Beyond the Literary Marketplace: The Quest for Self

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Editor: Jelena O. Krstovic
From: Short Story Criticism(Vol. 133. )
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 12,157 words

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[(essay date 1994) In the following essay, Labor and Reesman contend that the short fiction of London's Jungian period is characterized by originality, openness to new ideas, and a view of women that alienated him from the literary marketplace and some literary critics.]

Having explored the symbolic wilderness of the White Silence, Paradise Lost, the Inferno, and the Valley of the Moon, Jack London was increasingly attracted to yet another terra incognita during the last years of his life: that unexplored region of the human psyche that was in process of being charted by Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung. As early as 1912 London had evidently read Freud, and four years later he incorporated a reference to psychoanalytic theory into one of his stories.1 However, his major psychological epiphany came in the early summer of 1916, when he began reading Beatrice Hinkle's new edition of Jung's Psychology of the Unconscious.2 It was at this point he exclaimed to Charmian that he was "standing on the edge of a world so new, so terrible, so wonderful" that he was "almost afraid to look over into it" (Book, II, 323).3 That volume of Jung was to become the most heavily annotated book in his vast personal library.4

London's discovery of the Hinkle edition was clearly an instance of what Jung would have called synchronicity, for he had been readying himself for such a psychological and philosophical breakthrough for some time. His artistic "signature" (to use Leslie Fiedler's term)5 had always been informed by myth and archetype, as witnessed in the best of his Northland tales--most brilliantly, of course, in The Call of the Wild. What his reading of Jung did, however, was enable him to comprehend and to articulate those powerful psychic forces that had unconsciously animated his creative genius earlier--unconscious promptings he had previously chosen willfully to ignore or to deny along with all the spiritualistic claptrap with which, thanks to his mother, his childhood memories had been cluttered. There is considerable irony in the fact that while consciously rejecting these maternal irrationalisms and supernaturalisms, London's psyche was being inspired by the "dark mother" of his unconscious to create his most potent and poetic fictions.

Neither London's mythic vision nor his creative energies declined during the post-Snark years, as witnessed by The Valley of the Moon, The Scarlet Plague, and The Star Rover. Moreover, the short stories he wrote during this period, though fewer, contain passages of lyrical and narrative brilliance equal to the best of his Northland work. Most importantly, they not only body forth a cluster of archetypal motifs that demonstrate the dynamic vitality of his primordial vision, but they also show him experimenting with totally new subject matter, much of which was so alien to the current demands of the literary marketplace that even the famous name of Jack London was not enough to guarantee acceptance by the magazines. For example, London's reexamination of cultural "otherness" is brilliantly pursued in...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420098764