Biography and creativity John Griffith "Jack" London. The writer's works, which brought him fame. Political views. London joined the Socialist Labor Party in April 1896. Brief description of literary works "The Call of the Wild" and "Martin Eden".
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I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.
John Griffith "Jack" London (born John Griffith Chaney, January 12, 1876 - November 22, 1916) was an American author, journalist, and social activist. He was a pioneer in the then-burgeoning world of commercial magazine fiction and was one of the first fiction writers to get worldwide celebrity and a large fortune from his fiction alone. He is best remembered as the author of Call of the Wild and White Fang, both set in the Klondike Gold Rush, as well as the short stories "To Build a Fire", "An Odyssey of the North", and "Love of Life". He also wrote of the South Pacific in such stories as "The Pearls of Parlay" and "The Heathen", and of the San Francisco Bay area in The Sea Wolf.
London was a passionate advocate of unionization, socialism, and the rights of workers and wrote several powerful works dealing with these topics such as his dystopian novel, The Iron Heel and his non-fiction exposй, The People of the Abyss. london dystopian novel
John Griffith London was born in San Francisco of an unmarried mother of wealthy background, Flora Wellman. His father may have been William Chaney, a journalist, lawyer, and major figure in the development of American astrology. Because Flora was ill, Jack was raised through infancy by an ex-slave, Virginia Prentiss, who would remain a major maternal figure while the boy grew up. Late in 1876, Flora married John London, a partially disabled Civil War veteran. The family moved around the Bay area before settling in Oakland, where Jack completed grade school. Though the family was working class, it was not so impoverished as London's later accounts claimed. As an adolescent, the boy adopted the name of Jack.
London was born near Third and Brannan Streets in San Francisco. The house burned down in the fire after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake; the California Historical Society placed a plaque at the site in 1953. Though the family was working class, London was essentially self-educated.
In 1885 London found and read Ouida's long Victorian novel Signa. He considered this as the seed of his literary success. In 1886 he went to the Oakland Public Library and found a sympathetic librarian, Ina Coolbrith, who encouraged his learning. (She later became California's first poet laureate and an important figure in the San Francisco literary community).
In 1889, London began working 12 to 18 hours a day at Hickmott's Cannery. Seeking a way out, he borrowed money from his black foster mother Virginia Prentiss, bought the sloop Razzle-Dazzle from an oyster pirate named French Frank, and became an oyster pirate. In his memoir, John Barleycorn, he claims to have stolen French Frank's mistress Mamie. After a few months, his sloop became damaged beyond repair. London became hired as a member of the California Fish Patrol.
In 1893, he signed on to the sealing schooner Sophie Sutherland, bound for the coast of Japan. When he returned, the country was in the grip of the panic of '93 and Oakland was swept by labor unrest. After grueling jobs in a jute mill and a street-railway power plant, he joined Kelly's Army and began his career as a tramp. In 1894, he spent 30 days for vagrancy in the Erie County Penitentiary at Buffalo. In The Road, he wrote:
Man-handling was merely one of the very minor unprintable horrors of the Erie County Pen. I say 'unprintable'; and in justice I must also say undescribable. They were unthinkable to me until I saw them, and I was no spring chicken in the ways of the world and the awful abysses of human degradation. It would take a deep plummet to reach bottom in the Erie County Pen, and I do but skim lightly and facetiously the surface of things as I there saw them. After many experiences as a hobo and a sailor, he returned to Oakland and attended Oakland High School. He contributed a number of articles to the high school's magazine, The Aegis. His first published work was "Typhoon off the Coast of Japan", an account of his sailing experiences.
As a schoolboy, London often studied at Heinold's First and Last Chance, a port side bar in Oakland. At 17, he confessed to the bar's owner, John Heinold, his desire to attend University and pursue a career as a writer. Heinold lent London tuition money to attend college.
London desperately wanted to attend the University of California, Berkeley. In 1896 after a summer of intense studying to pass certification exams, he was admitted. Financial circumstances forced him to leave in 1897 and he never graduated. No evidence suggests that London wrote for student publications while studying at Berkeley.
