Jack London's Socialistic Social Darwinism

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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: 12,609 words

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[(essay date fall 2008) In the following essay, Berliner claims that London's adventure and nature short stories function to express his socialist ideology and provide insight into the concept of socialistic Social Darwinism.]

In February 1907, after months of unsuccessful wrangling with a conservative Congress unwilling to pass his reform legislation, President Theodore Roosevelt decided to grant an interview to Edward B. Clark of the Chicago Evening Post. The topic of the interview, however, was neither the president's proposed legislation nor the developing economic crisis that would soon become a financial panic. Instead, the two men discussed the seemingly frivolous issue of the accuracy of popular nature writing. Roosevelt asserted that naturalists William J. Long and Charles G. D. Roberts, as well as fiction writer Jack London, were "indulg[ing] in the wildest exaggeration[s]" and ignoring the actual "heart of the wild things."1 Clark's interview was published in Everybody's magazine in June under the reporter's title, "Roosevelt on the Nature Fakirs." Almost immediately, "nature faker" became a national buzzword (the "-er" spelling was gradually adopted over the next several months), and the article sparked debate in newspapers and magazines across the country as to what constituted faithful nature reporting. Of the writers impugned by Roosevelt in Clark's original interview, Long, it seems, was most injured by the attack. He publicly repudiated the president, insisting that "the only fakir in this whole controversy ... is the big fakir at Washington," and he vowed to prove Roosevelt wrong, even if he had to "spend ten years in digging up the evidence and submitting it to a tribunal."2 Perhaps because, as a novelist, his reputation depended far less than Long's on accurate nature reporting, London did not protest the attack nearly as vociferously as did Long, and it was over a year before London's full reply to Roosevelt appeared in print. Ever the pugilist, however, London did not miss an opportunity to tussle publicly with the president, and he attacked Roosevelt as "an amateur" who "does not understand evolution."3

Although Roosevelt claimed shortly after his interview with Clark that he entered the debate with London and the other writers as a form of relaxing "diversion" after "an awful ... end of the [previous congressional] session," it soon became clear that the president had, in fact, created what amounted to a political diversion.4 "Nature faker" was Clark's coinage, but it quickly entered the national lexicon as one of Roosevelt's trademark phrases, alongside "malefactors of great wealth," "muckrakers," "mollycoddles," and "the strenuous life." Although the press was by no means universally behind Roosevelt--a significant portion of the newspaper coverage of the controversy favored Long rather than the president--nature faker made its way into the national discourse in a manner that generally favored Roosevelt. "Wall [S]treet people," the president's antagonists on the political right at that time, were figured in the Washington Post as "nothing more than nature-fakers ... throwing ... fits in the hope of scaring Mr. Roosevelt"; in like...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420098781