The Beliefs Of Jack London Essay, Research Paper
The Beliefs of Jack London
There were many magnificent writers who lived during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One of the most magnificent was John Griffith Chaney, better known as Jack London. He was among the most influential figures of his day (Stasz), and one of the most attractive and romantic figures of his time (Wissdorf 3). However, this success was not handed to him on a silver platter. Jack London ascribed his literary success largely to hard work- to dig , as he put it (Wissdorf 3). His life can be looked upon as a rags to riches story or a poor-boy-turned-success (Stasz). Along with his determination to escape poverty, many other things influenced his writings: socialistic views, geographical areas in which he had lived, and great philosophers. Jack London expressed his beliefs of social Darwinism as well as racialism by incorporating them as the main themes in his short story, To Build a Fire .
In order to completely understand the actions and beliefs of the man, the main character in To Build a Fire , one must take a look at the way Jack London grew up. His family was very poor, but they were proud to be Americans. Since he started working at a very young age, he educated himself by borrowing books from the Oakland library. Due to the strenuous work his jobs required, Jack London became strong mentally and physically. He thought himself immune to accidents and failure, which brought upon his belief of being a rampant individualist. Jack London applied these life experiences to the character of the man. Therefore, the man believes that he can fight the severity of the harsh cold because he is superior to the natural elements of the earth and to the womanly man who gave him advice. This attitude of superiority was incorporated into many of London s writings. It is known as racialism, and many of the earlier Klondike stories had as their central theme the struggle of white men to overcome the elements (Sciambra 7).
The man failed to survive due to his racist views that Jack London had instilled. His pride and racism blinded him to the dangers that the below freezing temperatures presented. He thought any man who was a man could travel alone (London 495). This ignorance created many problems that contributed to his failure to survive. He was a newcomer in the land, a cheqaquo, and this was his first winter (London 491). Since he was not experienced in the ways of traveling the Yukon, he had underestimated the dangers and became another victim of racialism. [A]nd upon man s frailty in general it did not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man s place in the universe (London 491).
London s travels had a major influence on his writings. His ability to set the scene for the reader was greatly enhanced by his capitalization on the opportunities to explore different terrain and by writing about the area in which he had lived. In fact, he was a much more prolific writer whose fiction explored three geographies and their cultures: the Yukon, California, and the South Pacific (Stasz). By incorporating these geographical areas into his writings, London could use their features to transport his idea of social Darwinism.
The Alaskan setting was most used, and in this case it was used so London could explore the struggle between the conflicting calls of barbarity and civilization (Brooks 253) to present his theme of social Darwinism. Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin sparked London s interest in social Darwinism. Contrary to popular belief, it was Herbert Spencer, not Charles Darwin, that first coined the phrase survival of the fittest (Sciambra 1). This belief that had was shown through the contrast between the man and the husky native to Alaska. Its instinct told it a truer tale than was told to the man by the man s judgement (London 492). According to the theories of Darwin and Spencer, organisms evolve over time and then nature determines that the strong survive and the weak perish. In this case, the native husky was a result of his ancestors evolving over time to endure the harsh conditions of the Yukon. This man did not know cold. But the dog knew; all its ancestry knew, and it had inherited the knowledge (London 294) and was outfitted to survive the freezing temperatures.
The way Jack London incorporated these two themes, social Darwinism and racialism, was certainly magnificent. The man portrayed many of the same things that Jack London had believed. As for the husky, it was support for the theory of survival of the fittest , coined by Herbert Spencer. It was no wonder that he was one of the most well known writers of his time. He overcame many of the struggles he was dealt and became successful at what he loved to do.
Brooks, Van Wyck. Jack London. Sketches of Criticism Vol. 1 (1932): 248-252.
Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. James E. Person and Dennis Poupard Eds. Vol. 15, Detroit: Frederick G. Ruffner, 1985. 253, 254.
London, Jack. To Build a Fire. Rpt. in The American Experience. Englewood Cliff:
Eileen Thompson, 1994. 490-500.
Sciambra, Joseph. The Philosophy of Jack London. [Online] Available
http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/London, June 19, 1996.
Stasz, Clarice. The Jack London Collection. [Online] Available
http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/London/index.html, September 21, 2000.
Wissdorf, Reinhard. A Surviving. [Online] Available
http://www.jack-london.org/main_e.htm, October 11, 2000.