Susan I. Gatti
A bold, imaginative work, The Star Rover demonstrates Jack London’s inventive approach to the social-protest genre. London mixes in the typical problem-novel ingredients: gritty, realistic details; sympathetic, downtrodden victims; greedy capitalist villains and their muscle-headed henchmen; brisk, often violent, action; outraged invective; individual and collective resistance; and radical action for precipitating change. But, in the process of exposing conditions within American prisons, London deviates sharply and creatively in The Star Rover—not only from the conventions of protest writing but also from the type of writing that normally assured him of good sales and positive reviews.
This essay argues that Jack London’s fantastic tales hinge on a belief in the theory of recapitulation, and that a common concern with the past-haunted self characterizes these stories. Taking Before Adam (1906), “A Relic of the Pliocene” (1904), “When the World Was Young” (1913) and The Star Rover (1915), and the ghost stories, “Who Believes in Ghosts!” and “Planchette” (1906) and “The Eternity of Forms” (1910) as its examples, the essay shows how London returns again and again to people, objects, creatures who exist as echoes of the past. His is a “recapitulatory” imagination, and here selves are doubled with past selves. London pictures contemporary identity in this way to expose the crack in modernity, that it is in fact not modern at all, or only in so far as it is also primitive, a reprise.
Readers of Jack London might well think that a taxonomy of animal species at the turn of the twentieth century would represent ways of thinking about animals that would be quite familiar to us today. Yet there were animals at that time, along with striking cultural events, that seem to belong to different epistemologies altogether, to earlier times: from a circus elephant publicly electrocuted at Coney Island to human beings displayed in zoos and natural history museums; from wolf populations eradicated by government programs to other kinds of wolves inhabiting psychoanalytic and sexual discourses; from racist connections between apes and human “savages” to an octopus and cattle representing the market and class struggle. This chapter opens up a bestiary from the turn of the century in order to illustrate the insights that animal and animality studies can bring to the study of Jack London and his various cultural contexts.
Where writers like James, Howells, and Wharton disdained illustrations, regarding them as a distraction from the psychological realism of their fiction, Jack London welcomed the visual embellishment. He recognized how pictures helped sell books and magazines. Throughout his career he lobbied for favorite artists and criticized others, argued for the usefulness of pictures as reading guides and marketing tools, and requested pieces of original artwork for his private collection. His motivation, however, wasn’t strictly commercial. The discursive and visual elements surrounding any publication inevitably leave their impress on our experience of the work. In London’s case, they suggest a more collaborative relationship between texts and paratexts than has previously been recognized. Equally important, they point to a postmodern self-referentiality that becomes increasingly pronounced as London’s career progresses.
Burning Daylight reflects the personal and political contradictions in Jack London’s work in terms of his own version of the “American Adam” discourse. Taking well-known elements from London’s fiction such as the Klondike narrative, the urban nightmare of capitalist corruption, and the new Edenic promise of a now defunct Jeffersonian ideal available to only the privileged few, the novel exhibits both the failure of the American dream of material success as well as the fantastic premises behind the agrarian dream. The hero passes from innocence into urban decline but experiences a regeneration via a romantic union with the “ideal woman” and a return to a much more positive version of the wilderness within which he earlier thrived. Yet Daylight’s nightmare vision of a return of the repressed capitalist economy within his “Promised Land” reveals that total escape from American industrialism and economic pollution of the land is problematic at best.
This chapter counters the persistent tendency in Jack London criticism to allegorize the character of Buck in Call of the Wild, either as an avatar of the author or as a Jungian archetype. Returning to London1s stated intentions, and reading him alongside Charles Darwin’s The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, this essay argues that London was, first and foremost, interested in realistically rendering the cognitive capacities of dogs in their relations with humans as separate species linked along an evolutionary continuum. The essay concludes by putting Call of the Wild in dialogue with Jacques Derrida’s foundational “The Animal That Therefore I Am,” arguing that London1s Darwinian understanding of the shared emotional and cognitive capacities of dogs and humans complicates Derrida’s claim for the absolute alterity of other species.
