Jack London – Spirit of American Adventure

“Jack London was an American novelist and a short story writer whose work deal romantically with the overwhelming power of nature and the struggle for survival” (Jalic Inc.). London was born on Market Street in San Francisco, California on January 12, 1876. He wrote passionately and prolifically about the great questions of life and death. He also wrote about the struggle to survive with dignity and integrity (Oakes).

London went to a lot of places in his life and most people think it had a great affect on his writing. One of London’s most popular books is called, The Call of the Wild. It is a story of a dog from the southern United States that is captured and sold as a sled dog during the Alaskan gold rush (Sitton). The dog’s name is Buck and he travels around Alaska with his master John Thornton (Sitton). In this book that Jack London writes, there messages that he tells us. One message that London explains to the readers is that life is hard and requires courage and strength (Sitton). Another message that London gives is that even in hard times, love can be found between animals and humans (Sitton).

In The Call of the Wild, London shows compassion through his characters by dealing with nature and survival. Buck shows compassion for other dogs and he understands their suffering and will act on his compassion when he can do so without risk to his own life and he also risks his own life to save his master, John Thornton (Sitton). Not only does Buck show compassion towards John Thornton but he also offers him his love and friendship. “Buck shows much courage throughout the book, defending other dogs, defending his master, and defending himself” (Sitton). Here is a quote from Murray Lundberg’s Life of Jack London as Reflected in his Works: “The allegoric use of Buck to represent the struggle of all working-class people to maintain their dignity is often commented on” (Lundberg).

Jack London grew up in Oakland and he attended what schools were available for him (Malone 370). Financial troubles had forced his father John London, to give up his farming job and to settle on the Oakland waterfront (Malone 370). From London’s high-school days he had been in love with a girl named Ruth. He portrays her in one of his books called Martin Eden ( Malone 370). He attended what schools were available, and he finally graduated from grimmer school in Oakland ( Malone 370).

Since London dropped out of school at age fourteen, he had to educate himself. He did this by going into public libraries and reading lots of different books (Oakes). London was a great reader at the age of ten (Blackdog Media). “These years made him determined to raise himself out of poverty but they also gave later material for such works as The Sea-Wolf (1904), which was partly based on his horrific experiences as a sailor in the Pacific Ocean” (Blackdog Media). During these times, he read for hours on book about romance, travel and adventure ( Malone 370). At one point during London’s childhood, he was arrested and put into jail for vagrancy (Encarta). “His experiences as a wanderer and in jail led him to embrace the philosophy of socialism and sparked his desire to become a professional writer” (Encarta).

After London left school, he began living as a vagabond riding freight trains, working as a sea man, and doing other odd jobs to make money (Oakes). One job Jack London had was a school janitor while he was attending Oakland high school (Hartzell). Another one of London’s jobs was an oyster pirate. He worked on the San Francisco Bay robbing the privately owned oyster beds when it was night time (Verde).

“London maintained his reading habits as best he could, despite having to begin work at age ten in a series of jobs as newsboy, helper on an ice wagon, pinsetter in a bowling alley, and a saloon sweeper” (Lundquist 18). All of the money that he made was given to his mother. After London graduated from grammar school at age thirteen, he went to work at Hickmott’s Cannery. He usually worked for 18 hours a day stuffing pickles into jars for 10 cents an hour (Lundquist 18).

“When London returned to Oakland his money was soon gone and he found a city swept by strikes, lockouts, and riots” (Lundquist 25). This was mainly because the Great depression of the 1890’s had begun. These were vary hard times for people because it was so hard to find jobs because the stock markets had crashed and there was no money. Here is a quote from Murray Lundberg describing the great depression: “In 1894, during America’s worst depression until that time, he traveled across the United States and Canada on the rails; the impact of that journey, during which he saw the pains and disorders of American society in one of its most disturbing crises, cannot be underestimated” (Lundberg).

Finally London decided to go to college and in August 1896 he entered the University of California at Berkeley (Malone 371). For a time, London was studying 19 hours a day and on August 10, 1896, he rode his bicycle to Berkeley and began the three day entrance exams (Lundquist 32). “He studied so long and so hard that he was suffering form nervous twitches and somewhat curious intellectual delusion, but he passes with little trouble and was cleared to enter the university in the fall” (Lundquist 32). After getting accepted to Berkeley, he celebrated by borrowing a boat, sailing to Benicia, and drinking with his old friends. London signed up for two history courses and three English courses but he only lasted a little more than a term at the University of California.

