Friday, January 31, 2020
Jack London and His Wild Side Essay Example for Free
Jack London and His Wild Side Essay Many of Jack Londons novels have the unique characteristic of portraying survival of the fittest, the humanizing of animals, and a contrast of savagery and civility in their protagonists. Subsistence was the number one priority for heroes and villains in many of Londons books. This quest for existence and life was a difficult one in the harsh environments Jack London favored as settings in his books. Therefore survival of the fittest was the law and it sparked the transitions between savagery and civility in its wake. Those affected were traditionally the lone animal heroes prevalent as protagonists in Londons works. To portray these characters, the humanizing of them was a necessary and well-employed tactic that London also utilizes to hold the readers interest. As most of Londons works take place in the wild, it is only natural that his heroes and heroines should be individualists to be able to survive. They challenge the wrath of nature, and those who are strong enough generally live (Ludington). Although the natural world plays a grim role in Londons works, it plays no favorites, and requires those existing in it to meet its demands. This proves to be a central conflict and consistent theme in many works. To Build a Fire demonstrates the conflict of Man versus Naturereveal[ing] Londons sense of the awesome appearance of Nature, sometimes harsh but always impressive (McEwen). On Londons famous novel, White Fang, Earle Labor comments it is structured on ideas rather than upon myth, [it] is a sociological fable intended to illustrate Londons theories of environmentalism (79). Londons works focused on what he considered his philosophy of life. Through his canine protagonists in The Call of the Wild and other books, he expresses the themes of survival, courage, strength, determination, and respect for the truth (McEwen). Jack Londons so-called Klondike Heroes were an independent but still compassionate group who showed respect to the eternal laws of nature and to the overwhelming presence of conscience (Labor 50). Those who took to these values and lived by them at the very least survived, and at the most became leaders of their surroundings. In The Call of the Wild, Buck is snatched from an easy life and submitted to brutal treatment and a harsh environment in the Klondike, [and only] survives because he is the superior individual (Ludington). The dogs learned that kill or be killed, eat or be eaten, was the law. Almost above these laws is Buck. When he was made, the mould was broke, says Pete, a sleigh driver in the book (Ashley). The dog was not instantly a leader however, he first overcomes terrible hardships and falls into brutal skirmishes with both men and other animals, displaying the level of courage and cunning required in Jack Londons philosophy to become a hero (McEwen). Among the lessons learned by Buck are treachery and nobility, faithfulness unto death, and a conviction that moral nature is a vain thing and a handicap in the ruthless struggle for existence' (Ashley). Part I of The Call of the Wild, the most naturalisticsection of the book, deals with physical violence and amoral survival of the dogs which paves the way for their progression into the heroes that London wished to portray them as (Labor 73). In Londons book The Sea Wolf, Wolf Larsen is an arrogant individualist who survives for awhile on an island without many provisions. Though he later perishes, supposedly as an indirect result of his moral flaws, his prolonged existence on the island can only be attributed to his admiral strength and skill- two characteristics that London holds in high esteem (Ludington). These are, however, not the only traits necessary to survive in a harsh environment as London stresses in In a Far Country. Survival of the fittest is expressed as not only a matter of physical fitness, but also of ethical integrity (Labor 53). Individualism, though sometimes detrimental to the character, is also a major theme in many of Londons works. Few persons who have ever encountered his work can totally forgetthe lost miner who wanders across the Arctic waste land in a nightmarish odyssey of starvation and exposure, sustained solely by an incredible will to live; or either of the magnificent dogs: Buck, captivated by the call of the Northland Wild, and White Fang, tamed by the loving-kindness of a gentler master. (Labor 49) Wolf Larsen, in The Sea Wolf, goes beyond survival to domination. He is the captain and master of his vessel and its crew. What gets in his way goes overboard whether its a scullion or his first mate. Larsens motives of ambition and absolute superiority dominate his character to form a totally different connection between him and his pack than did Buck with his (Sandburg 30). Another dominant theme in Londons works is the humanizing of animals. By giving animals characteristics of a man, basically personifying them, London makes it easier and more enjoyable for the reader to relate to the animals situation. His ability to have the reader connected with creatures, to have the reader peer into their minds and hearts, makes their struggles, triumphs, and defeats all the more poignant (McEwen). Both The Call of the Wild and White Fang are beast fables because they provoke peoples interest -whether we know it or not- in the human experience, not in the plight and hardships of lower animals (Labor 69). Buck, in The Call of the Wild, takes on an almost human personality, not because of his actions or thoughts but because the reader can see his thoughts and understand his actions (McEwen). The difference is [the books] radical departure from the conventional animal story in style and substance- the manner in which it is overdetermined in its multilayered meaning, letting readers understand the dogs better than they may understand themselves (Labor 72). Not only are dogs humanized in Londons canine novels, but the humans are significantly de-humanized. This personification of animals gives them very flexible personalities than those of the humans, which tend to lack depth. This reversal of roles makes it entirely possible for the dogs, which are even given names, to be characters in the sense that the humans of the novels will never achieve. Even Judge Miller, by whose