Style and Technique
London was a literary craftsperson who mastered the short-story form. “A Piece of Steak” demonstrates several elements of his mature style. London understood the advantages of the flexible third-person narrator and utilized it with consummate skill and grace. “Let the reader learn,” he once advised a young writer, “through the minds of the men themselves, let the reader look at the question through their eyes.” Hence, the reader is immediately and intimately drawn into Tom King’s thoughts and feelings. Although unattractive in so many ways, Tom King becomes a tragically sympathetic character.
This is a wonderfully controlled story that does not waste a single word. It moves forward on two fascinating levels: One is the objective reality of the fight itself, its importance to the two fighters, and its graphic brutality. The other is psychological, for Tom gradually realizes that he is finished as a boxer and has nowhere else to go. His ruminations also set the stage for and complement the detailed descriptions of the fight sequence. The story itself is epitomized by its title. That piece of steak is an integrating symbol that brings together several themes and adds to the remarkable internal consistency of the story. London thus captures the essence of Tom King, both as an individual and as an archetypal figure.