The dog is described as a ‘big native husky, the proper wolf-dog, grey-coated and without any visible or temperamental difference from its brother, the wild wolf’. In this short story of few characters, the dog acts as a symbol of nature and is a contrast to the man. The dog unlike the man is aware of the dangers of the freezing temperature and knows this is not a day to be out walking.
The unnamed man is the central protagonist and little background information is given about him. He is, however, depicted as lacking in imagination and does not take on board the implications of the advice he received earlier from the man he describes as the old-timer. He is not from this region and is, therefore, lacking in knowledge of how to proceed. By not listening to advice and proceeding on his trek without another (human) companion, he has left himself even more vulnerable to the elements. He also symbolizes the arrogance of humans, as opposed to having the instinctive awareness of the dog, and his death highlights this.
The old-timer is so named by the man and only appears in the story with the references the man makes to him (as the old-timer from Sulphur Creek). He had advised the man on how cold the weather gets, on how he must build a fire if he gets wet and on the necessity of travelling with a companion if it is colder than ‘fifty below’.
To Build a Fire: Character Profiles