Jack London (1876 – 1916), born to unwed parents Flora Wellman Chaney and William Henry Chaney on January 12, 1876, and christened as John Griffith Chaney, is one of America’s most acclaimed writers of all times. Most of his works reflect his own personal experience and adventurous tours in Yukon River, Alaska. At the age of 29, he has already become “internationally famous for Call of the Wild (1903) and The Sea Wolf (1904)” (Jack London). The main theme of his stories revolves around the treacherousness of nature and the helplessness of human beings against it. Animals also form a major part of his characters. By contrasting animals’ capability to sustain nature’s extremes, like in the case of the wolf in “To Build a Fire,” London shows how instinct is more crucial than intellect for survival.
Jack London had a very troubled childhood because his father deserted him and he had to fend for himself, doing odd jobs including stints as an oyster thief and factory worker. In September 1876, John London, Jack London’s stepfather married his mother, and “took the baby boy into his family” (Streissguth 10). Though his stepfather cared for Jack, he was a poor family that struggled for their survival and, therefore, the young boy also had to work, taking up different jobs to support his folks. At the age of 13, Jack had to leave school for taking up “a job in Hickmott’s Cannery” (Streissguth 13). At 15, taking a loan from an aunt, he purchased a boat and spent several days learning to sail in San Francisco Bay and mastered the art of sailing. He also had spent days at Oakland Waterfront, “learning the tricks of a very different trade” (Streissguth 15). He tried his hand at Oyster thieving but soon found that it would not take him anywhere in terms of being a lucrative career. It was during this time that he developed his drinking habit and became notorious as a hard drinker.
Subsequently, at the age of 17, Jack joined the Sophia Sutherland as a crew and embarked on a westward journey for seal hunting. Unfortunately, in a heavy gale that lasted for days hit them off the coast of Japan. However, this was a rewarding experience for Jack, to learn about the sea. He returned home after eight months and joined as a worker in a local jute mill but quit after a couple of months. He participated in a writing contest in 1893 and bagged the first prize on November 12, for his essay, “Story of a Typhoon off the Coast of Japan,” which was a firsthand account of the adventure from his personal experience. The essay was published in San Francisco Morning Call and he got the prize money of $25 for this work which was more than the salary he earned in a month. Thus, he realized that writing was a profession that not only suited him but also would fetch him good money. However, the editors of the magazine rejected all his subsequent works and London again started to look for other jobs.
Jack London got married Bessie Maddern, “a mathematics tutor,” “on April 7, 1900” and the marriage, both of them admitted was not out of love but in the hope that it would be “free of illusions and unrealistic expectations” (Walcutt). The day was also significant to London as his “first collection of stories, The Son of the Wolf, was published” on the same day (Walcutt). The book was a grand success and he started receiving steady royalties and he inculcated discipline into the writing process. He persisted with writing and worked daily at least to create 1000 words and “treated writing more as a business than as an art” (Walcutt). Jack London has produced, albeit in a writing career that spans a short time, “over fifty volumes of stories, novels, and political essays” (Stasz par. 3). His main works include but are not limited to: The Cruise of the Dazzler (1902), A Daughter of the Snows (1902), The Call of the Wild (1903), The People of the Abyss (1903), The Sea Wolf (1904), The Game (1905), White Fang (1906), To Build a Fire and Other Stories (1908), The Iron Heel (1908), John Barley Corn (1913), Hearts of Three (1918) etc. After the age of 30, Jack London’s life remained troubled with various diseases and “died of renal failure on November 22, 1916” (Stasz par. 8).
Reading and discussing Jack London would help in understanding literature in an exhaustive manner, primarily because of the vast range of his writing. He has a unique style and his stories are a realistic and vivid presentation of various situations in human life. Most of his stories, as stated earlier, are based on nature’s treachery and how instinct survives over intellect under such circumstances. His descriptions are very clear and place the readers on the scene of the story, giving them accurate sensory details. For example is the scene in “To Build a Fire,” where the protagonist spits and his spittle cracks “before it could fall to the snow” (London 2). Such specific details in the narration help the audience understand the severity of the cold in that region. Jack London is famous all over the world and perhaps has more readers in other parts of the world than in America, which speaks for his popularity.
London, Jack. Jack London State Historic Park. California State Parks. 1994. Web. 29 April 2012.
London, Jack. To Build a Fire. eNotes. 2007. Web. 29 April 2012.
Stasz, Clarice. Jack [John Griffith] London. 2001. Web. 29 April 2012.
Streissguth, Tom. Biography: Jack London. A&E. Learner Publication Company. 2001. Web. 29 April 2012.
Walcutt, Charles Child. Jack London. University of Minnesota Pamphlets on American Writers. 1966. Web. 29 April 2012.