While at Berkeley, London continued to study and spend time at Heinold's saloon where he was introduced to the sailors and adventurers who would influence his writing. In his autobiographical novel, John Barleycorn, London mentioned the pub's likeness seventeen times. Heinold's was the place where London met Alexander McLean, a captain known for his cruelty at sea, whom the protagonist in London's novel The Sea-Wolf, Wolf Larsen, is based.
Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon is now unofficially named Jack London's Rendezvous in his honor.
On July 12, 1897, London (age 21) and his sister's husband Captain Shepard sailed to join the Klondike Gold Rush. This was the setting for some of his first successful stories. London's time in the Klondike, however, was detrimental to his health. Like so many other men who were malnourished in the goldfields, London developed scurvy. His gums became swollen, leading to the loss of his four front teeth. A constant gnawing pain affected his hip and leg muscles, and his face was stricken with marks that always reminded him of the struggles he faced in the Klondike. Father William Judge, "The Saint of Dawson," had a facility in Dawson that provided shelter, food and any available medicine to London and others. His struggles there inspired London's short story, "To Build a Fire", which many critics assess as his best.
His landlords in Dawson were mining engineers Marshall Latham Bond and Louis Whitford Bond, educated at Yale and Stanford. The brothers' father, Judge Hiram Bond, was a wealthy mining investor. The Bonds, especially Hiram, were active Republicans. Marshall Bond's diary mentions friendly sparring with London on political issues as a camp pastime.
London left Oakland with a social conscience and socialist leanings; he returned to become an activist for socialism. He concluded that his only hope of escaping the work "trap" was to get an education and "sell his brains." He saw his writing as a business, his ticket out of poverty, and, he hoped, a means of beating the wealthy at their own game. On returning to California in 1898, London began working deliberately to get published, a struggle described in his novel, Martin Eden. His first published story was "To the Man On Trail", which has frequently been collected in anthologies. When The Overland Monthly offered him only five dollars for it--and was slow paying--London came close to abandoning his writing career. In his words, "literally and literarily I was saved" when The Black Cat accepted his story "A Thousand Deaths," and paid him $40--the "first money I ever received for a story."
London was fortunate in the timing of his writing career. He started just as new printing technologies enabled lower-cost production of magazines. This resulted in a boom in popular magazines aimed at a wide public, and a strong market for short fiction. In 1900, he made $2,500 in writing, about $66,000 in current value. His career was well under way.
Among the works he sold to magazines was a short story known as either "Batard" or "Diable", in two editions of the same basic story. A cruel French Canadian brutalizes his dog. The dog retaliates and kills the man. London told some of his critics that man's actions are the main cause of the behavior of their animals, and he would show this in another short story.
In early 1903, London sold The Call of the Wild to The Saturday Evening Post for $750, and the book rights to Macmillan for $2,000. Macmillan's promotional campaign propelled it to swift success.
While living at his rented villa on Lake Merritt in Oakland, London met poet George Sterling and in time they became best friends. In 1902, Sterling helped London find a home closer to his own in nearby Piedmont. In his letters London addressed Sterling as "Greek," owing to his aquiline nose and classical profile, and signed them as "Wolf." London was later to depict Sterling as Russ Brissenden in his autobiographical novel Martin Eden (1910) and as Mark Hall in The Valley of the Moon (1913).
In later life London indulged his wide-ranging interests by accumulating a personal library of 15,000 volumes. He referred to his books as "the tools of my trade."
London married Elizabeth "Bessie" Maddern on April 7, 1900, the same day The Son of the Wolf was edited. Bess had been part of his circle of friends for a number of years. She was related to stage actresses Minnie Maddern Fiske and Emily Stevens. Stasz says, "Both acknowledged publicly that they were not marrying out of love, but from friendship and a belief that they would produce sturdy children.", Kingman says, "they were comfortable together... Jack had made it clear to Bessie that he did not love her, but that he liked her enough to make a successful marriage."
During the marriage, London continued his friendship with Anna Strunsky, coauthoring The Kempton-Wace Letters, an epistolary novel contrasting two philosophies of love. Anna, writing "Dane Kempton's" letters, arguing for a romantic view of marriage, while London, writing "Herbert Wace's" letters, argued for a scientific view, based on Darwinism and eugenics. In the novel, his fictional character contrasted two women he had known.
