“It’s a unique phenomenon when a male becomes a man so late in life–probably because if he never truly became a man when most do, he likely never will. He certainly won’t seek out someone to father him like his own father failed to do, and if one such person appears on the scene he will likely avoid the man in a mechanism of defense.” (Christine Weber) When readers first encounter Humphrey Van Weyden, he measures up to almost no man. Throughout the novel The Sea Wolf, “Hump” as he’s nicknamed by Wolf Larsen transforms into much more than a man, Hump becomes his own Superman. His profound transformation into Humphrey Van Weyden-- man, can be credited to his experiences aboard Ghost and interactions with the crew.
On first impression, Hump is a far cry from debonair. He is portrayed as cowardly and faint-hearted. The sinking of the ferryboat evidences this. As the boat begins to sink, Hump sees people screaming, including a multitude of women. Hump likens this to “the squealing of pigs under the knife of the butcher.” (Jack London) This startles Hump so much that he must remove himself by running out on deck to regain his composure. Once the ferry sinks, Hump is left floating in the dark, cold water. “I was alone, floating in the midst of a grey primordial vastness, I confess a madness seized me, that I shrieked aloud as the women had done, and beat the water with my numb hands.”(Jack London) It becomes clear that Humphrey has never been alone, and he is afraid to be. He has never been able to fend for himself and test his abilities. Hump doesn’t know what he is truly capable of.
After the ferry sinks, Hump is rescued by the ship Ghost, under the command of Wolf Larsen. Once he is taken aboard, two sailors revive Hump. One of who is massaging his chest, while the other dresses him in bloodstained clothes. “This drowning clearly represents a birth trauma that enables Van Weyden to reemerge a man amongst men on the Ghost.” (Jonathan Auerbach) Later, Cooky tells Hump that he has “bloomin’ soft skin…more like a lydy’s…”(Jack London) Hump demands that he be returned to land, Larsen denies him this privilege as he is understaffed, thus he shall stay aboard, and ultimately begin his transformation into man. I would hypothesize that given the circumstances, any man would certainly attempt to leave the ship, but Hump makes no (immediate) attempt. Is it quite possible that Hump lacked a father figure growing up? Is it this absence that prevents Hump from having conviction? Or why Hump lacks self-confidence?
Under the watchful care of Wolf Larsen, Hump experiences both mental and physical turmoil. But it’s this stress that eventually shapes Hump and helps him overcome his own limitations and internal shortcomings. “Wolf is by no means the perfect father-figure, but he is, I think, the father that Humphrey needs–making him work hard and “earn his bread” for the first time in his life.” (Catherine Weber) Wolf pushes Hump to his breaking point many...