The Sea-Wolf works on several levels: as an adventure, a survival story, a philosophical discussion, an examination of manhood, and a love story.
As an adventure story, it is fast-paced and exciting. Most of the men hate Larsen and are waiting for an opportunity to kill him. There are chases at sea, dangerous storms, plots, and escapes. In terms of survival, this novel has much in common with London’s The Call of the Wild (1903). Like the dog Buck, Van Weyden is civilized, protected, and spoiled. He, like Buck, is thrown into unfamiliar surroundings that test his fitness, patience, strength, and ability to stand up for himself. Ultimately, both are tested in terms of their ability to fit in, to work hard without weakness or complaining, to become leaders, and finally to achieve heroic acts that save the ones whom they love in the face of great danger.
The novel is also an interesting combination of philosophy and adventure; in this, it is not unlike Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851). In that novel, chapters of action are interspersed with chapters of philosophy. In The Sea-Wolf, events often prompt philosophical discussions between Larsen and Van Weyden concerning morality, mortality, the value of life, and the existence of the soul. As these discussions evolve through the novel, readers get a fuller sense of how Larsen thinks, and his cynical views of life and the soul are an interesting contrast to Van Weyden’s intellectual idealism and to...
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