London's pet name for Bess was "Mother-Girl" and Bess's for London was "Daddy-Boy". Their first child, Joan, was born on January 15, 1901, and their second, Bessie (later called Becky), on October 20, 1902. Both children were born in Piedmont, California. Here London wrote one of his most celebrated works, The Call of the Wild.
While London had pride in his children, the marriage was under strain. Kingman says that by 1903 they were close to separation as they were "extremely incompatible." Nevertheless, "Jack was still so kind and gentle with Bessie that when Cloudsley Johns was a house guest in February 1903 he didn't suspect a breakup of their marriage."
London reportedly complained to friends Joseph Noel and George Sterling that, "Bessie is devoted to purity. When I tell her morality is only evidence of low blood pressure, she hates me. She'd sell me and the children out for her damned purity. It's terrible. Every time I come back after being away from home for a night she won't let me be in the same room with her if she can help it." Stasz writes that these were "code words for Bess's fear that Jack was consorting with prostitutes and might bring home venereal disease."
On July 24, 1903, London told Bessie he was leaving and moved out. During 1904 London and Bess negotiated the terms of a divorce, and the decree was granted on November 11, 1904.
After divorcing Maddern, London married Charmian Kittredge in 1905. London was introduced to Kittredge by his MacMillan publisher, George Platt Brett, Sr., while Kittredge served as Brett's secretary. Biographer Russ Kingman called Charmian "Jack's soul-mate, always at his side, and a perfect match." Their time together included numerous trips, including a 1907 cruise on the yacht Snark to Hawaii and Australia. Many of London's stories are based on his visits to Hawaii, the last one for 10 months beginning in December 1915.
The couple also visited Goldfield, Nevada in 1907, where they were guests of the Bond brothers, London's Dawson City landlords. The Bond brothers were working in Nevada as mining engineers.
London had contrasted the concepts of the "Mother Woman" and the "Mate Woman" in The Kempton-Wace Letters. His pet name for Bess had been "mother-girl;" his pet name for Charmian was "mate-woman." Charmian's aunt and foster mother, a disciple of Victoria Woodhull, had raised her without prudishness. Every biographer alludes to Charmian's uninhibited sexuality.
Joseph Noel calls the events from 1903 to 1905 "a domestic drama that would have intrigued the pen of an Ibsen.... London's had comedy relief in it and a sort of easy-going romance." In broad outline, London was restless in his marriage; sought extramarital sexual affairs; and found, in Charmian Kittredge, not only a sexually active and adventurous partner, but his future life-companion. They attempted to have children. One child died at birth, and another pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.
In 1905, London purchased a 1,000 acres (4.0 km2) ranch in Glen Ellen, Sonoma County, California, on the eastern slope of Sonoma Mountain, for $26,450. He wrote that "Next to my wife, the ranch is the dearest thing in the world to me." He desperately wanted the ranch to become a successful business enterprise. Writing, always a commercial enterprise with London, now became even more a means to an end: "I write for no other purpose than to add to the beauty that now belongs to me. I write a book for no other reason than to add three or four hundred acres to my magnificent estate." After 1910, his literary works were mostly potboilers, written out of the need to provide operating income for the ranch.
Stasz writes that London "had taken fully to heart the vision, expressed in his agrarian fiction, of the land as the closest earthly version of Eden … he educated himself through the study of agricultural manuals and scientific tomes. He conceived of a system of ranching that today would be praised for its ecological wisdom. "He was proud to own the first concrete silo in California, a circular piggery that he designed. He hoped to adapt the wisdom of Asian sustainable agriculture to the United States. He hired both Italian and Chinese stonemasons, whose distinctly different styles are obvious.
The ranch was an economic failure. Sympathetic observers such as Stasz treat his projects as potentially feasible, and ascribe their failure to bad luck or to being ahead of their time. Unsympathetic historians such as Kevin Starr suggest that he was a bad manager, distracted by other concerns and impaired by his alcoholism. Starr notes that London was absent from his ranch about six months a year between 1910 and 1916, and says, "He liked the show of managerial power, but not grinding attention to detail …. London's workers laughed at his efforts to play big-time rancher and considered the operation a rich man's hobby."
London spent $80,000 ($1,950,000 in current value) to build a 15,000-square-foot (1,400 m2) stone mansion ("Wolf House") on the property. Just as the mansion was nearing completion, two weeks before the Londons planned to move in, it was destroyed by fire.