Santa-Clara, California, fireside the young Buck lay in innocence and peace before he was dognapped, has more of a function than a character at all. The humans in The Call of the Wild such as John Thornton, Black Burton, and other bad guys are stock characters for which the reader provides their qualities from other reading rather than discover them in the novel (Ashley). The only real character is the dog who displays the humility and natural wisdom which the man fatally lacks: Its instinct told it a truer tale than was told to the man by the mans judgementThe dog did not know anythingBut the brute had its instinct (Labor 64). Perhaps the most dominant and glaringly obvious message in Londons work is the conflict of savagery versus civility and the transgressions and progressions between the two. In a letter Jack London wrote to George Brett in 1904, explained the plan behind his book White Fang. He decided to compose a complete antithesis and companion book: Im going to reverse the process. Instead of devolution or decivilization of a dog, Im going to give evolution, the civilization of a dog- development of domesticity, faithfulness, love, morality, and all the amenities and virtues (Labor 78-79). The noble dogs in White Fang and The Call of the Wild revolt against their roots. White Fang shifts from an untamed life in the wild to one of civilization, while Buck eventually turns on his domestic background towards the wilderness (McEwen). The law of club and fang present in many of Londons wilderness novels is approached and embraced by Buck and cast away for a tamer life by White Fang (Ashley). The Call of the Wild is a study of one of the most curious and profound motives that plays hide-and-seek in the human soul. The more civilized we become the deeper is the fear that back in barbarism is something of the beauty and joy of life we have not brought along with us (Sandburg 29). So it is in fact, not all transgression for Buck, he gains something a domestic being could never achieve. On the other hand, White Fang, too, involves contrasting values: life, love, civilization, the Southland; and the protagonist dogs progression towards these (Labor 79). Although the most noticeable transformations in Londons novels are in that of animals, the civil to savage metamorphosis is well-developed in humans too (McEwen). Among [Londons] various studies of the Northnothing will set you thinking about how far the human race has progressed, the gulf between savagery and civilization, than the tale of Nam Bok the Unveracious. (Sandburg 29). In Nam Bok the Unveracious, Nam Bok, after an absence of many years returns to his isolated fishing village on the shores of Alaska. Late into the night they talk, and Nam Bok, who has been to California, tells them he has been upon a boat larger than all the boats of the village in one; he describes the sails of the vessel and the avers it made head against the wind as well as with it; he describes an iron monster that sped upon two streaks of iron faster than the wind, was fed up on black stones, coughed fire, and shrieked louder than thunder. Early the next morning he is informed that his sense of truth is mournfully degenerate. Their message runs this wise: Thou art from the shadow-land, O Nam Bok. With us thou canst stay. Thou must return whence thou camest, to the land of the shadows. So much for Nam Bok. (30) The raging forces of human and natural forces that battle in these works erode the layers of civilization to reveal the glimpse of the most primeval impulses inherent in men and their environments (McEwen). When a being is thrust into an unfamiliar environment, it must learn to adapt to and coexist with everything around it. In The Sea Wolf, Wolf Larsen eventually dies despite his strength and skills; he was an utterly egotistical an immoral character on an isolated island. Londons point was that Wolf could not have survived in a modern society with the traits he possessed. Buck, on the other hand, is returned to the wild from a tamed existence. He eventually joins a pack of wolves, but he is at the head because of the combination of intelligence he gained in the civilized world and the strength he acquired as part of his transgression to primeval instinct and the wild (Ludington). Even when ill treatment has the adverse affect of not taming Buck but sparking his change, he shows what dog (and man) can do to get past its hardships and become a leader (Ashley). His mistreatment was not the only factor in Bucks transformation, the sense of a call back to nature and her primal sanities is felt by even the rankest degenerate, this is the cal of the wild (Sandburg 29). And with a fitting ending, The Call of the Wild closes: When the long winter nights come on and the wolves follow their meat into the lower valleys, he may be seen running at the head of the pack through the pale moonlight or glimmering borealis, leaping gigantic above his fellows, his great throat a-bellow as he sings a song of the younger world, which is the song of the pack. (Ashley) Throughout these novels, there can be seen a pattern of the same prevalent three prevalent themes. Each interrelated with one another, forming the same types of scenarios, and the same consistent fantastic plots that made Londons works famous. The main characters discovery of themselves sets in motion the readers own self-discovery. The fact that this lesson lies in the lives of canines and not other humans is the true test of Londons ability to humanize animals. In the end this combination forms for a more potent emotional attachment to these dogs than to any other type of fictional character. All these attest to Londons novels being viewed as timeless classics. Works Cited Ashley, Leonard R. N. The Call of The Wild: Overview. Reference Guide to American Literature. 3rd ed. Ed Jim Kamp. St. James Press, 1994. [Galenet] Labor, Earle. Jack London. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1974. Ludington, Townsend. Jack London: Overview. Reference Guide to American Literature. 3rd ed. Ed Jim Kamp. St. James Press, 1994. [Galenet] McEwen, Fred. Jack London: Overview. Twentieth-Century Young Adult Writers. 1st ed. Ed Lauren Sandley Berger. St. James Press, 1994. [Galenet] Sandburg, Charles A. Jack London: A Common Man. Critical Essays on Jack London. By Jacqueline Tavernier-Courbin. Boston: G.K. Hall and Co., 1983.