Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Wolf Larsen, captain of the Ghost, a ship used in hunting seals. Larsen is a fierce, satanic figure, driving his men relentlessly and beating them brutally when they disobey him. He calls himself a materialist who does not believe in morality, ethics, or religion. He is contemptuous of anyone who believes in a spiritual dimension to existence. Although he is a monster, he is also courageous and curiously intellectual. He loves debating his views of life and earns the admiration of the novel’s narrator, Humphrey Van Weyden, who learns from Larsen a code of self-reliance and honest self-scrutiny.
Humphrey Van Weyden
Humphrey Van Weyden, a writer and gentleman rescued from the sea by Larsen. At first, Van Weyden is revolted at Larsen’s cruelty and physical violence, and he refuses to believe that such an intelligent man could really believe completely in the doctrine of “might makes right,” no matter what the circumstances. Van Weyden confesses that he is soft and unused to physical labor and that he was called a sissy at school. He gradually comes to admire Larsen’s independence and lack of sentimentality. He cannot accept Larsen’s philosophy, but he is grateful for the opportunity to test himself against the elements and to discover reserves of energy and pluck that he did not realize he possessed.
Thomas Mugridge, the ship’s cook, who is...
(The entire section is 564 words.)
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Humphrey van Weyden and Wolf Larsen of The Sea-Wolf are complementary opposites that allow London to examine extremes of background, behavior, and belief, and their conflict provides the dramatic energy in the novel.
Humphrey van Weyden is a physically incompetent aesthete who suddenly finds himself trapped in a violently competitive world, an environment in which his social standing counts for nothing. Renamed "Hump" and set to work as a cabin boy aboard the Ghost, van Weyden begins his initiation into "the world of the real," a struggle through which he builds a new self. Although van Weyden is weak and naive at the start of the novel, his latent adaptability makes him better suited for survival than Wolf Larsen. Unlike Larsen, van Weyden's optimistic intelligence and his ability to love move him toward life.
Wolf Larsen is undoubtedly London's most memorable character, a materialistic nihilist, a negative version of Nietzsche's superman. Ambrose Bierce wrote that "the hewing out and setting up of such a figure is enough for a man to do in a lifetime," and other critics have compared Larsen to Shakespeare's Hamlet, Milton's Satan, and Melville's Ahab. Despite his domineering brutality, Larsen has many sympathetic qualities. He is sensitive, intelligent, uninhibited, and terribly alone, but without belief or purpose to guide him, Larsen is frustratingly disoriented. Alienated from the natural and human world by his hyperrational...
(The entire section is 380 words.)