In The Sea-Wolf, what disease does Wolf Larsen have?
As Chapter 37 of Jack London’s novel The Sea Wolf begins, Wolf Larsen has been taken prisoner by his “Shanghaied” crew members, Hump and Maud and is visited by Hump in the steerage where he is to be held. Hump is obviously pleased by Larsen’s detention, but notes the sea captain’s physical incapacitation. Larsen is paralyzed, unable to ever walk again. Hump engages his former tormentor in conversation, which leads to the latter’s explanation for his condition. Larsen has a history of headaches, but the full extent of his illness has not been revealed. Hump learns from his former superior that Larsen has suffered a major stroke. The captain explains his condition as follows:
“That was the last stroke of the Wolf . . . Something’s gone wrong with my brain. A cancer or tumor or something of that nature—a thing that devours and destroys. It’s attacking my nerve centers, eating them up bit by bit, cell by cell—from the pain.”
The answer to the question—what disease does Wolf Larsen have—is brain tumors, which have been the cause of the headaches he has suffered and of the debilitating stroke. The tumors would also account, at least in part, for Larsen’s harsh demeanor.
Jack London’s “The Sea-Wolf” is a story about two very different men. Humphrey Van Breyden describes himself as a gentleman. He and Maud Brewster are rescued at sea by Wolf Larsen. Larsen is an angry, brutal man who forces the two into working on his ship the “Ghost.” The two escape to an island, but eventually the “Ghost,” and Larsen find them. The ship is a wreck and Hump wants to fix it and escape the island and Larsen. The “love triangle” creates tension and suspense. Larsen is suffering from awful headaches and eventually goes blind. His disease is described as a tumor on the brain, strokes, and blindness. Of course we can’t be sure what was wrong with Larsen, but the symptoms pointed to something wrong with his brain. We can’t be sure if the blindness was caused by strokes, or by a tumor, but he eventually dies and Hump and Maud escape.