“He was sounding the deeps of his nature, and of the parts of his nature that were deeper than he, going back into the womb of Time. ” – Jack London, The Call of the Wild, Ch. 3 (Jack London Quotes). This quote summarizes the success of Jack London’s writing career in one simple sentence. London’s success and inspiration for his naturalist style can be accredited to the way in which he was raised, and his experiences during his lifetime. Jack London, was born John Griffith Chaney on January 12, 1876 near San Francisco, California.
His mother was abandoned by London’s real father, William Chaney a traveling astrologer, shortly after it was discovered she was expecting Jack. This later influenced London’s decision to leave his family at a young age. His mother remarried quickly, and Jack took on his stepfather’s name, London. Because of complications, London was primarily raised by Virginia Prentiss, a former slave, until he was around five years of age (Stern 700). The family lived in poverty, and he had many siblings, but was not particularly close with any of them (Jack London Biography).
At age 13, he quit school, borrowed money for a boat, and began harvesting oysters in the Pacific Ocean. By the age of 15, Jack was a successful business man, and known around the docks as “The King of the Oyster Pirates” (Stern 700). He later reflected on this difficult time by stating, “Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well” (Jack London Quotes). He was later caught in this illegal act and then hired as part of the coast patrol because of his extensive knowledge of the sea.
After a voyage to Japan with the patrol, he returned to California in the middle of a recession (London, Jack). After struggling to find a steady job, London joined Coxey’s army, a hobo organization (Jack London Biography). After becoming bored with that, he enrolled in high school and completed a four year degree in just one year. Shortly afterward, London enrolled at the University of California on borrowed money (Jack London). While attending the University he spent large amounts of time in the school’s library reading the vast collection of books.
Among these were works from Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, and most importantly, Charles Darwin. Influenced by his readings, London created his own fusion of socialism, male dominance and white superiority beliefs (London, Jack). In fact, some experts even refer to his books, White Fang, and The Call of the Wild, as fiction versions of Darwin’s Evolution (Stern 700). In the middle of London’s college career, the first Klondike gold rush began. In 1897 alone, over 30,000 men, London among them, rushed to the Yukon territory in search of the precious metal.
The majority, like London, returned unsuccessfully. Although he didn’t get rich on gold in the Yukon, he would later be rich on something else from the cold, harsh place; his memories, inspiration for two of his most successful novels, White Fang and Call of the Wild (Yukon). Around the turn of the century, Robber-barons as they were called, monopolized businesses, companies, then entire industries. Jack knew this fact, and believed that writing was his only way out (Jack London).
London’s very first writing success Typhoon off the Coast of Japan, inspired by his trip to Japan, came in 1900, the same year he married his first wife, Bess Maddern. Together they had two daughters, Joan and Bess (Jack London Biography). During his first marriage, London published some of his most successful stories, including Call of the Wild (1903) and Sea Wolf (1904) both in which he dramatized “atavism, adaptability, and the appeal to the wilderness” (Jack London). In 1905, following an affair, London divorced Bess Maddern and married Charmair Kittredge.
He later used his second spouse’s character as the protagonist in many of his works. London encouraged Charmair to pursue writing, and with his help, published three books, including a biography over Jack because of his eventful past (Stasz 1). Later that same year, London found his true love, Beauty Ranch. Later in his life he stated, “I write for no other purpose to add the beauty that now belongs to me. I write a book for no other reason than to add three or four hundred acres to my magnificent estate” (Jack London Quotes). London’s only true love perhaps, was the wilderness, traveling, and the great outdoors.
In his later years he was well traveled, visiting Japan, Canada, Cape Horn, Australia, and even Mexico (David 1). London had nearly completed his dream house on Beauty Ranch when it mysteriously burned down; arson was suspected. From then on London’s health slowly but steadily declined. Jack London died on November 22, 1916 due to Kidney failure (Stern 700). Jack London is often considered the first American author to gain international fame through his fiction works alone. Although a very successful author, even in other countries, London’s books also received harsh criticism.
His ideas and concept were said to, lack consistency and precision. He also struggled with other thoughts. He wrote and supported women’s suffrage, yet believed in male dominance. London supported white superiority, yet thought it was shameful that, the reckless white men destroyed the cultures of the natives he had seen while searching for gold (Stasz 1). Despite being known for his novels, London also wrote a few non-fiction books, and many short stories, his most famous being To Build a Fire, inspired by his own adventures in the Yukon (London, Jack).
Although London went through many adventures, he did not credit these to his inspiration. When asked where he received his inspiration he answered, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club” (Jack London Quotes). Jack Londons writing’s are some of the most famous works of naturalism of all time. They have been described as, “works that deal romantically with elemental struggles for survival. He is one of the most extensively translated of American authors” (David 1).
Jack London was a go-getter. Although he died at a young age (40), he accomplished much during his lifetime. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time” (Jack London Quotes). London’s success and inspiration for his naturalist style can be accredited to the way in which he was raised, and his experiences during his lifetime. For without these, London would’ve had nothing to write about. Because of the role fate played in his life, London grew to become one of the most successful authors of all time, and his books continue to sell in our modern day and age.
Courtney from Study Moose
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