Jack London Essay

4762 words - 19 pages

John Griffith London (1876-1916) was born in San Francisco of an unmarried mother of wealthy background, Flora Wellman. His father may have been William Chaney, a journalist, lawyer, and major figure in the development of American astrology. Because Flora was ill, Jack was raised through infancy by an ex-slave, Virginia Prentiss, who would remain a major maternal figure while the boy grew up. Late in 1876, Flora married John London, a partially disabled Civil War veteran. The family moved around the Bay area before settling in Oakland, where Jack completed grade school. Though the family was working class, it was not so impoverished as London's later accounts claimed.As an adolescent, the boy adopted the name of Jack. He worked at various hard labor jobs, pirated for oysters on San Francisco Bay, served on a fish patrol to capture poachers, sailed the Pacific on a sealing ship, joined Kelly's Army of unemployed working men, hoboed around the country, and returned to attend high school at age 19. In the process, he became acquainted with socialism and was known as the Boy Socialist of Oakland for his street corner oratory. He would run unsuccessfully several times on the socialist ticket as mayor. Always a prolific reader, he consciously chose to become a writer to escape from the horrific prospects of life as a factory worker. He studied other writers and began to submit stories, jokes, and poems to various publications, mostly without success.Spending the winter of 1897 in the Yukon provided the metaphorical gold for his first stories, which he began publishing in the Overland Monthly in 1899. From that point he was a highly disciplined writer, who would produce over fifty volumes of stories, novels, and political essays. Although The Call of the Wild (1903) brought him lasting fame, many of his short stories deserve to be called classics, as does his critique of capitalism and poverty in The People of the Abyss (1903), and his stark discussion of alcoholism inJohn Barleycorn (1913). London's long voyage (1907-09) across the Pacific in a small boat provided material for books and stories about Polynesian and Melanesian cultures. He was instrumental in breaking the taboo over leprosy and popularizing Hawaii as a tourist spot.London was among the most publicized figures of his day, and he used this pulpit to endorse his support of socialism, women's suffrage, and eventually, prohibition. He was among the first writers to work with the movie industry, and saw a number of his novels made into films. His novel The Sea-Wolf became the basis for the first full-length American movie. He was also one of the first celebrities to use his endorsement for commercial products in advertising, including dress suits and grape juice.Because he was an autodidact, London's ideas lacked consistency and precision. For example, he clearly accepted the Social Darwinism and scientific racism prevalent during his time, yet he seem troubled that the "inevitable white...

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