Jack London: Overview

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Editor: Jim Kamp
Date: 1994
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,070 words

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Jack London was a talented writer so caught up in certain myths that they were part of what destroyed him. The illegitimate son of an impoverished spiritualist, Flora Wellman, he early learned self-reliance. Although he attended high school and, briefly, college, he was largely self-educated. London's university was the world he experienced and subsequently wrote about: San Francisco Bay, first as an oyster pirate and then as a member of the State Fish Patrol; the Pacific, the Orient, and the Bering Sea as an able seaman on a schooner hunting seals; the nation, across which he tramped as a vagabond; Alaska, where he prospected for gold; and California, where eventually he was a wealthy landowner burdened by the problems of maintaining a large ranch. London saw himself as an exemplar of the rags-to-riches story, an Anglo-Saxon superman who succeeded because of his superior intelligence and physical prowess, who took pride in his individualism, yet sympathized with the masses and believed that some form of socialism was the cure for the inequities of capitalist society.

To assert that his deprived childhood and his personal adventures were central to his development is not to deny that he was profoundly influenced by what he read as a young man. Early in his adolescence he delved into the seminal thinkers of the 19th century; his biographer Andrew Sinclair writes that during a winter in the Alaskan Klondike London absorbed "the books that became the bedrock of his thought and writing, underlying even the socialism which was his faith." Among London's readings that winter were the works of Darwin, Thomas Huxley, Spencer,...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420005055