After college, Jack London married his math tutor and friend, Bess Maddern. This marriage was a Victorian marriage and was typical during this time. With Bess, he had two daughters Joan and Bess (Wilson). Their marriage was not based on love so it didn’t last very long. So after the separation from Bess in 1903, he married his secretary, Charmian Kittredge. Jack London’s marriage with Charmian Kittredge lasted until London passed away (Read Print). London considered her her true love. Together, they played, traveled, wrote, and enjoyed life. They had one child named Joy who only lived for thirty-eight hours (Wilson). “Charmian became the model of London’s women characters, such as Paula in The Little Lady of the Big House” (Read Print). “She stayed with him until his death in 1916. She was often criticized by his friends, but she typed his manuscripts, read proofs, endured sometimes humiliating hardship while on many of their travels, and down to the end continued to address her husband as Mate-Man” (Lundquist 49).

In 1902 Jack London went to England, where he studied the living conditions and the working class areas of the capital city (Jalic Inc.). London made a report of what he saw and he turned it into a story called, The People Of The Abyss. (Jalic Inc.) “London also published a semi-autobiographical novel Martin Eden (1909) and a travel book The Cruise of the Snark (1911)” (Jalic Inc.).

“In 1905, while living with Charmian at Wake Robin Lodge in Glen Ellen, California, Jack London decided to settle permanently in the Valley of the Moon” (Wilson). London bought his first piece of property which consisted of 130 acres of trees, fields, streams, hills, and lots of wildlife (Wilson). After more land purchases, Jack London’s “Beauty Ranch” totaled to 1,400 acres (Wilson). Jack London loved his ranch life at his Beauty Ranch. On his ranch, he raised lost of animals such as horses and pigs (Wilson). He also had a large variety of crops on his ranch. He had forty acres of wine grapes which were a part of the Kohler-Frohling Winery (Wilson). London spent a lot of time on his ranch and he wanted to make it look good. He dammed a stream that went crossed his property, so it would create a lake for irrigation. (Wilson). “Constructed completely with native redwood trees, locally-quarried boulders, volcanic rock and blue slate, Wolf House took more than two years to build. Only a few days before Jack and Charmian were to move in, the house tragically burned due to spontaneous combustion caused by a careless oversight by a workman; only the walls were left standing”(Wilson).

This must have been so hard for London for all the work that he put into building his ranch.

London then met his friend George Sterling. Sterling was one of London’s best friends and he was also a poet (Lindquist 49). Both of them remained close friends for years. Sterling introduced London to gourmet food and making him more fastidious while London introduced Sterling to the physical world of women, sports, and other pleasures (Lundquist 49). Sterling also liked to be photographed naked, and London took some of the pictures (Lundquist 50). “Many writers have remarked on the sexuality in the relationship, but both men have furiously resented any interference of latent homosexuality” (Lundquist 50). Sterling always carried a vial of cyanide potassium in his lower left-hand pocket in his vest. He claimed that when the time was right he would take it and kill himself (Lundquist 49). Which he did in 1926 (Lundquist 49). London’s other friends had picnics, flew kites, demonstrated magic tricks, and played practical jokes (Lundquist 50). London believed that his friendship with Sterling and his wife Charmian had saved him. They helped him regain his cheerfulness by encouraging him not to pursue ideas blindly in the way that led to the foolishness of his first marriage (Lundquist 50).

In 1897 London joined in on the gold rush to the Klondike. He set sail on July 25 and he arrived on April ( Malone 371). As they were there, he and his friends made boats, navigated rivers and lakes, and finally they stopped for the winter. They stopped on the Yukon near the Stewart river (Malone 371). Jack London appreciated the beauty of the snow and he also loved being out in the wild. One of London’s favorite sayings was that “It was in the Klondike that I found myself. There nobody talks. Everybody thinks. You get your perspective. I got mine” (Lundquist 36). The trip into the Klondike was tough and dangerous, and anyone who made it there received plenty of credit. The hike to the Chilkoot Pass, was about three quarters of a mile and it had an average slope of forty five degrees ( Lundquist 37). “London claimed that he carried packs weighing as much as 150 pounds as his party hauled their supplies up and over the pass and down to Lake Linderman” (Lundquist 37). London must have been a very strong person. During the winter that followed, London became well known for his storytelling ability (Wilson).

When spring came, London was so ill with scurvy that he was forced to leave. During the same year, he published eight volumes of which five were about the Klondike ( Malone 371). Also, the Overland Monthly had accepted the first of his Northlands stories, To the Man on Trial (Lundquist 40). “Although he had not discovered much gold, he had uncovered a Mother Load of experience from which he would draw material for his future novels and stories” (Wilson).

