This article will compare and contrast between the two short stories A Blizzard under Blue Sky by Pam Houston and To Build a Fire by Jack London. Both stories deal with their main character being immersed in a wintery landscape and both characters have canine companions.
However, each character deals with their situation differently. These are two unique yet similar stories of life and death.
Summary of A Blizzard under Blue Sky by Pam Houston
In “A Blizzard under Blue Sky” by Pam Houston, the main character, a woman, goes camping in hopes of dealing with her clinical depression. She travels through a wintery terrain alone with canine companions.
While skiing through the snow and ice covered landscape, she is very observant and notices the splendid details of her environment. She comments that the cold weather causes her to have superman vision and every icy landmark appears to pop out as if she is in some other dimension.
She is very close to her dogs and knows each of their personalities. She refers to her dogs as her “two best friends” (James and Merickel 278). Jackson, her lead dog, tends to be more driven than Hailey, and, as a result, he causes his owner to go further and be more driven.
When the woman decides to stop and set up camp for the night, her dogs assist her. Even though the woman does not know exactly how to build a ice cave, her dog Jackson knows what to do because it is in his instincts to do so.
The woman is prepared for the night and made sure that she brought the right supplies. She heeds the advice of her friend from town and brings along a bivvy bag, which helps her to get through the cold night.
While the woman faces the bitterly cold, she forgets about her problems and focuses on getting through the night without freezing. While battling the cold she thinks of herself as superwoman and when the morning comes she regains her joy for life.
To Build a Fire by Jack London in Contrast
In contrast, To Build a Fire by Jack London is a story about a stubborn man makes his way through a wintery landscape with his lone dog. The man is keen in observing his surroundings and carefully notice details like footprints on the icy trail as he is traveling to meet up with his friends.
Unlike Houston's character, this man treats his dog with little respect and and there is “no keen intimacy between the dog and the man” (James and Merickel 300). The man does not even care that his dog is “depressed by the tremendous cold” (James and Merickel 297).
He views his dog as a slave and gives orders or whips the dog. In return, the dog only uses the man as a food and fire provider and cares nothing more for him. In London's story, the dog has a personality of his own as if he were human.
The man builds a fire, and the dog seems to know better than the man and stays by the warm flame as the man continues on his journey. The man ultimately is a simple fellow. “He was not much given to thinking” (James and Merickel 297) as the story states.
The man may notice natural landmarks but he does not see the whole picture, nature itself or the beauty of his winter surroundings. When the man falls into a lake and his arm s become frozen, he needs to get to the fire immediately.
But he is so stiff and cold from the freezing water, he panics and does not notice the snow covered tree above him, which unfortunately helps to seal his fate by extinguishing the fire. The man goes about cursing the dog because he envies that the animal is warm when he is not.
The man then considers killing the dog to use it as a source of warmth, but he is unable to use his frozen arms to take hold and kill the animal.
In the end, the man was not prepared for the circumstances. He did not even heed the advice of the old timer in town that warned him against traveling in such cold weather alone. The man never makes it to his destination and freezes to death.
To Live And Die In Winter: A Comparison
Both Houston’s and London’s story were centered on a lone character traveling through a winter wilderness in an effort to reach their goal. The woman was hoping that her camping trip with her two dogs would help to lift herself out of her clinical depression.
The man was hoping to reach his friends at camp while using his dog to help me to get across the ice. The woman achieved her goal but the man did not and lost his life in the process.
In both stories, the character’s canine companions were of help to a certain extent. In the end, the character’s relationship with their dogs and their outlook on nature determined life for one and death for the other.
- Reading Literature and Writing Argument by James and Merickel (3rd edition).