London's last visit to Hawaii, beginning in December 1915, lasted eight months. He met with Duke Kahanamoku, Prince Jonah Kыhiф Kalaniana'ole, Queen Lili`uokalani and many others, before returning to his ranch in July 1916. He was suffering from kidney failure, but he continued to work.
The ranch (abutting stone remnants of Wolf House) is now a National Historic Landmark and is protected in Jack London State Historic Park.
Many older sources describe London's death as a suicide, and some still do. This conjecture appears to be a rumor, or speculation based on incidents in his fiction writings. His death certificate gives the cause as uremia, following acute renal colic, a type of pain often described as "the worst pain [...] ever experienced", commonly caused by kidney stones. Uremia is also known as uremic poisoning.
London died November 22, 1916, in a sleeping porch in a cottage on his ranch. He was in extreme pain and taking morphine, and it is possible that a morphine overdose, accidental or deliberate, may have contributed to his death. The biographer Stasz writes, "Following London's death, for a number of reasons, a biographical myth developed in which he has been portrayed as an alcoholic womanizer who committed suicide. Recent scholarship based upon firsthand documents challenges this caricature."
London's fiction featured several suicides. In his autobiographical memoir John Barleycorn, he claims, as a youth, to have drunkenly stumbled overboard into the San Francisco Bay, "some maundering fancy of going out with the tide suddenly obsessed me". He said he drifted and nearly succeeded in drowning before sobering up and being rescued by fishermen. In the dйnouement of The Little Lady of the Big House, the heroine, confronted by the pain of a mortal gunshot wound, undergoes a physician-assisted suicide by morphine. Also, in "Martin Eden", the principal protagonist, who shares certain characteristics with London himself, drowns himself.
London had been a robust man but had suffered several serious illnesses, including scurvy in the Klondike. At the time of his death, he suffered from dysentery and uremia and late stage alcoholism. During travels on the Snark, he and Charmian may have picked up unspecified tropical infections. Most biographers, including Russ Kingman, now agree he died of uremia aggravated by an accidental morphine overdose.
London's ashes were buried, together with those of his second wife Charmian (who died in 1955), in Jack London State Historic Park, in Glen Ellen, California. The simple grave is marked only by a mossy boulder.
Accusations of plagiarism
London was vulnerable to accusations of plagiarism not only because he was such a conspicuous, prolific, and successful writer, but also because of his methods of working. He wrote in a letter to Elwyn Hoffman, "expression, you see--with me--is far easier than invention." He purchased plots and novels from the young Sinclair Lewis and used incidents from newspaper clippings as writing material.
Egerton R. Young claimed The Call of the Wild was taken from his book My Dogs in the Northland. London acknowledged using it as a source and claimed to have written a letter to Young thanking him.
In July 1901, two pieces of fiction appeared within the same month: London's "Moon-Face", in the San Francisco Argonaut, and Frank Norris's "The Passing of Cock-eye Blacklock," in Century. Newspapers showed the similarities between the stories, which London said were "quite different in manner of treatment, but patently the same in foundation and motive." London explained both writers based their stories on the same newspaper account. A year later, it was discovered that Charles Forrest McLean had published a fictional story also based on the same incident.
In 1906, the New York World published "deadly parallel" columns showing eighteen passages from London's short story "Love of Life" side by side with similar passages from a nonfiction article by Augustus Biddle and J. K Macdonald, titled "Lost in the Land of the Midnight Sun." London noted the World did not accuse him of "plagiarism," but only of "identity of time and situation," to which he defiantly "pled guilty."
The most serious charge of plagiarism was based on London's "The Bishop's Vision", Chapter 7 of his The Iron Heel. The chapter is nearly identical to an ironic essay that Frank Harris published in 1901, titled "The Bishop of London and Public Morality." Harris was incensed and suggested he should receive 1/60th of the royalties from The Iron Heel, the disputed material constituting about that fraction of the whole novel. London insisted he had clipped a reprint of the article, which had appeared in an American newspaper, and believed it to be a genuine speech delivered by the Bishop of London.
