Jack London was born in San Francisco, California, on January 12, 1876. Raised in poverty, he educated himself through reading; he especially enjoyed the stories of Washington Irving and Rudyard Kipling. London spent his teen-age years sailing to Japan aboard a sealing schooner, tramping across the country as a hobo, and working at various odd jobs. London later drew upon these early adventures for such books as The Cruise of the Dazzler (1902) and The Sea-Wolf (1904).
When he was twenty, London enrolled in the University of California at Berkeley. He had just begun to read Charles Darwin's Origin of Species and Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto. The ideas of Darwin and Marx profoundly influenced London's thinking and writing. The following year, 1897, London left California for the Klondike gold rush. He did not "strike it rich" there, but he did bring back many experiences and tales of the North which were to bring him success as a writer. Before he was twenty-five, London had published his first novel, The Son of the Wolf: Tales of the Far North (1900), as well as numerous magazine stories.
Jack London died mysteriously on November 22, 1916, in Santa Rosa, California. Although he was only forty years old, he had already written fifty-nine books, including novels, short stories, sociological studies, essays, plays, and an autobiography. By his own admission, much of his writing was "hack work"; but his...
(The entire section is 260 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Largely self-educated, Jack London was the product of California ranches and the working-class neighborhoods of Oakland. London’s rise to fame came as a result of the Klondike Gold Rush. Unsuccessful in his attempt to break into the magazine market, he joined the flood of men rushing to make instant riches in the Yukon. Although he found little gold, he returned after the winter of 1897 with a wealth of memories and notes of the Northland, the gold rush, and the hardships of the trail. London married Elizabeth May Maddern in 1900, and the couple settled in Oakland, soon adding two daughters to the family. The marriage, however, was not successful, and London divorced his wife in 1905 and married Charmian Kittredge the same year. With Charmian, he sailed across the Pacific aboard a small yacht, intending to continue around the world on a seven-year voyage. The trip ended in Australia, however, when ill health forced London to abandon the voyage after only two years. London’s last years were spent in the construction of a scientifically run ranch complex in Glen Ellen, Sonoma County, California. It was there that he died at age forty, on November 22, 1916. His death still has not been satisfactorily explained.
(The entire section is 202 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
A sometime tramp, oyster pirate, seaman, Socialist, laundryman, and miner, Jack London is as famous for the life he lived and the myths he wove around it as he is for the short stories and novels he wrote. Largely self-educated, London was the product of California ranches and the working-class neighborhoods of Oakland. Born in San Francisco on January 12, 1876, his rise to literary fame came as a result of the Klondike gold rush. Unsuccessful in his attempt to break into the magazine market, London joined the flood of people rushing toward instant riches in the Yukon. He found little gold but returned after the winter of 1897 with a wealth of memories and notes of the North, the gold rush, and the hardships of the trail. By 1900, London had firmly established himself as a major American writer.
Also in 1897, London married Elizabeth May Maddern. The couple settled in Oakland, soon adding two daughters to their family. In 1904, seeking new material for his stories and escape from his marriage, which by this time had gone sour, London signed with publisher William Randolph Hearst to cover the impending Russo-Japanese War for Hearst’s newspaper the San Francisco Examiner. London’s photographs and accounts of that war were among the first to be published, and he returned to California in triumph, only to face a divorce action.
London’s next years were marked by further adventures and travels. In 1905, he journeyed across the United...
(The entire section is 382 words.)
Four factors dominated Jack London’s attitudes and writings: the hard circumstances of his childhood in California, his early discovery of the great nineteenth century scientists and philosophers, his adventures at sea, and his experiences in Alaska and the Yukon.
London was the illegitimate son of a spiritualist who subsequently made a marriage of convenience to a widower. While the union provided a home for two families, it seems to have involved little affection. London’s stepfather was an unsuccessful provider, and London began work as a child to help support the family. Central California was still a rough region at the end of the nineteenth century, and the jobs the boy found included sweeping saloons and setting bowling pins. To escape the drudgery of such work, he borrowed enough money to buy a small boat and set himself up as an oyster pirate; later he switched sides to guard the same waters.