Timothy O. Benson
This article examines the history of modernism in Central Europe. It explains that Central European geography can be considered as myriad exchange events and situations across a field of cultural production with unique meanings generated in each immediate locale, resulting in a plurality of modernisms. The article argues that while the continual interplay between regional and cosmopolitan tendencies rendered meaning as highly contingent and based not infrequently on local authenticities, such locales were also defined by widely divergent social formations reflecting how political power was distributed.
This essay explores Jack London’s last unfinished novel Cherry. It is read in the context of increasing tensions between the Japanese empire and the United States and Hawaii’s progression toward statehood reflecting local concerns over the large island minority of Japanese ethnicity and regressive local plantation labor laws. Cherry skillfully captures the tensions in prestatehood Hawaiian society and its dilemmas, while simultaneously exploring the nature of European-style colonialism and looking at the geopolitical rivalry between the United States and the Japanese empire in the Pacific. This essay also examines various themes of race, class, and US social discourses relevant to the period and the novel while warning against the problems with biographical readings and speculations over an author’s intent.
Lawrence D. Taylor
The essay examines Jack London’s role in the Mexican Revolution. In explaining the supposed dichotomy in London’s attitude toward the revolution in the two instances, the author contends that, although by 1914 London had come to differ with the official stance of the Socialist Party of America in opposition to US intervention in the struggle, he maintained his faith in socialism and also remained “heart and soul” with the Mexican masses in their efforts to create a new political order based on social justice. This position was also in keeping, the author argues, with London’s own personal confidence in the ability of humanity to advance and improve the condition of the working class throughout the world.
This article analyzes the challenges of contemporary English novel to ecocriticism. It explains that the novel has often been considered to be unsuitable or at least problematic for ecocritical analysis and argues that a broadening of ecocriticism is needed if it wants to develop as a critical practice and continue to raise awareness about environmental concerns. It examines several relevant novels including David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, Jon McGregor’s If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, and Ian McEwan’s Solar.
Stephen J. Mexal
There is nothing wrong with having a conflicted or idiosyncratic political philosophy, of course. Jack London is large; he is allowed to contain multitudes. But by reading London’s letters in conjunction with the world he conjured in The Son of the Wolf, a more complete picture of his political imagination in the years leading up to 1900 can be grasped. The liberal individualism he denied can, in this light, be understood as emerging from the temporal dimension of his Darwinism (Reesman, Jack London’s, 11, 63). In other words, despite its setting’s apparent isolation from the modernity of late nineteenth-century America, The Son of the Wolf remains in thrall to the social landscape of the Southland.
This article, which concentrates on the early work of the left-wing writer John Sommerfield, seeks to establish a firmer basis for his importance not only as a Communist novelist, but as a figure whose career illustrates continuities between strands of modernist and socialist writing, usually understood as separate and incompatible. It first reads Sommerfield’s first novel, They Die Young, as an apprentice piece that tests several distinctly “modern” approaches to literary narrative before signaling his intention to attempt a new hybrid mode of socialist literary experiment. It then reappraises the collective novel May Day in light of the increasing attention of modernist studies to political engagement and emergent mass media. Finally, it insists on the value of Sommerfield’s wartime writing, which offers a startling literary perspective on both Spanish Civil War combat and the experience of logistical operations during the World War II.
Daniel J. Wichlan
This essay categorizes and analyzes the nonfiction (essays, articles, and lectures) of Jack London providing summaries of key works in each category. An argument is made for this body of work as a representation of an autobiography. Conclusions regarding his political and social philosophies are drawn based on those categories of writing. Comparisons and contrasts are made with his fictional work including an examination of his motivations. The relationship between London’s writing and lecturing is examined both in terms of content and origin. The essay also provides the raw material to provide further characterizations of London as a public figure.
Horrific experiences as a boy laborer prompted Jack London’s quest for—and public circulation of—factual data that is omnipresent in his fiction, essays, and lectures. His vast database ranged from newsprint accounts to reports of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. London’s zeal for factual authenticity aligns him with contemporary investigative journalists (the muckrakers) and with the Progressive movement in which political figures (notably Wisconsin’s Robert La Follette) and professionals in medicine, economics, law, religion and other fields who sought to reform US society by presenting the dire facts of political corruption, child labor, dangerous workplaces, starvation wages, slum housing, the injustices of the criminal justice system—all topics in London’s oeuvre. London adhered to contemporary Upton Sinclair’s maxim that the true purpose of fiction is “to alter reality.” He strategically compounded factual data with emotional appeals in his career as a foremost American public intellectual.
