Jack London and Nature

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Born Jon Griffiths Chaney in San Francisco in 1876, he was abandoned shortly after birth by his father. Therefore, London took the name of his stepfather, John London. Forced to leave school at the age of fourteen and find work because of his family's poor financial situation, he joined the Klondike gold rush of 1898, returning to San Francisco broke, but with an abundance of memories and ideas. During his travels to the Klondike regions, Jack London pondered the importance of humanity. He realized, as important as humans thing they are, the human race is not at all significant. During the late eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century, Jack London struggled with leaving behind traditional attitudes in an effort to find a new philosophy of life. The world was changing in more ways then ever before and traditional unquestioned beliefs had fallen. Jack London would produce stories that would contemplate the significance and superiority of nature to mankind through his use of characterization and plot.

One of jack London's early works, "The Law of Life" is about a blind and lame man named Old Koskoosh. He is left behind by the rest of the tribe because he cannot keep up, as is the way of the tribe. When lying in the snow he remembers seeing a moose that could not keep up with the herd and was killed by wolves. In the story, Jack London was portraying Herbert Spencer's and Charles Darwin's idea of survival of the fittest"…during his stay in the Klondike in 1897 and 1898. Darwin had his greatest influence on London through the writings of Herbert Spencer…in On the Origin of Species, [Darwin] wrote…the ‘Survival of the Fittest'…" (Stasz 5). This idea would stick with London and eventually seep into his writing. However, Jack London, a naturalist himself, modified this idea, believing that all life must dies, whether man or animal, but the creature more suited to the environment would survive longer with its own resources. "…his hand crept out in haste to the wood. It along stood between him and the eternity that yawned in upon him. At the last measure of his life was a handful of faggots. One by one they would go feed the fire, and just so, step by step, death would creep upon him…All men must die." (London 2). In this line London is expressing his naturalist ideas; he is showing that Old Koskoosh must die. However, at the same time, Jack London is displaying mans' weakness. Old Koskoosh must rely on the invention and creations of man, like fire, in order to survive. For unlike the moose, he does not have any fur to protect him from the artic nights. London exploits this flaw of man later in the story when he writes, "…till the fire dies down and the frost bit deeper. He replenished it with two sticks this time, and gauged his grip on life by what remained" (London 3). It can by seen that London feels that, instead of becoming stronger people became weaker when they evolved. They traded their fur and claws for more intellect. Even though people became smarter when they evolved, Jack London feels that in the process they lost some valuable traits needed to survive in the wild. "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 with us" (Poupard 254). Human beings lost the natural resources given to them and instead had to find other ways to survive.

Many of the ideas London portrays in "The Law of Life" can also be seen in "To Build a Fire." In this story London confirms that men are weaker than the animals because humans need to rely on outside resources to survive. The story is about an unnamed man who travel off the Yukon trail with a stray dog as his only companion. Throughout the story, the man encounters many predicaments and has to build fires to keep himself alive, still, he dies. The man is purposely unnamed because Jack London wanted him to symbolize every man. London therefore describes the last scene of the man dying...
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