Analyzing the Text
One example is, “The man from Sulphur Creek had spoken the truth when telling how cold it sometimes got in the country. And he had laughed at him!” Here, the man grudgingly admits that he should have paid more attention to the old-timer. Later, around line 270, he appreciates the advice the old-timer gave him. On the next page, he once again dismisses the old-timer, referring to him as “womanish” and thinking he worried too much about the need to travel with a companion in such cold weather. Much, much later in the story, he mumbles that the old-timer was absolutely right after all… and then he dies.
Although the dog obviously doesn’t understand the concept of temperature because it’s an animal, it seems to understand the cold as a much more dangerous entity than the man does. The dog seems much better adapted to the setting because it understands just how dangerous this weather can be.
Including the names of real places such as the Yukon and the Bering Sea establish that this story takes place in our world. Additionally, the descriptions of winter weather, while more brutal than that most students have probably known, lines up with our understanding of what winter is like. Together these details make the story feel like it could really have happened in the not-so-distant past or even now.
The dog becomes another character in the story and serves as a foil (counterpoint) to the man. London’s descriptions serve to contrast the dog’s keen awareness of the dangerous situation with the man’s arrogant and foolish mistakes.
The fact that the “old-timer from Sulphur Creek” has made it to old age shows that it is possible, if difficult, to survive for a very long time in such a place. Additionally, the dog is clearly more fit for such a place than the protagonist, given that he dies but the dog does not. This story shows readers that failure to prepare and remember the advice of others makes them unfit for survival and can only result in death.
London seems to think that the protagonist was doomed from the start. Fate doesn’t appear to play much of a role in this story, but nature’s unpredictability certainly does. With so many hidden springs lying beneath the ice and snow, sooner or later the man was bound to fall through and get into trouble. His chances of actually making it to camp were quite low.
These two themes interact because only the fittest can avoid nature’s pitfalls and make it out of dangerous situations alive and mostly unscathed.