To appreciate the reality of London’s rise, this discussion will focus upon the influence of many other individuals in shaping and reinforcing his beliefs and commitment to artistry. What one discovers is a man curious for knowledge, open to the ideas of people of varying life conditions. In addition, the “cradling,” the support and encouragement of women is evident from childhood onward. Though this theme can apply to his endeavors in ranching and in socialist activity, here the focus is specifically on his writing career, its emergence, and influential people. What emerges is a man who had many mentors, but who mentored in return and assisted the creativity of his friends.
From Atavistic Gutter-Wolves to Anglo-Saxon Wolf: Evolution and Technology in Jack London’s Urban Industrial Modernity
The genealogical connection that London so clearly draws between the Fire People and modern humans in Before Adam suggests the centrality of technology—most basically, the transformation of natural resources into tools and crafts—to his vision of human evolution and species dominance. Indeed, we can follow London’s technological focus from the prehistoric world of Before Adam to the author’s Klondike stories set in the primitive wild to urban dramas like The People of The Abyss (1903) and The Iron Heel (1908), which take as their environment the modern industrial metropolis. Tracking the movement of technology throughout these works illuminates London’s sense of the evolutionary trajectories possible for his own turn-of-the-century historical moment, the “machine age,” as he sometimes called it.
Joseph Elkanah Rosenberg
This article discusses the novels of Henry Green in relation to late modernism. It begins by discussing Green’s placement within current debates regarding the nature and scope of modernism. Paying particular attention to Party Going, it argues that what makes Green’s novels quintessentially late modernist is the way that they thematize their own untimeliness. Green’s novels are obsessed with all manner of belatedness: journeys are delayed and parental origins questioned, events and images repeat themselves endlessly, and lost treasures return only to be lost again. The article ends by considering how, through the displacement of images from his earlier novels—particularly that of dead birds—Green’s later novels reveal the repetition, bathos, and obsession with nothingness that are the hallmarks of his singular style.
Kevin R. Swafford
This article analyzes London’s work as a war correspondent during the early phase of the Russo-Japanese War as something other than simply an account of his experiences as a Western correspondent. The chapter argues that London’s war writing attempts to meta-discursively problematize many of the typical dimensions of war correspondence as it was practiced and represented in the “yellow press” at the close of the nineteenth century. Whereas other war correspondents often attempted to reify various similar ideas concerning war and the role of the correspondent through a writing practice that habituates an overall displacement of its discursive contingencies, London works to foreground such things in much of his Russo-Japanese War correspondence.
Robert Scholes and Clifford Wulfman define modernism and modernity this way: “Modernity is a social condition. Modernism was a response to that condition.” Modernity “is an urban condition” “reached in certain parts of the world in the late nineteenth century … a mass phenomenon” characterized by the rise of technology, print culture, and material consumption. Jack London, who is routinely categorized as a naturalist and realist, can also be called a modernist. The word modern appears often in the pages of this handbook, and though it is not new to call London a modernist, the breadth of scholarship in this present volume gives the categorization new meaning. Moving beyond categorization and periodization, the handbook emphasizes the intersection of London’s politics and his art. Ultimately, all the contributors are concerned with the artist Jack London living in the modern world.
This essay examines The Iron Heel in the context of twenty-first century realist fiction to argue while the novel may borrow from dystopian and science fiction, as well as leftist lectures and essays, at its heart, The Iron Heel is a bourgeois bildungsroman that has much to say to contemporary readers coming of age in an era of dramatically rising economic inequality. Read against the backdrop of the current economic and political climate, London’s futuristic novel about a fascist oligarchy intent on preserving its own wealth and power is not only prescient. It also offers an alternative to the neoliberal logic that recent bourgeois fiction cannot seem to escape.