The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. Well, he decided, he might as well take it like a man. The dog had learned fire, and it wanted fire, or else to burrow under the snow and cuddle its warmth away from the air. In their branches were pieces of dry grass and wood left by flood waters earlier in the year. And again, in the air, before it could fall to the snow, the spittle crackled. His frozen beard prevents his biting into it, and his fingers and toes are numb, so he decides to build a fire.
There was no wind to blow them out He kept his head to one side to escape the strangling fumes, and held the blazing bunch to the birth bark. Maybe running would make his feet warm. He is a solitary hiker. The collapse of the snow from the trees is the best example of the broader theme of chance and human error. His nose, face, feet and hands grow numb first.
This is what greets the main character when he begins his short journey across the Yukon. Logan: Utah State U P, 1966. Then he took the gloves off both hands and picked up all the matches. Nature is awe-inspiring—extremely cold and stark—and also terrible in its indifference to individual human life. The author intently puts all his efforts to create the setting as an important, valuable role in his main theme. He watched, using the sense of vision in place of that of touch, and when he saw his fingers on each side the bunch, he dosed them - that is, he willed to close them, for the wires were down, and the fingers did not obey. The sting that followed upon the striking of his fingers against his leg ceased so quickly that he was startled.
Around this time, American readers couldn't get enough of literature that was based on the , which occurred when the discovery of gold led more than 100,000 people to flock to Canada's Yukon Territory between 1897 and 1899. He ran blindly, without intention, in fear such as he had never known in his life. He drew the lower jaw in, curled the upper lip out of the way, and scraped the bunch with his upper teeth in order to separate a match. There were worse ways to die. On top, tangled in the underbrush about the trunks of several small spruce trees, was a high-water deposit of dry firewood - sticks and twigs, principally, but also larger portions of seasoned branches and fine, dry, last-year's grasses. This is yet another obstacle thrown before the man. But rub as he would, the instant he stopped his cheek-bones went numb, and the following instant the end of his nose went numb.
He plunged in among the big spruce trees. He certainly had no business to undertake such a foolhardy feat. The narrator is an outsider who tells the reader a story about the main character. He would have to build a fire now to dry his clothes and boots. He enjoyed the warm fire for a few minutes. He wishes for a guard to more fully cover his nose and face from the cold.
The man looked down at his hands in order to locate them, and found them hanging on the ends of his arms. When he tried to rise, he failed. He tried to keep this thought down, to forget it, to think of something else; he was aware of the panicky feeling that it caused, and he was afraid of the panic. The man leaves against the advice of a local and after a short time realizes that he should have waited. It was a big gray animal, half dog and half wolf. He pulled off his gloves, took out his matches, and lighted the fire.
But his fingers were frozen. Now that he had stopped, cold was forcing his blood to withdraw deeper into his body. It did not lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man's frailty in general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold; and from there on it did not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man's place in the universe. Possibly all the generations of his ancestry had been ignorant of cold, of real cold. He realized he was going to die. The man is walking at four miles per hour and predicts his arrival at a place to eat lunch at half-past twelve.
Small pieces of rotten wood and green moss clung to the twigs, and he bit them off as well as he could with his teeth. He feels his lunch of biscuits inside his jacket, warming against his skin. As the man continues his walk, the dog does not want to leave the fire behind. The dog warms itself near the fire. Then he could attempt to build another fire. It is too dangerous to be wet at this temperature. He took off the glove on his right hand.
Then, 'at a place where there were no signs,' he steps through the ice and is soaked up to his knees. Yet, he was feeling quite warm and comfortable. The extremities were the first to feel its absence. It let out a long, soft cry to the cold stars in the black sky. This introduces the theme of fighting versus accepting death. He would have to cut them with his knife. The main character who is unnamed travels with a dog along a small trail to a mining camp.