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Jack London (1876 - 1916)

Related: American literature - writer


Jack London, probably born John Griffith Chaney (January 12, 1876 – November 22, 1916) was an American author who wrote over 50 books. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_London [Dec 2005]

Jack London : Novels and Stories : Call of the Wild / White Fang / The Sea-Wolf / Klondike and Other Stories () - Jack London

Jack London : Novels and Stories : Call of the Wild / White Fang / The Sea-Wolf / Klondike and Other Stories () - Jack London [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Product Description:
Thrilling action, an intuitive feeling for animal life, a sense of justice that often works itself out through violence: these are the qualities that made Jack London phenomenally popular in his own day and continue to make him, at home and abroad, one of the most widely read of all American writers. "The Call of the Wild," perhaps the best novel ever written about animals, traces a dog's education for survival in the ways of the wolfpack. "White Fang," in which a wolf-dog becomes domesticated out of love for a man, is an unforgettable portrayal of a world of "hunting and being hunted, eating and being eaten, all in blindness and confusion." In "The Sea-Wolf," the primitive takes human form in the ruthless, indomitable Wolf Larsen, captain of a crew of outcasts on the lawless Alaskan seas. Set in the Klondike, California, Mexico, and the South Seas, the short stories collected here--many for the first time--show London as one of the great American storytellers.

First Sentence:
BUCK did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tide-water dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego.

Alleged racialist views

Jack London's views regarding race are an extremely contentious subject which cannot be summed up neatly. Academics sometimes draw a distinction between the words "racialist," to mean a belief in intrinsic difference in the capabilities of different races, as opposed to "racist," implying prejudice or hatred. By this definition, Jack London can be said to have shared the racialism common in America in his times.

Many of Jack London's short stories are notable for their empathetic portrayal of Hispanic (The Mexican), Asian (The Chinago,) and Hawai'ian (Koolau the Leper) characters. But, unlike, say, Mark Twain, Jack London did not depart from the racialist views that were the norm in American society in his time, and he shared the typical California concerns about Asian immigration and "the yellow peril" (which he actually used as the title of an essay he wrote in 1904[1]).

To illustrate the social context, note the sentiments of H. G. Wells, writing in 1901, in Anticipations:

And for the rest, those swarms of black, and brown, and dirty-white, and yellow people, who do not come into the new needs of efficiency? Well, the world is a world, not a charitable institution, and I take it they will have to go.

Compare these with those expressed by the character Frona Welse in London's 1902 novel, Daughter of the Snows. (Scholar Andrew Furer says there is no doubt that Frona Welse is here acting as a mouthpiece for London).

We are a race of doers and fighters, of globe-encirclers and zone-conquerors.... While we are persistent and resistant, we are made so that we fit ourselves to the most diverse conditions. Will the Indian, the Negro, or the Mongol ever conquer the Teuton? Surely not! The Indian has persistence without variability; if he does not modify he dies, if he does try to modify he dies anyway. The Negro has adaptability, but he is servile and must be led. As for the Chinese, they are permanent. All that the other races are not, the Anglo-Saxon, or Teuton if you please, is. All that the other races have not, the Teuton has.

His 1904 essay, The Yellow Peril, is replete with the casual stereotyping that was common at the time: "The Korean is the perfect type of inefficiency — of utter worthlessness. The Chinese is the perfect type of industry;" "The Chinese is no coward;" [The Japanese] "would not of himself constitute a Brown Peril.... The menace to the Western world lies, not in the little brown man; but in the four hundred millions of yellow men should the little brown man undertake their management." He insists that:

Back of our own great race adventure, back of our robberies by sea and land, our lusts and violences and all the evil things we have done, there is a certain integrity, a sternness of conscience, a melancholy responsibility of life, a sympathy and comradeship and warm human feel, which is ours, indubitably ours...

Yet even within this essay Jack London's inconsistency on the issue makes itself clear. After insisting that "our own great race adventure" has an ethical dimension, he closes by saying

it must be taken into consideration that the above postulate is itself a product of Western race-egotism, urged by our belief in our own righteousness and fostered by a faith in ourselves which may be as erroneous as are most fond race fancies.

An avid boxer and amateur boxing fan, London was a sort of celebrity reporter on the 1910 Johnson-Jeffries fight, in which a black boxer vanquished James Jeffries, the "Great White Hope." Earlier, he had written:

[Former white champion] Jim Jeffries must now emerge from his Alfalfa farm and remove that golden smile from Jack Johnson's face...Jeff, it's up to you. The White Man must be rescued.

It is possible to cherry-pick statements by some of Jack London's fictional characters that would today be characterized as "racist" (the word did not exist in London's time). Such statements occur increasingly in the potboilers he wrote to finance his ranch in his declining years. The reader must decide whether or not London places any ironic distance between himself and these characters. The word nigger is used casually throughout the novels Adventure, Jerry of the Islands, and Michael, Brother of Jerry. The latter also features a comic Jewish character who is avaricious, stingy, and has a "greasy-seaming grossness of flesh."

Those who defend Jack London against charges of racism like to cite the letter he wrote to the Japanese-American Commercial Weekly in 1913:

In reply to yours of August 16,1913. First of all, I should say by stopping the stupid newspaper from always fomenting race prejudice. This of course, being impossible, I would say, next, by educating the people of Japan so that they will be too intelligently tolerant to respond to any call to race prejudice. And, finally, by realizing, in industry and government, of socialism—which last word is merely a word that stands for the actual application of in the affairs of men of the theory of the Brotherhood of Man.

In the meantime the nations and races are only unruly boys who have not yet grown to the stature of men. So we must expect them to do unruly and boisterous things at times. And, just as boys grow up, so the races of mankind will grow up and laugh when they look back upon their childish quarrels.

--http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jack_London&redirect=no#Alleged_racialist_views [Dec 2005]

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