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Jack London’s “A Wicked Woman”

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29 February 2012
“London’s ‘A Wicked Woman’: A Reading Response” Jack London’s “A Wicked Woman” is a short story depicting the troubled love life of a young woman named Loretta. London rapidly introduces the reader to a large cast of characters in the first two paragraphs. I found this story similar to a modern pulp fiction romance novel. London lures the reader into feeling sorrow for Loretta’s troubles. I had questions roaming in my mind pondering what Billy might have done to Loretta, to leave her broken hearted. As the story unfolds, I have this feeling that this story, in contemporary times, would be featured on the Lifetime Network on cable television. The story opens with Loretta visiting her older sister, Daisy, and Daisy’s husband Captain Kitt. Loretta has broken with Billy; she is heartbroken and comforted by Daisy. Captain Kitt thinks she is too young to marry and has Loretta shipped off to stay with the Hemingways because there will be no Billy there. This section of the story is very confounding to me. Who are the Hemingways? Their relationship to Daisy and Captain Kitt is never explained. Alice Hemingway is not the nice friend that Captain Kitt thinks he knows. She sees Loretta’s perceived innocence as something that can be exploited, “…so innocent a young thing that were it not for her sweet guilelessness she would be positively stupid” (136). Here London introduces the final character, Edward “Ned” Bashford. Alice writes a letter to Ned, an ex-lover, inviting him to come and enjoy some fishing and swimming. Ned is described as having certain contempt for women, but will “accept them as appearances and to make the best of it” (136). Alice adds, at the end of her letter, that she has a very innocent girl to exhibit to him. Alice is attempting to get Loretta into relationship with Ned. I think this is a conflict with the reason why Loretta was sent to Alice. Loretta starts to come into her own at the Hemingways. She is beginning to have confidence in herself. Ned arrives and not being much of a fisherman, he has plenty of time to watch and study Loretta. He determines that she is “…all his philosophy demanded “(136). Everything is going well for Loretta; she is being spoiled and doted on by the Hemingways, and Ned also attends to her needs. Loretta is the center of attention in this group. London brings Billy back into the story, I believe to jump start the action. Loretta receives a letter from Billy, in which he tells of his sufferings and sleeplessness and then reproaches here sharply. Loretta is now sad and weeping, Alice and Jack are puzzled and worried about her. They look to Ned, and he shakes his head to indicate that he does not know what is troubling Loretta. I am brought back to the beginning of the story, again wondering what it is that Billy has done to her. Ned catches Loretta in the big living-room and comforts her, telling her “There, there, don’t cry, little one” (137). I found this to be creepy. Sobbing, Loretta tells Ned that she is wicked. Ned, of course, tells her she is sweet and innocent and cannot possibly be a wicked person. Ned convinces her to explain why she believes she is wicked. She describes her courting with Billy, leading up to when they kissed. Billy tells her that now they must marry because it is customary for any woman that allows a man to kiss her to marry that man. Ned tells her it is all nonsense and he finds it amusing. Ned confesses to Loretta that he wants her as his wife. He tells her again that there is no such custom. Ned pulls her close and kisses her. Loretta wishes it were the custom, telling him, “because then I’d have to marry you, Ned…dear…wouldn’t I?” (139). Appearances are not as they seem; Loretta is indeed a wicked woman.
Work Cited
London, Jack. “A Wicked Woman.” Litereature:Craft & Voice. Eds. Nicholas Delbanco and Alan Cheuse. Vol.1. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009. 135-139. Print.

Cited: London, Jack. “A Wicked Woman.” Litereature:Craft & Voice. Eds. Nicholas Delbanco and Alan Cheuse. Vol.1. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009. 135-139. Print.

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