In 1893, London shipped aboard a sealing schooner bound for the Bering Sea. Out of this experience grew The Sea-Wolf, now recognized as one of the most important works of American sea fiction. Four years later London took part in another intensely masculine adventure, the Klondike gold rush, absorbing raw material for such sagas of the North as The Call of the Wild.
London’s works were much more than...
(The entire section is 368 words.)
Early Life (Dictionary of World Biography: The 20th Century)
Born John Griffith Chaney, Jack London spent his early life around the Oakland, California, docks and the San Francisco waterfront. His family was poor, and life was a grim struggle—facts he later used in autobiographical novels such as Martin Eden (1909), the story of how a young, poorly educated man teaches himself to become a writer through dogged persistence and ruthless ambition. Born illegitimate, London identified with the downtrodden and the outcasts of society. His father, William Henry Chaney, was a traveling astrologer. When his mother, Flora Wellman, a spiritualist, married his stepfather, John London, a farmer, he took his stepfather’s name.
John’s farm failed, and the family faced a continual financial struggle. His stepson was bright and energetic—later photographs reveal a vigorous, ruggedly handsome man—and had an intermittent education, which ceased with grammar school at the age of fourteen (except for a few months at the University of California at Berkeley in 1897). At ten, London was already working, selling newspapers and laboring as a pin boy in a bowling alley. At fourteen, he found a job in a cannery. At sixteen, like his fictional heroes, he showed independence and pluck by pitching in with his friends to buy an oyster boat. He became known as an “oyster pirate.” At...
(The entire section is 387 words.)
Life’s Work (Dictionary of World Biography: The 20th Century)
In 1898, London returned to Oakland to continue his career as a professional writer, drawing first on his Klondike experiences. In 1900, he married Bessie Mae Maddern, with whom he had two daughters, Joan (in 1901) and Becky (in 1902). His name will forever be associated with the classic story The Call of the Wild (1903). It has never been out of print, and it has been translated into sixty-eight languages. The book not only made London’s career as a best-selling author possible, but it also secured his place in American literary naturalism. The story is about a dog, Buck, half-St. Bernard and half-Scottish sheepdog, who is stolen from a comfortable California home and brutalized as a sled dog. Nevertheless, his spirit overcomes adversity—including the challenge of a vicious dog named Spitz—and Buck earns the love of a kind master, Thornton, to whom Buck remains loyal even after his master’s death.
The Call of the Wild reflects the suffering, adventuring, and success of London’s early life but also includes the ideas of Darwin, Marx, and Nietzsche by demonstrating how overwhelming the odds are against the individual and yet how indomitable the wild spirit—in humans and dogs—can remain. This is the hard world of American literary naturalism, which posits a universe of biological forces and societal constraints. Only individuals who are insulated by wealth and middle-class comforts can escape the struggle for survival—and...
(The entire section is 1030 words.)
Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 20th Century)
Jack London has had an extraordinary impact on world culture. He was avidly read in the Soviet Union, for example, and taken as the model of a progressive writer. He inspired writers such as George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway to fuse journalism and fiction, pursuing a commitment to the writing life and to literature as a way of interpreting the world. His sheer passion and output have been inspiring, even if, like his hero Martin Eden, he committed suicide—a burnt-out case at age forty—as some biographers suspect. The circumstances of his death remain ambiguous, with some biographers suggesting that he died of natural causes such as a stroke or heart failure. His death certificate records uremic poisoning and renal colic.
London offered journalists and novelists a vision of the individual writer at war with the world and yet fabulously successful. He did not blink at the realities of society even as he pursued his own ambitious course. Even writers who might seem worlds apart from the aggressive, high-living London—such as the essayist and novelist Susan Sontag—have paid tribute to London’s example, ignoring his excesses and honoring his quest to engage the world on his terms.
London has been equally popular, however, with readers of adventure stories who are not devotees of Nietzsche, Marx, or Darwin. For them, it is surely London’s ability to describe the world, to place readers in his characters’ situations, that is so...
(The entire section is 398 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Jack London was born on January 12, 1876, in San Francisco, the son of Flora Wellman and William Henry Chaney. Chaney, an astrologer and confidence man, had deserted his common-law wife when he learned she was pregnant, which led Wellman to attempt suicide. In September of 1876, she married a widower with two daughters, John London, who gave her son his name. The family was poor, made poorer by Flora’s imprudent investments in get-rich-quick schemes, and was constantly moving between apartments and small ranches. Unable to put down roots, Jack was lonely as a child. He worked hard and spent every spare moment reading dime novels and romances.
After completing grammar school in Oakland, California, in 1891, he borrowed money and bought a sloop on which he engaged in oyster piracy. At fifteen he was a petty criminal, by night raiding the beds where food companies kept their stocks and by day drinking in waterfront saloons. After a rival burned his boat, he decided to join the other side, the Fish Patrol, which had been established to guard the beds.
Soon his adventuring took a wider circuit; he sailed the North Pacific on a seal-hunting ship and then became a hobo, trekking across the United States with Coxey’s army, a group of unemployed workers who were marching on Washington to demand jobs. This experience with the underprivileged...
(The entire section is 733 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
London developed what might be called the “thinking man’s adventure story.” Drawing on his own experiences as a sailor and gold prospector, he wrote rip-roaring sagas that went beyond being simple entertainments to broach speculative issues concerning evolution, free will, and the survival of primitive instincts in the civilized. His training as an action writer led him to rely on a pungent, direct prose that was a major asset in his non-genre novel, Martin Eden. In this triumphant work, he added the new strengths of breadth and keen observation to the skills he had already displayed in adventure stories.
(The entire section is 100 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
John Griffith London—the ardent socialist whose individualistic tales of adventure have long made him the idol of American boys—was born in the squalor of a San Francisco slum on January 12, 1876. His mother was a woman named Flora Wellman, his father was probably an Irish adventurer and roving astrologer, W. H. Chaney. A few months after the child’s birth Flora married John London, whose name was to be adopted and made famous by a child not his own.
Increasing poverty forced London to leave school after the eighth grade; his subsequent literary education was dependent upon the books he borrowed from the Oakland Public Library. The fictional productions of his maturity reflect the influence of his early favorites, Rudyard Kipling, Karl Marx, and, later, Herbert Spencer and Friedrich Nietzsche. Young London, however, did not have much leisure time for reading. During the five years after he left school, he was an oyster pirate, a seaman, an unsuccessful Yukon prospector, and a tramp traveling across the United States. In 1893, shortly after he had won a newspaper prize for his account of a typhoon off Japan, he spent a month in a Niagara Falls jail as a vagrant. Upon his release he returned to Oakland and, intending to mend his ways, entered high school there. After only a year, he passed the entrance examinations of the University of California with...
(The entire section is 808 words.)
Jack London loved adventure and lived an exciting life. He was born January 12, 1876, in San Francisco, California, apparently the illegitimate son of William Chaney and Flora Wellman. His parents were spiritualists, people who are interested in psychic phenomena. His father was an astrologist, a person who does horoscopes, and his mother held seances for individuals who thought they could communicate with the spirits of the dead. Since she was not married when she became pregnant and William Chaney would not take responsibility for his actions, Wellman decided to commit suicide and tried twice, once with laudanum, a derivative of opium which was widely used as a pain killer, and again, when she tried to shoot herself in the head. Fortunately for future readers and Jack London, the bullet glanced off her forehead.
When his son, John Griffith Chaney, was born, William Chaney, fled to Oregon, and Flora married John London, her son taking his name. London's family was a working class one, and Jack dropped out of school at thirteen to start working because his mother reputedly lost the family savings in a real estate scam. He held a number of jobs, including oyster pirate, cannery worker, factory worker, and sailor. London was a hobo for a while, riding the rails all over the country, and he took part in Kelly's industrial army, a protest group of unemployed laborers, during the economic depression of the 1890s. At seventeen, he took ship on the Sophia...
(The entire section is 1104 words.)
Jack London was born in 1876 in San Francisco, California, to Flora Wellman, whose common-law husband left her upon learning that she was pregnant. London took his surname from his stepfather, John London, whom his mother married shortly after her son’s birth. The family settled in Oakland, California, in 1886. London quit school at age fourteen and took a series of jobs along the Oakland waterfront, working in a cannery and as a longshoreman, making money by stealing from the oyster beds in San Francisco Bay, and, later, serving as a seaman on a ship bound for Japan. London traveled across the United States while still in his teens. Throughout his early experiences, he read intensively in both literature and philosophy. London enrolled in Oakland High School at age nineteen and completed his course study within a year. The following year he joined the Socialist Labor Party and later briefly attended the University of California, until lack of money forced him to withdraw.
In 1897 London took part in the Klondike Gold Rush in northwestern Canada. Although he proved unsuccessful as a miner, his experiences in the grim and frozen North land provided him with a wealth of ideas for fiction. When he returned to Oakland, he began his career as an author, selling his first Klondike story, ‘‘To the Man on Trail,’’ in 1898. In 1900 London published The Son of the Wolf. This collection of short stories quickly brought him fame. London’s readers...
(The entire section is 467 words.)
One of America's most prolific and beloved authors, London was born in 1876 in San Francisco, California. His family was so poor that he went to work as soon as he finished grade school. His early experiences working in a saloon and a factory, hunting seals, tramping on the railroads, and spending thirty days in prison for vagrancy, provided London a wealth of material for his gritty, naturalistic fiction.
In 1894 London completed high school, attended the University of California at Berkeley for one semester, and joined the Socialist Party. He immersed himself in the writings of Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Herbert Spencer. He was intrigued by socialism and Darwin's concept of the "survival of the fittest," two ideas that would influence his later writings.
In 1897, frustrated with his unsuccessful attempts at starting a literary career, he went with his brother-in-law to the Klondike, in the Yukon territory of Canada. The gold rush in the Klondike was underway, and London hoped to strike it rich. Although he did not discover any gold, he did find subject matter for his fiction. His experiences in the frozen Northland inspired his first stories, which appeared in the nation's leading periodicals. London's fiction was very popular with the public; his stories were new and exciting and very different from the tales of romance that flooded the market during that time.
The most popular book to come out of his...
(The entire section is 367 words.)
Jack London was born January 12, 1876, in San Francisco, California. His mother, Flora Wellman, was not married. It is generally believed that an astrologer named William Chaney was London’s father. The year Jack was born, his mother married a widower named John London, who adopted Jack and moved the family to nearby Oakland.
Shunning formal education, London worked from a young age, first in a cannery and then as an oysterman in the San Francisco Bay. It was during his first sea voyage, in 1893, that London began writing. The following year, he traveled across the United States, a hobo journey that he wrote about in Jack London on the Road (1907).
In 1895, London finished high school in Oakland and then spent one semester at the University of California. During this time, he became interested in both literature and socialism. He was a member of the socialist party for the rest of his life.
London’s next journey was as a gold prospector to the Yukon Territory during the Klondike gold rush, a trip he would also write about later. Failing to find gold, London went back to California and decided to make his living as a writer. His first published story was “To the Man on the Trail,” (1899) published in Overland Monthly magazine. London’s newspaper articles on politics earned him the nickname “Boy Socialist from Oakland.” In 1900, London married Bessie Maddern and published his first collection of short...
(The entire section is 388 words.)
