Jack London

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What are the conditions of life for the tribe as described in the short story "The Law of Life" by Jack London?

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Erin DuBuque eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The famous short story "The Law of Life" by Jack London tells of an old chief who is weak and blind. Because he cannot keep up with the others, he is being abandoned by his tribe. Although he has a fire and a pile of wood beside him, it is snowing, the wood will become depleted, and he will die of the cold if wild beasts do not kill him first. As he awaits the inevitable end, he reminisces about his life. This is one of the conditions of tribal life: that when old people become too feeble to keep up with the rest, they are abandoned to die in the wilderness. The old chief accepts this as one of the laws of life.

In the narrative, London describes other details that bring out conditions of life for the tribe. For instance, chiefdom is by succession, because the old chief's son is now the chief. The son still loves his father, but he feels he must keep tradition and abandon him because he must see to the needs of the tribe first. The tribe is nomadic, which means they move from place to place in search of game rather than living in a fixed location. They use dogs and sleds as transportation and collapsible moose-skin lodges for shelter. During some seasons they experience famine, and during other seasons they have times of plenty. When food is plentiful, and their tribe has increased, they sometimes travel farther and make war on other tribes.

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jmj616 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The tribe described in Jack London's short story "The Law of Life" live in harsh, primitive conditions.

They live in an extremely cold, snowy environment.  Their only source of heat is wood fires, and their only transportation is by dog sled.  They obtain their food by fishing for salmon and by hunting for caribou and moose.  Their lodges, or tents, are made of moose skins.

Old Koskoosh, the protagonist, remembers a time that a missionary came with "talk-books" and medicines.  This seems to indicate that books and medicines were generally unknown to his tribe. 

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