Jack London Research
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Jack London Biography
Before there was Hemingway, Steinbeck, Kerouac, and Mailer, there was Jack London. Perhaps no other American writer led a life as exciting as that described in his fiction. Born in San Francisco to an unwed mother from a wealthy background, London grew up with his mother and stepfather in a working class neighborhood in Oakland. After leaving school in the eighth grade, he held a series of hard scrabble jobs including oyster pirate, fish patrol member, sailor on a sealing ship, and cross-country hobo before he returned to attend high school at age 19. The combination of his travels, many low paying jobs, and vast reading turned the young London into a fiery socialist who built his world view from the writings of Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Herbert Spencer. These experiences, self-education, and great personal discipline turned London into a fine writer. But no other experience influenced his writing more than his participation in the Klondike gold rush from 1897 to 1899.A great journal writer, London recorded his adventures in the “Northland” including the countless stories he heard from fellow travelers while stranded in an abandoned trappers’ cabin for his first long winter in the Yukon. The following springLondon continued his travels in the north, and for the next two years he found little actual gold, but collected a “goldmine” of stories and memories. These memories and stories turned into a series of short stories about the Northland that earned him his early literary success. Readers fell in love with his action packed adventures. “As Frank Munsey of Munsey’s magazine explained: ‘Good easy reading for the people—no frills, no fine finishes, always action’” (Kershaw xi).This “no frills” writing style falls into the Naturalistic style also used by Stephan Crane. Both Crane and London wrote about conflicts of man versus nature and man versus himself. Spencer’s philosophy of “the survival of the fittest” is seen throughoutLondon’s writings and demonstrates London’s belief in Social Darwinism. After he had written several stories based on his Yukon experiences, London moved to England in 1902. It was at this time that he researched and wrote his critically acclaimed study of London’s East-End poor, The People of the Abyss. Upon returning to California, London decided to write one more story about the Northland despite stating earlier that he was tired of writing about the north (Kershaw xi).This “last” story grew into his masterpiece, The Call of the Wild. Published in The Saturday Evening Post June 20-July 18,1903, the story of Buck, the Southland dog that must use long buried instincts to survive in the cruel Northland, received critical acclaim and made London a writer of renown at age 27. The novel showcases London’s Naturalistic style while providing plenty of action. Today, on its one hundredth anniversary, it remains among the most widely read American classics, appealing to children and adults alike.London’s style and his rousing abilities as a storyteller make The Call of the Wild and Selected Stories accessible to students as early as the middle grades. Younger students can read the work as an adventure story while older students can use it asa stepping stone to more complex works. Older students can easily move beyond the straightforward plot to undertake amore advanced analysis of theme and style without being tripped up by unfamiliar language or complex plot. Because of the great volume of biographical, traditional, and modern criticism on London’s works,
Posted on Fri, January 26, 2018
by Holly Hull