illustrated portrait of American author Jack London with mountains in the background

Jack London

Start Free Trial

What is the summary and plot of Jack London's "All Gold Canyon"?

Quick answer:

The main idea in the story is the effect of greed and violence on nature. The main character represents a man who is blinded by his desire to get gold, and he ultimately destroys nature, not realizing that he is doing so. As a result, he has a terrible time after discovering gold. The story was written in 1899. Jack London was born in 1876 in San Francisco, California. He was raised by his mother after his father abandoned them when Jack was only three years old. His father had dreamed of making it rich during the California Gold Rush but never achieved this goal. At the age of eight, Jack began working as a newspaper deliverer and later as an office boy for the "San Francisco Examiner".

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

At the beginning of "All Gold Canyon," Jack London spends a long time painting a beautiful picture of a California mountain canyon in the springtime, which is unquestionably the time of year in which that landscape is the most lush and peaceful. The only character in this part of the story is a large deer, but then the deer becomes alert: he hears a human, and he knows enough to run.

Here the tone shifts significantly. The man's singing fills the canyon "and the spirit of the place fled away on the heels of the red-coated buck." Oblivious to the changes, the man, a prospector, is delighted, and he sets up camp. He immediately starts digging up the land and panning for gold. He pans sections up and down the stream, figuring out where the gold is concentrated and where the deposit begins and ends. He continues this pattern, mapping out the gold deposit by digging up everywhere in the valley that he finds gold, and he talks to the "pocket" of gold that he believes he is hunting in the mountain, wishing it good morning and good night.

Eventually he finds the gold he's been looking for and names the canyon "All Gold Canyon," and he rejoices, completely ignorant of the destruction he's wreaked in pursuit of this goal. Then, suddenly, he feels someone watching him and is overcome with dread. He stands there frozen for a long time, and eventually the threat presents itself as a thief who jumps into the hole with the miner. The miner kills him but is shot and has to collect his gold and get out with his injury. The miner leaves, and peace returns to the canyon.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

London’s story is about a secluded canyon meadow and the man who finds gold there. There are three parts to the story. The first part describes the meadow as an idyllic place, of cool water, fresh green grass, and the smell of flowers. A large buck is wading in water, half asleep. This is a place of natural perfection, unspoiled by man; the spirit of the place is “was the spirit of the peace of the living, somnolent with the easement and content of prosperity, and undisturbed by rumors of far wars.” The buck seems to understand and “acknowledge the lordship” of this spirit.

The second part of the story begins with the buck scenting the prospector and fleeing the meadow. The man is noisy, but impressed with the beauty of the place. For the man, however, the spirit of the place lies in the secret of the gold that is hidden in the ground. London provides a detailed description of the miner’s methodology for locating the gold, which involves the systematic excavation of the meadow, and painstaking washing away of test pans of dirt to reveal tiny specks of gold. The prospector is consumed by his work, but also aware that someone might have followed him secretly; afraid that he will lose his claim, he climbs out of the canyon, moving like a mountain goat, but cannot see any hint of human activity, except for what might be a tiny wisp of smoke.

Of course, the smoke does mean he was followed. In the third part of the story, just as the miner finds the richest part of the gold deposit, he becomes aware of someone watching him. He spends long agonizing minutes thinking of what to do, when suddenly he feels a burning pain in his side and realizes he has been shot. There follows a life-or-death struggle between the man and this stranger. Eventually the miner is able to wrestle the gun away from him and shoots him dead.

The story concludes with the prospector packing up his gold, which he calculates is worth $40,000, and leaving the canyon. He has hastily bandaged his gunshot wound, and leaves behind much of his gear so that his two horses can bear the weight of the gold. When he leaves, the meadow returns to its former state of peace, except the remnants of the miner’s activities. The meadow has been "broken" by these activities.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial