Jack London: Contribution to American Literature

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      Jack London (1876-1916) is the pseudonym of Chaney John Griffith. He was born in San Francisco; he grew up on the tough Oakland waterfront, spending much of his youth in the wrong side of the law. At the age of 17, he signed on a sealing ship which he took him to the arctic and Japan. The Great Depression had struck the US when he returned and was unable to find the work for his livelihood. In 1894 he joined a march on Washington to petition for the relief of the poor; and the petition was not successful. By that time he took his pseudonym and won the prize in a newspaper competition that added to the expanding store of experience. The aspiring reformer also became aspiring writer. On discovery of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, he was on an active socialist. As a poor young man and self-taught worker from California, he saw reality as a naturalistic struggle for existence. For him, life was a battle for power. ‘The naturalist’ Jack London was catapulted from bleak poverty to immense fame by his first collection of stories, The Son of the, set largely in the Klondike region of Alaska and the Canadian Yukon.

      Jack London first novel The Daughter of Snows (1902) based on his teenage experience as an oyster pirate. Other of his best-sellers, including The Call of the Wild (1903) and The Sea-Wolf (1904), made him the highest-paid writer in the United States of his times. In this novel he introduces a castaway, a woman called Maude Brewster who is clearly intended to embody a more humane philosophy. At the end of the novel, Larsen is deserted by his crew. Suffering from the cerebral cancer, he first goes blind and then he dies on a deserted island. In 1905, he published socialist treatise “called The War of the Classes and a novel The Game about man’s fatal fascination with the prizefighting. His next novel, Before Adam (1906) attempts to recreate the pre-historic human community and White Fang (1906) deals with taming of a wild dog in the region of Klondike.

      In The Iron Heal (1908) Ernest Everhard, struggles against the totalitarian consolidation of capitalist power. The hero declares - “Power will be arbiter. It is the struggle of classes”. The more directly autobiographical novel Martin Eden (1909) depicts the inner stresses of the American dream as London experienced them during his meteoric use from obscure poverty to wealth and fame. Eden, and impoverished but intelligent and hardworking a sailor and laborer, is determined to become a writer. Eventually, his writing makes him rich and well-known, but Eden realizes that the woman he loves cares only for his money and fame. His despair over her inability to love causes him to lose faith in human nature. He also suffers from class alienation, for he rejects no the materialistic values of the wealthy that he worked so hard to join. He sails for the South Pacific and commits suicide by jumping into time. Martin Eden is an unsuccessful story. Jack London’s heroes- Martin Eden, Wolf Larsen and Ernest Everhard are all men of genius from humble surroundings. His fiction looks ahead to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in its revelation of despair amid great wealth. The Burning Daylight (1910) is set in Klondike, Smoke Below (1912) in the Yukon. The Valley of the. Moon (1912) is another socialist novel about the working class couple who escape from the harshness of the industrial life in Oakland to an idyllic life on the land. John Barleycorn (1913), an autobiographical memoir, deals with the debilitating effects of alcohol on the hero. The Star Rover (1915) is the story of San Quentin life’s spiritual struggles. With the success of fiction, he was also on demand with the lecture circuit. He visited Korea, Japan and Mexico as a foreign correspondent and traveled for two years on the south seas. Although he virtually earned over million dollars, he was unhappy because he could not reconcile with his own success earned and seen in life. At the age of 40, he died, perhaps by suicide. The Human Drift, his last novel was published posthumously.

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