In May 1898, London developed a severe case of scurvy. He obtained this disease because of the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. London eventually did receive some medical assistance but he was advised to go back home (Wilson). London started to make more and more novels, nonfiction, and short stories (Blackdog Media). This made him becoming one of the most popular authors in his lifetime (Blackdog Media). He did not give up even during his travels and drinking periods and London’s first novel, The Son of the Wolf, appeared in 1900 and by 1904 Jack London was the author of 10 books (Blackdog Media). Son of the Wolf got lots of attention just like his other Alaskan stories, The Call of the Wild, White Fang , and Burning Daylight (Blackdog Media).

When London returned to Oakland, California, he discovered that his stepfather, John London, had died (Wilson). Now at the age of 22, London had to support his mother and his step nephew as well (Wilson). By 1916, London’s kidneys were failing and had prematurely aged him. Here is a quote form James Lundquist book about Jack London: “London’s gums were swollen with pyorrhea, his feet and ankles were puffed with edema, and his “cast iron” stomach began rejecting his meals of raw fish and meat” (Lundquist 72). In September, London decided to ignore the advice of his doctors and try to stay alive on two under cooked ducks a day and by November 10th, the food poisoning started to rapidly increase ( Lundquist 72).

“Sometimes during the night he injected himself with at least twelve and a half grams of morphine sulfate mixed with atropine sulfate to relieve the pain his kidneys were causing him” (Lundquist 72). When London’s houseboy brought coffee at seven o’clock in the morning, he was lying in his bed, breathing heavily, and his face was purple (Lundquist 72). Two special scientists from Oakland and San Francisco were brought up but London did not come out of his coma. London died on his California ranch at the age of forty at 7:45 p.m (Encarta).

An ongoing rumor has it that Jack London committed suicide but this is not true. Information shows that he dies from kidney failure combined with a possible overdose of morphine. Lots of people thought that London committed suicide but most of the evidence now points the other way. London died essentially natural causes (Lundquist 73). “Debts, alcoholism, illness, and fear of losing his creativity darkened London’s final years. He died November 22, 1916, officially of gastrointestinal uremia” (Oakes). Even in London’s final days, when he was bloated, sick, and in great pain, he was able to display cheerfulness and surprising humor (Lundquist 4). Jack London was then buried on Beauty Ranch (Oaks).

Because London’s writings were translated into many languages, he is new more read in other countries outside of the United States than in his home country (Stasz).

“Through Jack London, millions of people around the world have experienced the outer edges of the world, the innermost core of the working-class world, and the complex struggles to survive in either place” (Lundberg). “Literary critic Alfred Kazin once said that “the greatest story London ever told was the story he lived””(Lundberg).

Work Cited:

Blackdog Media. Copyright 2001,2005. Jack London. April 17, 2008.

Hartzell, David A. The World of Jack London. March 13, 2008. Copyright: 1997-2008.

London, Jack. The Call of the Wild. Illustrated by Philip R. Goodwin and Charles Livingston Bull. New York. Grosset and Dunlap publishers. Copyright, 1903, by Jack London.

Lundberg, Murray. ExploreNorth. The Life of Jack London as Reflected in his Works. April 17, 2008.

Ludquist, James. Jack London Adventures, Ideas, and Fiction. Ungar New York: Ungar Publishing Company, 1987.

Malone, Dumas. Dictionary of American Biography. Volume VI. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1961.

Oakes, Elizabeth H. London, Jack. American Writers, American Biographies. New York: Facts On File, Inc. 20044. American History Online.

Online-Literature. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2000-2008. March 30, 2008

Paddock, Lisa. “The Call of the Wild.” Encyclopedia of American Literature: The Age of Romanticism and Realism. 1815-1914, vol. 2. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2002 American History

Read Print. Jack London. Copyright 2006 Read Print. All Rights Reserved. April 14, 2008.

Sitton, Brent and Susan. Copyright 2005-2006. Discovery Journey. All Rights Reserved. April 14, 2008. Book Review: The Call of the Wild.

Stasz, Charice. Jack(John Griffith) London. March 13, 2008.

Verde, Tom. “London, Jack.” Twentieth-Century Writers 1900-1950, March 14, 2008 American Profiles. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 1993. American History Online. Facts On File, Inc.

Wilson, Margie and Mike Wilson. Who Was Jack London? March 13, 2008

Source by Tyler Kathenes

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