London joined the Socialist Labor Party in April 1896. In the same year, the San Francisco Chronicle published a story about the twenty-year-old London giving nightly speeches in Oakland's City Hall Park, an activity he was arrested for a year later. In 1901, he left the Socialist Labor Party and joined the new Socialist Party of America. He ran unsuccessfully as the high-profile Socialist nominee for mayor of Oakland in 1901 (receiving 245 votes) and 1905 (improving to 981 votes), toured the country lecturing on socialism in 1906, and published collections of essays about socialism (The War of the Classes, 1905; Revolution, and other Essays, 1906). As London explained in his essay, "How I Became a Socialist", his views were influenced by his experience with people at the bottom of the social pit. His optimism and individualism faded, and he vowed never to do more hard work than necessary. He wrote that his individualism was hammered out of him, and he was politically reborn. He often closed his letters "Yours for the Revolution."
In his Glen Ellen ranch years, London felt some ambivalence toward socialism and complained about the "inefficient Italian labourers" in his employ. In 1916, he resigned from the Glen Ellen chapter of the Socialist Party, but stated emphatically he did so "because of its lack of fire and fight, and its loss of emphasis on the class struggle."
Stasz notes that "London regarded the Wobblies as a welcome addition to the Socialist cause, although he never joined them in going so far as to recommend sabotage." Stasz mentions a personal meeting between London and Big Bill Haywood in 1912.
Influence on writing
London wrote from a socialist viewpoint, which is evident in his novel The Iron Heel. Neither a theorist nor an intellectual socialist, London's socialism grew out of his life experience.
In his late (1913) book The Cruise of the Snark, London writes, without empathy, about appeals to him for membership of the Snark's crew from office workers and other "toilers" who longed for escape from the cities, and of being cheated by workmen. In an unflattering portrait of London's ranch days, Kevin Starr (1973) refers to this period as "post-socialist" and says "… by 1911 … London was more bored by the class struggle than he cared to admit." Starr maintains London's socialism always had a streak of elitism in it, and a good deal of pose. He liked to play working class intellectual when it suited his purpose. Invited to a prominent Piedmont house, he featured a flannel shirt, but, as someone there remarked, London's badge of solidarity with the working class "looked as if it had been specially laundered for the occasion." Mark Twain said "It would serve this man London right to have the working class get control of things. He would have to call out the militia to collect his royalties."
Western writer and historian Dale L. Walker writes:
London's true mйtier was the short story … London's true genius lay in the short form, 7,500 words and under, where the flood of images in his teeming brain and the innate power of his narrative gift were at once constrained and freed. His stories that run longer than the magic 7,500 generally--but certainly not always--could have benefited from self-editing.
London's "strength of utterance" is at its height in his stories, and they are painstakingly well-constructed. "To Build a Fire" is the best known of all his stories. Set in the harsh Klondike, it recounts the haphazard trek of a new arrival who has ignored an old-timer's warning about the risks of traveling alone. Falling through the ice into a creek in seventy-five-below weather, the unnamed man is keenly aware that survival depends on his untested skills at quickly building a fire to dry his clothes and warm his extremities. After publishing a tame version of this story--with a sunny outcome--in The Youth's Companion in 1902, London offered a second, more severe take on the man's predicament in The Century Magazine in 1908. Reading both provides an illustration of London's growth and maturation as a writer. As Labor (1994) observes: "To compare the two versions is itself an instructive lesson in what distinguished a great work of literary art from a good children's story."
Other stories from the Klondike period include: "All Gold Canyon", about a battle between a gold prospector and a claim jumper; "The Law of Life", about an aging American Indian man abandoned by his tribe and left to die; "Love of Life", about a trek by a prospector across the Canadian tundra; "To the Man on Trail," which tells the story of a prospector fleeing the Mounted Police in a sled race, and raises the question of the contrast between written law and morality; and "An Odyssey of the North," which raises questions of conditional morality, and paints a sympathetic portrait of a man of mixed White and Aleut ancestry.
London was a boxing fan and an avid amateur boxer. "A Piece of Steak" is a tale about a match between older and younger boxers. It contrasts the differing experiences of youth and age but also raises the social question of the treatment of aging workers. "The Mexican" combines boxing with a social theme, as a young Mexican endures an unfair fight and ethnic prejudice in order to earn money with which to aid the revolution.
