In The Sea-Wolf, to what does Wolf compare life?

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In the classic adventure novel The Sea-Wolf by Jack London , the brutal captain Wolf Larsen rescues an intellectual gentleman named Humphrey Van Weyden from a shipwreck and forces him to work aboard his ship. During the course of the hazardous voyage, Larsen and Van Weyden have numerous philosophical discussions...

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In the classic adventure novel The Sea-Wolf by Jack London, the brutal captain Wolf Larsen rescues an intellectual gentleman named Humphrey Van Weyden from a shipwreck and forces him to work aboard his ship. During the course of the hazardous voyage, Larsen and Van Weyden have numerous philosophical discussions in which Larsen extols his viewpoints on life.

In Chapter 5 of the novel, Wolf Larsen compares life to a mess, yeast, and a ferment. He first says: "I believe that life is a mess." Then he adds:

It is like yeast, a ferment, a thing that moves and may move for a minute, an hour, a year, or a hundred years, but that in the end will cease to move. The big eat the little that they may continue to move, the strong eat the weak that they may retain their strength. The lucky eat the most and move the longest, that is all.

In Chapter 6, after passing cruel judgment on one of the men, Larsen reaffirms his philosophy of life to Van Weyden, that "life was a ferment, a yeasty something that devoured life that it might live..." He says that human life is no different than any other kind of life and that it is "cheap and without value." He closes by adding that "The only value that life has is what it puts upon itself." Despite this diminishment of the value of life, in Chapter 7 Larsen affirms that life causes him to feel "a strange uplift," joy, exultation, and inspiration. In Chapter 11, Wolf Larsen reads to Van Weyden from the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, attempting to justify his conception of life as a mess by comparing it to the passage that he reads in Ecclesiastes.

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In keeping with his Darwinistic outlook on life, Wolf Larsen compares human life to fish. He says that fish lay many eggs because they know that some won't hatch. The ones that do hatch are the valuable ones, the ones that have shown they have what it takes to survive in this cruel, unforgiving world. Those that didn't make it, however, didn't deserve to. They were weak and so deserved to go under.

Larsen uses this rather crude analogy to illustrate his uncompromisingly nihilistic worldview. Life for him is cheap and worthless. As the example of the fish eggs is meant to show, there's simply too much of life; life is too abundant. When it comes right down to it, for Larsen, life is too often evaluated in quantitative, rather than qualitative, terms. As far as he's concerned, what matters on this earth are the superior specimens, of which he counts himself a member.

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Wolf Larsen, being partially inspired by nihilism, believes that life has no greater purpose than its own survival. He sees nothing on the horizon except the present moment; he cares nothing for the future or for the greater impact of his actions. Instead, his entire worldview is based on his personal survival, pleasure, and ability. His body is powerful, and he believes that this is the random chance of biology, giving him the better ability -- and therefore the better right -- to impress his will on others.

"[Life] is like yeast, a ferment, a thing that moves and may move for a minute, an hour, a year, or a hundred years, but that in the end will cease to move. The big eat the little that they may continue to move, the strong eat the weak that they may retain their strength. The lucky eat the most and move the longest, that is all. What do you make of those things?"
(London, The Sea-Wolf, gutenberg.org)

In Wolf's view, his size, intellect, and strength are enough to justify his actions; he is stronger and so he is allowed to prey on the weak because there is no larger purpose. In this way, he acts entirely without conscience; without the philosophical ability to "care" about others, he has no compassion at all. In this way, he can be compared to General Zaroff, the antagonist of Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game," who hunted weaker men for sport, with similar justifications.

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