IntroductionIt’s no surprise that Jack London wrote rugged adventure stories. He was mainly raised by a former slave named Virginia Prentiss due to his mother’s illness. His father left the family when Jack was just a baby, and London began working in a cannery when he was just thirteen. After that, he spent several years as a sailor. He went back to California a few years later and began writing about his experiences. London joined in the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897 and developed scurvy, along with several other health problems. A year later, he began his writing career in earnest and went on to author many short stories and novels including his best-known work, The Call of the Wild, which is still popular to this day.
- Many people speculate that London’s father was William Chaney, a famous astrologer. It’s difficult to know for certain because most San Francisco civil records were destroyed in the earthquake of 1906.
- London almost quit writing when he was offered a mere $5 for his first published story.
- London was often accused of plagiarism, partly because he based many of his stories on newspaper and magazine articles.
- Some praise London for his views on minorities, and others criticize him for being concerned, like many other Californians at the time, about Asian immigration.
- Jack London’s death continues to be a mystery. There is a great deal of controversy over whether it was uremia or suicide by morphine overdose.
The Call of the Wild Character Analysis
The Call of the Wild Review - John Griffith Chaney
The Call of the Wild Summary - John Griffith Chaney
The Sea-Wolf Character Analysis
The Sea-Wolf Review - John Griffith Chaney
The Sea-Wolf Review - John Griffith Chaney
The Sea-Wolf Summary - John Griffith Chaney
To Build a Fire Summary - John Griffith Chaney
White Fang Summary - John Griffith Chaney
Jack London, Hemingway, and the Constitution Review - E. L. Doctorow
The Call of the Wild Review - John Griffith Chaney
The Sea-Wolf Review - John Griffith Chaney
From the publication of his first story just before the turn of the century to his death less than two decades later, London rose to become one of America’s most popular novelists. At various times in his career he was a believer in socialism, Social Darwinism, and racism. Most of his many writings were controversial, and many were censored. Moreover, London’s constant need for money and public exposure led him to practice self-censorship and tone down his writings to placate publishers. This behavior contrasted sharply to his public utterances about the inviolability of his work, and his open contempt for censorship—which he called the tool of capitalists.
London’s diverse writings were censored for a variety of reasons. For example, his early Yukon fiction, most notably The Call of the Wild (1903), was often censored because its raw depiction of violence upset the sensibility of polite society. The book was banned in Fascist Italy in 1929, and the Yugoslavian government followed suit by banning all of London’s writings the same year. Even in countries in which his work was not outlawed, such as the United States, it was often edited almost beyond recognition. His violent and dramatic stories of the struggle to survive in the wilderness have often been reduced to harmless children’s stories....
(The entire section is 411 words.)
Jack London was born in San Francisco on January 12, 1876. Raised in poverty, he started working part-time to support his family at the age of nine and dropped out of school a few years later to work and travel full-time. He educated himself through reading, deriving special pleasure from the stories of Washington Irving and Rudyard Kipling. London spent his teen-age years sailing aboard a sealing schooner, tramping across the country as a hobo, and working at a variety of odd jobs. He later drew upon these early adventures in books such as The Cruise of the Dazzler (1902) and The Sea-Wolf (1904).
When he was twenty years old, London enrolled in the University of California at Berkeley. He had just begun to read Charles Darwin's Origin of Species (1859) and Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto (1848). The ideas of Darwin and Marx profoundly influenced his thinking and writing. The following year, 1897, London left California for the Klondike gold rush. Although he did not "strike it rich" there, London witnessed a culture and way of life that were to bring him success as a writer. Before he turned twenty-five, London had published his first book, The Son of the Wolf: Tales of the Far North (1900), as well as numerous magazine stories.
Jack London died on November 22, 1916, in Santa Rosa, California, a possible suicide. Although he was only forty years old, he had already written fifty-nine books, including novels,...
(The entire section is 292 words.)