Jack London’s more than fifty published books include plays, children’s fiction, novels, sociological studies, essays, and short stories. Although generally known as a writer of short fiction, London is remembered also for two novels, The Call of the Wild (1903) and The Sea-Wolf (1904), both of which have been made into motion pictures several times. London is also credited with pioneering work in the development of tramp fiction (The Road, 1907) and science fiction (The Star Rover, 1915).
Jack London’s numerous stories and his many novels capture with a bold and sometimes brutal reality the confrontation between humans and nature, which by some writers may easily have been portrayed romantically. Instead, London was at the forefront of the move toward naturalistic fiction and realism. He was influenced by social Darwinism, and his stories often reflect the idea that human beings, to survive, must adapt to nature yet are themselves creatures of nature, subject to forces they do not really understand. London was also interested in Marxism, and his work often employs a working-class hero.
London’s realistic stories were very popular in the United States when they were first published and continue to be so. He has also achieved wide popularity abroad, with his work being translated into more than fifty languages. His stories in the naturalistic mode continue to influence writers.
Jack London’s fifty-nine published works include plays, children’s fiction, sociological studies, essays, short stories, and novels. Although generally known as a writer of short fiction, London is also remembered for his pioneering work in tramp nonfiction (The Road, 1907) and the science-fiction novel (The Star Rover). London also was a journalist, serving as a newspaper correspondent for the San Francisco Examiner during the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 and, later, during the Mexican conflict in Veracruz in 1915. His accounts of these wars were published in 1970 as Jack London Reports. London’s correspondence was first published in one volume in 1965.
Called at one time the Kipling of the Klondike, Jack London was in the forefront of the move toward naturalistic fiction and realism. His social fiction, which included the first sympathetic and realistic treatment of the convict and the tramp, gave him credence as a spokesperson for the working class. As a folk hero, London has achieved a popularity that may make him, along with Mark Twain, a permanent figure in American mythology. London also remains extremely popular in Europe and the Soviet Union. His work has been translated into more than fifty languages, and his stories appear in countless anthologies of short fiction. His novels, especially The Sea-Wolf and The Call of the Wild, are taught in high school and college English courses, and a number of his books remain in print year after year. London’s reputation as a solid craftsman—especially of short stories—has been established, even among literary critics. His novels, regarded by many as weak and unpolished, gained in stature in the late twentieth century as more critics found London’s work a subject worthy of discussion.
The Call of the Wild is a title that has given a common phrase to the English language, and the book itself became a model for many later writers. What are the ingredients of the novel’s originality?
Jack London accepted the notion, popular in his time, of the superiority of gifted individuals and of some racial and ethnic groups but felt that such superiority imposed certain limitations. What were they?
Contrast London’s view of nature in “To Build a Fire” with Stephen Crane’s in “The Open Boat.”
What elevates London’s fiction generally above routine adventure stories?
To what extent do Martin Eden’s circumstances and response to them parallel Stephen Crane’s?
Auerbach, Jonathan. Male Call: Becoming Jack London. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996. Auerbach reverses the trend of earlier London studies, emphasizing how London used his writing to reinvent himself. Above all, Auerbach argues, London wanted to become a successful author, and in that respect he shaped his life to suit his art. Includes detailed notes but no bibliography.
Cassuto, Leonard, and Jeanne Campbell Reesman, eds. Rereading Jack London. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1996. Essays on London as “representative man,” his commitment to authorship, his portrayal of American imperialism, his handling of power, gender, and ideological discourse, his relationship to social Darwinism, and his status as writer/hero. Includes end notes, but no bibliography.
Doctorow, E. L. Jack London, Hemingway, and the Constitution: Selected Essays. New York: Random House, 1993. A long, thoughtful reflection on London’s politics and fiction from the point of view of a major novelist who is sympathetic but also critical of London’s example.
Freund, Charles Paul. “Call of the Whites.” Reason 28 (April, 1997): 52-53. Discusses London as a racist and a propagandist for the overthrow of capitalism; notes how London influenced some of the Weimar Germany’s pulp racists.
Furer, Andrew J. “Jack London’s New Women: A Little Lady with a Big Stick.” Studies in American Fiction 22 (Autumn, 1994): 185-214. Discusses London’s representation of “new womanhood” that emphasizes physical power and capability and an economic and intellectual independence, but is nonetheless feminine and heterosexual.
Hedrick, Joan D. Solitary Comrade: Jack London and His Work. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982. Hedrick interweaves a discussion of London’s stories and novels with details of his life in an attempt to see behind London’s self-created myth. She does some close reading of the stories and includes a useful bibliography and an index.
Kershaw, Alex. Jack London: A Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. Concentrates on the “powerful drama” of London’s life. Includes notes, illustrations, bibliography, and several helpful maps.
Labor, Earle, and Jeanne Campbell Reesman. Jack London. Rev. ed. New York: Twayne, 1994. This clear introduction, first published in 1974, takes into account the twenty years of scholarship after the volume first appeared. This volume also takes issue with the widespread belief that the quality of London’s work declined in the last decade of his life. Includes chronology, notes, and an annotated bibliography.
London, Jack. The Letters of Jack London. Edited by Earle Labor, Robert C. Leitz III, and I. Milo Shepard. 3 vols. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1988. Includes the most significant letters of the thousands London wrote during his lifetime. The editors have thoroughly annotated each letter, explaining references and identifying people. The letters include love letters, letters to editors and publishers, and to fellow writers on London’s ideas and methods, as well as to friends and family.
McClintock, James I. White Logic: Jack London’s Short Stories. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wolf House Books, 1975. McClintock’s work is the only one to focus solely on London’s short stories. He provides a detailed analysis of the stories in a clear and useful way.
Perry, John. Jack London: An American Myth. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1981. A detailed biography that is especially good on London’s early life and his later adventures as sailor and journalist. Lacks illustrations but includes notes, bibliography, and index.
Reesman, Jeanne Campbell. “‘Never Travel Alone’: Naturalism, Jack London, and the White Silence.” American Literary Realism 29 (Winter, 1997): 33-49. Argues that even in London’s most naturalistic stories, readers find the search for spirit, the desire for community, and the need to address the Other. Provides a detailed analysis of “To Build a Fire” to illustrate these concepts.
Sinclair, Andrew. Jack: A Biography of Jack London. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1978. A well- researched, extensively documented biography that focuses on London’s life rather than his work. Includes a bibliography and many photographs.
Stefoff, Rebecca. Jack London: An American Original. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Examines the life, beliefs, adventures, and works of London. Three-page bibliography and index.
Watson, Charles N. The Novels of Jack London: A Reappraisal. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982. A very good critical overview of London’s fiction. Highly readable and accessible to students of all levels.
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