Numerous stories of London would today be classified as science fiction. "The Unparalleled Invasion" describes germ warfare against China; "Goliah" revolves around an irresistible energy weapon; "The Shadow and the Flash" is a tale about two brothers who take different routes to achieving invisibility; "A Relic of the Pliocene" is a tall tale about an encounter of a modern-day man with a mammoth. "The Red One" is a late story from a period when London was intrigued by the theories of the psychiatrist and writer Jung. It tells of an island tribe held in thrall by an extraterrestrial object. His dystopian novel, The Iron Heel, meets the contemporary definition of soft science fiction.
Some nineteen original collections of short stories were published during London's brief life or shortly after his death. There have been numerous posthumous anthologies drawn from this pool of nineteen books. Many of these collections have been themed around the locales of the Klondike and the Pacific. A collection of Jack London's San Francisco Stories was published in October 2010 by Sydney Samizdat Press. London's most famous novels are The Call of the Wild, White Fang, The Sea-Wolf, The Iron Heel, and Martin Eden.
In a letter dated Dec 27, 1901, London's Macmillan publisher George Platt Brett, Sr. said "he believed Jack's fiction represented 'the very best kind of work' done in America."
Critic Maxwell Geismar called The Call of the Wild "a beautiful prose poem"; editor Franklin Walker said that it "belongs on a shelf with Walden and Huckleberry Finn"; and novelist E.L. Doctorow called it "a mordant parable … his masterpiece."
The historian Dale L. Walker commented:
Jack London was an uncomfortable novelist, that form too long for his natural impatience and the quickness of his mind. His novels, even the best of them, are hugely flawed.
Critics have said his novels are episodic and resemble a linked series of short stories. Walker writes:
The Star Rover, that magnificent experiment, is actually a series of short stories connected by a unifying device … Smoke Bellew is a series of stories bound together in a novel-like form by their reappearing protagonist, Kit Bellew; and John Barleycorn … is a synoptic series of short episodes.
Ambrose Bierce said of The Sea-Wolf that "the great thing--and it is among the greatest of things--is that tremendous creation, Wolf Larsen … the hewing out and setting up of such a figure is enough for a man to do in one lifetime." However, he noted, "The love element, with its absurd suppressions, and impossible proprieties, is awful."
The Iron Heel is interesting as an example of a dystopian novel that anticipates and influenced George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.London's socialist politics are explicitly on display here.
The Call of the Wild
Buck, a powerful Saint Bernard-Scotch shepherd dog, lives a comfortable life in the Santa Clara Valley with his owner, Judge Miller. One day, Manuel, the Judge's gardener's assistant, steals Buck and sells him(for $100) in order to pay a gambling debt. Buck is then shipped to the "man in the red sweater" to be broken. Then Buck is shipped to Alaska and sold to a pair of French Canadians named Franзois and Perrault (for $300). They train him as a sled dog, and he quickly learns how to survive the cold winter nights and the pack society by observing his teammates. He and the vicious, quarrelsome lead dog, Spitz, develop a rivalry. Buck eventually bests Spitz in a major fight, and after Spitz is defeated, the other dogs close in, killing him. Buck then becomes the leader of the team.
Eventually, Buck is sold to a trio, Hal, Charles, and a woman named Mercedes, looking to make a fortune finding gold. They know nothing about sledding nor surviving in the Alaskan wilderness. They struggle to control the sled and ignore warnings not to travel during the spring melt. They first overfeed the dogs, then when their food supply starts running out, they do not feed them at all. As they journey on, they run into John Thornton, an experienced outdoorsman who notices that all of the sled dogs are in terrible shape from the ill treatment of their handlers. Thornton warns the trio against crossing the river, but they refuse to listen and order Buck to move on. Exhausted, starving, and sensing the danger ahead, Buck refuses and continues to lie unmoving in the snow. After Buck is beaten by Hal, Thornton recognizes him as a remarkable dog and is disgusted by the driver's treatment of him. Thornton cuts Buck free from his traces and tells the trio he's keeping him, much to Hal's displeasure. After some argument, the trio leaves and tries to cross the river, but as Thornton warned, the ice gives way and the three fall into the river along with the neglected dogs and sled.
