A report by: Sean

Jack London

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"I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time."
~Unknown; Inspired by Jack London

Life and Times

Jack London (1876-1916) was an American Novelist. Jack London died of a morphine overdose at the age of 40; it is unknown if he committed suicide or not (he was suffering of a painful disease). Before writing more than 50 Short Stories and books, he was a sailor. During a small portion of his life, when he was struggling to get into print, he was also homeless. Once he finally did get into print, it became apparent that Jack London had a unique writing style in that he very seldom wrote in first person, preferring to write from the narrator's point of view. Another notable point about his writing style was that he wrote in a vivid and poetic manner, often emphasizing characters and minute details. Of all the different genres Jack London wrote about (pre-history, apocalyptic catastrophe, future war, scientific dystopia's, technocratic utopias) his favorite and most successful theme was that of Survival of the Fittest. An avid reader, Jack London had (after some of his books sold) a humongous personal library, and read daily.

Personal Experiences (Pre-Writing Career)

Jack London was born in San-Francisco. Although Jack London did not go to public school, he managed to learn a basic education at the Public Library. During this period, he read Ouida's Signa; which is about an uneducated Italian peasant who becomes a famous Opera Composer. Jack London claims this was the source of his literary inspiration, the reason he began writing in the first place. When Jack London was 17 years of age, he worked in a cannery for 12-18 hours each day. Since he wanted to get away from this job, he borrowed money from his foster mother Virginia Prentiss. With this money, he bought a sloop (which is a type of small naval craft). Jack London used this sloop to become an "oyster pirate" . When Jack grew to the age of 29, he signed onto the schooner Sophia Sutherland, which was bound for Japan (this trip may have been the an inspiration to his later novel, "The Sea Wolf). Some time later in his Life, Jack London also worked in a power plant and a jute mill. The last notable event in Jack London's life (pre-writing career) was that he spent 30 days in Erie Country Penitentiary, for vagrancy. Jack London described this place as, "unprintable" and "unthinkable". It should be noted that Jack London had been around some rather rough people during his life, and he was certainly not naïve in the ways of the world. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_London)


Even a man as intelligent and individual as Jack London was not above the influences of others. He was deeply influenced by men such as: Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Darwin, Herbert Spencer, and Huxley. Herbert Spencer (not Darwin, as is commonly thought) coined the phrase "Survival of the Fittest". This phrase has had profound effect upon Jack London's writing, especially shown in "White Fang" and "Call of the Wild". Jack London was Influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of the human “superman”; (a man perfect in body and mind) who is unencumbered by religious and social beliefs. This is shown (and challenged) in Jack London's book "The Sea Wolf". Jack London was influenced into becoming a great supporter of Socialism, mostly by Karl Marx. He eventually wrote a book, "How I became a Socialist" in 1905. Darwin’s writings also had their own effect on Jack London. This is clearly shown in all his books, where his characters are in a “Struggle for Existence” (a quote by Darwin) . "Struggle for Existence” probably struck a personal note, and influenced him in particular, as he had to Struggle for his Existence many times during his life.

Call of the Wild

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Warning! Spoilers/Plot Details.


Call of the Wild was published in 1903, and made into a movie in 1935. It was also made into a TV series during the new Millenia. Call of the Wild was one of, if not the most, popular literary creation of Jack London. The plot in Call of the Wild is about a domesticated dog, who is sold into a dog sled team. Said dog, Buck, quickly has to learn and adapt to his new station in life, or die in the process. After exchanging from owner to owner, Buck finally comes across one he can love as a master. In the end of the story, this love-master is killed, and Buck becomes a wild wolf.

White Fang

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Warning! Spoilers/Plot Details.


White Fang was published during 1906. The plot of the book involves the only surviving quarter-dog-half-wolf puppy of the litter. The plot line continues on with this puppy and his mother getting captured and domesticated by natives. During this time with the natives, puppy is named "White Fang". White Fang is also bullied, and separated from his mother. Later on, White fang becomes a vicious pit-fighting dog, and comes to hate everything that moves. At the end of the story, White Fang finally falls into the hands of a loving and caring owner, which changes his character. The book was later adapted into a movie by Disney.

Sea Wolf

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Warning! Spoilers/Plot Details.


The Sea Wolf was written in 1904. This novel contains many references to Frederic Nietzsche's "Superman" philosophy, showing Nietzshe's influence upon Jack London. The Sea Wolf is about a soft gentleman who is involved in a shipwreck. He is "rescued" by the captain of the Ghost, Captain "Wolf" Larsen. As it turns out, Wolf Larsen beats and demeans his crew. Not only that, but the man is a giant, and is very smart with his own individual beliefs on life and the human immortal soul. Later on, after many brutalities on Wolf Larsen's part, the Ghost picks up some more shipwrecked people. One of them is even a Women, whome the main characer becomes infatuated with.


Why is Survival and Adaptability such a key point in Jack London's Novels?
  • Calls it the "Law of Club and Fang" in Call of the Wild
  • Jack London had a tough life, often without much money. Struggled to get into print.
  • Perhaps he sees himself as the adaptable, surviving Wolf?

Does Jack London see himself as one of the strong wolves that survives, or does he see himself as the kind that is killed off by the stronger wolves?
  • Perhaps he sees himself as the Wolf that adapts quickly and easily to new terrain and areas?
  • Or, the weak wolf, that is squashed beneath the other, stronger, wolves.

Are Jack London's Wolves representing a person, a society or a culture?
  • Jack London may be using Wolves to represent the society of his time. In his books, Jack London's characters are always trying to survive, and the only way to do this is by eating other animals.
  • Dog eat Dog World?
  • Need to push off others to get to the top?

In the Sea Wolf;
Why is Captain Larsen known as “Wolf” Larsen
  • What is/was it that makes Wolf Larsen so spiritually and mentally (not to mention physically) powerful?
  • What could have happened to Captain Larsen in his upraising to make his moral framework as it is?

Why doesn't Humphrey simply kill Wolf Larsen with one of the guns on the ship?
  • Humphrey doesn't want to lose his sense of morals?
  • Doesn't want to become another Wolf Larsen?
  • Isn't sure what to do without the leadership of Wolf Larsen?