possible outcomes of his choice is linked to his inability to survive. Imagination could have saved his life. This theme connects to the theme of Chance and Human Error, as several of the man’s errors seem linked to his inability to imagine the outcome, as when he builds a fire under a snowy tree, or strikes all the matches at once, with dreadful consequences. Had he been more imaginative, more open to the possibilities of what could result from his actions and from the terrible cold, he might have avoided these mistakes.
At the end of the story, in the moments of the man’s death, his imagination suddenly flourishes. He imagines the boys finding his body in the snow, and he contemplates the certainty of his own death. These imaginative acts are linked to his acceptance of his death. Before, when the man was focused on survival, he considered only the resources at his disposal and what they could achieve. Once he accepts his death, he begins to imagine and to imaginatively apply the wisdom of the old man at Sulphur Creek (that no one should hike alone in weather below 50 degrees) to his own situation.
The Power of Imagination ThemeTracker
The Power of Imagination Quotes in To Build a Fire
The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances.
He remembered the advice of the old-timer on Sulphur Creek, and smiled. The old-timer had been very serious in laying down the law that no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below. Well, here he was; he had had the accident; he was alone; and he had saved himself. Those old-timers were rather womanish, some of them, he thought. All a man had to do was to keep his head, and he was all right. Any man who was a man could travel alone.
It was his last panic. When he had recovered his breath and control, he sat up and entertained in his mind the conception of meeting death with dignity.