As Thornton nurses Buck back to health, Buck comes to love him and grows devoted to him. Buck saves Thornton when the man falls into a river. Thornton then takes him on trips to pan for gold. During one such trip, a man makes a wager with Thornton over Buck's strength and devotion. Buck wins the bet by breaking a half-ton sled out of the frozen ground, then pulling it 100 yards by himself, winning over a thousand dollars in gold dust. Thornton and his friends return to their camp and continue their search for gold, while Buck begins exploring the wilderness around them and begins socializing with a wolf from a local pack. One night, he returns from a short hunt to find his beloved master and the others in the camp have been killed by a group of Yeehat Indians. Buck eventually kills the Indians to avenge Thornton. After realizing his old life is a thing of the past, Buck follows the wolf into the forest and answers the call of the wild. Every year Buck comes to mourn for Thornton at the place where he died.
To Build a Fire
A man is traveling on the Yukon Trail on a very cold day (?75°F, ?60°C), accompanied only by a husky wolf-dog. The cold does not deter the man, a newcomer to the Yukon, who plans to meet his friends (who are referred to as boys) by six o'clock at an old junction. He walks along a creek trail, mindful of the dangerous, hidden springs, because getting wet feet on such a cold day is dangerous. The man continues on and, in an apparently safe spot, falls through the snow and gets wet up to his shins. He remembers an old-timer who had warned him that no man should travel in the Klondike alone when the temperature is colder than minus fifty.
With the wet legs, the man becomes scared and builds a fire to dry his wet clothes. He starts the fire underneath a pine tree, which is covered with snow, and keeps pulling twigs from its lower branches to feed the flames. The agitation eventually upsets the loaded boughs, which dump their weight of snow onto the fire, extinguishing it. He tries to start a new fire, aware that he is already going to lose a few toes from frostbite. He gathers twigs and grasses, then tries to light a match with his frozen, numbed fingers. He grabs all his matches and lights them all at once, then sets fire to a piece of bark and his hands. He starts the fire, but accidentally pokes it apart while trying to remove a piece of green moss. The man decides to kill the dog and to put his hands inside its warm body to restore his circulation. But due to the extreme cold, he cannot kill the dog because he is unable to pull out his knife, or even throttle the animal. He lets it go.
In a desperate attempt to keep himself warm, he starts to run, trying to let the exertion heat his body. However, he has no stamina, and soon he stops and sits down. He imagines his friends finding his dead body in the snow, then himself telling the old-timer that he was right: It was foolish to travel alone. A warmth covers him and he falls into a deep, deadly, relaxing sleep. The dog does not understand why the man is sitting in the snow and not making a fire to warm them. As night falls, the dog comes closer to him and smells death on the man. It trots away "in the direction of the camp it knew, where were the other food-providers and fire-providers".
Living in Oakland at the dawn of the 20th century, Martin Eden struggles to rise far above his destitute proletarian circumstances through an intense and passionate pursuit of self-education in order to achieve a coveted place among the literary elite. The main driving force behind Martin Eden's efforts is his love for Ruth Morse. Because Eden is a rough, uneducated sailor from a working class background, and the Morses are a bourgeois family, a union between them would be impossible until he reaches their level of wealth and perceived cultural, intellectual refinement.
Just before the literary establishment discovers Eden's talents as a writer and lavishes him with the fame and fortune that he had incessantly promised Ruth (for the last two years) would come, she loses her patience and rejects him in a wistful letter: "if only you had settled down...and attempted to make something of yourself." When the publishers and the bourgeois--the very ones who shunned him--are finally at his feet, Martin has already begrudged them and become jaded by unrequited toil and love. Instead of enjoying his success, Eden retreats into a quiet indifference, only interrupted to mentally rail against the genteelness of bourgeois society or to donate his new wealth to working class friends and family.
The novel ends with Martin Eden committing suicide by drowning, a detail which undoubtedly contributed to what researcher Clarice Stasz calls the 'biographical myth' that Jack London's own death was a suicide.
Joan London noted that "ignoring its tragic ending," the book is often regarded as "a 'success' story...which inspired not only a whole generation of young writers but other different fields who, without aid or encouragement, attained their objectives through great struggle."
4. "Jack London's "Credo", Commentary by Clarice Stasz". The Jack London Online Collection. Retrieved 2011-09-30
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