The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Jack London wrote The Iron Heel in 1907 as a diary that records the events in Avis Everhard’s life during a period of revolution in the United States (1912-1917). During this period, the democratic system ends, capitalism fails, and a fascist oligarchy called The Iron Heel seizes control. The foreword is written seven hundred years later by a fictional narrator, Anthony Meredith, who lives under a socialist government in a fictional city, Ardis. Meredith, from the perspective of futurity, supplies numerous historical footnotes and explains that Avis diary is found in a hollow oak centuries after it was written. In the foreword, Meredith informs readers that The Iron Heel ruled for three centuries, during which time there were many revolts, all drowned in seas of blood. A socialist system succeeded this fascist oligarchy.

In the diary, Avis describes her romance with Ernest Everhard, a socialist revolutionary, and their struggles against The Iron Heel. The diary begins with their first encounter, at a dinner hosted by her father, a liberal college professor who also invites numerous intellectuals and clergymen. A strong-willed, self-educated man from the working class, Ernest both infuriates and fascinates Avis and the guests. He accuses Avis, the ministers, and the professors of merely feigning sympathy toward the working class, asserting that they live on the workers’ blood. To prove their ignorance, he challenges them, in particular Avis,...

(The entire section is 573 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Beauchamp, Gorman. “Jack London’s Utopian Dystopia and Dystopian Utopia.” In America as Utopia, edited by Kenneth Roemer. New York: Burt Franklin, 1981. Argues that The Iron Heel is London’s “most noteworthy and sustained fictive future.”

Cassuto, Leonard, and Earle Labor, eds. Reading Jack London, with an afterword by Earle Labor. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1996. Throws new insights on London’s fiction.

Johneton, Carolyn. Jack London: An American Radical? Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984. A good treatment of London’s leftist leanings.

Labor, Earle, and Jeane Campbell Reesman. Jack London. Rev. ed. New York: Twayne, 1944. A good general survey of London’s work.

Littel, Katherine M. “The Nietzschean and the Individualist.” Jack London’s Newsletter 15 (May-August, 1982): 76-91. A good discussion of traits evident at different stages of London’s career.

Portelli, Alessandro. “Jack London’s Missing Revolution: Notes on The Iron Heel.” Science Fiction Studies 27 (July, 1982): 81. Alleges that some important themes are significant by virtue of their absence in the novel.

Watson, Charles N., Jr. The Novels of Jack London: A Reappraisal. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983. The chapter on The Iron Heel is an outstanding critical assessment of London’s novel.